Sewanee professor criticizes N.T. Wright’s honorary degree at School of Theology

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Paul Holloway, Professor of New Testament at the University of the South’s School of Theology, published a letter in the Sewanee Purple complaining that the School of Theology should not have awarded N.T. Wright an honorary degree:

Some of the readers of this letter will know Wright as an outspoken opponent of LGBT rights and a vociferous critic of the Episcopal Church for its progressive stance. I find Wright’s position on these matters offensive and harmful. It is an affront to the School of Theology in general and to its LGBT community and its allies in particular.

But that is not my complaint here. My complaint is that Sewanee has recognized Wright as a scholar in my discipline, when in fact he is little more than a book-a-year apologist. Wright comes to the evidence not with honest questions but with ideologically generated answers that he seeks to defend. I know of no critical scholar in the field who trusts his work. He contradicts what I stand for professionally as well as the kind of hard-won intellectual integrity I hope to instill in my students. I feel like the professor of biology who has had to sit by and watch a Biblical creationist receive an honorary degree in science.

What do you think? Should Sewanee have recognized N.T. Wright with an honorary degree?

The Rev. Bryan Owen, blogging at Creedal Christian, disagrees with Holloway:

Setting aside the caustically contemptuous and intolerant tone of the letter, as well as its open hostility to Christian orthodoxy, here’s the gist of what Professor Holloway says: “N. T. Wright disagrees with my views on particular matters and he represents theological positions that contradict my own.  That offends and embarrasses me.  Therefore, Wright is not a real scholar and he doesn’t deserve an honorary degree.”

It doesn’t take a Ph.D. in logic to see how silly this “argument” is.

Nor does it take a genius to see that if Professor Holloway’s letter makes the rounds among moderate-to-conservative lay and clergy graduates of The School of Theology, they just might decide to send their money to other institutions.  I’m aware of persons who have made just that decision before this letter was even written.  This letter will simply underscore that they made the right decision.  And there are others for whom Professor Holloway’s letter may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back when it comes to financially supporting The School of Theology.  I doubt that’s the outcome the Sewanee administration had in mind when they issued the invitation for Bishop Wright to speak and receive an honorary degree!

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Leann Wigner
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Leann Wigner

This really makes me sad. I like N. T. Wright, and while I know that there are people who don't agree with him - people who are both more liberal and more conservative than him - he does appeal to a large audience who aligns with more moderate scholarship, like me. He is a well-respected scholar in moderate circles. Do I agree with everything he says? Absolutely not! Does that make him a bad scholar? No. I largely agree with, lets say, John Dominic Crossan, but do I consider him a bad scholar? By no mean! He is a great scholar, but I just happen not to agree with him on quiet a few of his conclusions.

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JC Fisher
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JC Fisher

"A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country": which apparently includes Episcopal Cafe these days. 🙁

Preach, Dr Holloway, PREEEEEACH! It's about time someone said the Emperor Wright has no clothes...

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Nick Porter
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Nick Porter

He's not a prophet, just a lone person who forgot that putting things online, especially that are provocative, tend to light on fire.

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Philip Snyder
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Philip Snyder

Compare the CVs of the two men and you will see that The Rt. Rev. Dr. Wright is the much more accomplished academic, scholar, and churchman. The idea that his views on LBGT issues invalidate his academic standing is one that comes straight from Party Spirit (one of the "works of the flesh" in Gal 5).

Dr. Holloway's letter makes his name eponymous.

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c seitz
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c seitz

From those in the UK: 'What is a Sewanee? A river?'

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J. Samuel Knopf
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J. Samuel Knopf

And who is Paul Holloway?

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Nick Porter
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Nick Porter

Someone who should have a seat. 🙂

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Nick Porter
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Nick Porter

My first comment aside, Bishop N.T.Wright is a very accomplished scholar as well as bishop in the church. I've seen TEC bishops get awarded honorary doctorates for much much less. Let's be honest, his complaint is purely on the bases of Bishop Wright's views on sexuality, and it's pathetic to see a seminary professor stoop so low. This is someone who is teaching the next generation of our clergy. This should cause people to pause.

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Geoff McLarney
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Geoff McLarney

Leaving aside the fact that Holloway explicitly stipulates that sexual orientation is not the reason for his complaint, I am left wondering why it would be "stooping low" if it were. After all, having poor theology, especially a toxic theology that has caused so much damage to a particular class of people, is not exactly a petty or irrelevant consideration when considering a candidate for an honorary doctorate in, you know ... theology?

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David Streever
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David Streever

Geoff:
From Nick's various comments here, it appears that he doesn't believe that discrimination against women or LGBT folk on the basis of being a woman or LGBT is really discrimination. I agree that he's clearly and unequivocally wrong about that, but having read some variation on that answer from him a dozen times, I thought I'd share that with you.

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Nick Porter
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Nick Porter

Geoff, his letter could be explained just like this:

"I don't agree with Bishop Wright on this hot button issue so he shouldn't be honored."

How different is that from "I don't like cheese, so no one should have it."

There are still people in TEC and the Anglican Communion as a whole who agree with Bishop Wright, as well as the majority of church-going Christians in general who practice the faith in word and deed, much to the dismay of some here. While someone would deem his theology "toxic", others would deem it nutritious.

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Nick Porter
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Nick Porter

David, we disagree on what constitutes as "discrimination". That's a fact,yes.

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David Streever
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David Streever

Yes. The consensus amongst academics and governments is that refusing to hire someone on the basis of their sex is an illegal act of discrimination. That's the definition I use. It was very confusing for me to realize that you didn't share that with me; it's absolutely the norm in law, government, and academia.

As such, I think it'd help your future conversations if you make that clear up front. You are taking a very narrow minority position in rejecting that definition, and I am certain you'll confuse others you speak with in the future if you don't make that clear.

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David Allen
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David Allen

Is an honorary degree part of the expected stipend for giving speeches now days?

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