It’s nothing personal. I haven’t met him, but we’ve posted comments on each other’s blogs and I’m sure Jim West is a great guy. My impression of Jim is that he is very intelligent and well read. However, he is also undermining the foundation of academics while attempting to host an academically focused blog on biblical studies.
In a recent post Jim listed five sources that in his opinion should never be quoted in academic writings. Here are the last two on his list:
4- Anything Published by InterVarsity Press. Nothing really need be said here. When you open an InterVarsity publication youâ€™ve opened the door to the dank and dark halls of fundamentalism. And fundamentalism just makes for very poor exegesis and theology.
And finally, the 5th source which should never be cited in an academic discourse:
5- William Dever. As the kids say, â€™nuff saidâ€™.
I posted this comment on his blog:
I think the last two points should not be included in a list of things that should not be cited in academic work. While some things from both IVP and Dever are flawed, there are some things of great value as well. Furthermore, an attitude that rejects out of hand these two sources is not at all academic. A hallmark of academics is an open minded attitude that lets the data drive the scholar, not emotional or idealogical prejudice. Just because an idea comes from a so-called â€œFundamentalistâ€ does not mean that is wrong, just as ideas that come from so-called â€œLiberalsâ€ are not necessarily wrong.
Here is his response:
Ok I admit I should have put one of these things-
next to Dever.
But as far as fundamentalism is concerned, it simply has nothing to say.
From this comment it seems that he has withdrawn his comments concerning Dever, but dug in his heels on blacklisting IVP.
Comments like these undermine the foundation of academics–academic freedom. In academics the worst insult that you can give to a scholar is to not cite them. By ignoring their ideas you are stating that they are not even worth thinking about or interacting with. Furthermore, by putting scholars of a particular ideological bent upon a blacklist of people that should never be cited in academics is reminiscent of the Hollywood blacklist in which supposedly communist artists were thrown out on the street and deemed untouchable and unhireable.
Furthermore, attaching blacklist labels to scholars is a frightening prospect that is happening more and more these days. For different camps the labels “Fundamentalist” and “Liberal” are almost like the new label “Terrorist” which then strips people of their constitutional rights. In academics, one only has to label someone as a “Fundamentalist” which excludes them from mainstream jobs and publications thereby stripping them of their academic right of intellectual freedom.
Let’s take a look at a selection of IVP imprint authors: Tremper Longman, Gordon McConville, Alan Millard, John Walton, John Sanders, Darrell Bock, Scot McNight, Don Carson, Mark Seifrid, Ben Witherington, Alister McGrath, Donald Bloesch, Chris Wright, Donald Wiseman, Bruce Waltke, Gordon Wenham, Tom Wright, Hugh Williamson, Bill Arnold, R.K. Harrison, Rick Hess, F.F. Bruce, Craig Blomberg, Greg Beale, I. Howard Marshall, Victor Matthews, Doug Moo, to name just a few. A position that self-consciously excludes IVP authors from academic publications arises either from profound ignorance or profound ideological prejudice. By definition neither of these can be called “academic.”
Furthermore, discounting scholarship because of the source, not because of the quality of ideas is disatrous and destructive. I’m not a Mormon and I don’t think their position is supported by the data, but should I then refuse to include any data from the Tell es-Safi dig because Jeff Chadwick from BYU is digging with them? I don’t think that N.P. Lemche’s reconstructions of ancient Israel adequately deal with textual and archaeological evidence from the ancient Near East, but do I refuse to ever cite him because some people choose to label him as a “Minimalist”?
In academics we discuss quality ideas that are supported by data. Many scholars from both camps that some choose to label as “Liberal” and “Fundamentalist” attempt to support their position with data and both sides should be respected and included in discussions and debates.
Why am I making such a big deal about a lonely comment by Jim West? Two reasons: there are signs that more and more people and ideological groups are being blacklisted and forced out of academics and Jim West is one of the most highly ranked bibliobloggers according to technorati and therefore his opinions are important.
How should we respond to comments like this? Well, we could retaliate and purge Jim from our blogrolls and never link to him again, similar to how he advocates we relate to IVP authors. However, I don’t think this is the right approach. We need to treat Jim the way we want to be treated ourselves. We should continue to learn from his good ideas–and he certainly has many of these–and we should critique his not so good ideas.
Hopefully, Jim will see the error of his ways and embrace a truly academic perspective that includes all well-thought and data-supported ideas into the discussion. Only then will he actually have an academically focused blog.