if historical criticism is so bad for you, how come it’s so convincing? huh?

if historical criticism is so bad for you, how come it’s so convincing? huh? October 15, 2014

So we face a curious paradox. If biblical criticism leads to false and destructive results, and if it is indeed as intellectually bankrupt asMBC some conservative theologians aver, then why have so many thoughtful believers entered university graduate programs with a vibrant devotion to God only to emerge on the other side of their studies with a dead or failing faith, and with the firm conviction that historical criticism easily bests the traditional viewpoint?

Do Christian graduate students succumb to the deceptive power of university professors? Are they easily swayed to sacrifice their faith on the altar of academic respectability? Is hubris so endemic to academic inquiry that most graduate students–even Christian graduate students–arrogantly use critical scholarship to escape God’s claim on their lives?

Perhaps. But even if these questions direct our attention to important issues, there are other questions worth asking, questions traditionalists sometimes overlook.

GWHWIs it possible that the persuasive power of historical criticism rests especially in its correctness? Could it be that historical criticism–like the astronomy of Galileo–has been destructive not because it is false, but because the church has often misunderstood its implications?

If so, then we may eventually have to face a tragic paradox: the church’s wholesale rejection of historical criticism has begotten the irreverent use of Scripture by skeptics, thus destroying the faith of some believers while keeping unbelievers away from faith.

If this is indeed what has happened and is happening, then nothing less is needed than the church’s careful reevaluation of its relationship to historical-critical readings of Scripture. That reevaluation is my agenda here.

Kenton  L. Sparks

God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship, 21

(additional paragraph divisions added)


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Evangelical
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Great quote. I read this book a few years ago, and …. really didn’t like it too much. It … challenge me. Ha! I think I should go re-read it now. I recently read his “Sacred Word, Broken Word” and loved it.

    • peteenns

      Two different books with similar aims. I appreciate GWHW. Despite some protests, it is a constructive piece of theology that does a lot of deconstructive work to get there. Blunt but respectful. I actually think that any critique of evangelical biblical scholarship needs to start there, and any defense of it needs to address what he raises.

  • Apologies for the length, but I bet you it’ll be worth it. There is a connection to idolatry in all of this.

    Is it possible that the persuasive power of historical criticism rests especially in its correctness? Could it be that historical criticism–like the astronomy of Galileo–has been destructive not because it is false, but because the church has often misunderstood its implications?

    This is a fun one. Let’s look at Owen Barfield’s Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry:

    The geometrical paths and movements devised for the planets were, int eh minds of those who invented them, hypotheses in the latter sense. They were arrangements—devices—for saving the appearances; and the Greek and medieval astronomers were not at all disturbed by the fact that the same appearances could be saved by two or more quite different hypotheses, such as an eccentric or an epicycle or, particularly in the case of Venus and Mercury, by supposed revolution round the earth or supposed revolution round the sun. All that mattered was, which was the simplest and the most convenient for practical purposes; for neither of them had any essential part in truth or knowledge.    Unless we realize, with the help of a little historical excavation of this kind, what from the epistemological point of view astronomy then signified and had signified for about two thousand years, we shall not understand the real significance of Copernicus and Galileo. The popular view is, that Copernicus ‘discovered’ that the earth moves round the sun. Actually, the hypothesis that the earth revolves round the sun is at least as old as the third century B.C., when it was advanced by Aristarchus of Samos, and he was neither the only, nor probably the first astronomer to think of it. Copernicus himself knew this. Secondly it is generally believed that the Church tried to keep the disco dry dark. Actually Copernicus did not himself want to publish his De Revolutionibus Orbium, and was only eventually prevailed on to do so by the importunity of two eminent Churchmen.    The real turning-point in the history of astronomy and of science in general was something else altogether. It took place when Copernicus (probably—it cannot be regarded as certain) began to think, and others, like Kepler and Galileo, began to affirm that the heliocentric hypothesis not only saved the appearances, but was physically true. It was this, this novel idea that the Copernican (and therefore any other) hypothesis might not be a hypothesis at all but the ultimate truth, that was almost enough in itself to constitute the ‘scientific revolution’, of which Professor Butterfield has written:

    it outshines everything since the rise of Christianity and reduces the Renaissance and Reformation to the rank of mere episodes, mere internal displacements, within the system of medieval Christendom.[1]

        When ordinary man hears that the Church told Galileo that he might teach Copernicanism as a hypothesis which saved all the celestial phenomena satisfactorily, but ‘not as being the truth’, he laughs. But this was really how Ptolemaic astronomy had been taught! In its actual place in history it was not a casuistical quibble; it was the refusal (unjustified it may be) to allow the introduction of a new and momentous doctrine.It was not simply a new theory of the nature of the celestial movements that was feared, but a new theory of the nature of theory; namely, that, if a hypothesis saves all the appearances, it is identical with truth.[1]    Geometry, applied to motion, produces the machine. Years ago the Arabs had used the Ptolemaic hypothesis, to make machines or models of the planetary system purely for the purpose of calculation. Our collective representations were born when men began to take the models, whether geometrical or mechanical, literally. (49–51)

    It is this to which the Roman Catholic Church reacted: idolatry. Recall Ceci n’est pas une pipe., recall mistaking the map for the territory, and then recall this:

    “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Ex 20:3–6)

    In particular, see the NET Bible on v4 on tÿmunah, ‘likeness’:

    2 tn The word תְּמוּנָה (tÿmunah) refers to the mental pattern from which the פֶּסֶל (pesel) is constructed; it is a real or imagined resemblance. If this is to stand as a second object to the verb, then the verb itself takes a slightly different nuance here. It would convey “you shall not make an image, neither shall you conceive a form” for worship (B. Jacob, Exodus, 547). Some simply make the second word qualify the first: “you shall not make an idol in the form of…” (NIV).

    Now we are ready for Enlightenment thinker Julien Offray de La Mettrie‘s 1748 Man a Machine. Compare his idea, to:

    For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Rom 1:21–23)

    In case it isn’t clear enough:

        Their idols are silver and gold,
            the work of human hands.
        They have mouths, but do not speak;
            eyes, but do not see.
        They have ears, but do not hear;
            noses, but do not smell.
        They have hands, but do not feel;
            feet, but do not walk;
            and they do not make a sound in their throat.
        Those who make them become like them;
            so do all who trust in them.

    (Ps 115:4–8)

    Welcome the destruction of any legitimate conception of ‘personhood’, as well-articulated by Donald E. Polkinghorne’s Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences, Douglas and Ney’s Missing Persons: A Critique of the Personhood in the Social Sciences, Alistair McFayden’s The Call to Personhood: A Christian Theory of the Individual in Social Relationships, Alistair McFadyen’s Bound to Sin: Abuse, Holocaust and the Christian Doctrine of Sin, F.A. Hayek’s Studies on the Abuse and Decline of Reason, and even Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate. We’re all just machines, now!

    • Andrew Dowling

      Luke, respectfully, I’d highly recommend you summarize the thoughts of the thinkers you’re relying on and succinctly state what you’re trying to say instead of pasting several quotes from esoteric 17th century papers and mid-20th century doomsayers (along with the Bible) and then throwing in a bunch of book hyperlinks.

      What exactly are you claiming is idolatry? Relying on hypothesis?

      • Judy Buck-Glenn

        Andrew, I am with you. I read this very long pastiche and ended up with absolutely no idea of the argument being made.

        But i will add that if you are not a literalist, historical criticism does not shatter faith, if you are given the tools to incorporate it at the same time. I am far from a literalist, and I can preach and pray.

        • Galileo was a literalist, FYI.

          • Judy Buck-Glenn

            Everyone was a literalist back then. That’s just a silly comment.

          • Not according to Owen Barfield in Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry:

            This might easily lead us into a consideration of allegory itself—a literary form which is so little to our taste, and yet was so popular and all-pervasive in the Middle Ages. Is it not clear that we find allegory desiccated precisely because, for us, mere words are themselves desiccated—or rather because, for us, words are ‘mere’? For us, the characters in an allegory are ‘personified abstractions’, but for the man of the Middle Ages Grammar or Rhetoric, Mercy or ‘Daunger’, were real to begin with, simply because they were ‘names’. And names could be representations, in much the same solid-feeling way as things were.
                For this very reason we are in some danger of confusing their allegory with the ‘symbolism’ in which we ourselves are again beginning to be interested, or at least of judging them by the same standards. This is an error. Symbolism often expresses itself in language, as so much else does, though it can also express itself through other media. Yet the essence of symbolism is, not that words or names, as such, but that things or events themselves, are apprehended as representations. But this, as we have seen, is the normal way of apprehension for a participating consciousness. Our ‘symbolical’ therefore is an approximation to, or a variant of, their ‘literal’. Even when they got down tot he bedrock of literal, they still experienced that rock as a representation.(86–87)

            I recall Louis Dupré arguing something similar in his Passage to Modernity: An Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture. I don’t have the book with me right now; need I excerpt it as further evidence against your unevidenced claim?

      • Idolatry is believing that the picture of the thing is the thing. Galileo claimed that his model of reality was precisely how reality works (he was wrong!). Some people today—perhaps many—think that because people can be well-modeled as machines, that they are merely machines. This is idolatry. It is a fulfillment of Rom 1:21–23.

        Does this make more sense, @disqus_55uCYWgV5C:disqus and @judybuckglenn:disqus?

        • Andrew Dowling

          Any idea of “man as mere automaton” is an extreme minority view, and what does this have to do with historical criticism of the Bible?

          • Any idea of “man as mere automaton” is an extreme minority view,

            (1) How do you know this?

            (2) Do you believe “machine” = “mere automaton”?

            (3) Donald E. Polkinghorne’s Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences may disagree with you, and Polkinghorne is a dual psychotherapist clinician and academic researcher. Why ought I believe you over him? (I want to know why you believe what you believe—what are your sources?)

            and what does this have to do with historical criticism of the Bible?

            How we think of the construction of the biblical texts will depend on our model(s) of humans. If those models are drastically wrong—as demonstrated by e.g. Milgram experiment § Results—then might the wrongness in those models taint historical criticism of the Bible?

          • Andrew Dowling

            “How we think of the construction of the biblical texts will depend on
            our model(s) of humans. If those models are drastically wrong—as
            demonstrated by e.g. Milgram experiment § Results—then might the wrongness in those models taint historical criticism of the Bible?”

            Still not getting you. I get you’re inferring from the Milgram Experiment that humans are intrinsically bad/original sin etc. Still don’t get what that has do with scholarly critiques of the Bible.

          • True or false?: The model of human beings used is important for how historical biblical criticism is conducted.

          • Andrew Dowling

            ?? What model of human beings? When you study any ancient text/culture, you are trying to, as objectively as possible, put together the pieces of how people in that time-frame understood the world. Not supplanting some over-arching theory of how humanity operates on top of it. That’s a philosophical exercise, not historical scholarship.

          • I am fairly well-aware of the importance of accurately capturing how past humans have differently viewed the world†. I know that there is no one model of human nature. That being said, I claim human nature does not change infinitely much in a finite time period. So, if our model of human nature is terrible at some time tas it demonstrably was in 1963—I claim we can reasonably assume that it had terrible aspects (i) before that time t; and (ii) after that time t. Whether the model was better or worse at previous time periods is up for debate.

            Therefore, if it is the case that modernism introduced erroneous beliefs which led to a bad model of human nature at time t—which I claim it demonstrably has—then we ought to consider whether those erroneous beliefs have poisoned dependent academic results. The books I listed at the end of my root comment show that yes, such poisoning did happen: specifically, to the “human sciences” in at least the 1900s. These sciences include: psychology, sociology, economics.

            If my reasoning is solid so far, then I claim it is reasonable to suppose that said erroneous beliefs have also poisoned historical biblical criticism. Am I making any more sense?

            † I’ve read (some: partially) at least six books which address this topic: Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self, Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, Louis Dupré’s Passage to Modernity: An Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture, Walter J. Ong’s Orality and Literacy, John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, and Owen Barfield’s Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Sorry, I think that’s a ridiculous theory. For starters, you cherry-picked one experiment to summarize the entire human race. I could easily counter with experiments that show humans as intrinsically altruistic (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111007161636.htm; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3430625/)
            In addition, modernism encompasses so much more than the idea that “humanity is progressing and can progress” although as we’ve debated before I by and large do think humanity has progressed, but I don’t want to get into that again. By saying “well I think that tenet of modernism is false; therefore everything else that developed from modernistic ideals is POISONED” is beyond insane. You are then lumping together ideas of individual liberty/rights, racial equality, religious tolerance, modern science etc. and throwing them all under the bus. Not to mention that the idea that one can make historical-critical inquiries upon the Bible like any other ancient text doesn’t require a belief in human progress . . .indeed, you can believe humans are inherent evil scum and still critique the Bible!

            If you want to be consistent (I don’t believe this but if you follow your logic), then the Bible, written by such flawed human beings, is simply a product of failed attempts by man to move beyond his utter wretchedness.

          • Would you like more than just one data point? And yes, strictly speaking, Milgram was done at a point in spacetime, meaning as one travels further in space or time, it becomes less certainly the case. That being said, I think it bears on how Hitler was able to do and why/how intellectuals blinded themselves to this until it was too late. The books I referenced include additional data points. Shall I enumerate some?

          • I also ask you to notice that you are pulling me in two opposite directions: (a) less detail, only summary; (b) more detail, lest the short version not seem to properly support my points. Please pick one, instead of both? If you’d rather not engage me because of the time and energy required for truly doing (b), that’s fine. It just means I’ll have to explore the issue with someone else.

          • By saying “well I think that tenet of modernism is false; therefore everything else that developed from modernistic ideals is POISONED” is beyond insane.

            But this is not what I said. Here is precisely what I said:

            LB: Therefore, if it is the case that modernism introduced erroneous beliefs which led to a bad model of human nature at time t—which I claim it demonstrably has—then we ought to consider whether those erroneous beliefs have poisoned dependent academic results.

            Do you, or do you not, believe that falsehood corrupts? We can use the word ‘corrupts’ instead of ‘poisons’, if you’d like. Or we can pick a different word. However, I am extending you the benefit of the doubt, by assuming you do believe that falsehood—”erroneous beliefs”—does have a bad impact on the enterprise of truth-seeking and human-welfare-promoting. Do you agree, or disagree?

            You are then lumping together ideas of individual liberty/rights, racial equality, religious tolerance, modern science etc. and throwing them all under the bus.

            No, you did this by adding a word: “fatally poisoned”. There is absolutely no reason why there couldn’t be progress in some areas and regress in others. Whether there is progress on average is a topic that would be fun to debate. I would bring to bear issues of propaganda, the rule of the clock, consumerism, etc.

            Not to mention that the idea that one can make historical-critical inquiries upon the Bible like any other ancient text doesn’t require a belief in human progress . . .indeed, you can believe humans are inherent evil scum and still critique the Bible!

            If we want to study humans, having a good model of how they operate is critical. I will not budge on this point. You are welcome to distort what I said and talk about “inherent evil scum”, even though this is at incredible odds with total depravity as Calvin taught it† and imago dei. If you want an academic, scholarly treatment on how ‘original sin’ could be useful for modeling the world better, I point you to Alistair McFadyen’s Bound to Sin: Abuse, Holocaust and the Christian Doctrine of Sin (extensive review).

            Example: “There was no part of his nature that was not affected by sin. The word “total” must not be taken in the absolute sense as though man is completely depraved. Man is not as bad as he can be.”

            If you want to be consistent (I don’t believe this but if you follow your logic), then the Bible, written by such flawed human beings, is simply a product of failed attempts by man to move beyond his utter wretchedness.

            Given what I have said, I request you explain this in more detail, if you wish to pursue this point. I don’t understand precisely what premises and what logical steps took you to this conclusion.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Regarding modernism, I disagree with your entire premise, as modernity is simply too broad a topic to place into a box like you’re attempting to: Justin in the other thread said it more eloquently than I am: “Modernism is too broad of a concept to be opposed without qualifying
            the specific aspects of modernism being addressed.”

            You seem to be opposed to modernity’s positive outlook on what humanity can produce. Fine, but to swing from that to critiquing historical scholarship is an overly far swing . . are humans so predisposed to evil that we cannot be trusted to engage in scholarship of any kind? No-one would ever argue that with progress come new challenges and potential regressions, but this topic is explicitly HISTORICAL CRITICISM OF THE BIBLE . . .you have yet to say explicitly and clearly how that represents a “regression” of any sort.

          • Regarding modernism, I disagree with your entire premise, as modernity is simply too broad a topic to place into a box like you’re attempting to: Justin in the other thread said it more eloquently than I am: “Modernism is too broad of a concept to be opposed without qualifying the specific aspects of modernism being addressed.”

            I’m really at a loss as to what you think my “entire premise” even is. What I claim is that the Enlightenment introduced and/or amplified false beliefs about personhood, about human nature, and that those false beliefs have caused various ill effects, as well-illustrated by the two orders of magnitude failure in the predictions of the Milgram experiment. Two other readily accessible examples are the Stanford prison experiment, and The Third Wave.

            By the way, Steven Pinker harps on our general refusal to really, truly process the results of the Milgram experiment in his The Blank Slate. I wonder what he would make of the very recent study, Haslam et al, Nothing by Mere Authority: Evidence that in an Experimental Analogue of the Milgram Paradigm Participants are Motivated not by Orders but by Appeals to Science, published in the Journal of Social Issues on 4 Sept 2014.

            How am I not “qualifying the specific aspects of modernism being addressed”?

            You seem to be opposed to modernity’s positive outlook on what humanity can produce.

            I just don’t know how you got this idea from what I’ve said.

            […] . . are humans so predisposed to evil that we cannot be trusted to engage in scholarship of any kind?

            Why are you so preoccupied with something approximating the doctrine of original sin? You are aware that the Milgram experiment is about obedience to authority, right? Strictly speaking, Haslam et al argue that it’s something closer to appeals to “the greater good” or “science” which are most effective—which, incidentally, may be more concerning.

            No-one would ever argue that with progress come new challenges and potential regressions, but this topic is explicitly HISTORICAL CRITICISM OF THE BIBLE . . .you have yet to say explicitly and clearly how that represents a “regression” of any sort

            I’m still puzzled by this interchange:

            LB: True or false?: The model of human beings used is important for how historical biblical criticism is conducted.

            AD: ?? What model of human beings? When you study any ancient text/culture, you are trying to, as objectively as possible, put together the pieces of how people in that time-frame understood the world. Not supplanting some over-arching theory of how humanity operates on top of it. That’s a philosophical exercise, not historical scholarship.

            I should think it would be obvious that the way we model human beings in “any ancient text/culture” is to take our models of human beings now, and then try and transform them to be valid back then. Do you imagine the process working differently? Perhaps it would help for you to directly respond to precisely this:

            LB: That being said, I claim human nature does not change infinitely much in a finite time period. So, if our model of human nature is terrible at some time tas it demonstrably was in 1963—I claim we can reasonably assume that it had terrible aspects (i) before that time t; and (ii) after that time t. Whether the model was better or worse at previous time periods is up for debate.

            It was not clear, to what you were referring to with:

            AD: Sorry, I think that’s a ridiculous theory.

            You seem very preoccupied with original sin and inherent evil and stuff, when I was talking about “our model of human nature is terrible”, not “human nature is terrible”. Perhaps confusion arose by parsing it as “our model of {human nature is terrible}” instead of “{our model of human nature} is terrible”? I meant the latter…

          • Andrew Dowling

            Luke, this has gotten to the point where the returns are beyond diminished. I keep trying to get a single explanation from you about how critical scholarship of the Bible is tainted by the Enlightenment and incapable of being trusted, and I’m getting esoteric quotes about total depravity. Then you say I’m wrongly focusing on original sin . . the problem is obedience to authority . . . which happened to be the “model” pre-Enlightenment!!! . . just obey the authorities (kings, churches), nothing to see here. But apparently the REAL problem is “science” and the “greater good” as authorities . . .good frikkin’ grief.

            You are all over the place and seem unwilling to concisely answer simple questions. Have a great weekend.

          • I keep trying to get a single explanation from you about how critical scholarship of the Bible is tainted by the Enlightenment and incapable of being trusted, and I’m getting esoteric quotes about total depravity.

            No, this is not how things went down. I referenced Milgram, and from it you inferred original sin—I neither inferred, nor implied it! Only after your second reference to it, this time with “utter wretchedness”, did I offer a correction, away from “utter wretchedness”. However, original sin and total depravity were never my main points. You diverted the conversation onto those topics. Please take responsibility for that, instead of shoving it onto me.

            You are all over the place and seem unwilling to concisely answer simple questions.

            My fault is letting you drag me all over the place. Generally I’m ok with this, but I will be much more careful with you in particular, because you end up blaming me. My reasoning was straightforward:

            LB: How we think of the construction of the biblical texts will depend on our model(s) of humans. If those models are drastically wrong—as demonstrated by e.g. Milgram experiment § Results—then might the wrongness in those models taint historical criticism of the Bible?

            I will note, that you deleted my very intentional pluralization of “model(s)/models”, two comments down:

            AD: ?? What model of human beings? When you study any ancient text/culture, you are trying to, as objectively as possible, put together the pieces of how people in that time-frame understood the world. Not supplanting some over-arching theory of how humanity operates on top of it. That’s a philosophical exercise, not historical scholarship.

            If we correct for that error, I will note that this requires modeling human nature:

            AD: put together the pieces of how people in that time-frame understood the world

            I really don’t understand how you cannot see that a bad model of humans now could lead to a bad model of humans then. I really did make this point quite clearly:

            LB: That being said, I claim human nature does not change infinitely much in a finite time period. So, if our model of human nature is terrible at some time tas it demonstrably was in 1963—I claim we can reasonably assume that it had terrible aspects (i) before that time t; and (ii) after that time t. Whether the model was better or worse at previous time periods is up for debate.

            What was not clear about this? Your response deviated into talking about altruism; I said nothing about altruism. You really seem to be stuck on original sin. You clearly find it “ridiculous” and “insane”. Please own up to your preoccupations.

    • J. Inglis

      Actually, I enjoyed reading the quotes and found them very interesting. I found the quotes to be more helpful and enjoyable and useful and interesting than any summary would have been. The length of the quotes is not problematic because this blog site automatically creates a “fold” and hides the remainder of long quotes “below the fold” so to speak. People that don’t want to read below the fold don’t have to; the rest of us can.

      So, I encourage lengthy replies and long quotes and disagree with Dowling’s recommendation for summaries only.

      • Thanks for the kind word. I actually agree with the “forced-consistent maximal subset” of both your views: a better summary at the beginning would have been better, with supporting details also included. I’m pretty bad at making summaries off the bat about subject matter I’m only beginning to understand—which was the case, here. As I discuss matters more with other people, I figure out better and better ways to summarize, in the generally praised “pyramid style” recommended for journalism.

        There really is no alternative to sometimes-long quotations and a plethora of citations, for deep understanding, for non-sound-bite understanding. Academics know this, through and through. I’m trying to forge a middle ground between academics and laymen, being a layman myself. I was especially motivated to type out a good deal of what Barfield said, given how much utter falsehood there is floating around about Galileo. Wikipedia’s Galileo affair only really scratches the surface. If there is one bit of evidence which epitomizes the tendency of atheists to believe in fairy tales, it is what they have managed to convince themselves about Galileo’s and Copernicus’ relationship with science and the Roman Catholic Church.

        If you want to have even more fun understanding Galileo, the RCC, and Copernicus, I suggest working through The Great Ptolemaic Smackdown. Much falsehood is wonderfully dispelled. Fun fact: Copernicus’ system wasn’t strictly heliocentric; the Sun is actually off-center! “The Sun was off-center, and planetary motions were referenced to the center of the Earth’s orbit instead.”

    • Luke, I’ve not read all of the works you mentioned, but I have read Pinker’s The Blank Slate – and I can say that that book has nothing to do with the conception of “personhood” being reduced to machine-like status. To me, that comes across as a misrepresentation of what that work sets out to accomplish. The book is about a scientific conception of human nature and primarily focuses on people who deny that such a nature exists, in various ways. Actually, Pinker spends most of his time addressing denials of human nature stemming from political and social theory, and doesn’t really venture deep into the territory of religion. Obviously Pinker does not have kind words for the idea of the “ghost in the machine” – which may be the issue you’re referring to. If the denial of “personhood” means the denial of the “ghost in the machine style” dualism, then Pinker is critical of it. But many scientists today are critical of the Cartesian mind-body dualism and I don’t think they are necessarily being “idolatrous” in doing so.

      However, would you mind clarifying a bit what this has to do with the original snibbet of Dr. Sparks about historical criticism of Scripture? I’m having trouble understanding your post in connection to his points.

      • Luke, I’ve not read all of the works you mentioned, but I have read Pinker’s The Blank Slate – and I can say that that book has nothing to do with the conception of “personhood” being reduced to machine-like status. To me, that comes across as a misrepresentation of what that work sets out to accomplish. The book is about a scientific conception of human nature and primarily focuses on people who deny that such a nature exists, in various ways.

        I’ve only skimmed bits of the book and seen Pinker’s TED Talk on it, with a focus on Milgram being important (it is a nice, single-set-of-experiments refutation of tabula rasa). I get that there can be different concepts between ‘personhood’ and ‘human nature’. For example, ‘personhood’ is a very important term in jurisprudence. One of my friends recently worked up a legal ontology for justifying insanity defenses; he said it was tricky, given current conceptions of ‘human nature’. That being said, I’m not sure the uses of ‘personhood’ in what I said are so different from ‘human nature’. Perhaps more precisely: I think they are deeply connected, if not identical. And thus, I would say The Blank Slate definitely belongs to that list!

        Perhaps you could contrast TBS to the following excerpt of Missing Persons?

            There are several reasons why the contemporary social sciences make the idea of the person stand on its own, without social attributes or moral principles. Emptying the theoretical person of values and emotions is an atheoretical move.We shall see how it is a strategy to avoid threats to objectivity. But in effect it creates an unarticulated space whence theorizing is expelled and there are no words for saying what is going on. no wonder it is difficult for anthropologists to say what they know about other ideas on the nature of persons and other definitions of well-being and poverty. The path of their argument is closed. No one wants to hear about alternative theories of the person, because a theory of persons tends to be heavily prejudiced. It is insulting to be told that your idea about persons is flawed. It is like begin told you have misunderstood human beings and morality, too. The context of this argument is always adversarial. (10)

        ———

        However, would you mind clarifying a bit what this has to do with the original snibbet of Dr. Sparks about historical criticism of Scripture? I’m having trouble understanding your post in connection to his points.

        Do you agree that the worse one’s model of human nature, the worse one will be able to model what and how people did things? Since historical criticism involves “what and how people did things”, I see the model of human beings said scholars use to be quite important. In particular, this is core to my argument:

        LB: I claim human nature does not change infinitely much in a finite time period. So, if our model of human nature is terrible at some time tas it demonstrably was in 1963—I claim we can reasonably assume that it had terrible aspects (i) before that time t; and (ii) after that time t. Whether the model was better or worse at previous time periods is up for debate.

        • Pinker would probably agree with you about human nature remaining remarkably consistent over various cultures and time periods – although he’s recently argued that violence has been decreasing over time. That may have more to do with social institutions which create space for peace than improvements in human nature itself. Obviously, Christians have another, spiritual model on offer for peace and “kingdom” living. Willard Swartley’s book Covenant of Peace is a great overview of the radical understanding of peace in the New Testament.

          I suppose it is important to have a model of human nature, but I don’t know whether a scholar who has a unique view of human nature will be unable to produce solid, useful work for scholars with different perspectives. It would make progress in academic studies grind to a halt if everyone had to stop what they were doing and agree about such a contentious, multi-faceted topic.

          But I have a quick question which might cut to the chase here: do you think that the biblical authors agree about human nature? Do you think that there are any differences in how *they* approach the subject? I do, and I’d be happy to talk about how different biblical writers have unique understandings of human nature and the human condition. If you agree (and I don’t assume that you do), would you consider one biblical model to be accurate and the other biblical models to be idolatrous? Would it destroy our ability to trust the Bible?

          I can’t begin to understand how a different view of human nature would be idolatrous. Wrong, maybe, sure. But idolatrous?

          • I suppose it is important to have a model of human nature, but I don’t know whether a scholar who has a unique view of human nature will be unable to produce solid, useful work for scholars with different perspectives. It would make progress in academic studies grind to a halt if everyone had to stop what they were doing and agree about such a contentious, multi-faceted topic.

            You seem to be thinking about this in a rather binary fashion. I view it more as a spectrum. You can have better and worse models of human nature for some spacetime region (perhaps I should say “cultural-space/time”). My Missing Persons quotation talked about an extreme—tabula rasa. What I’m suggesting is that if one’s predictions are off by two orders of magnitude—as shown in Milgram experiment § Results—then that might indicate enough falsehood in one’s model of human nature such that said model could lead some very bad places.

            Indeed, if you read the Google Books preface to Donald E. Polkinghorne’s Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences, you’ll see him arguing that the academic (theoretical) “human sciences” were hugely damaged by a terrible model of human nature. Polkinghorne was in an excellent position to realize this, being half-clinician, half-theoretician.

            But I have a quick question which might cut to the chase here: do you think that the biblical authors agree about human nature? Do you think that there are any differences in how *they* approach the subject? I do, and I’d be happy to talk about […]

            You know, I don’t think I have a systematic enough view of human nature myself to be able to answer this question either way.

            I do, and I’d be happy to talk about how different biblical writers have unique understandings of human nature and the human condition. If you agree (and I don’t assume that you do), would you consider one biblical model to be accurate and the other biblical models to be idolatrous? Would it destroy our ability to trust the Bible?

            I would be very interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter. I’ve been reading Yoram Hazony’s The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture; I’ll bet he has some thoughts on the matter. (He does distinguish “pious farmers” from “rebellious shepherds”, arguing that the Hebrew Bible lauds the latter and not the former.)

            As to your charge of ‘idolatrous’, I don’t know: wasn’t I pretty clear about what constitutes idolatry? To summarize: it’s not being wrong that makes it idolatry, but the belief in completeness, that “that’s all there is”, which seems to be true idolatry. Key to idolatry is that idols, ultimately, do not speak. It is a negation of e.g. Ps 19:1–4. Such a negation has the result of “locking us in a philosophical dome”, one which is impenetrable. Such a negation cuts us off from God. See: Rom 1:18–23. And please: don’t whip up a conversation about homosexuality; that is not my point.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “but the belief in completeness, that “that’s all there is”, which seems to be true idolatry”

            You’ll have to cite what liberal biblical scholar has ever proclaimed “I’ve figured everything out; no need to discuss further; that’s all there is.”

          • You’ll have to cite what liberal biblical scholar has ever proclaimed “I’ve figured everything out; no need to discuss further; that’s all there is.”

            I was not imputing this view to liberal biblical scholars, I was specifically imputing it to those who follow after:

            LB: Now we are ready for Enlightenment thinker Julien Offray de La Mettrie‘s 1748 Man a Machine.

            For example, from the Chicago Tribune‘s 1994 A Biological Approach To The Mystery Of Human Nature:

            His latest book finds the great scientist challenging current scientific, philosophical and religious views. Crick maps out a neurobiological game plan to get to the heart of existence-human consciousness, the human mind and the human soul.

            After all, they’re just molecules, he argues, so it shouldn’t be that difficult to find them.

            The concept of ” `You,’ ” he writes, “your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”

            It is that finitizing ‘just’ which is an instance of:

            LB: Compare [de La Mettrie’s] idea, to:

            For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Rom 1:21–23)

  • Rick

    I agree with much of what he is saying, but it needs to be done with balance.

    “Could it be that historical criticism–like the astronomy of Galileo–has been destructive not because it is false, but because the church has often misunderstood its implications?”

    The difference is that astronomy is based on measurable results, whereas historical-criticism can have some measurable results, but also much opinion partially influenced by presuppositions.

    • peteenns

      I think Kent would agree. The Galileo reference alludes to an earlier discussion in the book. He is also quite critical throughout the book of certain aspects of HC.

  • copyrightman

    So I wonder if it’s a bit of an over-broad statement. I took an OT and a NT class this past summer through Wycliffe College, an evangelical Anglican seminary. We learned all about the historical-critical issues. In the NT class we used Luke Timothy Johnson’s excellent NT intro textbook, and in the OT class we read two academic books outlining the various critical schools of thought and their histories. In the NT class, we particularly focused on how the various accounts of the Resurrection in the Synoptic Gospels differ, and how those differences may represent differences in / different uses of underlying source material.

    But / and, both classes finally assumed that these Biblical texts all somehow witness to the God of Israel and the risen Christ. THAT is a conclusion “critical” scholarship finally rejects, because it can’t allow for miracles at all so there can’t be a “risen Christ.” So did these classes “reject” critical scholarship, or did they work through theological assumptions that allow critical methods to be taken up, well, critically? My experience was the latter.

    BTW a curious historical footnote: for another project I was reading through parts of The Fundamentals this past summer (the original tracts published between 1910-15), and one of the vehement Fundamentals tracts against the historical-critical method was written by a Wycliffe prof. My experience at Wycliffe now a century later as an occasional adult distance learning student is that historical methods are taken up through a Barthian / theological interpretation lens.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Were non-miraculous explanations deemed legitimate options? (for example, if one thought the virgin birth narratives were theological allegory rather than recounting a historical event) Or was that not on the table?

      • copyrightman

        I’m not sure what “on the table” means here. Could a student have argued that position in a paper? I would think so. Was that the perspective of the faculty member? No, and I don’t think it should have been. It is a confessional school that trains ministers, and so what is taught accords broadly with the historic Rule of Faith. At the same time, I think the questions this confessional stance raises for the broader issue of “faith and reason” were well explored. I particularly appreciated the NT prof’s conclusion that the Resurrection could not be “proven” through any supposed literal harmony of accounts in the Synoptic Gospels. Contradictions in the texts were noted as real contradictions.

        Of course, it could be possible that a particular confessional stance cannot be maintained with any intellectual integrity and should be abandoned altogether in an academic setting. I don’t think that is true for the historic Rule of Faith. To suggest that critical Biblical scholarship elides the possibility of the Resurrection is just a category mistake. And I think this is the problem with how the quote in the OP is framed. It isn’t precise enough about what perspective is taken on the relation of “faith” and “reason.”

        • Andrew Dowling

          Well a student can “write” whatever they want in a paper . . how that paper is graded is the question 🙂

          To my knowledge the wide majority of “critical” biblical scholars don’t say the Resurrection (understood as physical resuscitation of a physical body) definitely didn’t happen; they simply conclude it’s highly improbable. And I think that’s what honest scholarship has to grapple with; speaking to what is probable.

          In addition, the meaning of words I think is important here, and why I think confessional schools can have issues on this topic. Can one not confess the truth expounded by the virgin birth narratives without believing in the literal story?
          Also, terms like “Son of God,” when one studies their historical and theological usage, often can unveil different meanings of what that meant in its 1st century context beyond the simple/”traditional” reading of Son of God equating to “God the Father had a male son/offspring who was fully human but also clairvoyant and capable of breaking the laws of nature regularly” (the latter I understand to be the common assumption through most of Christendom) Phrases and words are often more malleable than the assumptions that accompany them (and nothing hammers this home like historical criticism of the Bible)

          • J. Inglis

            Ah but what is probable is determined by the assumptions that one uses in constructing the world of possible events. If one starts with the assumption that one only looks for material causes and events, then that assumption games the system.

          • Why can people not get it into their skulls that one’s equivalent of a universal Bayesian prior probability critically impacts how one interprets evidence? Alternatively, we could employ Neurath’s boat. Or, we could look at Emil Brunner’s thought on philosophy as a tool vs. foundation. I close with Josef Pieper’s The Concept of Sin:

            In the following essay, we shall therefore be operating under two assumptions. First, we shall presuppose that there is in general a believed truth beyond the realm of known truth (“known” truth is defined here as truth gained through scientific research and in philosophical reflection), in which a dimension accessible in no other way becomes perceptible and shows itself, a dimension of the one visible reality of world and man [vor Augen liegenden Realitiit von Welt und Mensch]. This presupposition will nat­urally include the clear admission that there can be theo­logical information about what ultimately happens when a person fails morally.
                But that shall not be our only presupposition. We shall also be reckoning with the possibility that this object to be discussed from various perspectives can also be made more deeply and clearly accessible to the efforts of a philo­sophical questioner from the light of that transhuman truth. Such “reckoning with a possibility” might seem at first glance to some to be not especially promising, but this is by no means so. In certain cases a great deal can depend on whether someone considers something “possible” or “excluded” from the outset.
                At any rate, this is what I mean to say: I explicitly hold myself open to the possibility that, on the basis of the phe­nomenon of human guilt or because of what we shall dis­cover to be the “ground” of the phenomenon of guilt, something will manifest itself that at first had not even been suspected, something entirely new. (13)

            This is admittedly a little hard to understand all by itself. What I believe Pieper to be saying is that if we close ourselves to metaphysical possibilities—because “the evidence doesn’t support them”—then we can permanently close ourselves off to parts of reality. Many people make it seem like they would be open to any possibility, but in my thousands of hours of talking to atheists, I think some atheists are deluding themselves. I think they are operating in a sort of law-like behavior, working from reasoning that is like an effectively generated formal system, one which is therefore restricted by Gödel’s incompleteness theorems: there will be truths which they can never access. Why? Because those truths were ruled out by one’s starting foundation. The first of my two blog posts gets at this: Intersubjectivity is Key. It is very easy to make a type-II error: “thinking that you understand all of reality that could be”.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Given that no supernatural event has ever been proven in the entire existence of mankind (and plenty of claimed events turned out to be inaccurate or at worst outright frauds), how could one honestly stake out a supernatural event as the most probable explanation? If I claimed I ran a 5 second 100 yard dash, you would rightfully carry the assumption that was not an accurate description of reality, given a) I’m not a professional sprinter and b) the closest anyone has ever come to running that fast was over 4 seconds slower. Your assumption would not be “gaming the system” but based on what has been observed in the historical record (along with a little common sense)

            In addition, conservative scholars who posit this idea are not consistent. If they were to write a paper on the history of India or Mohammad, they will not simply assume the various miraculous accounts intertwined in those stories are historically factual and take off their “naturalistic” biases (or even entertain the idea that they could be factual accounts). Given that there is no credible evidence that “my miracles are real and yours are not,” one becomes a mere hypocrite.

          • Guest

            Andrew, do you believe its possible for God to act in history? I don’t know your background. If you are atheist or agnostic, your comments make sense to me. But if you are a Christian I would be interested to hear more about how you believe in a supernatural being who never acts supernaturally in time and space.

          • Andrew Dowling

            I believe God acts in history all the time, but I’m convinced it is highly improbable it’s through means that circumvent the laws of nature in any measurable/observable sense (if that makes sense; note I’m not necessarily saying not circumvented at all).
            If I were describe my conception of God it would come closest to panentheism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panentheism#Christianity

          • Guest

            Thanks for the clarification. Does that mean you also reject a literal resurrection of Jesus? And if so what do you do with Paul’s insistence that if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, Christians are fools to be pitied.

          • Andrew Dowling

            I believe in God and consider myself a Christian. Concerning the Resurrection, it was a great struggle for me for a long time, because I desperately wanted to believe in a literal, miraculous Resurrection, and like many didn’t see how I could still retain faith without believing in its historicity.

            But knowing what I knew about ancient texts, and via simply reading the NT accounts and comparing them, I couldn’t shake that if I was being honest with myself, that the text wasn’t describing a historical bodily resuscitation from the grave. After a lot of additional reading and study, I concluded that the texts were likely not describing a literal event, but importantly, that the power of the Resurrection didn’t “need” to be bodily to be true and miraculous in its own way. Marcus Borg wrote several blog posts on this subject last year: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/marcusborg/2013/10/response-to-tony-jones-about-the-resurrection/

            To answer your question, I don’t believe Paul was referring to a bodily Resurrection (his discussion of the spiritual body/flesh and blood spiritual non-inheritance along with Paul considering his Resurrection experience no different from the others-and all tradition has it as a visionary experience-are the biggest arguments IMO).

            That all said, I have no qualms with anyone who chooses to affirm a bodily Resurrection (I still love the theology that springs forth from it). But often those on the conservative side of the spectrum decry people like myself weak apostates.

          • Guest

            Thanks for your response Andrew. I can see how someone who does not believe in the supernatural would find Borg’s ideas appealing. But, it seems clear to me that the New Testament writers definitely saw it as a literal event. It would take some mental gymnastics to interpret them as saying it was not literal. And, if what they reported was made-up then I probably would not put any more stock in the Bible than any text. Christianity is distinctly based on Jesus’ death and resurrection. If that didn’t happen and their testimony is false, then, Christianity is a false religion.

            The Gospel writers and Paul seem to understand this raised body as a spiritual body–but a body
            none-the-less. Somehow different than our material, flesh and blood bodies. As Paul said “it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” Jesus’ body seemed to walk through walls and was not always recognized in appearance at first. So there was something different about Jesus’ resurrected body. But it does not appear to be the concept of a raised disembodied soul which is how I understand you
            and Borg. Also, Paul naturally had a vision of Jesus since that was post-ascension. So I don’t understand that as evidence for your position.

            But even taking Borg’s assertion–isn’t that still supernatural? He says people had a non-material experience of Jesus. But an experience none-the-less. Do you still classify those divine experiences as material?

            Also, how do you understand the Incarnation? Was Jesus both human and divine in a way distinct from us (since we are not). Or do you see Jesus as an
            especially sanctified but merely human being?

          • Andrew Dowling

            Karen, a lot to unpack from your comment

            I’m not a strict materialist (I do believe in God/Holy Spirit . . a transcendent force/reality), but everything I know deduces that God does not work via “miracles” which flagrantly subvert natural laws.

            “But, it seems clear to me that the New Testament writers definitely saw it as a literal event. It would take some mental gymnastics to interpret them as saying it was not literal.”

            If you study the works of ancient cultures and literature, you can quickly realize the lines between metaphor/allegory and strict history get incredibly blurry.

            The Gospels Resurrection appearance accounts present a lot of problems, which have been addressed for centuries. The first Gospel, Mark, doesn’t even have an appearance of the risen Jesus (and then Luke and Matthew essentially rewrite Mark)

            “The Gospel writers and Paul seem to understand this raised body as a spiritual body–but a body
            none-the-less. Somehow different than our material, flesh and blood bodies.”

            This theological argument is essentially trying to have its cake and eat it too. It’s claiming it’s not a spirit but a body, but a “body” that has none of the attributes of physicality known . . including not even being recognized by people who intimately knew that person (as in Luke and John)

            “Also, Paul naturally had a vision of Jesus since that was post-ascension.”

            You are placing this assumption on the text to make it congeal with the other writings. As far as we know, Paul had no idea of any physical ascension of Jesus.

            “And, if what they reported was made-up then I probably would not put any more stock in the Bible than any text. Christianity is distinctly based on Jesus’ death and resurrection. If that didn’t happen and their testimony is false, then, Christianity is a false religion.”

            I find it sad so many churches push this idea. The realty and power of the Jesus narrative (and the Resurrection) transcends any necessity of taking the whole of that literary narrative as straight history.

          • AndrewSshi

            “If you study the works of ancient cultures and literature, you can quickly realize the lines between metaphor/allegory and strict history get incredibly blurry.”

            Hmm… What ancient texts are you talking about exactly? There’s a big difference between “Once upon a time, Orpheus went down to the underworld…” or “Once upon a time, Mithras slew a bull…” and “Fifteen years ago in Roman Syria, I had a vision of the risen Christ and then I got to know the followers of this risen Christ who remember the events of His resurrection.”

          • Guest

            Andrew, I recognize there are considerations when it comes to writing in antiquity, including layers of tradition. I study antiquity full-time. And I am not persuaded that the biblical writers believed it was merely symbolic. Yes there is storytelling but that does not mean the biblical authors only wrote in metaphors and symbols. Now whether or not they were accurate is another question, but I find the assertion they didn’t believe Jesus was resurrected to be unpersuasive.

            As for trying to have my cake and eat it too re: spiritual bodies—do you mean Paul is trying to have his cake and eat it? I was quoting him.

            I find your position requires more faith. All we know about early Christianity is from ancient texts. You arrive at your conclusions by second guessing the textual accounts. Even the dating of texts is speculative, as is redaction criticism. I know you would say you have historical critical reasons. But nothing you have said so far strikes me as more than speculation. For example your argument that Paul didn’t know about the ascension is conjecture. The fact that the original Mark ending may be missing doesn’t say much either. Mark still claims an angel announces the resurrection and tells the women to see for themselves the body is missing, correlating missing body with resurrection. All the Gospels claim bodily resurrection.

            I also understand your argument that you don’t think miracles happen. And yet people do report miracles even these days. Yet you don’t believe the testimonies of them. I don’t think miracles are an everyday occurrence. They seem rare and related to a particular purpose. But I am not convinced they don’t happen.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “You arrive at your conclusions by second guessing the textual accounts.”

            Well therein lies the rub. Being honest with myself, I can’t treat the Bible with a different eye than I would any other textual accounts of anything else because it happens to be the faith tradition I was raised in. We will simply have to agree to disagree on what results from that.

          • Guest

            Andrew, I am not suggesting blindly accepting every detail as historical in the modern sense. But the arguments you have presented as alternatives seem less grounded in whatever evidence we do have for understanding early Christianity. But I agree that we will have to agree to disagree on our interpretation of the evidence. Thanks for engaging!

          • Jeff Y

            The “circumvent laws of nature” is a misnomer. The assumption that miracles are impossible begs the question. IF one assumes this from the start, well, yes, then they are impossible. The Laws of Nature do indicate 2+2 cannot equal 5 but those “laws” do not preclude a resurrection. This is the problem with most of liberal scholarship – it’s assumption that miracles are not possible. But, is it possible there is a creator God who in turn chose to act in history – in and through a human being – and that said human would die and rise from the dead? Yes. The question then becomes is there historical evidence for such. And the evidence is pretty strong with respect to that.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “The Laws of Nature do indicate 2+2 cannot equal 5 but those “laws” do not preclude a resurrection.”

            Hmmm, yes they do. A miracle by its definition does not adhere to natural or scientific laws. People cannot truly die and come back to life after 3 days; that’s a scientific impossibility. Unless you want to argue some bizarre claim like Jesus was really in a coma . . .

            “This is the problem with most of liberal scholarship – it’s assumption that miracles are not possible.”

            No . . again, it does not say they are not possible; scholarship asks “is it the most probable explanation given the legitimate options?”

            “The question then becomes is there historical evidence for such. And the evidence is pretty strong with respect to that.”

            Sorry, I would simply strongly disagree there.

          • copyrightman

            A good deal of this debate is naive about the state of the field in the philosophy of science regarding the “laws” of nature. Whether there are in fact “laws” of nature, what they might be, and how they might be uncovered and understood, all are questions that entail multiple competing schools of thought. I don’t think there are any serious philosophers of science today who adopt the near-mechanistic view of laws of nature assumed in this conversation. Those who think there must be stable and regular “laws” that govern the universe typically try to deduce those “laws” through modal reasoning, which assumes at least the conceptual possibility of other universes in which different “laws” might obtain. If one wants to take that route, we could imagine an alternative universe in which resurrections are not only possible but typical — which isn’t all that different from imagining the eschatological future of Christian theology. Of course, there are significant non-realist schools of thought in the philosophy of science that suggest there are not really “laws” of nature at all, as well as realist schools that think of “laws” of nature as something like Aristotelian powers. Again, there are ways in which any of these latter views could jive with Christian eschatology regarding the resurrection.

            The real question for philosophical theology is (or should be) not so much whether the “laws of nature” preclude miracles / resurrection, but whether the “causal closure of the physical” must be true. I don’t see much reason to assume the latter unless one is a materialist, and assuming that posture simply begs the grand metaphysical question we are asking. (For some discussion of this question-begging in the context of whether there is a “non-material” mind or “soul,” see E.J. Lowe, Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind).

          • Jeff Y

            I think that is a better articulation than my own – reflecting much of the literature I’ve read … “Causal closure of the physical” – is the question; and I think this is central, that it “begs the grand metaphysical question” – of that there is no doubt. Many philosophers have effectively critiqued Hume on the same grounds.

          • Andrew Dowling

            I’ll just say conservative apologetics have often taken what amounts to a misunderstanding of quantum physics and transplanted it onto the Resurrection as “proof” that it could’ve happened.
            If one is going to state “I believe Jesus of Nazareth physically resuscitated from the tomb after 3 days of death,” I think one should honestly say it was miraculous and its causes are unexplainable.

          • copyrightman

            Ok. Didn’t mention quantum physics, though.

          • J. Inglis

            Laws of nature preclude a resurrection?

            Uh, no. The so-called “laws” are merely observed regularities, and the the user of the word “laws” is merely a hoary metaphor. The term started being used because it seemed that the regularities to which the term applied were without exception.

            If humans are more than just meat bags (i.e., more than just physical matter), then a “miracle” occurs every time a human makes a decision to lift their hand and does so. That is, by the exercise of their nonmaterial will a human causes a change in the material world.

            The so-called “miracles” of God are essentially the same: God exercises his non-material will and by his power causes change in the material universe. The difference between God and humans is that God (the father) does not have a material body through which he interacts with the material world, and so the exercise of his power on the material world is direct.

            If one apriori excludes the non-material from consideration, then the argument about “miracles” is rather pointless. The first issue to discuss would then be whether there is anything non-material. If there is, then one cannot automatically exclude a resurrection.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “That is, by the exercise of their nonmaterial will a human causes a change in the material world.”

            Hmmm, the “will” is nonmaterial? Respectfully, neurology has left that notion in the dust..

          • copyrightman

            Knowing these professors, any well argued, well crafted paper would have been given a good grade.

            Regarding the range of confessional interpretation, that’s for denominational leaders to determine. The Anglican Church in Canada, I think, gives pretty wide latitude, probably wider than Wycliffe College itself. But I’m neither Anglican nor Canadian so that isn’t my issue.

            I’m really not sure what you mean with the “son of God” reference. It was interesting in my NT class to study the varying Christologies in the Gospels. We didn’t shy away from those debates at all, and in fact concluded that the Christologies in the Gospels were not as developed as Chalcedon’s Christology.

  • James

    Two problems: 1. Our faith is historical. 2. Historical sciences are open (more so than ‘hard’ sciences) to a wide range of interpretations we need to sift carefully, for “not everyone has faith.” Remove the incarnation in space and time (including resurrection) from the Christian story and we have little quarrel with historical criticism. Let it take it’s course, if anyone is still interested.

  • Jeff Y

    I gained a lot from Sparks book when I read it a few years ago. Really some great observations in there and I am in many ways very grateful for his and your work (Pete) in these areas. That said, I found it overstated the case in several instances. I find this repeatedly. I think that there is too much pushing in one direction (nearly as reactionary as the fundamentalists being criticized – which deserves criticism, of course); leaving aside moderate scholars (Wright, Bauckham, R. Hays, E.Davis, Goldingay, or even slightly more conservative ones – Witherington, Green, Gorman, Marshall, etc.) none of whom would fall under the rubric of “Fundamentalist” but who also would not bow to every conclusion of historical criticism. Indeed it has become easy to critique the worst of fundamentalism (and such should be criticized). But, I find too much of the fallacy of the excluded middle in Sparks work and many others critical of fundamentalist ideologies. It strikes me as too single-minded, agenda driven. With respect.

    • Derek

      Amen.

  • Daniel Fisher

    “It is hard to persevere in a close study when you can work up no prima facie confidence in your teachers.” -C.S. Lewis, in “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism”

    Lewis wrote that about New Testament critics, and I share so much of the same sentiment – even when they blindly make utterly absurd statements an categorically erroneous claims, there are still a cadre of followers admiring the emporer’s robe. The question is, why do (formerly) traditional evangelical students fall into the crowd of admiring the emporer’s robe.

    I went ahead and bought the book so I could read the context, and glanced ahead to his discussion of the Pastoral Epistles – and it is a perfect example. I found him repeat categorically false claims that i have read elsewhere (he repeats the idea that Paul doesn’t use the word “faith” to describe the ‘body of traditional Christian doctrine’ – an idea easily refuted by Galatians 1:23).

    More significantly, as elsewhere, no one seems to bother noticing that the Pastorals are a significantly different genre than his other letters.

    I recently read an article that suggested that C.S. Lewis couldn’t have written ‘The Dark Tower’ because its word usage is significantly different than that of his novels “Perelandra” and “Out of the Silent Planet.” But the “scholars” completely neglected to give any attention whatsoever to the very obvious differences in tone, setting, and genre – the former is a dark story that takes place around a largely dystopian, medieval alternate reality on earth – the other two take place in largely utopian settings with aliens on other planets. If someone can’t notice the significance of these differences to their word-study-analysis, why should I give their conclusions any weight? Similarly, if someone can’t notice that the audience and purpose of the pastorals should make us *expect* different uses and nuances of words and concepts, then I have no confidence in any conclusion they derive from word studies. “Whatever these men may be as Biblical critics, I distrust them as critics. They seem to be imperceptive about the very quality of the texts they are reading.” (c.s. Lewis, from the aforementioned essay)

    Traditional evangelical scholars, due to their commitments, will be more likely to see the empty nature of these argumens. But when I see someone like Professor Sparks simply parrot false claims without giving those ideas he gleaned from the critical scholarship a basic “fact check,” then I am forced to think that at some level, he has chosen to cease being “critical” in his approach to the critical scholarship – whatever blind allegeience he may have once held in traditional views of the Bible, he seems now to have to at least some conclusions of critical scholarship…. an accepting approach that doesn’t seem to require the rigorous fact-checking one would expect from someone embracing the label of “critical.”

    So I have to wonder if this is at least part of that larger dynamic – people at some level find the critical scholarship convincing because, at some point, they ceased to exercise an appropriate level of criticism about its conclusions. I noticed example after example of this pattern in Pete’s recent “Aha moments” series, people assuming the truth of some critical theory which simply would not hold up to any objective fact check.

    • peteenns

      Read the book, Daniel, From your comments in the past, I think there is a lot for you to learn here.Your comment about critical scholars not being critical of criticism is naive.

      • Daniel Fisher

        I am reading the book and will certainly continue it carefully (by the way, all the book suggestions you keep giving me are starting to hurt my budget… 😉 Jewish Study Bible, by the way, is a nice resource)

        Nonetheless, the example I gave is instructive – I have trouble working up any “prima facie confidence in my teachers” when someone just parrots demonstrably false claims. The claim that the Pastorals use “faith” to mean the body of traditional doctrine, while in the genuine letters it refers to one’s trust in God, is demonstrably false. I have trouble understanding this in any way other than that Professor Sparks read this claim in some critical text, and uncritically assimilated it into his understanding without actually doing a simple word search to see if this claim was accurate. I saw this same claim back 20 years ago in my undergrad time (and I rejected it then based on a simple concordance search), Bart Erhman continued it recently in a book…. this seems one of those “critical” claims that perseveres amazingly in the face of all actual facts to the contrary.

        And it is just that very pattern that makes me doubt just how critical this method really is. I will certainly read the rest of the book with as open a mind as I can – and granted, I expect I will find other points that are more carefully nuanced and researched (I look forward to the discussion of Daniel in particular) – but when I find examples this egregious of uncritical acceptance of “critical” theories…. well, as mentioned, it makes me sceptical of the larger method involved if it allows such obvious errors.

        • peteenns

          Daniel, you are an amateur on this topic. You use many words to say very little. On this issue it is time for you to be a student, not the master.

          • lewlew

            Dr. Enns,

            Daniel is at least specifically point to concrete examples from the book and making assertions of them. You on the other hand have accused him of not reading the book (“read the book”), and now saying he is an amateur. Why don’t you very succinctly point out an example of his error – it would give you credibility.

            It actually looks like you are offended by his assertions and want to hand wave him away (“oh, you just don’t know anything Daniel”).

            Sorry, but common sense often rules the day – Daniel’s reference to Lewis is a good one about writing style in different genres. But, you, and other scholars want to hand wave that away because it doesn’t fit your narrative.

          • Peter B

            Reflected my thoughts exactly. When I studied the pastoral epistles in a theological course a few years ago I noticed that 100% of the students disagreed with the critical scholars after reading their reasons.

        • Carlos Bovell

          Daniel,

          These are very talented and competent scholars you appear to be categorically maligning on the basis of a concordance check you did 20 years ago? I’m not sure I’m understanding.

          I’m likely missing something here. Could you please restate what you found in GWHW and what your concordance study revealed to you that suggests a conspiracy theory to the effect that critical scholars are so blinded by bias that they tend to be uncritical and not doing their research well?

          In the meantime, I might make two points:

          1) F. F. Bruce states that “faith” in Gal 1.23 is synonymous with “the gospel of salvation by faith.”

          2) The critical conclusion for non-Pauline authorship for the Pastorals is cumulative. As even Sparks himself takes the time to explain: for linguistic, sociological, ethical and theological reasons, the Pastorals seem to be more at home in a 2nd century setting than in a 1st century setting. Since Paul lived in the 1st century and not the 2nd, it is not likely (although we can’t say for certain) that he penned them.

          You may disagree, but I don’t see a conspiracy theory in the making here.

          Blessings,
          Carlos

          • Daniel Fisher

            Carlos, I deeply appreciate the thoughtful engagement…. If you don’t mind, I would love your further thoughts – apologies in advance for the length….

            Bruce’s observation (“faith” = “the gospel of salvation by faith”) is illustrative of the very point I’m making here: The argument put forward by most critical scholars I’ve read is that undisputed Paul *ONLY* uses “faith” to describe a personal relationship – not to mean a body of teaching, a proclamation, a gospel, etc. Ehrman and Sparks, among countless others, make that point rather black-and-white (Sparks speaks of “ ‘Faith’ in Paul’s undisputed letters refers to one’s trust in God…”) ; but as Bruce points out, the term is more nuanced there in Gal 1:23.

            Similar use of the term as suggesting or implying the larger gospel, teaching, or religion can be found in 1Cor 16:13 (“stand firm in the faith”); 2Cor 13:5 (“in the faith”); Gal 6:10 (“household of the faith”); Phil 1:27 (“striving…for the faith”). Moreover, yet another different nuance of Paul’s use of the term is seen in 1Cor12:9 where the term is used to describe a particular spiritual gift not shared by all believers.

            Conversely, Sparks, Ehrman, and others are erroneous in making the absolute claim that the Pastorals don’t use “faith” to refer to a relationship or one’s personal trust in God (Sparks mentions “in the Pastorals this term [faith] is shorthand for the body of traditional Christian doctrine…”)… 2Tim3:15 for instance speaks of Scripture making Timothy wise “for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus…”.

            So point remains, both in the undisputed letters and the
            Pastorals, Paul’s use of “faith” is more nuanced and flexible than Ehrman or Sparks (and countless others I’ve read) suggest. I thus remain very dubious as to how “critical” an eye these scholars used when examining the “assured results of modern scholarship,” if they don’t notice these clear counter-examples. I’m suggesting no grand conspiracy here, nonetheless, the only conclusion I can reach is that these scholars read these (false) claims in some textbook or other source and uncritically assimilated them without giving them due (critical) diligence and fact-checking.

          • Carlos Bovell

            Daniel,

            Thanks for checking back. I’m not so sure it’s helpful to insist that it’s simply a matter of “fact-checking,” we might instead consider it in terms of what kind of work goes into setting forth a historical-critical interpretation. It’s a lot more than a concordance check. For example, what might “the gospel of salvation by faith” have meant to Paul? Was it likely a set of doctrines that had to be guarded and passed along? Why/why not? Was it shorthand for one’s relationship and trust in God?

            Another thing that seems to me important for the discussion is to understand that the history of research on this point has to do with patterns that emerge through different kinds of statistical analyses that have been applied to the words, concepts and phrases found in the various letters. Researchers have been constantly trying to improve upon the analyses that are on offer, but it isn’t an “absolute” claim and it’s not a singular argument. Sparks admits as much. As I mentioned above, it’s more a question of where the Pastorals would feel more at home, in the 1st century or the 2nd? It’s not a question of: Is it still possible that it could have been written in the 1st century? It’s rather: which is more likely? or Which would be a more natural fit?

            And to clarify, Sparks says that “For many scholars, this linguistic evidence alone is more than sufficient to preclude Pauline authorship . . .” And he knows that not everyone is happy with every form of the argument, but the overall cumulative case remains persuasive. Let’s be fair: Sparks’ presentation doesn’t strike one as the kind that is disproved by a single counter-example pulled up by a concordance search (at least that’s what I hear that you’re implying); it’s rather a statistical trend that’s long been identified by scholars and Sparks here in his book is merely summarizing for conservative readers–at an introductory level–what that trend indicates.

            Again, readers can disagree, but we should drop the additional claim that they aren’t doing proper research.

            Grace and peace,
            Carlos

          • Daniel Fisher

            Carlos,
            Thanks again for the thoughtful engagement, genuinely appreciate the thoughts. I do appreciate that the arguments in this case are cumulative, but I’m afraid my skepticism is equally cumulative as I exmaine each link in the cumulative chain.

            1) there is the aforementioned lack of awareness of the nuance of the term “faith” in both the undisputed letters and the Pastorals.
            2) These scholars (Erhman and Sparks included) use the argument that the Pastoral discussion about “bishops and deacons” suggests a late development – and completely miss either the existence or signficance of Paul’s speaking about “bishops and deacons” in an undisputed letter.
            3) the scholars exaggerate the differences between views of women or marriage between Pastorals and undisputed letters. Would any objective observer really say that undisputed Paul, stating that “Man is the head of woman…” and that “a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head is really best described by saying Paul gave a message of “gender equality”? I have known plenty of feminist scholars that would take issue with saying that 1 Corinthians (even aside from the disputed “be silent” passage) constitutes a message of “gender equality.”

            4) The theology is claimed to be similar to that found in the second century. This might be a strong argument if we didn’t consider that the second century church fathers were using the pastorals as a source for their theology. The whole argument that the Pastorals better reflects a certain stage of development reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ excellent discussion:

            “The sort of statement that arouses our deepest scepticism is the statement that something in a Gospel cannot be historical because it shows a theology or an ecclesiology too developed for so early a date. For this implies that we know, first of all, that there was any development in the matter, and secondly, how quickly it proceeded. It even implies an extraordinary homogeneity and continuity of development: implicitly denies that anyone could greatly have anticipated anyone else. This seems to involve knowing about a number of long dead people–for the early Christians were, after all, people–things of which I believe few of us could have given an accurate account if we had lived among them; all the forward and backward surge of discussion, preaching, and individual religious experience. I could not speak with similar confidence about the circle I have chiefly lived in myself. I could not describe the history even of my own thought as confidently as these men describe the history of the early Church’s mind.”

            But over and above all that is the pervasive disregard to the genre that I find in these arguments–the worst example to me is the argument that the absence of any significant discussion of salvation by justification by faith in the Pastorals is so conspicuously different than Paul’s undisputed letters that this obviously suggests a different author.
            But it should be as obvious as our noses that, if Paul had entrusted Timothy, a previous partner with Paul in proclaiming the gospel of salvation by faith, to be a Pastor and to defend that true faith in Ephasus, then this is certainy one person that doesn’t need a review of the basic doctrines of salvation by faith. Yet this commentator thinks the absence of detailed discussion of the topic is evidence of pseudopigraphy? Seriously? To me this argument is downright ridiculous in the most literal sense.

            This same factor of genre and audience is so very germane to much of the discussion – I know that speak with very different vocabulary, emphasis, nuance, shorthand, etc., when talking to other pastors than when speaking to a congregation – but this obviously germane factor is utterly ignored when scholars go about analyzing the pastorals’ use of language, vocabulary, emphasis, etc. They go into great detail about the various statistical analyses and change of nuance…. and never seem to notice that this is exactly what would be anticipated if you noticed that Paul was speaking to a fellow pastor and not a congregation.

            So to the point, it is as I examine link after link in this argument, and find that the conclusion is reached largely through use of exaggeration, ignorance, glossing over, and/or falsification of facts (however unintentional these may be)… Then, above all, I notice that the method completely disregards any consideration of genre and audience…. And I cannot help but conclude, back to Peter’s main point, that the reason that historical criticism is so convincing to some people is that, for whatever reason, they have so bought into the larger system of historical criticism that they have ceased to be critical about its own methods. If i can borrow again from Lewis as he noted the same tendency among the critical scholars of his day:

            “For agnosticism is, in a sense, what I am preaching. I do not wish to reduce the sceptical element in your minds. I am only suggesting that it need not be reserved exclusively for the New Testament and the Creeds. Try doubting something else.”

      • Andrew Dowling

        Critical scholars LOVE being critical of criticism . . they do it for a living . . to the point when you want to tell them to just go and take it outside!

    • Derek

      “..[of Sparks and company] whatever blind allegeience he may have once held in traditional views of the Bible..”
      I think you hit the nail on the head here.

  • Jack

    Can someone explain the cartoon- I don’t get it.

  • Chuck

    In honor of Peter’s career trajectory:

    In the beginning, there was Peter
    who earned his PhD and taught at Westminster.
    Then, he wrote a book,
    letting God off the genocidal hook,
    and Peter made Marcion a church father.

    • Andrew Dowling

      You clearly don’t understand Marcion’s theology then.

    • toddh

      Don’t agree with it at all, but still a clever poem.

  • Denish Sebastian

    The only problem I have with Historical Criticism as it is generally practiced is it’s Anti-Super Natural bias. The actual work of identifying sources and historical background are nothing but a search for truth. It becomes objectionable only when it prefers an anti-super natural view point over a super natural / theological realistic view point. An example: ‘Identifying that Old Testament uses Baal’s epithets to talk about YHWH’. Now someone like Mark S. Smith could interpret it in such a fashion which gives you the impression (intended or unintended) that YHWH is nothing more than a myth like Baal. But someone like Michael S. Heiser could interpret the same material to mean that ‘this shows that Israelites used Baal’s epithet to express their theology that it is not Baal but YHWH is in control of the forces of nature’ and give the impression that YHWH could still be real even if Baal is a myth without asserting anything against the possibility that there may have been any real demon lurking behind this Baal worship of Canaanites. Here the issue is not of identifying the sources or studying the historical background but rather in the way of presenting the interpretation leaving enough room for a theologically realistic view point that doesn’t deny the existence of a Deity directly or indirectly. Evangelical scholars have no obligation to buy into a philosophical view point which has already been shown to be false using better philosophical arguments.

    • Andrew Dowling

      So do scholars of ancient Rome show an anti-supernatural bias when they don’t view it as likely that the founder of Palestrina was the son of Vulcan, the fire god (and who could both ignite and extinguish fires by just a glance)?
      What about someone doing a historical biography of Joseph Smith . .should they take off their anti-supernatural bias and report that Smith healed the lame arm of John Johnson’s wife?

      “Here the issue is not of identifying the sources or studying the
      historical background but rather in the way of presenting the
      interpretation leaving enough room for a theologically realistic view
      point”
      The act of historical scholarship does not concern itself with whether its findings leave room for certain theological viewpoints . . that’s the point. Once you put up walls around how something can be interpreted, you are no longer engaging in a honest scholarly exercise.

      • Daniel Fisher

        There’s obviously a balance there – there are larger reasons why people judge against those claims of miracles that you mention here regardless of the existence or lack of an antisupernatural bias – obviously, throroughgoing supernaturalist Christians don’t judge against these things “because they are supernatural,” but because they don’t hold up for other reasons.

        On the other hand, a genuinely anti-supernaturalist approach that doesn’t “leave room for certain theological viewpoints” will of necessity deny the resurrection of Christ regardless of the evidence, and that is not truly “open-minded inquiry”.

        C.S. Lewis observed this balance I think tremendously well:

        “Many people think one can decide whether a miracle occured in the past by examining the evidence ‘according to the ordinary rules of historical inquiry’. But the ordinary rules cannot be worked until we have decided whether mircaes are possible, and if so, how probable they are. For if they are impossible, then no amount of historical evidence will convince us…..If, on the other hand, miracles are not intrinsically improbable, then the existing evince will be sfficient to convince us that quite a number of miracles have occured. The result of our historical enquiries thus depends on the philosophical views which we have been holding before we even look at the evidence.”

        • Andrew Dowling

          “supernaturalist Christians don’t judge against these
          things “because they are supernatural,” but because they don’t hold up
          for other reasons.”

          From a historical standpoint there is no further evidence that Moses parted the Red Sea or Jesus raised a man named Lazarus from the dead than there is Rome was founded by twin brothers raised by she-wolfs.

          “On the other hand, a genuinely anti-supernaturalist approach that doesn’t “leave room for certain theological viewpoints””

          I feel like I’m beating a dead horse, but biblical scholars don’t make disclaimers saying “the traditional supernatural explanations won’t be tolerated;” they conclude that those explanations are highly improbable due to the strength and likelihood of alternative hypotheses.

          “If, on the other hand, miracles are not intrinsically improbable, then the existing evince will be sufficient to convince us that quite a number of miracles have occurred.”

          Lewis above is talking like people simply make personal decisions based on their own whimsical views on whether a miracle is probable. Historical scholarship views them as improbable because, as I stated below, there is no evidence in the history of the human race that they occur. If you are simply going to disregard that fact, then one’s methodology is absurd. If I make a claim that I grew an apple tree in the desert, I would rightly be laughed at, because everything we know about apple trees and the desert climate would make such an act impossible. I can’t just say “well, it was a miracle” and have that be my “out.” Discourse with any semblance of reason doesn’t work that way.

          • Daniel Fisher

            “there is no evidence in the history of the human race that they occur…” except for all the historical accounts about them.

            I imagine Lewis might reply…

            “we know the experience against [miracles] to be uniform only if we know that all the reports of them are false. And we can know all the reports to be false only if we know already that miracles have never occured. In fact, we are arguing in a circle.”

            or perhaps say…

            “Those who assume that miracles cannot happen are merely wasting thir time by looking into the texts: we know in advance what results they will find for they have begun by begging the question.”

          • Andrew Dowling

            “we know the experience against [miracles] to be uniform only if we know
            that all the reports of them are false. And we can know all the reports
            to be false only if we know already that miracles have never occurred”

            The above logic makes no sense . . . we know reports of supernatural miracles are unlikely because there has never been proof that they occur. To boot, we know that ancient writers used the narrative of miracles to express larger theological/thematic viewpoints.

            Take out “miracle” and insert “Sasquatch” or “alien abduction” and see how that works out.

            The Christian way can thrive without taking these stories literally.

  • Chris Bishop

    Dr Enns,
    I would be interested to know what you of James Barr’s approach to historical criticism. I am currently reading his works on fundamentalism and they are actually strengthening my faith.

    • peteenns

      How do you mean? Sounds interesting.

      • Chris Bishop

        Dr Enns,

        I have been a Christian for nearly 40 years having come to faith in a British conservative evangelical setting. I am a mathematical physicist by training and work in a British university where I teach physics and do research into astronautics and artificial
        intelligence. I am shortly to be accredited to the Baptist Union of Great Britain as a Baptist lay pastor where I have a leadership role in my local church. I have spent a lot of time in my
        professional career reading research papers where I have attempted to understand the import and intent of what is being written so I guess my mind has been long attuned to trying to discern the proper meaning of textual material.

        For a very long time I have felt that there was something
        inadequate and intellectually dishonest about reformed conservative evangelicalism but lacking formal theological training, could not put my finger on it. This disturbed me as although I cannot deny the reality of my relationship
        with God, I nonetheless had a sneaking suspicion
        that some of what I believed within reformed conservative evangelicalism rested on incorrect assertions about the Bible and the nature of revelation.

        Barr in his book ‘Escaping from Fundamentalism expresses this sentiment when he states (in the preface) that “Fundamentalism is not as its adherents suppose, soundly founded on the Bible itself. On the contrary it is a particular tradition of interpretation,
        and not by any means the most natural or the most faithful one, only one among several that can be reasonable maintained…”

        I don’t think I have ‘escaped’ from Fundamentalism as I wasn’t really totally subscribed to it. What Barr’s book has helped me to see is where the weakness of the conservative evangelical paradigm lies in relation to my faith.

        One reason why I find your blog so interesting is that I think there are similarities between your approach to scripture and Barr’s. You are both concerned with determining the most natural meaning to the text i.e. how it would have been understood by the original recipients rather than what fits a particular interpretive framework. This is scholarship of the highest integrity. Reformed conservative evangelicalism claims to do this but Barr shows quite convincingly that in many cases, it simply doesn’t and can be easily demonstrated as such.

        So I think your blog does a great service in exploring the fault lines of reformed evangelical Calvinism by examining the historical and literary context. This is nothing do to with being’ liberal’ but is a concerted attempt to understand the Bible as a record of God’s dealing with humans for its true worth and value, and it is utter nonsense to suggest that this approach is a slippery slope into liberalism as some fundamentalist conservatives may have asserted.

        Having come to see this I find my faith strengthened and built up. I now find myself engaging with a God who is ‘more real’ to me in the world I inhabit than one that exists in an interpretive bubble whose boundaries are defined and controlled by the exponents of a particular denomination or tradition.

        Keep up the good work!

        Chris

        • peteenns

          Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Chris. I like Barr, too. I find him brutally honest and refreshing. In my student years at WTS, the vibe was that he was good in philology but not worth the time anywhere else. That turned out to be propaganda.