Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism (a new book on a recurring problem)

Today we have an interview with Dr. Christopher M. Hays (DPhil, University of Oxford), who, along with Christopher B. Ansberry, has edited Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical CriticismHays and Ansberry have brought together a dozen evangelical scholars to tackle some of the more vexing challenges of historical criticism—such as Adam, unfulfilled prophecy, the historical Jesus—and analyze their impact on Christian beliefs.

A common theme in evangelicalism is that the conclusions of historical criticism dissolves the foundations of faith. Avoiding the defensiveness and combative polemics that often characterize these debates, this book ushers readers towards an alternate evangelical approach to biblical scholarship, one marked by faithful criticism and critical faith.

Hays is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow on the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Oxford. He specializes in the subject of Christian wealth ethics (i.e. how to be moral with money), and is the author of Luke’s Wealth Ethics: A Study in Their Coherence and Character (Mohr Siebeck, 2010). He also takes occasional breaks from theological navel-gazing as an associate of the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics. He is a member of the Theological Education Initiative of United World Mission, and in the autumn of 2013 he will be moving to South America to train Latino pastors and theologians.

Okay, first off, explain what “historical criticism” is. It’s got a bad reputation with some people.

At one level, the term historical criticism describes the way that biblical scholars peer into the historical back-story to the biblical text … kind of like the way an investigative journalist pokes around for the back-story of a White House press-release.

Looking into the events behind the press-release doesn’t necessarily mean that you disbelieve the statement; it means you want to understand what factors led to the formulation of the document (to help you understand the document better).

Sometimes, of course, this sort of inquiry goes beyond “filling in the gaps” and becomes about wrestling with some tricky data within the text. After all, the biblical materials create some interesting challenges for interpreters.

For example, a lot of scholars have thought that the events of Paul’s life as described in the book of Acts don’t square neatly with what Paul himself narrates in Galatians 2. So historical criticism tries to evaluate what seems likely to have happened, and perhaps whether we can explain how these apparently dissonant accounts came about.

Similarly, historical critics ask if (or to what degree) the exodus happened just as described in the Old Testament, or if the prophet Isaiah actually wrote all the chapters attributed to him.

The questions are not generated by a negative bias against Scripture, as is sometimes thought. Questions around Paul’s biography or the book of Isaiah are generated by the biblical texts themselves. The historical nature of the biblical exodus is an issue raised in archaeological research.

In general, historical criticism is not automatically hostile to Christianity or disrespectful of Scripture. It is a mode of historical investigation that tries to handle as honestly as possible the real challenges of the biblical, literary, and archaeological data available.

Still, this way of describing things falls short of the full significance of historical criticism.  It’s actually about doing good history in order to figure out what sort of literature the Bible is.

As Lawson Stone, Professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, puts it, historical criticism asks: “What kind of account of past events is the Bible? How does what we learn about past events from other sources illuminate the Bible’s account in comparison or contrast with other accounts?”

Which is to say: historical criticism isn’t an automatic liability for Christian scholarship; it’s a productive tool that helps us to hear the Scriptures better.

So is your book an introduction to historical criticism?

Actually, no; there are plenty of capable introductions to historical criticism out there, so my colleagues and I didn’t feel the need to pen another one.  Instead, we wanted to ask a question that we think is worrying a lot of Christians, especially those in their early days in seminary: what does historical criticism do to our faith?

(For a quick glimpse into what made us write this book and how we changed as went along, check out this piece in The Colossian Forum.)

Does historical criticism necessarily undermine Christian doctrine?

First, it’s important to bear in mind that there is no one “historical criticism” and not all historical critics come to the same conclusions on these matters; they have a wide variety of opinions on a wide variety of historical issues.

But historical criticism has challenged some of the ways that individual Christian doctrines are formulated. For example, historical critics generally think that some of Paul’s letters were written by someone besides Paul, and that the Pentateuch and Isaiah were written (at least in part) by people long after Moses and Isaiah. We don’t have to conclude that this invalidates the truthfulness of those books, but these critical perspectives should encourage us to think carefully about how we understand their truthfulness.

Historical criticism raises doctrinal issues in relation to other biblical texts. If historical criticism problematizes the assumption that there was a first human couple (Adam and Eve), that could affect our understanding of the nature of sin. This doesn’t determine whether or not humanity is sinful, but it might affect how human sinfulness is conceived.  So we’ve got to think that topic through.

Another issue, close to my heart, has to do with the Gospels. The Gospels are not modern journalistic accounts of Jesus’s life. Ancient biographies and histories don’t function in a manner identical to modern biographies and histories, and this helps account for the distinct emphases and details in the various Gospels’ depictions of Jesus.

Christians don’t need to be worried by this. We don’t have to conclude that the Gospels give specious accounts of Jesus’ life; we don’t have to assume that engaging with historical Jesus scholarship means that will we slide all the way down the slippery-slope and conclude that Jesus was never raised from the dead. But historical criticism does raise some perplexing and thought-provoking questions, and it’s important that Christian scholars learn to respond to these with wisdom, insight, and faith.

Historical criticism is not about the conclusions one draws but the questions one asks and the methods of historical investigation.

So, instead of defending one historical critical perspective or repudiating another, in this book we wanted to trace out what would be the theological consequences of various historical critical perspectives. What happens to the faith if, say, NT Wright is right about Jesus? Are things different if Dale Allison is right, or if Gerd Thiessen is right?

In the end, we don’t want to pretend that nothing is at stake with historical criticism. There’s lots at stake! We really just want to make two basic points:

  1. We want to show that not all historical-critical view-points lead to heresy (there is no satanic druid cabal slaughtering goats behind closed doors at the Society of Biblical Literature meetings!); you can be orthodox and a historical critic.
  2. Since some historical critical perspectives do damage the way Christians historically have understood their faith, evangelicals should be at the forefront of the discussion, helping shape good critical scholarship rather than ceding the field to people who don’t have the same theological concerns.

This book does not doubt that historical criticism can be dangerous; fueled by atheistic hostility or over-weaning skepticism, some historical critics have suggested devastating theses (e.g. that the covenant is nothing but monarchical propaganda; that the Scripture’s prophecies are poisoned draughts swallowed by fools expecting a blessed future; that Christ’s bones mouldered and crumbled in a forgotten tomb). But fundamentalist obscurantism can also imperil the faithful. Far too many believers have been taught to understand the Bible in modern terms removed by millennia from the ancient cultures that composed the sacred texts. In this way, Christian doctrine has been pitted against science, archaeology, and ancient history. Under such sad conditions, people’s faith can be snatched and devoured by evolutionary biology, by the Epic of Gilgamesh, by vaticinium ex eventu, by an archeological record lacking evidence of a million-man-march from Egypt, or by a Gospel Synopsis that shows divergent details in the Evangelists’ depictions of Christ. Sure, atheistic critical scholarship is dangerous, but so is benighted pietism. (p. 205)

So would you describe yourself as an historical critic?

I wouldn’t describe myself as an historical critic any more than I would describe myself as a philologist or a classical historian. Historical criticism is something I do as part of my work interpreting the New Testament, just as word-studies and investigation of Roman history are things I do to help me interpret the New Testament.

Historical criticism is just one of the preliminary stages of the process of biblical interpretation, like text criticism, discourse analysis, or rabbinic studies. It’s a tool that helps us get interpretive clarity so that we can better discern how it is that God spoke through the text, and more importantly, how he speaks to us to today.

Rather than calling myself an historical critic, I would want to describe myself as a theologian (even though my expertise is in New Testament studies rather than Barth or Aquinas).  My job as a biblical scholar is to help the people of God hear the message of the word of God and think more robustly about God the Word. Historical criticism helps in that process, because it draws us into the world in which God chose to reveal himself to us.

Why is historical criticism important for the evangelical Church?

Historical criticism is important for evangelicals because of our high view of Scripture. We evangelicals love the Scripture; we believe it, we trust it, and as we read it we expect to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. And for this reason, we should be excited about historical criticism, because it helps us lay aside our own assumptions and expectations about the Bible in order to see more clearly the sort of literature that God has been using to speak to us.

If you believe that the Bible is inspired, and you realize that the inspired Bible incorporates (for example) a bunch of different accounts of Jesus’ life that differ on historical details, then that helps you figure out what sorts of things God does and doesn’t want to communicate through his inspired Scripture.

It shapes our expectations about what kind of book the Bible is and the kind of information it is prepared to deliver.

I should stress that this way of interpreting Scripture is nothing new to evangelicals or the historic Christian Church. This is already a big part of how we read the Bible. For a long time we’ve done this sort of interpretation piecemeal, allowing our knowledge of, e.g., literary genre to help us think more carefully about what sort of questions the Bible intends to answer.  As I say in the book,

We evangelicals of course recognize that asking about historicity is quite the wrong approach to a variety of other biblical texts. If I were to read the parables of Jesus or the Revelation of John and ask ‘Did these things happen?’ most people would readily recognize that I am asking the wrong question. The truthfulness of the Parable of the Prodigal Son does not depend on whether or not the events described happened: they didn’t. But that does not prevent it from telling us about God’s delight at the repentance of sinners. Likewise, the truthfulness of Isaiah’s rhetorical question ‘Was it not you who cut Rahab to pieces, who pierced the dragon?’ (Isa 51:9) does not depend on whether or not God actually speared and filleted a mythical chaos monster; God never hunted dragons like a knight in a medieval romance. But that does not falsify Isaiah’s delight in the fact that God brings order out of a dangerous and chaotic world for the good of his people (and his promise that God will do so again). Finally, the truthfulness of the book of Revelation does not depend upon the (past or future) historical appearance of giant demonic scorpions or seven-headed beasts emerging from the sea: these things never occurred (nor will they occur). But that does not belie the book’s claim about the past and future suffering of the people of God at the hands of mortal and demonic powers. (Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism, p. 30)

We all recognize that this sort of sensitivity to the sort of literature the Bible is helps us understand the sorts of things God wants to reveal to us through that Scripture.

Historical criticism can be a tool providing greater insight into the sort of literature the Bible is, so that we can better hear what God is trying to say to us, and so that we can stop fighting to defend perspectives (for example, a 6,000 year-old earth or the creation of humans out of dirt) that the Bible doesn’t ask us to defend.

Your book also seems to be driven by pastoral concerns

Yes. The fact is that evangelicals haven’t done a good job thinking about historical criticism means, and we’ve left our students and laity vulnerable.

Some historical critics who don’t share our confessional perspectives have raised important challenges to the way that we commonly understand the Bible and this can make people afraid that the Bible can’t be trusted. And sometimes, as a result of this, people lose their faith.

Let’s be honest: there are some tricky data to account for and some tough archaeological and historical questions to answer. And we evangelical scholars have often done a lousy job in providing answers to those questions because we haven’t been willing to wade into the fray, to engage in rigorous but respectful debate, and to help provide a critical and faithful account of Christian belief.

So my collaborators, co-editor, and I think that evangelical scholars should be doing historical criticism as an expression of loving our students and parishioners, not to mention as an expression of loving God with all our minds.

  • Andrew Dowling

    While I agree historical criticism doesn’t undermine being a Christian, it certainly does undermine certain doctrinal claims based off of literal/inerrant readings of Scripture, which correct me if I’m wrong, is part of the core of American evangelicalism.
    Hays says “We evangelicals of course recognize that asking about historicity is quite the wrong approach to a variety of other biblical texts.” What differentiates the “other” biblical texts to texts he would surmise are off limits in terms of denying historicity? Any honest attempt at historical criticism, as any historian will tell you, is to ASSUME NOTHING. Everything must be up to questioning and you go forward from there. It seems that some evangelical scholars are taking the ‘baby steps’ of conceding that “yes, maybe there wasn’t an actual snake in a garden” or “Jonah wasn’t really in a whale” but when it comes to the historicity of Abraham, reliability of prophecy, or the Virgin Birth, those are more off limits. This has created a brand of conservative scholarship that uses the tools of historical criticism but the end results of the search are decided beforehand, and what I call “pretzel twisting” of the text occurs to validate the more traditional reading/interpretation.

    • peteenns

      One thing we should clarify that touches on your first point, Andrew, is that British evangelicals and American are two different breeds. The (fundamentalist) inerrantism that permeates much of American evangelicalism is not as prominent in the UK.

      • Andrew Dowling

        Point taken, I had forgotten he was English.

        • Christopher Hays

          Oh, and as much as I do love the English, I’m just a California boy. But I’d wager that the English and Scots have been pretty influential on me. :-)

          • peteenns

            Well, Californians don’t believe anything–and I was assuming you had drunk you fill of British evangelicalism to become one.

          • Christopher Hays

            LOL! Sorry, must dash now. I’m got to hurry off preside over our local chapter of the Richard Dawkins fan-club.

    • Christopher Hays

      Thanks for your comment, Andrew! You’re right that for a lot of American evangelicals, inerrancy is a defining attribute. Still, Mark Noll’s lovely book “Between Faith and Criticism” does point out that there’s a big sector of evangelicalism that doesn’t hold to inerrancy. Obviously, there’s a live debate happening, and some people do want to make inerrancy a defining criteria of evangelicalism, but I’m inclined to say that’s not a settled issue. As it happens, a bunch of contributors to this book are American evangelicals who do affirm inerrancy.

      • http://divinesalve.blogspot.com/ David Miller

        I don’t think this response adequately addresses Andrew’s critique. It’s not only inerrantists who might use historical criticism in the fashion he mentions. In fact, in your second number point above, Christopher, you say:

        “Since some historical critical perspectives do damage the way Christians historically have understood their faith, evangelicals should be at the forefront of the discussion, helping shape good critical scholarship rather than ceding the field to people who don’t have the same theological concerns.”

        So it seems that you advocate using the historical method insofar as it does not contradict your previously held beliefs about what “damage[s] the way Christians historically have understood their faith.” The difference between this and inerrantism seems to be one of degree rather than kind.

        • Christopher Hays

          Thanks for pressing this point, David. I’d like to think that the sort of approach we advocate (and try to practice) in the book is something of a critical realism (to use the now hackneyed expression of Tom Wright), acknowledging our traditional starting points but allowing historical critical objections to challenge and even overturn things that we’ve believed to be true (both doctrinal and exegetical), without according it hegemonic deference. So there are similarities to inerrantist approaches insofar as I would allow my Christian beliefs to check critical conclusions that I might draw in a theological void.

          Of course the question people will rightly ask is whether, in practice, we really just pay lip service to historical criticism and in reality retrench our traditional views, or (my conservative critics would worry) we roll over on our theological beliefs under the pressure of historical critical evidence that might be suggestive though not decisive. I absolutely sympathize with both sets of concerns, and can only suggest that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. :-)

    • Paul

      Andrew – You are right even though I wish it weren’t so. Evangelical “scholarship” is in actuality evangelical “apologetics” as would be atheistic or liberal “scholarship.” Hays book should be Historical Criticism Moves Us Beyond Evangelical Faith. We must honestly face the contradictions and contrivances and plain misinterpretations of Scripture as historical criticism is want to do, but that doesn’t square with the evangelicalism that grew out of the american fundamentalist and Bible movements. I think it would be better to call it something different rather than to try and keep all your evangelical friends happy while making fundamentally different conclusions about the Bible’s meaning and nature. Anyone have a good name so we can stop just calling it “post-evangelical”? Shall we call such post-critical adherents of biblically inspired faith “missionals,” “historicals,” “orthopraxists,” “narrativists,” “apologues” or “traditionalists”?

      • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

        I’ve just begun exploring the thought of the relatively new “Integral Christianity” (book by that title by Paul Smith, long-time pastor). You might consider that term a candidate. It’s akin to Process and not much like Evangelicalism theologically but in pathos/practice. I find it a very mature, helpful framework–one I’d come to, separately, over a dozen-plus years from a long-time Evangelical standpoint, influenced some in latter stages by Ken Wilber’s broader “Integral Theory” (esp. the book “Integral Spirituality”).

        • Paul

          Really appreciate the response, Howard. I’ll put it on the to-read list.

          • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

            Cool, Paul… very welcome. And let us know what you think of “Integral Christianity”!… Ideally, go and post your thoughts under my review of it on my blog also.

    • http://www.naturalspirituality.wordpress.com/ Howard Pepper

      Very well said, Andrew…. Evangelicals so far (seemingly even Hays and Ansberry) are going only part-way to a consistent and realistic treatment of the text, canonization, etc. And it’s not as though NO kind of healthy faith can be left, but they don’t yet see how, even though a lot of good material on this exists from the likes of Borg, Paul Smith (“Integral Christianity”), Cobb and Griffin (Process), etc.

  • John Stamps

    Many scholars treat historical criticism and its various methods as a ideologically neutral tool that you can employ either for good or for bad. The 19th century philosopher of religion and historian Ernst Troeltsch would say those scholars are only kidding themselves. “The historical method, once it is applied to biblical scholarship and church history, is a leaven which transforms everything and which finally causes the form of all previous theological methods to disintegrate. Give historical method your little finger and it will take your whole hand.” I can’t help but think that Troeltsch is right. You think you come into the historical-critical game on equal footing, but then you discover the game is rigged from the outset. The assumptions eventually determine the outcome. Troeltsch perhaps isn’t the last word on the subject, or even the best word, but he still wields enormous influence, yeah verily, unto this very day, even by those who never have heard of him.

    • Christopher Hays

      Thanks for this, John. You’re definitely right that if one allows, say, a naturalist version of historical criticism to be the dominant feature in the interpretive activity, that you’re going to end up somewhere far removed from historical orthodoxy. If, however, historical criticism can be utilized by evangelicals in a way that makes it a subsidiary (and refashioned) tool in a more refined hermeneutical endeavor, then it need not take us in such heterodox directions. So you are right: assumptions are enormously significant for the outcome, and so we want to be proactive in reflecting on what sorts of assumptions we incorporate in doing ‘faithful criticism’!

    • Andrew Dowling

      While I certainly agree subjective biases creep into practically all of history, I would disagree that historical criticism is invalidated because it all just ultimately gets muddied by the view (which creates a selective methodology) of the historian. I think a good number of historians and biblical scholars (although a smaller number of the latter!) go into the material being open to the hard evidence and aware of their preconceived biases. Another great thing is one can look at wide variety of sources and make their own determinations about bias and objectivity (while being aware of their own limitations in this regard).

    • residentoftartarus

      I agree with this.

      The problem with the historical-critical method is that it refuses to recognize the literary/mythological unity of the biblical corpus in its insistence on understanding the different writings solely against the backdrop of their varied historical settings. This leads, inexorably, to an overly fragmented reading of the Bible that has little to say in the way of theology. Of course, it’s possible to combine historical-critical tools with an appreciation of the Bible’s underlying literary/mythological unity, but now we’re talking about something different than the historical-critical method as it is typically employed by scholars today.

      • Andrew Dowling

        “The problem with the historical-critical method is that it refuses to
        recognize the literary/mythological unity of the biblical corpus in its
        insistence on understanding the different writings solely against the
        backdrop of their varied historical settings”

        If I’m understanding you correctly, are you implying that the Bible works as a complete literary work and not as separate pieces of literature written at different times? If so, I would strongly disagree with that contention.

        • residentoftartarus

          No, what I am saying is that the different writings that makeup the Bible contribute to a common narrative. Obviously, the Bible is not a single literary work. However, the authors who produced the different works were not simply writing from the perspective of their own varied times and places but were in conversation with each other as to the aforementioned narrative and its mythology. On the other hand, the historical-critical method tends to read the biblical corpus solely against the background of the varied historical settings in which it was produced and so tends to miss the underlying mythological unity of these works.

  • Name

    So, in other words, we need to pick the Bible apart to determine what we should properly believe, so we don’t get stuck having to actually believe an ancient, backward book which would make us look like a bunch of weird fools.

    Boy, I didn’t know believing the good book in its totality was so problematic!

    • peteenns

      Name, though you’ve changed your “name,” judging from your email address, I think we’ve had this conversation before. When I last emailed you to discuss the comments, you claimed not to receive it, hence my response here to insure I make contact with you.

      Your comments are baiting and moving more toward belligerence, as was the case last time. You seem to distort and manipulate the intention of my posts as well comments by readers in order to score points. You also do not seem interested in responding constructively to counterpoints.

      If you wish to make a point, please feel free, but comments like this, especially from an anonymous source, will be deleted, and i will unfortunately need to block further comments.

      • Name

        Sorry Pete, I was kidding, but with a point. I will respect your wishes though…

  • rvs

    Peter’s earlier blog post about Lectio Divina ( a Benedictine hermeneutic) comes to mind. The concept of literal inerrancy (vs spiritual inerrancy, for example), as interpreted by some evangelicals, has produced an industry of hermeneutical bullying, which usually begins with a sentence like this: “no, no, no, you must use my apparatus in order to scry the Scriptures correctly.”

  • Just Sayin’

    I have ordered a copy of this book from my local Christian bookstore. Apparently it has been published in the UK already but not yet in North America? They said they would try to obtain a copy from the UK for me.

    In the meantime, can someone (Christopher Hays perhaps) list some capable introductions to historical criticism? I’ve had difficulty finding ones pitched at my level: intelligent, graduate level, non-specialist/general reader (no Hebrew or Greek).

    I’m excited about this book. I think we need at least six more similar books published every year for the next ten years or so! Just to catch up.

    • Christopher Hays

      Thanks for your interest! The UK imprint is out now, but the US imprint (Baker Academic) won’t come out until the fall. But you should be able to get a copy from SPCK (http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/evangelical-faith-and-the-challenge-of-historical-criticism/) or amazon.co.uk

      As to non-technical introductions to historical criticism, I really like Steven McKenzie’s book “How to Read the Bible”. He also has a seminary-level collection called “To Each Its Own Meaning”.

      Hope that helps!

      • T’sinadree

        You might also want to try the recently released “The Historical-Critical Method: A Guide for the Perplexed” by David R. Law.

        • Christopher Hays

          That’s new by me; thanks!

    • Christopher Hays

      Looks like Book Depository has it for 11 pounds, and they ship to the US free.

  • AHH

    I can’t tell from this (or from the Amazon description) the level of this book. Is it aimed mostly at “professionals” like seminarians and academics? Or it it accessible to a reasonably well-read layman? Is the level more like Inspiration and Incarnation (which I devoured), or more like God’s Word in Human Words (which I managed to get something out of but it was a slog).

    • Christopher Hays

      Thanks for the query: it’s primary target audience is upper division undergrads and seminarians. We do expect that it will have a spill-over readership among well-read laity like yourself. So it might be a skosh more dense that Inspiration at Incarnation but it’s not as academic as God’s Word in Human Words. Plus, it’s the sort of volume from which you can select a few essays that interest you, and not read the whole thing, without losing the thread.

  • James

    I agree with the person who suggests historical criticism should go hand in hand with ‘composition’ criticism. I think N T Wright uses the term as his preferred method of study. That means we should consider what inspiration (even inerrancy) means on a global, 66-book (for Protestants) level. What might God want to reveal through the main themes and narrative threads of the text as it stands? And this breaks down into many sub-themes and plots. For example I am enjoying reflecting on Solomon’s prayer for the dedication of the temple. I’m reading I Kings and not (yet) the II Chron version through I know the prayer is nearly identical. I don’t want to miss the nuances of the authors (deuteronomist?) of the ‘former prophets’–the final draft.

  • Veego Cobblepot

    Its pointless to buy a book that rehashes the same old arguments. Its silly to have to prove every word of the bible for it to be seen as accurate. For example up until 1961 atheist scholars said Pontius Pilate (who crucified Jesus) didn’t exist…..until the “Pilate Stone” was found. Then its like “Ok he existed….now lets move on and deny the existence of other biblical characters”. They denied that King David existed until they found his palace (on Palestinian soil no less). Denying the obvious truth of the bible is ridiculous. People who say “prove Jesus existed” are imbeciles. No one can prove to me that my great, great, great, great, great grandfather existed but yet I’m here.

    • Andrew Dowling

      I’m not sure who the “atheist scholars” you are referring to, but Pilate’s historicity was accepted by most scholars pre 1960s due to several mentions of him in extra-biblical writings. Also, practically all scholars beyond a vocal fringe accept a historical Jesus ie that he existed. The underlying questions biblical scholars look for are what accounts in the Bible construe with history and what are theological developments/products of the communities from which Scripture came out of (and the same goes for King David).

  • John Stamps

    Without too much prejudice, the Body of Christ has no vested interest in reading the Bible under the constraints set by Spinoza, Hume, Strauss, Troeltsch, Van Harvey, or anyone else within that intellectual family tree. That said, none of us can “escape” historical criticism. The wiser alternative is a studied insouciance. God forbid that any of us should wake up one day and discover that we thought we were faithfully reading the Bible contra mundum. But then we sadly learned all the while a misguided quest for certainty had stalked our blind side. We thought we were faithful to the Gospel. But unbeknownst to us, we had been infected by a nasty streak of secularism and we never realized it. We were more in debt to John Locke or Rene Descartes than to St John or St Paul. Here our Lord’s command might be germane: “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”

    • Andrew Dowling

      So do modern doctors have no vested interest in practicing medicine “under the constraints of post-Enlightenment theory?” Because you can’t take one and not the other. I reckon you’ve never gone to the doctor and got sent home diagnosed with demon possession.

  • Susan_G1

    Hmm, “a studied insouciance”… All readers of Scripture interpret it within the framework of their own cultural biases, or relinquish the work to leaders in their churches/denominations, etc, even when some of those leaders have had no formal training in the field.We are now embroiled in divisiveness which leads us not only to sin against one another, but gives non-Christians evidence of behavior contradicting our own Scripture, a poor witness indeed.

    I welcome the chance to read and interpret Scripture with the additional help of well done historical criticism. The more we know about Scripture and it’s background, the better we will be able to explain it to non-believers in a way which may make more sense to scientifically and historically literate persons, and perhaps to apply it in a manner more godly than we have done.

  • Ben S

    “there is no satanic druid cabal slaughtering goats behind closed doors at theSociety of Biblical Literature meetings”
    Right, you’ve got to go next door to AAR for that ;)

  • Richard

    This book looks like it will be great! It is vital, in my opinion, for evangelicals to appropriate historical criticism in constructive ways.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X