Criticism 4: I&I Lacks Precision and Clarity

magnifying glassThis criticism is one that, in my opinion, is applied selectively. Every book I have ever read lacks precision and clarity. This is not to excuse shoddy scholarship, but the criticism is very weak in my opinion, and for two main reasons.

First, most commonly, this criticism is leveled with respect to my use of the incarnational analogy. As the criticism goes, before I can use this analogy, I need to be clear and precise with respect to the dual nature of Christ.

I do not find this point at all persuasive, for it ignores the simple fact that Christian theologians have been appealing to such an analogy for a very, very long time. I have never seen it applied with the type of precision and clarity expected of me, in part because the dual nature of Christ is itself a holy mystery. Now, as I explain in the conclusion of the book, the purpose of an analogy is to explain a lesser known thing by something that is better known, which presents a problem: the dual nature of Christ is itself the grandest mystery of the Christian faith, so how can it serve as a basis for an analogy for something else?

This is a good point, and the response I gave is that “incarnational parallel” might be a better term. The term I prefer now is “incarnational model.” But, regardless of what term we use, to expect “clarity and precision” before one can use the incarnation of Christ as a model is a poor argument indeed. It is a time-honored model that can be profitably employed today to address the very difficult issues raised in contemporary biblical scholarship.

Personally, I feel that the reason the model has not been used as much in the past is that the need was not there as it is in our day and age. And perhaps the reason it suffers from an alleged lack of clarity and precision is because of this atrophy, and we need to bring this model into our current deliberations with enthusiasm.

The second common reason given for lack of clarity and precision is that I do not explain some things as fully as others would like, or I don’t couch things in language that some of my critics are familiar with, or I fail to footnote people I disagree with, or I do not account for standard (and firm) evangelical answers given to the problems I address in the book, etc., etc.

As I have said repeatedly, and whether one likes it or not, my reason for writing I&I was not to appease those who are heavily invested in older paradigms. In fact, I am counting on the ability of some of my critics to exercise a suspension of their own commitments and try to see things from another point of view—which is a characteristic of mature scholarship. Some seem to have a difficult time doing this. I wrote I&I for those already familiar with older paradigms and who have been exposed to many of the examples I employ in the book, and who have also found “the sure results of Evangelicalism” to be unhelpful, even obscurantist. I am among those. This is not to cast aspersions on all of Evangelicalism, but it is to bring to the forefront something that is very important for many Evangelicals: how do we hold onto our Bibles in view of all these issues?

It seems to be that the “lack of clarity and precision” argument is more fabricated than real, for if any of my critics’ books were subjected to the same criticism, they would hardly be found free of fault. All one needs to do is critique a book from a point of view it was never intended to address, or from a standard that is deemed beyond the reach of critical reflection, and you’re off and running. I have benefited from some well spoken insights concerning I&I, but I consider this criticism to be nothing more than an impressive sounding but vacuous attempt to obscure the content and implications of book.