I commented to someone yesterday that I was bored and annoyed by the whole Reza Aslan controversy, so I hadn’t bothered to write about it. So in light of that disinterest, let me go ahead and add my two cents to the fray:
Someone’s faith is relevant to their academic and professional work. Not that a person of one religion can’t or shouldn’t write about another religion, but our beliefs do inform our writing and research, and our writing and research does inform our faith. The idea that we should lead perfectly segmented lives where personal faith doesn’t at all inform our broader life is naive and intellectually dangerous.
Someone’s academic credentials are important. We should always try to ascertain whether a person has appropriate credentials to be speaking with authority on a topic. If only we subjected Christian writers to as much scrutiny about their education as many are doing with Aslan. Of course credentials alone don’t make an argument or thesis true, but they are an important guideline for how much attention we should give to someone. In the case of Aslan, he certainly has sufficient credentials to write a book about Jesus. He’s not an expert in this area at the level of Crossan, Ehrman or Wright, but this topic is well-within his area of academic study.
The hype surrounding this book is a publicist’s dream come true. For a popular book that doesn’t appear to make a significant contribution to historical Jesus studies, this controversy is exactly the sort of thing one would hope for. Which makes me wonder if it least some of the flames are being intentionally fanned.
How many people commenting on Aslan and his book have actually read it? I haven’t. I may not. And until I do, I remain entirely unqualified to comment directly on its relative merits (or lack thereof).