A coworker of mine apparently made a casual comment that "the field of theology is in disarray." I'm not 100% sure what was meant, but let me co-opt the comment. Study of the Bible in the United States is in disarray. I'm going to blame two things: 1) no clear sense of who you would be talking about with the phrase, "scholars say," and 2) the empowerment of the mob as authorities on the Bible.
1. No clear referent to the word "scholars"
I suppose the word "scholars" has always been a little ambiguous. There were mainstream scholars, the "liberals." These were the ones we used to throw rocks at from a distance. They were in their mainline world and didn't pay us much attention. We burned them in effigy but never actually engaged them. Their watchword and song was the historical-critical method, but they didn't make room for miracles or literal resurrections.
Then in the 50s there emerged the guild of evangelical scholarship. They followed a modified version of the historical-critical method, one that allowed for miracles and the supernatural in the historical equation. They also had certain boundaries, electric fences, if you would. You practiced normal historical inquiry until you came near one of these fences and then you shifted into eisegesis.
But little groups like my church at that time, the Pilgrim Holiness Church, didn't have many scholars of the previous two kinds. We had "holiness scholars." These were scholars who knew the biblical text like there was no tomorrow but knew precious little of the historical-cultural world that gave those texts their original meaning. Instead, we unreflectively filled the meanings of those words up with meanings from our revivalist tradition, hopefully with a bit of the Holy Spirit guiding.
These groups were more or less socially isolated. Sects like mine were able to perpetuate ways of thinking about the text without engaging broader scholarship. Some went to seminary (e.g., Asbury) and learned about evangelical scholarship. The Wesleyan Methodists added inerrancy to their Discipline at the behest of an evangelical scholar in their midst (Stephen Paine of Houghton).
But today, the lines are all blurred. Post-modernism has dethroned historical-critical scholarship in the first group (the "liberals"), and a kind of mob scholarship (a form of the third group) is even taking over the second (the card carrying "evangelicals"). Where is the scholar of this generation? Just as the anti-government mob wants to take over the government, the anti-scholarship mob would storm the Bastille of biblical scholarship.
2. The empowerment of the mob
From Aristotle to de Tocqueville (who gives a rip about them... we're storming the Bastille) it was well foreseen that the danger of a democracy was mob rule, and IMO, we're not far from that in America right now. Everyone thinks that their opinion on anything is as worthwhile as people who have put in 1000s of hours of study. (I read in a book by IWUs new president, David Wright, that it takes 10,000 hours or about 10 years truly to become an expert at something).
Don't know Greek and Hebrew? No problem. Your opinion of what the Bible means is as good as anyone else's because we live in a democracy. Sorry Charlie. You can know Greek and Hebrew and not truly be an expert on the Bible, but you're not even close if you don't know them.
I sense that even the "establishment" of evangelical Biblical scholarship is in danger. It's ironic that Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, who invented the guillotine, eventually lost his life to it in the French Revolution. So the scholars behind the NIV2011, stalwarts like Doug Moo of Wheaton, have now somehow become liberal? A new book, Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism, is sure to be thought liberal, even though endorsed by scholars at places like Wheaton.
So Wheaton and Asbury become liberal? Professors at Trinity and Gordon-Conwell liberal? Senator Dick Lugar is dethroned by the Tea Party for being liberal. The Bastille is stormed and the mob sharpens their guillotines. "Everyone interpreted what was right in their own eyes."
Make no mistake. There is such a thing as historical method. You gather evidence. You construct hypotheses. You test the hypotheses against the evidence. The most likely theory is the one that accounts for the most data in a way that is the simplest without being too simple.
Is there certainty? No. Do we always have enough evidence? No. But this is the method that we use in everyday life to our greatest advantage and this is the method that gives us cell phones and iPads. Anything else is a land of magical thinking.
Also make no mistake. There is a theology that developed in the early centuries of Christianity and that is more or less shared by all the main branches of Christendom. Is it revisable? I'm a Protestant so I'm going to say yes. But I'm a Wesleyan so I'm going to say not much.
These are the twin fixed points. Contextual method of interpretation and theological orthodoxy. Let the Bible say what it says and process it with orthodox theology. By these two fixed points, we can have an informed faith that can stand the winds of American fickleness and anti-intellectualism.
Once the mob is done burning chairs and breaking windows, I'd be delighted to teach Bible again... the real Bible.