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Enns, Sparks, Arnold, and Chapman on the OT: Part 2 (RJS)

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A couple of months ago Peter Enns posted on his blog part one of a review and discussion of Kenton Sparks’ recent book God’s Word in Human Words (GWHW).  Although in writing part one Enns expressed hoped that part two would soon follow, that hope proved vain.  Two months of anticipation followed.  Yesterday however the long awaited post appeared – so today I would like to renew discussion of Sparks book.

God’s Word in Human Words is a rather blunt no holds barred discussion of the problems of evangelical biblical scholarship and the need to embrace what is good and true in critical biblical scholarship without fear (no this is not everything – but it is a large fraction).  I read this book within a few days last summer. It is well written and held my interest the whole way.

Kenton Sparks starts with a discussion of epistemology and hermeneutics and then puts before the reader a good selection of the  issues and questions raised by both historical and biblical criticism.  I found these chapters fascinating, but it is not my area of expertise, so I am interested to see how scholars, evangelical or otherwise, might respond to his points.

The remainder of the book describes the problem with traditional evangelical responses to Biblical criticism and lays forth a proposal for a constructive use of scholarship in the context of faith.  Sparks uses the issue of women in ministry to help flesh out some of the details of his approach (Ch. 10 pp. 339-356).  One of the keys to the approach advocated by Sparks is “accommodation.”  Read the book – it is a good read, and I expect that we will come back to many of the issues that he raises in future posts.  You can also find audio of a series of lectures given by Sparks at Taylor University in Canada in 2007 here (scroll down the page to find all four lectures). 

The key question of Sparks book is a good one for us to ponder.

What use should evangelical scholars make of critical biblical scholarship – and how should it filter down to the church?

So what is the scholarly response to Sparks’ book (or at least a small piece of it)?

In his second post on GWHW Enns
describes some of the responses to the
book at a panel discussion at the Society of Biblical Literature
meeting last November.  The panel consisted of  Old Testament scholars
Peter Enns, Bill Arnold, and Stephen Chapman – with Gary Anderson
moderating. (nb. I wish there was an audio of the session).  The
session
was well attended – Enns says remarkably well attended (300 people perhaps?) – which says
much for the interest and timeliness of the topic. Enns paraphrases
Chapman as saying that “this book had an “it’s about time” quality to
it.”

Speaking of the overall positive tenor of the session, Enns continues on: “I agree with this assessment. In my view, evangelical theology has not engaged and adapted to modern biblical scholarship.“ 
It is time for modern scholarship to be taken seriously in the
evagelical church. According to Enns it is not that evangelical
scholars fail to appreciate or understand the scholarship. Rather it is
either not taken to its theological conclusions in evangelical
theology or is functionally ignored (i.e., the implications of
evangelical biblical scholarship are not incorporated into how
evangelicals are taught to think of Scripture)

Now some more general comments from Enns and from Arnold. (You can read all of their comments here.)

Peter Enns expresses general agreement with Sparks, although he doesn’t claim to agree with all of Sparks’s conclusions.  However his discussion does not focus on the scholarship – rather it is focused on the culture of evangelicalism.

Enns claims that the strong reaction to GWHW (and to his own Inspiration and Incarnation) arises from a perceived attack on the “social identity” of evangelicalism. And Sparks not only criticizes the conclusions of much evangelical biblical scholarship, he also criticizes the method, rather bluntly, and the culture that supports that method.  “So, when Sparks says that evangelical positions have been misguided and need to be corrected, he is making far more than an academic claim to truth–he is criticizing an identity, and so reactions are (understandably) visceral.” This is an interesting observation in light of Scot’s post on Language Levels in Theological Debate yesterday evening.

How much of what we claim as foundational in our theology is in fact merely a boundary defining our social identity?  A question well worth pondering.

We don’t need a commitment to methods of scholarship that are indefensible in the marketplace of ideas.  We certainly don’t need a commitment to cultural boundaries that create crises of faith in students when they are exposed to the scholarship of the greater world. Ironically it is the nature of evangelical scholarship itself that challenges many and ultimately convinces many of the validity of much critical scholarship.  Kent Sparks relates such a personal story in the preface of his book.

Enns concludes by suggesting that “What is needed is a true hermeneutical self-consciousness, one that aims a synthesis of theological commitment and higher-criticism. Such a synthesis is to be found neither in fundamentalism nor liberalism. It should, Sparks argues, be found in evangelicalism.”

Bill Arnold’s reflection on GWHW concentrates on another range of ideas including Sparks’ commitment to and reaffirmation of inerrancy. He claims that the need to hold to some form of inerrancy while also embracing critical scholarship drives too much of the book.  This is a commitment Arnold attributes to the more reformed wing of evangelicalism – a tendency much less important in his own Weslyan-Arminian culture.  He says that “A few scholars on our side of the interstice continue to hold to some form of inerrancy, but like Professor Sparks, they tend to ‘define is out of existence,’ so that it becomes an unfortunate (and often untenable) position to hold.”  He goes on to suggest that Professor Spark’s “task is made more complicated by his tenacious commitment to inerrancy, regardless of how carefully he defines and nuances the concept.

I found Bill Arnold’s reflection here interesting.  I have his Genesis commentary before me and I have found it very readable and quite informative.  But I must admit, I don’t know quite what Arnold means by inerrancy or letting go of the idea of inerrancy. It would be interesting to hear a more complete description of his approach to scripture. When I read Arnold’s commentary I am confronted by what seems to be an approach not significantly different from most commentaries dependent on the literal or plain sense of the text.  I was hoping for more insight into how we can reconcile what we know about the world, both science and ANE studies, with the nature of the text and its theological importance.  But it seems to me that he has the same reluctance to deal with the historicity of the narrative in Gen 1-3 that characterizes much  of evangelicalism – he just doesn’t use the same word to describe his approach.

So at this point I leave us with three key questions to consider based on the work of all three of these excellent OT scholars.

How much of what we claim as foundational in our theology is in fact merely a boundary defining our social identity? 

Is inerrancy a useful term or is it merely a boundary defining social and theological identity?

How does this impact our approach to critical biblical scholarship and to the text, for example, of Gen 1-3?  How should critical scholarship influence our reading of the text?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.



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Scot McKnight

posted April 23, 2009 at 7:48 am


RJS,
This book illustrates an interesting issue and it is one that I have never been able to resolve apart from the politicization of biblical criticism. Here it is: OT criticism is “off limits” for many evangelical Christians while Gospels criticism is “OK” while criticism of authorship of NT books is “off limits.” I learned this in college but it especially came home to me in my reading during seminary.
My own reading of this led me to the conclusion that it was the Fundamentalist-Modernist debates of the 1920s in the USA that determined boundaries, and at that time evolution shaped the Mosaic authorship debates, the miracle of prophecy shaped the authorship of the Prophets, and belief in inspiration shaped the authorship of all the Pauline letters. Gospel criticism, which was still largely a German issue (though Streeter was raising issues in England at this time), escaped.
So, in the 1960s and 1970s esp, Evangelicals found Gospel criticism, their Synopsis, and started working away. Redaction criticism was largely immune to criticism unless one thought the Evangelists were too creative. (It’s hard to deny redaction when you underline every word in a Synopsis.)
The result: many of us were doing criticism as Evangelicals in the Gospels while it was impermissible elsewhere, and all because the Fundamentalist battles shaped the politics.
So, I say, we need more OT scholars to be more vocal about historical realities. Mistakes will be made but genuine historical scholarship has to be seen as the attempt to make sense of evidence.



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Rick

posted April 23, 2009 at 7:50 am


Correct me if I am wrong, but is not Spark’s inerrancy somewhat a limited form at best? I was surprised to see that Arnold mentions inerrancy, but does not define what Spark’s meant.
I thought Spark’s viewed the biblical authors as faulty in their writings due to their fallen nature. He sees God is inerrant, but the writings as not (partly an epistemological issue).
I believe it was Greg Beale I heard say that while he has issues with the work of Enns (they have been going back and forth), Beale was even more troubled by the work of Sparks, especially for someone who claims to be an evangelical- which goes to your theological identity question.



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Rob

posted April 23, 2009 at 7:52 am


Wow, lots of questions RJS! I loved Sparks book as well. To answer your first set of questions: I think evangelical scholars need to take critical scholarship seriously, as Sparks and Enns contend. How does it filter down to the church? Tough question because I think it’s contextual. The scholarship should inform how we teach, but we shouldn’t be answering questions that people aren’t asking. When/if they ask, we can answer.
By contextual I mean, if you have a church plant, and your community consists of previously un-churched people, they probably will not be carrying the baggage of having to define the Bible within a scientific indubible framework(inerrancy), having to equate truth with factually verifiable evidence, etc. So, these issues may not even be brought to the fore. On the other hand, if your community consists of people who come from an evangelical tradition, and your “informed” preaching begins to challenge certain things, these issues may very well come to the fore. I think that is the teaching/pastoral challenge.



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Rick

posted April 23, 2009 at 7:57 am


sorry, that should read: “He sees God as inerrant…”



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Rob

posted April 23, 2009 at 8:06 am


In reading my comment, I think the term “baggage” may carry a negative connotation that I wasn’t intending. Let me say it this way: different people bring different questions based on their unique journey.



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Travis Greene

posted April 23, 2009 at 8:56 am


No, baggage is accurate :)



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RJS

posted April 23, 2009 at 9:15 am


Rick (#2),
I am not sure that there is much difference between Sparks’s version of inerrancy and Arnold’s approach. Sparks does spend a fair bit of effort to justify retaining the term “inerrancy” though – and this might be Arnold’s criticism.



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Rob

posted April 23, 2009 at 9:35 am


Sparks does spend a fair bit of effort to justify retaining the term “inerrancy” though
And that is one of the things I did not understand about Spark’s book, i.e. his insistence on maintaining that descriptor.



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dopderbeck

posted April 23, 2009 at 9:57 am


Wow — too many questions for one post! I’ve read Sparks’ book carefully and have communicated with him (great guy!) and in the past couple years have read a dozen or so other books touching on this problem from a variety of perspectives. I have much I’d like to comment on here, but let me note two quick things as I have to run to a meeting (darn job!):
1. Yes, evangelicals approaches to critical scholarship have in many respects been quite unhelpful.
2. Notwithstanding #1, there are significant numbers of moderate evangelical scholars who are doing excellent work in this area. Sparks, for example, IMHO, too quickly dismisses Iain Provan and Tremper Longman’s work on the history of Israel. I’ve also had some great conversations with Provan and Longman, and they are by no means at all ignorant fundamentalists.
3. The huge underlying question that Enns doesn’t address directly and Sparks only partly addresses is historical referent. Let’s agree that Gen. 1-11, as well as the Exodus and conquest narratives and the narratives of the Davidic/Solomonic monarchy, are not all simple, “literal” accounts.
Nevertheless, can we really dismiss the essential historicity of the events they narrate and be left with any meaningful story of redemption history, not to mention any meaningful theological perspective on the Bible as scripture? The fall, the flood, the Egyptian captivity, the exodus, the conquest of Canaan, the unified monarchy under David and Solomon, all never really happened?
I don’t think so, but that is exactly what many (most) contemporary historical critics would suggest.



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dopderbeck

posted April 23, 2009 at 10:18 am


A moment’s breather, one other quick thing I wanted to mention. I think we need to be very careful about concluding that historical-critical scholarship is “academic” or “objective” to the same degree as are, say, the natural sciences. If you follow the debates in Biblical Archeology Review, for example, it immediately becomes clear that the interpretation of the history of the holy land is intensely politicized. There are anti-Israel groups who want to completely deconstruct any notion of a glorious past for a Jewish state, just as there are Zionist groups who want to pump up their view of the Davidic / Solominic golden age — and thousands upon ten thousands of groups in between. This isn’t to say that all historical-critical scholarship that contradicts received evangelical interpretations of the OT is wrong; it’s just to suggest that the arguments need to be sifted, IMHO, with particular care.



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RJS

posted April 23, 2009 at 10:43 am


dopderbeck (#9),
OK – train of thought questions as I wrote this last night. The first question should probably wait for a future post.
The last set are all basically the same I think – and this is the issue I would really like to concentrate on today.



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art

posted April 23, 2009 at 12:22 pm


RJS,
In regards to your last two questions, and in light of the work of both Enns and Sparks, I would say that inerrancy is not a helpful term and, most times, simply serves to ‘draw the line’ in many conversations.
I think A.T.B. McGowan’s recent book, “The Divine Authenticity of Scripture,” makes a good case for the bankruptcy of the term. Much like other terms (fundamentalist, evangelical, emergent, etc.), they have been imputed with too much in many contexts to serve as a helpful label.
The attempt Sparks makes to salvage the word makes the meaning of the term almost unrecognizable to most evangelicals who hold to inerrancy. I understand why he made the attempt, but at the end of the day inerrantists are talking about the text, not only about God.
It’s somewhat odd that ‘inerrancy’ has only become a boundary marker type of issue in the past couple decades. Descriptions such as ‘authoritative,’ ‘infallible,’ ‘divine,’ ‘inspired,’ etc. have all worked for hundreds and hundreds of years for the church. The reason inerrancy became such an issue is the modernist/fundamentalist debate that Scot brought up earlier, even though that was a tangential issue at the time (they were more focused on the effects of modernism and anti-supernaturalism than inerrancy).
All that to say that I do not think inerrancy is helpful and does seem to serve as a badge that people wear to define themselves rather than a biblically sustainable doctrine.
In terms of how that affects how people understand critical biblical scholarship, it affects them very negatively because they tend to ignore or throw out any point or argument that does not mesh with their understanding of inerrancy (and understand which is usually closely tied to the relationship of texts to history, which is another topic altogether!). When they do this, they miss out, I believe, on so much that God is teaching us not only through the content of Scripture, but also about himself in the phenomena of Scripture (again, another issue that deserves time all to itself). That is not helpful for Christians, nor is it helpful for their children who go off to colleges and are bombarded with all of this critical biblical scholarship (that has usually been secularized) and do not have a paradigm through which to make sense of this data and their faith. Instead of a robust faith that is able to deal with critical scholarship and hold onto faith, it breeds a generation of Bart Ehrmans whose doctrine of Scripture is so narrow and detached from reality that it cannot deal with basic issues in critical scholarship.
The irony is that strong advocates of inerrancy believe that they are defending the faith when, in reality, they are actually making their faith weaker.



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dopderbeck

posted April 23, 2009 at 12:35 pm


Ok, let me focus for a moment on the question about “inerrancy.” I don’t think inerrancy is only a boundary-defining term. It is that, of course, but it also touches on two vital concerns, both of which are at the core of what it means to be Protestant: (1) what are the implications of confessing that scripture is “revelation” from God; and (2) where does authority over faith and practice ultimately lie?
As to (1), if scripture is revelation from God in verbal form, and God is a God of truth, then scripture must communicate truth.
As to (2), if the final authority over faith and practice lies in scripture alone, then scripture must be truthful in order to secure correct faith and practice.
If scripture can be in error, it seems very difficult to me to be able to assert any of these basic Protestant affirmations. It seems to me that the Roman position would be correct: an interpretive Magesterium would be required for the Church to know how to think and live. Our recent discussion about women in the Church, as well as recent discussions on homosexuality in the Church, illustrate this well. How can we know which aspects of the scriptures pertaining to gender and sexuality are cultural accommodations and which are normative today?
Therefore, I think some notion of the “inerrancy,” “infallibility,” “truthfulness,” etc. of scripture is essential to Protestant Christian faith. The more precise question, it seems to me, is what we might mean by these terms given the fact that scripture is God’s revelation given through situated human beings? In addition, we have to ask what these terms mean when we properly account for the function and role of the Holy Spirit in illuminating the text and guiding the Church concerning its meaning and application in diverse cultural and historical settings.
Do the Chicago Statements on Inerrancy and Hermeneutics get this balance right? Personally, I would say no. On the other hand, is the Barthian approach — separating “revelation” from “text” — which seems to be where evangelical uses of “accommodation” are going right now, adequate? Again, I think I would say no.



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Matt Edwards

posted April 23, 2009 at 12:36 pm


One of the problems in evangelicalism is that there is a disconnect between the beliefs and habits of the scholars and those of pastors and lay people.
I would say that evangelical scholars are more conversant with mainline biblical criticism than mainline scholars are with evangelical approaches. Most criticisms I hear of evangelical scholarship are straw men. Watch any interview of Bart Ehrman for a good example.
However, this does not necessarily trickle down to pastors and lay people. Evangelical pastors don’t always interact with the best scholarship (evangelical or otherwise), so the ideas aren’t communicated in the churches. Thus, the people in the pews are ignorant of the issues.
I withdrew from an NT Theology PhD program to preach in a church. It’s a challenge to interact with modern biblical criticism in a sermon because (1) people think it’s boring, and (2) polarizing sermons are more popular.
There is no such thing as tenure in church work, and you need to be careful about biting the hands that feed you. You can challenge people’s thinking, but if you push people too far you may find yourself out of a job and without health insurance. One reason that pastors don’t interact with biblical criticism from the pulpit is because they can’t.



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dopderbeck

posted April 23, 2009 at 12:43 pm


Art (#12) — I’ve always appreciated your perspective on this question, and agree with much of what you say. Still, how would you respond to the points about the principles of Protestantism that I raise in #11? And how would you handle the problem of the historical referent of the story of redemption that I raise in #9? These seem to me to be problems that evangelical accommodation advocates often don’t directly address.



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Travis Greene

posted April 23, 2009 at 1:19 pm


dopderbeck,
“(1), if scripture is revelation from God in verbal form, and God is a God of truth, then scripture must communicate truth.”
Agreed, but does that mean it must communicate truth the way we would like it to, or expect it to?
“(2), if the final authority over faith and practice lies in scripture alone, then scripture must be truthful in order to secure correct faith and practice.”
Again, agreed.
“If scripture can be in error, it seems very difficult to me to be able to assert any of these basic Protestant affirmations. It seems to me that the Roman position would be correct: an interpretive Magesterium would be required for the Church to know how to think and live.”
Well, maybe we do need to rethink some of these basic Protestant affirmations. If Scripture has the final authority, then it is authoritative over our traditions, right? Even our traditions about HOW Scripture has authority. Are we Protestants, or are we Christians?
I think an interpretive community is required for the church to know how to think and live. But in true Protestant fashion and insisting on the priesthood of all believers, I’d insist that the church IS the interpretive community, and not some special subset of scholars and . Jesus gives us the authority, with Scripture as our primary source, guide, and storybook, to “bind and loose”…in other words, to figure this stuff out.
And that’s harder than having a book that’s going to just tell us what to do, in every situation, for all time. It seems, to inerrantists, that to talk about interpretive communities and mytho-history and such that one is dishonoring Scripture. But…if the very book that I hold authoritative seems to be teaching just that, what else do we do?



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Travis Greene

posted April 23, 2009 at 1:27 pm


dopderbeck,
Also, I share the same concern about the historical reality of the redemption narrative. Especially since, biblically, it’s so tied to ethics. “Treat the alien/stranger kindly, because you were also strangers in Egypt”, and that sort of thing.
On the other hand, Chesterton says somewhere that if man is just an evolved ape, that is in some ways more amazing than if he were a special, separately created semi-divine being. In the same way, if none of the Exodus narrative happened (which I do not believe), how amazing for a group of people to make up this history for themselves! To paint their ancestors as a bunch of whiners and unfaithful wrecks, and their greatest leaders as, ultimately, failures (Moses doesn’t make it to Canaan, David sets in motion the events that lead to his kingdom’s ultimate downfall).
It might be kind of a win-win. If the Exodus happened, well, there you go. If not…surely something very strange is at work in this people, to develop an ethical system based on a fictitious historical state of slavery!



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walter forcatto

posted April 23, 2009 at 1:37 pm


“All that to say that I do not think inerrancy is helpful and does seem to serve as a badge that people wear to define themselves rather than a biblically sustainable doctrine.”
“When they do this, they miss out, I believe, on so much that God is teaching us not only through the content of Scripture, but also about himself in the phenomena of Scripture (again, another issue that deserves time all to itself). That is not helpful for Christians, nor is it helpful for their children who go off to colleges and are bombarded with all of this critical biblical scholarship (that has usually been secularized) and do not have a paradigm through which to make sense of this data and their faith.”
these are EXCELLENT points. thanks for making them. we do not often think of the disservice we do to the youth and young adults in our churches when we do not teach, let alone mention theology and how to critically read the bible. How to bring this stuff to the churches? it needs to be valued enough to be taught. As a Brazilian theologian and shcolar once wrote, “theology belongs to the people of God.”
I have not read the book in question but I do plan to. If anyone reads Spanish there are several outstanding biblical scholars in Latin America that have done amazing work (and some of them have books in English too). Severino Croatto, Edesio Sanchez, Nancy Bedford, Nestor Miguez and his father Miguez-Bonino just to name a few!



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dopderbeck

posted April 23, 2009 at 1:50 pm


Travis said: Are we Protestants, or are we Christians?
I respond: excellent point. Here is something that also bothers me: why is it that the Catholics in recent decades seem to be handling these issues so effectively when “we” cannot seem to do so? A colleague of mine who is a very serious Catholic (Opus Dei member) passed this link on to me a couple of weeks ago about the “official” Catholic approach to critical scholarship: http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/synod/documents/rc_synod_doc_20080511_instrlabor-xii-assembly_en.html
Well, it seems to me, there it is, an incredibly well thought out theology of the truthfulness of scripture in light of its humanness, a very careful nuancing of “inerrancy,” and a deeply Pastoral concern for how the complexities of the text relate to personal devotion and the life of the Church. Here is how the Catholic document summarizes the problem we are now discussing (substitute “tradition” in the very last line for the word “Magesterium”, and wouldn’t we have an outstanding summary for “third way” evangelicals?):

? the charism of inspiration allows God to be the author of the Bible in a way that does not exclude humankind itself from being its true author. In fact, inspiration is different from dictation; it leaves the freedom and personal capacity of the writer in tact, while enlightening and inspiring both;
? with regards to what might be inspired in the many parts of Sacred Scripture, inerrancy applies only to “that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation” (DV 11);
? in virtue of the charism of inspiration, the Holy Spirit constitutes the books of the Bible as the Word of God and entrusts them to the Church, so that they might be received in the obedience of faith;
? the totality and organic unity of the Canon of Sacred Scripture constitutes the criterion for interpreting the Sacred Book; and
? since the Bible is the Word of God recorded in human language, its interpretation is consonant with literary, philosophic and theological criteria, always subject, however, to the unifying force of faith and the guidance of the Magisterium (13).



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John C

posted April 23, 2009 at 1:58 pm


From a British perspective, this looks rather like the late 1970s controversy sparked by James Barr’s Fundamentalism, which accused (conservative) evangelicals of academic dishonesty and failure to reckon seriously with biblical criticism. That provoked a certain amount of heart-searching, and figures like James Dunn (Scot’s PhD supervisor, I think) became estranged from more conservative evangelicals for suggesting a more mainstream kind of evangelical biblical scholarship. British Evangelicalism is still divided between ‘conservative’ and ‘open’ parties, partly for this reason, though it’s worth noting that ‘inerrancy’ has never been such a touchstone of orthodoxy in the UK. Statements of faith tend to require belief in the authority or infallibility of Scripture in all matters of belief and practice.
I’m wondering what’s the difference between this controversy and the Barr one? Is it simply that Enns and Sparks are insiders, whereas Barr was seen as an outsider? And hasn’t Evangelical biblical scholarship moved on enormously since the late 1970s – as witnessed in IVP’s magisterial Dictionaries? Isn’t there more latitude now for Evangelical biblical scholars than there was 40 years ago?



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art

posted April 23, 2009 at 2:13 pm


dopderbeck (#15): To quote your comment in #12:
“As to (1), if scripture is revelation from God in verbal form, and God is a God of truth, then scripture must communicate truth.
As to (2), if the final authority over faith and practice lies in scripture alone, then scripture must be truthful in order to secure correct faith and practice.
If scripture can be in error, it seems very difficult to me to be able to assert any of these basic Protestant affirmations”
The issue that I would raise is ‘what category of truth are you speaking of in #1?’ That is a big issue because I would affirm (as well as Sparks and Enns) that Scripture conveys the truth that it was meant to convey. I don’t believe that Scripture was meant to convey truth about science (which it gets wrong in many places) or math (which it gets wrong in places) or even simple quotations (which Matthew gets wrong, attributing a quote from Zechariah to Jeremiah (Matt 27.9)…which is a clear error [I know evangelicals attempt to argue otherwise, but I have yet to find a compelling argument where the conclusion is "Matthew actually had it write."]).
In other words, I could take an errantist view and still affirm both statements, yet I would have disagreements with inerrantists because I am not extending the definition of “truth” to include science,history, math, etc. (i.e., things that, I believe are peripheral at best to the purpose of Scripture).
Your second question about historical referent could honestly be a master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation. While I don’t have the time to give you an exhaustive answer to that, I think a good first step would be to talk about historical referents in any literature. None of them are literal, all of them are biased, and all of them are limited by perspective. No historical event has been, or can be, recorded comprehensively…so there is no such thing as a one-to-one relationship between text and event.
Taking note of this fundamental fact of historiography, one can start asking the right questions of the text. For instance, take the Exodus. A questions I would ask would not be “When did this take place? What body of water did they cross? What Pharaoh did this occur under?” Rather I would ask, “Why did God choose to reveal himself to his people through _THIS_ story written in _THIS_ way?” That’s not to mean that there is no historical referent, as if Scripture is the divine counterpart to Aesop’s fables. Obviously something happened. But we confess the Bible as the Word of God, not the history behind at the Word of God. The text is what is inspired; not the history behind it. Inspiration and truth, at least in my understanding, are not undermined if the Conquest doesn’t match archaeological data. In certain ways, it makes the Bible more interesting if something like that doesn’t add up.
All that to say, your second question is a HUGE question that I am very interested in exploring, but will take many pages to fully explore.



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Scott M

posted April 23, 2009 at 3:23 pm


dopderbeck (#13)
1 – That’s not a Protestant distinctive. Every major Christian tradition holds that the Holy Scriptures are a revelation of God.
2 – I don’t see any practical way that Protestants are any different in this regard. Many simply pretend they don’t. Specifically, the part of protestantism which is most likely to find ‘inerrant’ a useful category of thought is also the part which has produced the most identifiable, distinct denomination or ‘non-denomination’. Each his its own distinctive faith and practice based on the same ‘inerrant’ scripture. Clearly, each is not really relying on scripture, but on a particular interpretive grid placed on scripture. Any particular grid originated from some human source. The earliest instance of an interpretive grid which views the Eucharist as simply a ‘memorial’ for example seems to have originated with Zwingli. At least I can’t find an earlier occurrence. You can trace any particular interpretation in a similar manner.
I’ve never really been able to grasp what some people are deriving from their reliance on a term like ‘inerrant’. A document could contain no specific error yet be wrong. Similarly, a document could contain a host of errors, yet be right or true in what it says. We see that all the time. So it’s not so much that I react for or against the term. It just looks like a useless category to me when applied to faith and sacred writings.



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Travis Greene

posted April 23, 2009 at 3:47 pm


art @ 21, “The text is what is inspired; not the history behind it.”
Even if the text points specifically to that history as a basis both for theology (“God is good, because of what he did at the Red Sea”) and ethics (“Be nice to foreigners, for you were once foreigners”)?
Surely some things don’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether Job existed, for instance, or Jonah…but I think Moses is another matter.
dopderbeck @ 19,
That does sound like an excellent third way, to which I would gladly sign on. In my church we talk about “consistent and collective” study of the Bible. In other words, it’s not just about the individual in their study reading the Bible alone (though that’s great too), but the whole community reading Scripture to and with each other. The “community” in this sense also includes past members who happen to be dead (tradition) and the best scholarship (reason & experience), all subordinated to the authority of God himself. I think we just have to trust that the Spirit will lead us. It’s much more difficult, imho, for a whole community (properly networked into the broader Church) to go astray into doctrinal heresy than for the lone individual reading the Bible with no checks or balances on his/her interpretation.



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dopderbeck

posted April 23, 2009 at 3:51 pm


Art (#21) — but now I’m having trouble distinguishing your position from what most (or at least many) evangelical scholars mean by “inerrancy.” I’m pretty sure, for example, that some folks at Wheaton I’ve talked to who really dislike Sparks’ proposal would agree with just about everything you’ve said and would still consider themselves inerrantists. Maybe that’s part of the problem? What Ken Hamm means by inerrant is different than what Norm Geisler means is different than what John Frame means is different than what J.I. Packer means…. and so on.



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Jason

posted April 23, 2009 at 5:59 pm


I resonate with dopderbeck concern about what it might mean to the reality of our faith and relationship with God if a great deal of OT narrative is not historical. At the very least the extremes to which most modern scholarship would place over the reality of the exodus and the figure Moses would call into question to NT historical moment of the transfiguration since Moses was apparently there.
And yet, at the same time I have been rather convinced by a great deal of that very evidence; in my mind it is quite clear Genesis 1-11 has little historical truth; and though I am less certain it seems a very good case can be made that casts doubt on the most of the Exodus narrative; evidence from a variety of different sources including textual clues itself. Its all caused quite a bit of doubt for me in my faith (one reason I am reading these books by Sparks and Enns in the first place). I wonder then if this is not partly personality that separates where dopderbeck and I might ultimately land on this. Not to presume to much on the dopderbeck’s journey or to guess how familiar he is or how convincing he finds modern science, archeology, textual studies, etc: but it seems he/you (sorry, won’t keep talking about you in the third person) find the wall you find personally disconcerting and decide such modern research CAN’T be true because it would cost to much to our shared faith, or as you said, we can’t “dismiss the essential historicity of the events they narrate and be left with any meaningful story of redemption history”. I have the same sentiments yet at the same time, simply can’t ignore what I feel is plainly evidenced, such as the common descent of man with primates (and that population clearly was never reduced to 2, or 8 for that matter) or a whole host of other things.



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RJS

posted April 23, 2009 at 6:25 pm


art (#12)
I agree – I think the word “inerrancy” is primarily a boundary for social identity. This is part of what makes the term a real problem.
And it doesn’t actually take critical biblical scholarship to bring out the problems with this position. I didn’t need anyone to point out the problems. Simply reading the OT in anything other than bite size pieces is enough.
I would say that I went some 20 years where I did not want to crack open and read the OT; and not even some parts of the NT. It simply isn’t what it is supposed to be … and no one will talk about it, except of course those who are ever willing to ridicule and put down the entire faith.
This is really why I put in the first question as well. We have to deal with the issues in the church – at least in some parts of the church.



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Jen McDonald

posted April 23, 2009 at 8:05 pm


walter (#18),
i appreciate your mentioning the latin american authors. i think it is essential to pay attention to other, non-western voices in this discussion.
~jen



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CJW

posted April 23, 2009 at 8:49 pm


For evidence that inerrancy functions as a social boundary, look at the membership requirements of the ETS. For the purposes of participating in theology in North America as a conservative Protestant, inerrancy is seen as equal to the trinity. How ridiculous.



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dopderbeck

posted April 24, 2009 at 9:25 am


Jason (#25) — maybe my arguments in this thread don’t get at the totality of my efforts to get my head around this stuff, but I AM committed to accepting truth wherever it’s found, and I DO accept as essentially warranted the conclusions of modern science about natural history and biological origins. The universe is billions of years old, biological common descent happened, and there was never a universal global flood in human history.
BUT — those facts don’t necessarily have to be absolutely opposed to belief in the essential historicity of Gen. 1-11. The question is what “essential historicity” means. If “history” is always a literary and perspectival product, then perhaps the hermeneutical task involves inhabiting the “history” writer’s literary conventions and cultural perspective.
For example, perhaps it was perfectly “legitimate” and “truthful” for the Hebrew community to clothe memories of some pivotal events — a primordial human turning from God, an ancient flood that destroyed a local culture and gave rise to legends like Gilgamesh — in the garb of culturally extant saga-stories that read to us moderns like efforts to construct “errant” “literal” history. And maybe the same is true to some extent or another concerning the later OT historical narratives of exodus, conquest, and kingdom.
In other words, maybe the problem isn’t so much a faith commitment to the divine inspiration and therefore truth-fullness of the text as it is our modern presuppositions about what such narratives should look like and how they should be received and function in a community. That goes both for the fundamentalists (and evangelicals) who insist on some kind of exact facticity and for the modern historical critics who try to “get behind” the text notwithstanding its canonical function.



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RJS

posted April 24, 2009 at 10:31 am


dopderbeck,
I don’t think that the problem is with divine inspiration, truth-fullness, or authority of scripture. The problem we have is with an external determination of what it means for the texts to be truthful, inspired and authoritative. As you said – our modern predispositions and skepticism.
I have been a bit disappointed in the discussion of this book (and Pete Enns’s book) because the reaction has been based on social identity and evangelical pre-commitment to certain ideals – not on the strength of the ideas themselves.
This leaves me hanging – because I am not at all concerned with fitting into a group, this kind of social identity. I am concerned with truth – and with construction of an understanding of the mission of God that I actually believe in and can embrace.



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dopderbeck

posted April 24, 2009 at 1:31 pm


Roseanne, I agree that there are boundary / social identity issues at play, in a big way. However, it’s too easy to say that’s all the discussion of Enns / Sparks has been about. It is also a serious discussion about what inspiration and authority mean. To be fair, we need to acknowledge that inerrancy secures a theological system built on sola scriptura, that the fact scripture is “God-breathed” must mean something very significant about the text, and that there are very good reasons to insist that the events of salvation history must have some objective historical referent. There are big issues at stake beyond just group identity, and just because Enns and Sparks say some things some of us might like doesn’t mean they’re completely right about everything.



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art

posted April 24, 2009 at 2:35 pm


Travis @23
“Even if the text points specifically to that history as a basis both for theology (“God is good, because of what he did at the Red Sea”) and ethics (“Be nice to foreigners, for you were once foreigners”)?
Surely some things don’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether Job existed, for instance, or Jonah…but I think Moses is another matter.”
The point still remains the same. History is not what is inspired. The text is inspired. That has been the confession of Christians (and even of the author of 2 Tim) for centuries.
The point I’m making is not that the text is ‘ahistorical,’ but that we cannot force a positivist, idealist understanding of historiography (i.e., that there is a one-to-one relationship between text and history) back onto the text. The earliest interpreters of Scripture don’t seem to take this view. Take, for instance, the Chronicler, who was not writing a new history of the monarchic period in order to correct what the Deuteronomist left out. Rather, the Chronicler was recasting the monarchic period with a different set of purposes that led her or him to shape her or his history in a different way that the Deuteronomist.
“What really happened” was not something the Chronicler seems overly concerned with. “How Israel understands her history” seems to be the main concern. The theological concerns the Chronicler had, then, drove her or him to rewrite Israel’s history of the monarchic period…not a concern for ‘one-to-one’ history.
Something certainly happened and I’m not saying that the characters in the Hebrew Bible, such as the patriarchs, didn’t exist. I’m saying that the way we are to understand the patriarchs (what they did, why that matters, what that says about God and his relationship to us, etc.) is found in Scripture. If that does not add up to archaeological studies or what we know about cognate cultures (which I’m not sure that it does in many instances), that is fine. That does not mean that the Israelites were not once in slavery and it does not mean that there was not some sort of Exodus event. It does mean, however, that we need to take into account what, exactly, historiography is, what shape it takes, what its purposes are, and what relationship that has to history (not only in biblical historiography, but ALL historiography), before we say, “This is exactly how the Exodus event took place on this date and in his year.”
If the dating of the Exodus event was all that important, I’m sure God would have seen that it found it’s way into the text…or he would have at least mentioned the Pharaoh’s name to give us a clue! But it’s not there…and that’s ok. The dating is not the point of the story: the theological import and interpretation of the event as found not only in Ex, but also the rest of Scripture is the point of the Exodus event.
Does that make sense (i.e., that it does not mean ‘ahistorial,’ but it does mean that it is not ‘one-to-one’ history)?



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RJS

posted April 24, 2009 at 2:41 pm


dopderbeck,
There is more to the discussion than boundary and social identity, and that is my real regret. I would like to actually listen in on a substantive discussion of the issues. (Better yet – I’d like to participate in such a conversation. But that is something of a pipe dream, as I don’t move in circles where it is likely to happen.)
Ah well… maybe I’ll have to formulate a good question here and see what develops.



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Travis Greene

posted April 24, 2009 at 3:21 pm


art @ 32,
Yes, that does make sense, and I agree. Historical accuracy, by our standards, was not the goal of the Bible’s writers. Nor do I think it us useful to try to dig up archaeological evidence to somehow “prove” the Bible is true.
But I do think that, just as the discovery of Jesus’ body (somehow) would totally undermine Christian faith, so would the proof (again, somehow) of the fabrication of the Exodus/Sinai event.



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RJS

posted April 24, 2009 at 3:37 pm


art and Travis,
I think that there is, and must be a historicity to the Exodus, Sinai events. These are core to national identity and core to the overall story. Proof of fabrication would be devastating. Our faith is grounded in history and must be.
But how much of the description of the event must be history? The events leading up to the plagues? the plagues? the sojourn in the desert? the incidents related during this sojourn? How do we understand the text?
I started reading Enns’s NIVAC commentary on Exodus – and quit, because it seemed to be arguing for a univocal historicity that just didn’t make sense to me as I read the text. I didn’t even make it to the plagues. (well – the first time, I did later read the portion on the plagues, but not beyond).
The conflict between these views the nature of scripture make it difficult for me to simply read the text at times.



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Kent Sparks

posted April 25, 2009 at 1:56 am


Now you knew I’d show up sooner or later …
?Is it simply that Enns and Sparks are insiders, whereas Barr was seen as an outsider??
Yes. This is a boundary issue and, if I may, I?d venture this opinion of it: behind the debate is the quest to protect soteriological certainty. Evangelicalism, and in most respects Protestantism, is all about making sure that you will go to heaven and making sure that you have the security of knowing it. That?s why you need a Bible that?s an inerrant source of information. If you take this concern out of the mix, and leave it at ?Judgment is in God?s hands, and we can?t know precisely what his judgment will be,? the whole issue seems much less pressing. This is precisely why Arminians (like Bill Arnold) are not so troubled by all of this. For those who judge soteriological certainty to be an essential part of the Gospel, my book becomes an attack on the Gospel (or, at least, on an important part of what they think it offers).
Still, I believe that the language of inerrancy is very old and should be retained, for it is merely an affirmation of something that, it seems to me, can?t be denied. God does not err, ergo, God did not err when wrote his book. The trick is that we can?t really transfer the inerrancy of God to the human authors of Scripture because, after all, orthodoxy demands that men like Moses and Paul were finite, fallen human beings. What is needed is a doctrinal formulation that simultaneously affirms the inerrancy of God in Scripture while admitting Scripture?s human errors. This is what I have tried to provide in my book. But the result basically dismantles the idea that inerrancy guarantees a book of perfect knowledge that insures our path to salvation and our certainty of it. I believe that I will be saved ? but I could be wrong ? sure hope I?m not.
PS #1: What narratives in Scripture must be historical? The Church has weighed in on this question with the creeds, and did so with surprising reticence. The explicit list of things that must be historical is surprisingly short (from the OT it amounts to little more than ?God is the creator of heaven and earth?). Of course, the things that are explicitly listed often imply things that aren?t listed ? for example, the Fall looms large in the historical background of Christ?s crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection. The trick is that different people will have different thresholds about what must be implicitly historical in order to support what the faith explicitly requires of history.
PS #2: OK, I was a bit hard on Profs. Provan and Longman. They are smart guys who know a lot, and who are by no means fundies.



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RJS

posted April 25, 2009 at 7:58 am


Kent,
It may be an issue of soteriology for many – and an authority issue. How can we know we are on the right track? I had a long many part conversation with a fellow last year in a discussion group on Francis Collins’s book that hinged on just this idea. His quest for certainty left him, he felt, with only two options – a view of scripture founded in literal inerrancy (including YEC) or the Roman Catholic Church.
The fork I came to (long ago, and continuing) is related to the same issue but from a different perspective.
The soteriological question became – the Bible is not what I was led to believe (no longer up for debate – simply an obvious fact), does this fact undermine the gospel of Jesus Christ?
If the truth of the Christian story hinges on the inerrancy of the scripture we have – if it hinges on the idea that the Holy Spirit protected the authors from Human error and perspective through and through – or if it hinges on the idea that the Holy Spirit protects the Church from human error (be it RCC or Westminster confession or such)… then the verdict is, in my mind, in. The gospel is indefensible – this is one kind of soteriological certainty I suppose.
Certainly this is the “popular” answer among the educated elite – and those who aspire to be among the educated elite (Bart Ehrmans, Michael Shermer, Christopher Hitchens, …).
But is it possible that this approach errs in the assignment of authority?
The answer I come to is that the truth hinges not on human response in any fashion, but on God Himself – and on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is important that the text be reliable in conveying the mind of God and the action of God in creation. God does not err – and he did not err in giving us the book we have. We err in our expectations of the text. And we err in our understanding of what God intends to teach through the text. It is only by letting the text stand as it is that we can actually expect to be able to understand the intent and message of the text.



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Travis Greene

posted April 25, 2009 at 10:32 am


“It is only by letting the text stand as it is that we can actually expect to be able to understand the intent and message of the text.”
Yes. It honors neither God nor Scripture to shoehorn the Bible into the categories I would prefer.



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Jason

posted April 25, 2009 at 11:10 am


Both dopderbeck and Travis both seem to assert that the OT is not “literal” history per say (and indeed they then describe what it is in big words I’m afraid to even cut and paste as I am just a humble pirate), but that there must be some reality behind the history; for instance they both seem to suggest if the Exodus were disproven entirely then it would be devastating to our faith. But I’m afraid that just leaves the question open, how much of that history has to be real? How much of the conquest has to be real? How many slaves are actually escaping? Does the sea really supernaturally part, especially since it seems to do so in two different ways according to J and P?
I know see in Dr. Sparks PS#1 he answers this question from his perspective, namely that the entirety of OT history is left out of the creeds spare God is the creator.
I resonate with RJS so strongly I am beginning to wonder if she isn’t just a split personality of mine. Or more likely, I am just a split personality of hers. RJS, have you experienced any lost time recently?



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Kent Sparks

posted April 25, 2009 at 12:08 pm


Hello RJS et al.
“How can we know we are on the right track?”
If you mean, how can I have certainty that I’m on the right track, I would simply say (again, IMO): “you can’t.” What we can have is faith/belief and a sense of certainty that these beliefs are right … but of course, the function of “certainty” in our epistemic apparatus does not guarantee that we are right. It serves only to prevent us from endlessly wondering about whether we are right. That is, given my understanding of our epistemic situation, your question is predicated on precisely the modernist epistemology that I would say doesn’t work (see the next comment).
“His quest for certainty left him, he felt, with only two options – a view of scripture founded in literal inerrancy (including YEC) or the Roman Catholic Church.”
Yes, because the underlying priority remains to have a Christian faith founded on certain, inerrant knowledge; the infallibility of the Church is simply substituted for Evangelical versions of inerrancy. Once we give up pursuit of that sort of inerrancy and access to it, then there are lots of options, both religions and non-religious, that could be considered. Understood in this context, Christianity “wins” my allegiance because it strikes me as a better, healthier grasp on the world than the alternatives. In my case, I’ve found that the healthier perspective on life and faith is found by discarding some elements in the conservative evangelical tradition. And given my experience on this point, I feel it necessary–as an ordained minister and teacher, and as a Christian who finds himself loved by God and loving others–to help to move Evangelicalism in a new direction.
Please understand: I don’t know that I’m right in the internalistic sense, but I do feel “certain” that my faith as construed now if far healthier than a faith founded in fundamentalistic views of Scripture and theology.
Is it possible, given my theological pilgrimage and epistemology, that I might one day turn to Buddhism or atheism? Sure. And if that happens, I?ll simply leave the faith behind and go on to something else. I don?t anticipate such a result, but who knows?
As for the historicity of the Exodus, I would simply ask this question: Can a person be a Christian and not believe in its historicity in any sense? I?d say yes. And if you agree, then you?ll see that it can?t be as fundamental to the faith as it might seem. If you don?t agree, then I?d say you be quickly faced with a long, long lists of things that one has to believe in order to be ?saved.?



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RJS

posted April 25, 2009 at 2:04 pm


Jason,
No lost time – no blackouts…
Kent,
In answer to your question – I do think one can be a Christian and not believe in the historicity of the Exodus. But I also believe that there is an element of historicity in the story. These are interesting questions though.



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John Fouad Hanna

posted April 25, 2009 at 2:19 pm


Kent, I?m a former student of Enns? who employs his incarnational model in my own understanding and when I speak to others. I think I?m relatively comfortable with unknowns, paradox, etc. Though I imagine that those I talk to or who?ve read my writing might beg to differ. I too would say that I’m a Christian because, among other compelling reasons, it is the best explanation of and for the world we inhabit.
“(T)he underlying priority remains to have a Christian faith founded on certain, inerrant knowledge; the infallibility of the Church is simply substituted for Evangelical versions of inerrancy.”
I don?t think it?s simply about a quest for absolute certainty. As dopderbeck wrote above, this also has to do with the place of authority and our connection to truth we can together affirm with confidence. History and experience tell me that there are certain views of Scripture that over time prove deleterious to basic orthodoxy in a Protestant evangelical context. Mind you, I?m not saying those views ? such as yours ? are wrong, unbelieving, etc (nor am I at all calling into question your own testimony about what setting aside certain views has done for your faith). What I am saying is that such views might only prove to be life-giving if they coexist within a robust view of the Church, even as authoritative (not dictatorial) interpreter. I affirm the above statement by Travis Greene (#16) of the church as interpretive community, but this cannot be practically lived out absent interpretive authority. Again I don?t mean for individuals, such as those participating here, but for the sustainable establishment of the people of God in Christ.
“As for the historicity of the Exodus, I would simply ask this question: Can a person be a Christian and not believe in its historicity in any sense? I?d say yes.”
That?s not the only question. I imagine there are a host of things a person can believe or not believe and still be welcomed into the Kingdom of God. One of the interesting things I find often about evangelicals is we equate what people need to believe to be saved with what it is we should teach or uphold. Those are not the same thing. They are two different thresholds.
In other words, the other significant question, which I think is more pertinent to our discussion is, ?what should the Church of Christ teach??
In that case, I think it reasonable to take the position that a complete denial of any historical referent for the Exodus erodes the message of salvation we profess.



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Kent Sparks

posted April 25, 2009 at 5:53 pm


Hi John and RJS,
Thanks for your comments.
?I don?t think it?s simply about a quest for absolute certainty. As dopderbeck wrote above, this also has to do with the place of authority and our connection to truth ? History and experience tell me that there are certain views of Scripture that over time prove deleterious to basic orthodoxy in a Protestant evangelical context ? What I am saying is that such views might only prove to be life-giving if they coexist within a robust view of the Church, even as authoritative (not dictatorial) interpreter?
Good comments, and I wouldn?t disagree. But I would tend to broaden the scope of the discussion by saying, foremost, that tradition itself (not simply Christian tradition) has authority, not merely because we acknowledge it but because we are unavoidably formed by it and use it to make sense of the world. In this sense, the Christian tradition is a kind of ?subtradition? that subsists within a broader worldview that is tolerably shared by many people of different times and places. To believe the Christian message and find it healthy is to affirm the tradition that produced and nourishes the message, a tradition that includes (but is certainly not limited to) Scripture. I believe in the authority of Scripture and of the Church, but insofar as these are humanly influenced by what is good and right, as well as what is wrong and warped, it is an authoritative tradition that can be wrong. In this sense, it is like any other tradition that helps us make sense of and cope with the world. We take it seriously, but we are not afraid to interrogate when needed (that what the Reformation and Counter-Reformation were about) and to set aside its troubling features. Is this close to what you?re saying, or are we miles apart.
As for the Exodus, I don?t mind if Christians find its historicity important and teach its historicity. I am writing a book just now in which I argue for the (very) modest historicity of the Exodus. What I would want to avoid is any teaching that makes belief in the Exodus an essential of the faith. Doing so merely turns everyone who doesn?t believe in the historicity of the Exodus (for good reasons, I?d say) out of the church, just as teaching the literal historicity of the 6-day creation or world-wide flood turns off outsiders.
Final question for John: What views of Scripture strike you as deleterious to basic Protestant orthodoxy?



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John Fouad Hanna

posted April 26, 2009 at 1:14 am


“What views of Scripture strike you as deleterious to basic Protestant orthodoxy?”
Kent, well you know, it’s getting kind of late and we all need to be in church in the morning. So if my answer seems half-baked and attempts to state briefly what should be elaborated, there’s my excuse.
A pointed (arguably inadequate) answer could be: see mainline denominations.
Fleshing out my thinking a bit, my concern isn’t so much with Protestant orthodoxy (though it is concerned with Protestant commitments regarding the Scriptures) but with Christian creedal orthodoxy in a Protestant setting. I say that as someone who looks out on the landscape and sees Protestantism, Orthodoxy and Catholicism all as viable alternatives for a believing Christian.
Orthodoxy and Catholicism in their understanding of the Church as bearer and keeper of truth, which includes the Church’s reception of the authoritative Scriptures, I think simply have more flexibility with respect to a doctrine of Scripture. There’s latitude to consider the nature of Scripture without it having it infringe upon the Church’s creedal commitments.
Protestantism it seems to me as a workable entity depends not only on what Scripture teaches but what it is. We derive our beliefs solely from the Scriptures (of course, tradition is [unapologetically and properly] involved, but I’m simply speaking to what we profess and, as I said, trying to keep this brief). Even taking into account literary genre, hermeneutics, historical situatedness of the authors, progressive revelation, interpretation in light of the whole Scriptures, historiography, etc., a move to call into question what the Bible narrates as history, for example, might prove to be problematic for its authority. The issue of the relativizing of its ethics also comes into play. See above reference to mainline [disclosure: I'm a first-year minister in an evangelical PCUSA church].
It might be that part and parcel of being Protestant, while obviously affirming God’s revelation in creation and history, is to hold to and teach certain beliefs about what took place in time and space, even if it’s not clear how all this coheres. This need not be a matter of “going behind” the text, but simply of affirming what it says. See, it’s even possible that a mean old fundamentalist might actually be epistemologically humble.
Now, if one finds such affirmations to be obscurantist at best and even theologically harmful, then it might mean that such a position calls into the question the continued viability of a sustainable Christian orthodoxy within Protestantism. This especially applies to those who’ve reached such conclusions and whose convictions lead them to “sounding the trumpet,” as opposed to simply holding such beliefs personally. Remember, my concern is not what people hold to personally, where I think there’s lots of room for different views, but what we will teach and proclaim.
Admittedly, at this point, I have to say maybe I’m asking myself Noll’s and Nystrom’s question from a few years ago: “Is the Reformation Over?”
Now I realize that those participating in this discussion and many others will say that they are an example of the sustainability of evangelical orthodoxy. As an evangelical myself, I stand with you, even as I am ambivalent and prayerful.



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RJS

posted April 26, 2009 at 7:41 am


John,
Interesting thoughts – beyond implications for being protestant, simply as Christian, a reasonable approach to scripture is “to hold to and teach certain beliefs about what took place in time and space, even if it’s not clear how all this coheres.”
On the question of Exodus – which keeps coming up here (and concrete examples are good) – it seems to me that we have a story about a defining and formative event in the shaping of God’s people – Israel. As such I see no reason to dismiss it as a historical event – in fact I think that, in faith, we should take the text and the tradition seriously, and as rooted in a historical reality.
But then we come to the genre and form of history typical of the authors and editors themselves – which accumulated and changed over time. Certainly the elements of the telling of the story are shaped by time and place, and by human perspective on the appropriate manner for telling such a story. Imposing standards of later times and places on the text will beyond doubt misinterpret the text. At this point we have to let the text be the text and guide how we think about it.



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Kent Sparks

posted April 26, 2009 at 7:57 pm


Hi John and RJS:
Hope you were able to stay awake during the sermon, John; did you go the the third service?
(1) ?A pointed (arguably inadequate) answer could be: see mainline denominations.? [John]
I see strengths and weaknesses, truth and error, in the liberal denominations and also in the fundamentalist churches. Both have cultural elements that suffer from what I judge to be an errant doctrine of Scripture, either a doctrine that doesn?t take it seriously or a doctrine that understands the Bible as a perfect lens for viewing all aspects of reality.
(2) ?We [Protestants] derive our beliefs solely from the Scriptures (of course, tradition is [unapologetically and properly] involved, but I’m simply speaking to what we profess.?
Protestantism is a tradition that subsists on the illusion that it isn?t a tradition. The sooner we admit that, the sooner we can put the separatist plank of the Reformation behind us.
(3) ?This need not be a matter of “going behind” the text, but simply of affirming what it says? [comment by John].
I don?t quite grasp this, John. If the question is the historicity of the Exodus and its importance, what does it mean to ?affirm the text? without going behind the text?
(4) ?It seems to me that we have a story about a defining and formative event in the shaping of God’s people – Israel. As such I see no reason to dismiss it as a historical event.?
There are lots of historical reasons for doubting the event?s historicity, unless one greatly reduces the accuracy of what the text seem to affirm historically. What I think you are saying is that the Exodus event seems so fundamental to Israel?s identity that it must be historical, whether history supports its historicity or not. Have I got it right? If so, what are you saying, practically speaking, about how Christians should handle parishioners, pastors, seminary professors, and lost people who don?t believe in its historicity?



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RJS

posted April 26, 2009 at 8:52 pm


Kent,
I am not an expert here – but we may mean different things by historical.
Last November I watched (on-line) the NOVA show “The Bible’s Buried Secrets.” I am not qualified to evaluate the accuracy of the show – and a 100 minute show on the entire OT is not exactly thorough. One of the things that impressed me here was an element of historicity – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/bible/meyers.html and other pages.
I don’t see any reason to conclude that the most skeptical, minimalist scholars are correct (That it was all “invented” in the 4th century BCE).
The other thing that impressed me with an element of historicity was spending two Saturdays wandering the Israel Museum (not much else to do on Shabbat and we were staying in an apartment just down the hill). There is simply a groundedness that I found and find powerful – like the amulets with the Priestly blessing from numbers dating solidly pre-exile and I could go on.
So I am not talking “history” in the traditional evangelical sense. I am convinced of historicity and groundedness; I am working through exactly what I think this means.
Am I making any sense?



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dopderbeck

posted April 27, 2009 at 3:26 pm


Kent, John and RJS,
Rats, I missed the discussion over the weekend! Both Kent and John Hanna (full disclosure — a friend whom I’ve been able to speak with in real life rather than just virtually!) put a finger on the crux of the problem for me: certainty of salvation, and authority.
I agree with John Hanna that sola scriptura requires a strong commitment to the unique authority and truthfulness of the scriptures. In one of the comments, I cited a recent Roman Catholic statement on scripture that I think can be very helpful for us. But, as I noted and as John noted, it’s hard to adapt that kind of nuanced statement in a setting without a deliberative Magesterium. An ekklesia has to have some kind of governance structure, or at least it seems to me that Paul and the other NT writers saw the household of faith that way. Scripture functions in the household of faith sort of like the way the Constitution functions in the United States: it establishes the governing structure and serves as the finally authoritative text when questions of governance arise.
Yet, Kent puts his finger on a big problem for many people, certainly for me: for many of us who grew up in fundamentalism, faith in the Bible, defined as belief in the “literal truth” of the Biblical text, is functionally and emotionally equated with “saving” faith. John makes what could be a useful separation between what one needs to affirm to be “saved” and what we ought to think about the nature and function of scripture for the Christian ekklesia to function properly and for Christians to think clearly about the world we inhabit.
But if we really subscribe to this distinction, why is so much money and effort spent on evidential apologetics designed primarily to prove the “literal truth” of the Bible, particularly in relation to the natural sciences? If it is not a matter of “salvation,” but merely a more humble and constrained question of how best to make sense of all of God’s Truth, would anyone really lose sleep (or shed denominational blood) over things like whether Moses wrote all of the Pentateuch or the relation of “Adam” to human evolution or how many “Isaiahs” there were — or even over whether “inerrant,” “infallible,” “trustworthy,” “sufficient” or some other term is the best descriptor for scripture?



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Jason

posted April 27, 2009 at 4:36 pm


I think the fear is that if we start doubting the literal history of the old testament, we eventually will start doubting the literal history of the new testament, especially two key events seperated by three days. And frankly I think it is a valid fear, as it just seems to become too implausible that this man was truly God, incarnated from heaven, yet attached himself to the tail end of a history that wasn’t even a true history; and even has moments where it is claimed he has a supernatural encounter with one of the men most under scrutiny as a historical figure, Moses. Its just hard to put those two things together.
My number one concern when it comes to this issue is not boundary markers per say but trying to find a reality of God I can continue to trust, continue to depend on, continue to put my faith into, at the same time dealing with a view and concept of the Bible I now have and of which I find it highly unlikely to reverse back to my conservative days. But that is for the long run, and especially for my children. As for tomorrow, I’m meeting with my pastor and I know this issue is chief on his docket to discuss. So tomorrow boundary markers are a huge concern. What relationship can I have with a conservative Bible believing Church which in no way would endorse a view such as Dr. Sparks? Even worse, I am not in a stable position anyway, my pastor’s fears about my faith might very well be valid, I might after all lose my faith.



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Kent Sparks

posted April 27, 2009 at 5:02 pm


Once again, interesting comments and thoughts, which reflect our shared struggle to make sense of our human situation … whatever our confusion, if we believe that the Bible is from God, then in our quest we have more information to work with?biblical, theological, scientific, humanities, etc.? than most human beings who have ever lived. That this is so, and that we are still confused and finding our knowledge wanting in the face of our situation, is perhaps the most telling point.
?… but we may mean different things by historical … I am not talking “history” in the traditional evangelical sense. I am convinced of historicity and groundedness; I am working through exactly what I think this means.? [RJS]
I agree, RJS. There is certainly a historical groundedness respecting the OT. I?m about to begin a chapter in my present project entitled, ?The Antiquity of Biblical Tradition,? in which I argue that the Hebrew Bible preserves lots of traditions that date to the Iron I and early Iron II periods, and even some that probably go back to the LB era. But I?d be hesitant to make out any parts of the history as ?essential? to the faith, especially when some supposedly important events of the history (such as the Passover) have so much evidence against them.
But that said, all texts that are proper as representations of truth have some kind of historical grounding … the story of the Good Samaritan, for instance, is a fictional text but certainly reflects not just one but many instances in which people fail to love their hurting neighbor in the name of religion.
?Scripture functions in the household of faith sort of like the way the Constitution functions in the United States: it establishes the governing structure and serves as the finally authoritative text when questions of governance arise [dopderbeck].
Yes, I?d say the relationship is very similar … most importantly, what we learn from this is that the controlling influence of the Constitution over our polity is partly an illusion because its interpretation is subject to the changing society that interprets it. In the same way, Protestants faith to recognize that they are a tradition and that they interpret Scripture through and by that tradition. So, no matter what Matt 16 means when it puts the keys of the kingdom in Peter?s hands and makes him the rock upon which the Church is built, it can?t mean that Jesus was establishing an authoritative leader of the Church; it must be a reference to Peter?s faith or the like.
This means that there?s no such thing, really, as ?sola Scriptura? … the phrase implies ?Scripture without interpretation and apart from an interpretive tradition.? Scripture was the product of many interpretive traditions, and is read through the lenses of many interpretive traditions.



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dopderbeck

posted April 27, 2009 at 6:09 pm


Kent said: most importantly, what we learn from this is that the controlling influence of the Constitution over our polity is partly an illusion because its interpretation is subject to the changing society that interprets it.
I respond: I wouldn’t use the word “illusion” here. It’s an agreement, a social contract — or better, in Alasdair MacIntyre’s terms, a “Tradition,” which every generation of Americans validates, reinterprets, and extends. Similarly, scripture is a core constituent of the Christian Tradition, and it continues to exercise its regulative role to the extent that we submit to its canonical authority.
I don’t think, then, that “sola scriptura” means (or ever has meant) “scripture apart from any interpretive tradition.” But neither do I think the interpretive tradition that gives scripture its constitutional-canonical role is merely socially constructed. The interpretive tradition is rooted even more deeply in the Patristic Rule of Faith, which itself is rooted in the Apostolic encounter with the risen Christ. Quite honestly, I’m not sure what to make of Christ’s grant of authority to Peter, but I think it must be more than just an individualistic acknowledgment of Peter’s personal faith.
And the above is, I think, my biggest concern / problem with the proposals from Pete Enns and Kent (and, honestly, with Scot’s Blue Parakeet…). Where do we go with this? Does our only source of religious authority become existential, a personal feeling or sense of having encountered God? If that’s the case, why not just go all in and define one’s self as a true heir of Schleiermacher?
Side note: What is the evidence “against” the passover? I understand the lack of extra-Biblical evidence to corroborate the Biblical narrative, but what affirmative evidence tells us the Biblical narrative is entirely a literary construction?



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Kent Sparks

posted April 27, 2009 at 7:20 pm


Hi dopderbeck:
Thanks for your thoughts. Perhaps we?re not too far apart, in the end.
(1) ? I wouldn’t use the word “illusion” [regarding Scripture?s authority] here.?
I agree. I didn?t mean that Scripture?s authoritative influence was an illusion; what I was resisting is a [largely Reformation/conservative Protestant] view of Scripture that imagines it hangs in the epistemic air, apart from the traditions that produced it and interpret it. There was never any single meaning of the Constitution because, as a product of human traditions and many authors, its authors were more like a flock of birds flying in similar (but not identical) directions ? the situation with Scripture is more complex because, in some cases, the authors appear to have been flying in almost opposite directions. But again, I agree that Scripture has a special place in the Christian tradition ? but its role in forming our theology is surprisingly less that the role of the interpretive traditions that read it. This is why so many ?Bible only? Christians disagree on so many fundamental theological points.
(2) ?But neither do I think the interpretive tradition that gives scripture its constitutional-canonical role is merely socially constructed. The interpretive tradition is rooted even more deeply in the Patristic Rule of Faith, which itself is rooted in the Apostolic encounter with the risen Christ.?
But it seems to me that all of this [Pastristic, Apostles, etc.] is socially constructed, as is the case with all human grasps on reality (i.e., all traditions). What I mean is that ?social construction? is how we grasp reality; its not a bad thing but rather the only thing that allows us to understand (a la Gadamer). I am not denying that there is a reality, nor that our constructed ideas about it can grasp reality. What I am denying is that these constructed ever grasp reality in anything other than proximity or likeness to reality ? rightness is pragmatic likeness ?
(3) ?And the above is, I think, my biggest concern / problem with the proposals from Pete Enns and Kent (and, honestly, with Scot’s Blue Parakeet…). Where do we go with this? Does our only source of religious authority become existential ??
Cultural tradition is the authority of every person, excepting perhaps the true psychotic, and Scripture has pride of place in the Christian tradition. That Scripture has this special place is socially constructed, as is our belief that God gave Scripture this special place ? but all social constructs are efforts to get at reality ? hopefully, we got this one right.
(4) ?What is the evidence “against” the Passover??
The New Kingdom Egyptians are unaware that they lost a whole generation of firstborn animals and human beings.



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Jason

posted April 27, 2009 at 7:43 pm


“And the above is, I think, my biggest concern / problem with the proposals from Pete Enns and Kent (and, honestly, with Scot’s Blue Parakeet…). Where do we go with this?”
Even while I agree with your last sentence, I am very glad these men are at least trying. Otherwise, when any one of us becomes convinced in our own mind that the Bible is not what we were led to believe as fundamentalist Christians, we might find the only alternative is to leave the faith entirely.



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dopderbeck

posted April 27, 2009 at 10:02 pm


Kent, I don’t entirely disagree with your comments about social construction, if they are circumscribed by realism. I see you mention realism here, but you seem here to be more “critical” than “realist.” Ala Roy Bhaskar, I think we need to think of social construction as not itself as hanging in mid-air, but as constantly engaging with a reality that is not socially constructed. (My most recent effort to explain critical realism is published at “Deconstructing Jefferon’s Candle: Towards a Critical Realist Approach to Cultural Environmentalism and Information Policy,” 49 Jurimetrics 203 (Winter 2009)). Moreover, I think we need to conceive of the Christian Tradition as a special kind of social construction shaped by the Holy Spirit.
That is, the Christian Tradition really does make contact with the ultimate reality of the Triune God, and there are very good reasons — most notably the death and resurrection of Jesus, as well as the witness of the Holy Spirit and the veridical role of human testimony — to have assurance, beyond a wistful hope, that we are getting this one right.
Re: the passover — well, the New Kingdom Egyptians aren’t here for us to ask them about it, so what we can say with certainty is that they didn’t leave us any records of such an event, nor have we discovered any archeological traces of it, certainly contrary to what we would expect. But it isn’t exactly a critical realist position, is it, to insist that the absence of such evidence nullifies the apparent testimonial witness of the Biblical narratives as well as of the memorialization of the event in the cultic practice and national identity of the Jewish people? I understand this sort of critical realism to be Provan and Longman’s main point…



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dopderbeck

posted April 27, 2009 at 10:07 pm


Jason (#53) — are the only alternatives fundamentalist literalism vs. existential fideism? If you’ve read anything I’ve written on faith and the natural sciences, I think you’ll see that I’m not a fundamentalist literalist. I certainly lean more toward Kent’s and Pete Enns’ views than, say, Norm Geisler’s or Ken Hamm’s. I guess I still see some merit, though, in the old evangelical impulse to wait for at least some of these historical-critical problems to clear themselves up before reaching any overly firm judgments about historical referent.



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John Fouad Hanna

posted April 27, 2009 at 11:19 pm


Kent, you’re right about Protestants having an interpretive tradition. Some bearers of that tradition are practically authoritative, i.e., “Calvin wrote…” “Edwards said…” “Kent Sparks declared…”
Yet, even if it seems naive, the fact that we are not formally “Scripture and Tradition” but “Scripture alone” matters. “Our tradition teaches” simply does not fly among evangelicals. In other words, it’s not so much that we don’t have a tradition, but that we need to be able to show how our tradition comes from the bible. I’m not at all advocating an “I just believe the bible” theology. Tradition is a wonderful word as far as I’m concerned, especially of the type my friend dopderbeck articulates. I cannot look at church history, participate in a discussion like this or ponder the issues it raises and think otherwise. Heck, I’m the guy who thinks being Catholic or Orthodox is a genuine option, especially for those who find themselves shaken by this type of conversation.
I’m observing the landscape in which we live and minister, which I am not above, but am a part of. Even for those who don’t subscribe to “bible alone” and are self-conscious in their awareness of a theological tradition, there still needs to be a demonstration of how a particular belief is substantiated by Scripture.
The above is a long-winded way of arriving at this point: a revision to our understanding of Scripture can lead to a revision to, if not undermining of, the tradition. Yes, we have a tradition. But the fact that evangelicals don’t have one that is officially authoritative matters. Kent, I think this is a sociological observation worth considering.
Re the Exodus, this is from Robert Alter: “The story is surely a schematization and simplification of complex historical processes?Yet it is also hard to imagine that the nation would have invented a story of national origins involving the humiliation of slavery without some kernel of historical memory.? (?The Five Books of Moses,? pp. 340-41, n.7).
With this discussion, maybe inevitably, venturing into epistemology, I offer Esther Meek’s definition of “knowing” from her excellent book, “Longing to Know: The Philosophy of Knowledge for Ordinary People”:
“The responsible human struggle to rely on clues to focus on a coherent pattern and submit to its reality.”
She spends the book unpacking this statement.



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Kent Sparks

posted April 28, 2009 at 1:14 pm


Hello dopderbeck and John:
Thanks for the e-conversation.
(1) ?I think we need to think of social construction as not itself as hanging in mid-air, but as constantly engaging with a reality that is not socially constructed.?
Yes, though I?d want to say that we are constantly engaging reality with a constructed viewpoint that, moreover, much of what we are interpreting (texts, for instance) is socially constructed. This is because REALITY is itself, socially constructed in many respects. To give just one example, my wife is a therapist who deals with the realities in the client?s head?a constructed reality that actually exists. The same kind of constructed reality stands behind and is reflected in OT histories, Paul?s letters, and the book of Revelation. These constructed realities are themselves something to be grasped, which in turn help us grasp the theological verities that lie behind our construals of the faith.
(2) About ?Critical Realism?
This term is used in two different ways, one more post-modern and the other still in the modern tradition. The post-modern version (a modest postmodernism) agrees that there is something real to be grasped, but it admits that our grasp is always ?likeness? or ?similarity? or ?metaphor? rather than a true, 1-to-1 correspondence. The modern version tends to simply be a cautious version of Cartesian philosophy, in that it believes not only in the ?real? but also that there can be true 1-to-1 correspondence between ideas and reality. I would stand firmly in the first camp and would reject the second, for what that?s worth.
(3) ?to have assurance, beyond a wistful hope, that we are getting this one right.?
Hope is a central part of the Christian message. I believe and hope that I will be saved, and feel confident that God loves me and is/will save me. I could be wrong, I suppose, but there?s no use worrying about it.
(4) But it isn’t exactly a critical realist position, is it, to insist that the absence of such evidence [of the Passover] nullifies the apparent testimonial witness of the Biblical narratives as well as of the memorialization of the event in the cultic practice and national identity of the Jewish people? I understand this sort of critical realism to be Provan and Longman’s main point…
One often hears that ?the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,? but like any proverb, it only fits in a suitable situation. If we have testimony that the mayor of NY died last week but find nothing in any of the NY papers from the week about it, then the absence of evidence IS evidence of absence. In a similar way, I would judge that the death of all firstborn animals and human beings at some point in the New Kingdom would have left behind something in the textual evidence. Lesser catastrophes, such as the Hyksos period and struggle with the Sea Peoples, left a strong impression on the Egyptians, as we see in the Egyptian texts. They explained the Hyksos domination of Egypt theologically, saying that the gods were mad at Egypt. I would expect something similar if the Passover occurred, but that evidence is wanting. Hence, at this point, I could only believe in the Passover?s historicity if I decided that its historicity were a necessary correlate of the other [Christian] things that I believe ? it is at this point, regarding ?necessary correlates,? that Christians will disagree until the Parousia.
(5) ?I guess I still see some merit, though, in the old evangelical impulse to wait for at least some of these historical-critical problems to clear themselves up before reaching any overly firm judgments about historical referent.?
That?s a good way to approach it. But in some cases the evidence strikes me as sufficient [practically speaking] to close the coffin on some historical issues; we need to remain open, of course, to new evidence. I, for one, would be very happy to see an Egyptian text that confirmed a disaster along the lines of the Passover.
(6) ?Yet, even if it seems naive, the fact that we are not formally “Scripture and Tradition” but “Scripture alone” matters. “Our tradition teaches” simply does not fly among evangelicals.?
What I?m getting at, John, is that there?s no such thing as ?Scripture alone? because Scripture itself was produced by human traditions, is human tradition, and continues to be interpreted within human traditions. This is why (IMO) ?our tradition teaches? DOES fly among evangelicals; they readily accept as right those opinions of insiders that they trust as a part of their tradition, so that what ?Sproul says? becomes a cipher for ?Scripture says.? That they are ?Scripture only? is an illusion; Scripture can be placed at the forefront of our thinking, but it can never be alone in the sense that tradition is not involved in apprehending it. Tradition tends to control our ideas about what Scripture can and cannot say, especially if we already believe that Scripture is inerrant in the fundamentalist sense ? The ?Bible alone? in spirit and intent means ?Bible apart from tradition? ? that strikes me as impossible and, in fact, undesirable.
(7) ?Re the Exodus, this is from Robert Alter: “The story is surely a schematization and simplification … yet it is also hard to imagine that the nation would have invented [it].?
I agree, John. But the kernal to which Alter probably refers, and which is likely to be behind the Exodus story, is so different from the biblical portrait that one might as well call it ?unbiblical.? I don?t know the particulars of Alter?s view, but a common viewpoint is that a small group of slaves escaped from Egypt (in something less miraculous than the Bible suggests) and gave its story to the larger whole of early Israel. On the basis of archaeological data, that ?larger whole? probably numbered between 20,000 and 30,000 during the first century of the settlement (12th century).



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cbovell

posted April 28, 2009 at 10:12 pm


Kent:
Somewhere in your #57 you quote and then remark: ” ‘I guess I still see some merit, though, in the old evangelical impulse to wait for at least some of these historical-critical problems to clear themselves up before reaching any overly firm judgments about historical referent.’
That?s a good way to approach it. But in some cases the evidence strikes me as sufficient [practically speaking] to close the coffin on some historical issues; we need to remain open, of course, to new evidence. I, for one, would be very happy to see an Egyptian text that confirmed a disaster along the lines of the Passover.”
I am very likely reading too much into this, but it almost sounds like the evangelical plan is to deliberately let non-evangelicals do all the hard and dirty work. Then when things settle down a bit, evangelicals will come in and plunder the treasures of whatever truth the non-evangelicals have found and claim it as part of evangelical Christianity’s belief system. THis can’t be what you’re saying. If it is, I’m sure don’t like the sounds of it! If people do things that way, evangelical Christianity will just happen to turn out right every time. But that’s because we are the ones who are actively arranging for things to turn out in right in advance. Surely there’s something wrong with this plan of attack. I must be misreading you–you can’t be saying something along these lines…



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cbovell

posted April 28, 2009 at 10:35 pm


John in #56:
As far as I can see, for all your protests to the contrary you are very much entrenched in a “scripture and tradition” mode of discourse. It just may not appear so to you because your particular tradition’s motto happens to be “scripture alone.” So you are operating within a “[scripture] and [tradition that says 'scripture alone']” mode of discourse. And this is what flies among evangelicals.



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Jason

posted April 29, 2009 at 11:01 am


I am very likely reading too much into this, but it almost sounds like the evangelical plan is to deliberately let non-evangelicals do all the hard and dirty work.
I think Dr. Sparks’ is not actively looking for an Egyptian text that confirms the passover because he is not an archeologist. If he were so, I’m so he would be off in Egypt digging, though it is more likely he would be looking for any text he could find, not necessarily a specific one.



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John Fouad Hanna

posted April 29, 2009 at 11:08 am


cbovell, I guess I’m just not being clear in what I’m saying. I’m aware that I live and breathe in light of Scripture and Tradition. This is inescapable and rightly so. I don’t begrudgingly acknowledge this but embrace it.
The point I’m laboring to make – and obviously not very well – is that, even so, the Protestant evangelical relationship to the bible is not the same as in those communions where Tradition is official and authoritative, where Tradition, as a matter of accepted authority, declares, “thus saith the Lord.”
Now Kent wants to say that Scripture is itself a Tradition. Yes. But it is a Tradition that is God’s Word ultimately revealed and fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, even if we only see it “through a glass darkly.” (ht: dopderbeck).
If we say our beliefs come from the bible, even mediated through hundreds of years of an interpreted tradition, then to say that the bible is different from what we’ve thought it was has consequences. Those consequences are not bounded in the same way by the Church’s delivered dogma.
If you’re right to say that others are failing to recognize the relationships between Scripture and the evidence of history, then I think it fair to say that you may not be recognizing the sociological realities of the community in which you operate.



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cbovell

posted April 29, 2009 at 2:51 pm


John,
I think Kent is saying, “Hey look, our inerrantist way of understanding of the Bible turned out to be a tradition! It needs to be abandoned, though, not because it is a tradition, but because it’s an unhelpful one and it leads people to do bad scholarship.”
I think Kent would still say that our beliefs can come from scripture, but it’s a lot more complicated than the inerrantist perspective allows. I’ll speak for myself now (Kent may or may not agree): I think there may be no such thing as scripture, at least practically speaking. There are only better and worse interpretive traditions among which we’re all going to have to navigate our way.
If this has very serious consequences, then people had better get cracking on what Christian spirituality might look like from here, instead of prolonging the death of inerrancy.
Jason,
I know Kent isn’t going to Egypt to dig up texts any time soon. But if there is some account out there relating how an ancient group of migrants made up this elaborate story about escaping from Egypt, I bet it would be a non-evangelical who finds it first. Is there a problem if there is a regular pattern where critical scholars routinely correcting evangelical conceptions of their faith? (Hypothetically speaking, that is. I defer the question of whether such a pattern presently exists to another more qualified to answer.)



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Jason

posted April 29, 2009 at 3:39 pm


cbovell,
I think it is just a natural consequence of the fact that secular or non-evangelicals scholars vastly outnumber evangelical ones.



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Kent Sparks

posted April 30, 2009 at 11:35 pm


I’ve been busy the last few days. Sorry for the delay.
Carlos and Jason:
Regarding historical “problems” in Scripture, I’d say we should take a “wait and see” attitude if the evidence is not very conclusive. But when it is fairly conclusive we should accept the evidence, yea or nea, and get on with it. But certainly, evangelical scholars should be involved in the search for the truth, even if that turns out to undermine the historicity of parts of the Bible.
John:
I don’t quite understand how we view things differently, nor do I understand what concerns you about an approach like mine or Pete’s. What are you concerned will “happen” or “go wrong” with such an approach?



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