Letter#9: Being Critical Without Becoming Cynical

by Jonathan Haefs

Dear Jonathan,

So another semester has begun! Are you getting used to the rhythm of seminary life yet? I’m glad that you are already enjoying your new set of classes and Profs.

In your last letter, I was particularly interested in what you had to say concerning the field of “text criticism” that you are beginning to explore. It is fascinating to study the process through which we have received the text of Scripture, but there are a few things you said that bothered me…some things that sounded slightly cynical.

cynicalI want you to know that it is possible to be critical without becoming cynical.

Seminary is a wonderful time to ask questions, engage your mind, and think deeply…in fact I hope seminary is not the only place for this, but the church as well. Yet, seminary does afford you a focused time for serious thought.

However, do not believe the lie that you have to check your faith at the door in order to engage with critical scholarship. Let’s take the field of “text criticism” as an example.

You told me that seeing the multi-layered process through which the text has been transmitted to us took some of the awe and wonder out of it all. Suddenly, the Bible did not seem like this beautiful book handed to us by God, but a very normal historical source that has been formed through a human editing process.

That is only one way of looking at the facts! Could we not also say that this long, tedious process of textual transmission puts God’s providence on display in a most remarkable way? Could we not say this affirms the truth that our God loves to communicate with us through very physical means!

Our God does not bifurcate the spiritual and physical, but is apparently bent on communicating spiritual realities through very physical things!

Is this not affirmed by baptism, communion, preaching, Bible reading, prayer, music…even the incarnation itself! God himself put on flesh and communicated with us through the gritty means of language and action.

Lev_septuagintThe fact that Scripture has been passed down from one generation to the next in a very nitty, gritty process affirms who our God is and how he works! Many other religions have holy books that have been seemingly dropped from the sky, but our God is the one who created all things and loves to work through those things.

Jonathan, think critically! Engage your studies in a manner that forces you to dig, evaluate, wrestle, and draw conclusions…but fight cynicism. The road of critical scholarship does not necessarily lead to the dead end of cynicism. No! If you end up in that cul-de-sac it is because you drove yourself there!

Many great, critical thinkers are some of the most faith-filled theologians! The harder they press into the study of the Word, the more they are filled with faith in the God of the Word!

Always remember, you do not stand over Scripture to master it! Through the Word, God is mastering you! Engage the Bible critically for the sake of seeing more of God, not more of man…and may the Spirit reveal to you the wonders of how he works spiritual wonders through very physical means.

You can be critical without becoming cynical!

Grace and Peace,


*To know/understand the premise behind these letters please click here.