This essay springs from a particular context which at one and the same time limits its general applicability and gives it whatever relevance it may possess. It is directed to the American theological scene and is written by a white male in a liberal Protestant seminary. It belongs to a chorus of voices raised in the name of God and humanity against a form of scholarship gone to seed but which, by sheer abundance of seeds, flourishes everywhere in this land. I count myself as ally in this outcry with James Smart and James M. Robinson, Paul Minear and Amos Wilder, Robert Funk and Brevard Childs, to name but a few. But I have had to go my own way.
I originally conceived this essay as a tract. But alas, since no one wants to publish tracts today, I was left with the option of suiting the publishing business and adding a few pages. In fact I didn’t add enough. Most readers have challenged me to do a sequel spelling out with case studies the process which I all too briefly have described here, a challenge which I am only too eager to accept. What I have written is more programmatic than program, more manifesto than manifest, but I believe it is moving in the right direction: toward a mode of Bible study which facilitates transformation in human lives.
Throughout the essay I have assumed the victory of the critical consciousness, even though vast reserves of precritical mentality remain on our continent. I am especially concerned that these arguments not be seized upon by reactionary dogmatists and used against those who still struggle for freedom of inquiry and an empirical method. We are all gasping for air in the space we are given. But if, as I believe, the terms of the modernist-fundamentalist debate were mistaken from the start, it is I hope not irresponsible to turn my back on that conflict and try to take a step in a different direction.
I have greatly benefited from the astringent criticisms and buoying encouragement of my colleagues at Union Theological Seminary: Henry Mottu, David Lotz, J. Louis Martyn, Tom Driver, Beverly Harrison, Cyril C. Richardson, George Landes, James Bergland, Robert E. Neale, William A. Simpson. Special thanks are due to Elizabeth B. Howes and Sheila Moon, analysts in the Jungian tradition, for their perceptive comments on the manuscript, and for the opportunity to spend a sabbatical leave working under their supervision in the Guild for Psychological Studies in San Francisco; and to Union Seminary and the American Association of Theological Schools for making the leave possible.