Again, I would say that a Christian is, by definition, conservative. And that means that he or she believes in the atoning work of Christ, the God-man, and in his bodily resurrection. Jan thought that I was defining things awfully narrowly, but this is the historic position of all three branches of Christendom. In light of that definition, I would say that SBL is overall not conservative, not Christian.I'm still not sure that his definition moves much past the equation of Christian with "conservative evangelical." Despite that minor problem with semantics, I think the issue Wallace raises is important. I have to admit that even coming from a conservative evangelical Christian background, I have had the impulse to brush off or ignore students or scholars who I perceived to be from more conservative institutions. I've hesitated to discuss issues with them, fearing that it might devolve too quickly into an apologetics debate focused on defending the nearest untenable doctrine that critical scholarship has questioned. Unfortunately, Dallas Seminary seems to have become the poster child for uncritical conservative Christian institutions, possibly undeservedly so. Of course, there are more fundamentalist institutions out there, but they tend to not even make a blip on the academic radar. Dallas does.
For some reason, fostering true intellectual debate and encouraging critical thinking is threatening to the status quo on both sides of the conservative/liberal divide. (Liberal and conservative are slippery terms, I know, but it's what Wallace was using. Both are a matter of perspective. I'm too liberal for some and too conservative for others.)
Apparently, consensus (no matter how wrong it might be) feels safer than allowing students or scholars to "go where the evidence leads" (Wallace's mantra as he says toward the end of the post).
A genuine liberal used to be someone who was open to all the evidence and examined all the plausible viewpoints. Now, “liberal” has become a hollow term, invested only with the relic of yesteryear’s justifiably proud designation. Today, all too often, “liberal” means no more than left-wing fundamentalist, for the prejudices that guide a liberal’s viewpoints are not to be tampered with, not to be challenged.It's unclear to me, however, how "going where the evidence leads" would work at a conservative evangelical college or seminary. The evidence often leads to a discussion no one wants to have because it challenges the consensus - theological or otherwise. Also, most Christian institutions have some kind of doctrinal statement. What if the evidence leads away from some of the positions on the school's statement of faith? That doesn't go over well. In college, a friend over-dramatically nailed his "theses" arguing why many of our lifestyle rules were unbiblical to the chapel door. Unfortunately, his 50-page well-documented piece was quickly dismissed as "specious" by the administration. The doctrinal statement often takes a very narrow position on non-essentials (like eschatology). What if the evidence led me away from pre-tribulational premillenialism? Well, I'd just have to keep quiet about that or risk rocking the boat.
If we’re to judge liberal vs. conservative by one’s method, then the new liberal is the evangelical and neo-evangelical who is willing to engage the evidence, examine all sides, and wrestle with the primary data through the various prisms of secondary literature. He’s open. I tell my students every year, “I will respect you far more if you pursue truth and change your views than if you protect your presuppositions and don’t.” And they know my mantra, “Go where the evidence leads.”
So, I agree with Wallace that evangelical scholars are capable of quality scholarship, and I share his desire that all of us in academia should feel free to "go where the evidence leads." Those of us who try, too often find ourselves in the middle - getting shot at from both sides.