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Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism Paperback – November 19, 2013
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From the Back Cover
"This carefully argued book urges evangelical Christians to reexamine the potential of historical-critical biblical criticism. The authors seek not universal acceptance of what they propose so much as fresh evangelical engagement with questions involving the methods of biblical criticism--and therefore with Scripture itself. In this aim they succeed admirably."
--Mark A. Noll, University of Notre Dame
"Hays and Ansberry provide evangelical students with something they rarely see: a discussion of the major critical issues in biblical studies combined with a respectful, discerning appreciation for the biblical text as scripture. Too often students must choose between academic rigor and personal belief. A well-written volume treating these issues is a rare gift to a new generation of students now looking at many of these issues for the very first time."
--Gary M. Burge, Wheaton College
"A learned and pastoral collection of essays calling for evangelicals to engage with and integrate into their faith the genuine insights of historical criticism. The contributors exhibit the courage to give both faith and historical criticism the respect they deserve. This volume is a welcome addition to the growing number of evangelical voices calling for a reassessment of an evangelical doctrine of Scripture, not as an attack but for the end goal of supporting and enriching the evangelical movement."
--Peter Enns, Eastern University
"Chris Hays and Chris Ansberry engage in the courageous task of showing how evangelical scholars can soberly address the hot-potato issues in biblical scholarship, even appropriate many critical insights, without selling out on what evangelicals traditionally believe. This is the type of discussion on faith and criticism that evangelical scholarship has needed for years."
--Michael Bird, Ridley Melbourne College of Mission and Ministry, Australia
"A project like this is long overdue. Our students need to read essays and books that will not only orient them to the goals and methods of critical biblical scholarship but also provide them with a sieve with which to sift what they are reading. While a book of this sort could deal with two dozen or more critical subjects, the editors have chosen eight that scream the most loudly for attention. The contributors handle controversial notions with integrity, seriousness, respect, and a commitment to fairness."
--Daniel I. Block, Wheaton College
About the Author
Christopher M. Hays (DPhil, University of Oxford) is professor of New Testament at the Biblical Seminary of Colombia. Christopher B. Ansberry (PhD, Wheaton College Graduate School) is lecturer in Old Testament at Oak Hill College in London, England.
Top customer reviews
A critical question which this book poses is: to what degree do the events, attributions and expectations of Scripture need to have occurred as described in order to maintain the integrity of evangelical Christian theology? To what degree is evangelical Christian theology threatened by the conclusions of historical criticism? It provides is an accessible and succinct account of the theological consequences of historical-critical scholarship.
The book consists of an introductory chapter, seven chapters on specific issues, and a concluding chapter. The specific issues addressed are: (1) Adam and the Fall, (2) the Exodus, (3) when was Deuteronomy 12-26 written, (4) some specific problems with prophecy (especially delayed prophecy, specifically of the Second Coming as analogous to Old Testament delays of fulfillment of prophecy), (5) ancient concepts of authorship and what they mean for canonicity (in the context of the Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Gospel of John, and the Pauline epistles), (6) the historical Jesus (his self-presentation, his miracles, the virgin birth and the resurrection), and (7) the chronological and theological issues around Paul of Acts vs. the Paul of the Epistles.
Each chapter describes standard historical-critical views and then works out what might be the theological consequences of those views. Some chapters include tentative suggestions about how the authors think evangelicals might move forward in these discrete fields of inquiry. Each chapter includes suggestions for further reading.
The authors make the point that, "Though historical criticism identifies far more problems than it can solve regarding the authorship, composition and development of the biblical documents, its methods clarify these matters and enhance our understanding of the way in which God has chosen to condescend to speak through Scripture." (p. 156-7)
In the final chapter, the authors conclude that historical-critical methods and judgments are not necessarily incompatible with the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, and in some cases help us to refine the way in which certain doctrines are expressed and the manner in which certain texts are interpreted. They state that, "We can spend our energies judging God for not writing how we wish he did, or we can seek to hear him on all the terms in which he deigned to speak throughout the ages." (p. 214)
The book concludes with a 14-page bibliography and a 5-page index of ancient texts.
The book is an excellent summary of the past and current literature on historical criticism of the Bible. I recommend it for Christians interested in one or more of the issues discussed and/or who are concerned about the impact of historical criticism in general.
For some people (including me) this will be the wrong question - they should be asking what critical conclusions are true and how should we adjust our beliefs? But for many christians, these are exactly the right questions, for they won't be willing to put a foot in the water if they don't feel safe. So I believe this is a very important book in breaking the ice for older christians and allowing them to gain further insights into the Bible, plus it will be very helpful for younger christians who cannot accept the 'certainties' of old style evangelicalism.
But beyond the question of whether the authors ask the 'right' questions or not, I found the book immensely helpful in outlining the various viewpoints on several issues I had read little on, and would be unlikely to bother with a full book. I am very much more informed than I was before. I found the chapters on the exodus, prophecy, pseudepigraphy and Paul the most helpful in this regard.
I recommend this book to anyone wanting to ensure their beliefs are based on good historical scholarship and are doubtful that modern western evangelicalism is giving them the best answers.
Some of these chapters offer what many evangelicals may interpret to be more radical solutions, e.g., the chapter on Adam and the Fall or the chapter on prophecy. Other chapters may not be as rattling, like the chapter on Paul of the epistles and the Paul of Acts. What all these chapters have in common is the desire to engage historical critical studies, participate in the scholarship, yet show that evangelicals need not do so from a purely apologetical posture, nor worry that their findings will spell doom for their Christian faith.
You may find that this book "concedes more ground" to liberal Protestant and non-Christian thinking than you'd like to see. You may find that some sections are "begging the question," sometimes choosing to draw the line in a way that may seem arbitrary or oddly convenient (e.g., the exodus and the resurrection of Jesus are presented as too important to rethink radically). Nevertheless, both readers who are more conservative than the contributors of this volume, and even those who are more "liberal," may find (should find) that this book is a solid, worthy engagement with some serious topics, especially considering the forthright presuppositions presented by the editors and authors.
I wish this volume had existed when I began my graduate studies in a conservative evangelical seminary several years ago. I received a great education, but often I felt intimidated in expressing my doubts about how the Bible was being presented at various points. Instead of fully embracing the approach of my professors, or allowing my doubts to consume me, I decided to study the topic in my own spare time. I remain grateful to confessing scholars like Peter Enns whose Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament and N.T. Wright whose The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture (now titled Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today) allowed me to reconcile my Christian faith with a deep need to address some of my concerns about the nature of the Bible. If a book like Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism had existed back then it would have saved me much anxiety as well! This is the sort of book that I'd recommend even conservative evangelicals read, and conservative evangelical educators recommend to their students, unless one thinks that people who do not agree with their bibliology have compromised beyond what should be allowable.
If I were to teach a class on hermeneutics in an evangelical seminary or college this is a book I'd consider making required reading. Why? Even if one does not affirm the conclusions of the contributors to this volume, and even if one does not think their investigations yield fruit worth personally consuming, I can guarantee that one will have students who do wrestle with these matters. To force those students to embrace one's view, or to hide alternative approaches from those students, seems to me to be bad pedagogy, if not ethically concerning. Evangelical academics must recognize their dual role as educators and pastors. A book like this offers both a solidly academic read as well as a pastorally sensitive approach to many of the problems that arise when reading the Bible.
Now, again, I am aware that there will be evangelicals who dislike the idea of trying to reconcile the Bible as authoritative Scripture with the Bible as a collection of situated historical documents like other situated historical documents. This is understandable, but it is important to recognize something to which I alluded above: there will be evangelicals who cannot swallow the apologetic responses to historical criticism of the Bible. If evangelicals determine that those with doubts and questions must either be socially excommunicated or beaten into conformity, then evangelicalism will loose many good, sincere Christians who confess the central tenets of Christianity, but who cannot embrace a "perfect Bible" as we sometimes understand perfection. I appeal to those evangelicals to recognize that there is room in our tent for those who affirm inerrancy to the extreme of verbal plenary inspiration as well as those who may understand the inspiration of Scripture to allow for historical inaccuracies, some forms of mythopoeic language, and so forth.
For my full review search for my blog "Near Emmaus"