A world with no conservative/liberal split
Sometimes you think you’re just talking into cyberspace. I hoped that wouldn’t be the case since I haven’t posted much recently. But I was assured by a kind criticism of my post on Sanders that this wasn’t the case. It makes me feel good...
Thanks, Danny, for your comment, even if I disagree. Of course the disagreement may be caused more by where we chose to go to school than what is actually true in the world of scholarship. If DTS can in any way be seen as a fair representation of part of scholarship, than there is certainly a split. I can’t tell you how many times I heard something bad about the liberals, or a contrast between those at DTS with those outside. And as it turns out it was often about some of those old school debates. "If you don’t believe in inerrancy, you’re a liberal!" Now, it was generally the case that you don’t get that rhetoric as much when you were dealing with generally more informed scholars at the school. But, you could often see the division. Sometimes it was hard to see, but it was often there.
I guess another thing to look at would be the attendance of societal meetings. SBL itself attracts all sorts of folks, but ETS is much more homogenous in its membership. Would you consider them conservative? Maybe not, but I would think that such a designation would be largely appropriate.
Now, I’m not doing the "call them liberal if they disagree with you" thing. I had a prof in Bible college who liked to say that and that certainly happens. I’m really speaking about ideologies. I can’t say that I’ve spent enough time around those who are called "liberal" by the DTS folks to really know what’s going on in their heads, but I can tell you that there really is a conservative ideology that is distinct from what I’m reading in their opponents. To a greater or lesser degree, at DTS it was frequent that I could see a professor who was, from my perspective (and thus my opinion), "trying to be conservative." This may not happen at your school but I see it as plain as day here in Dallas.
If such characterizations are useful, well...that’s a different question altogether. Are there serious ideological differences that are close along the lines of the old conservative/liberal debates? I would say so. And I think having labels is useful, when they’re not just used pejoratively.
And is the term sometimes relative? Yes. Is N.T. Wright a conservative. Yes. No. Depends on who is asking. I’d call him a conservative, but I know a number of professors and students who would not. There are a number of British "conservatives" who do not believe in inerrancy, for example, and that defines them as "liberal," or at least one who leans liberal or a moderate.
And yes, you are absolutely right that the area of Second Temple Judaism is no longer the exclusive domain of the "liberals," or whatever one wants to call them. If I implied that I did not mean it. This is the question that I have to ask: is "conservative" scholarship as a whole referencing the works of Second Temple Judaism or are they really thinking Second Temple Judaism. Do they quote it for anecdotal value or does it really affect their thinking and exegesis? In some cases the latter will be the case, but from my experience it is the former that is most common. Case in point: the New Perspective. I see a gut reaction from what I would label American "conservatives" against the ideas espoused by NP dudes. Is it because most of them have really examined the evidence and come to a firm conclusion? There is not a single professor at DTS that I know of that would have held to the NP on Paul. And I don’t really ever remember hearing many positive comments either. This could be because professors at DTS all happen to agree on something that they’ve all thought through thoroughly. Or, and I think this is more likely the case, there is an underlying paradigm that naturally leads them to disagree with it. I’m not trying to make blanket statements that all "conservatives" feel that way or anything. Some of the profs at DTS are very intelligent folks. I’m just saying that I think this mindset still exists, though the conservative mindset is greater, much greater than old issues like inerrancy and such alone.
So, I’m just going to have to stick with my distinction. I still think it exists. I think it is real. Unfortunately, it is often used negatively as you said. That is not at all how I mean it. I like a lot of the contributions of those generally termed "liberal" by those generally termed "conservative", and vice versa. Of course, as I said earlier, this may have more to do with the difference between where we both went to school. But, ultimately, I guess labels are a relatively minor issue anyway and not something really worth fighting over :)