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God's Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship Paperback – March 1, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

"Finally, a fresh, creative, carefully nuanced approach to biblical criticism from an evangelical! Sparks skillfully makes his case for a 'believing criticism' by carefully assessing the current available alternatives. His thorough, methodical work stakes out for many thoughtful evangelicals a credible, theologically based, devout place to stand in integrating critical work and faith. I highly recommend it."--Robert L. Hubbard Jr., North Park Theological Seminary

"This important volume provides a bridge between critical scholarship and traditional views on Scripture. In the process of surveying the flash points created by modern critical scholarship, Sparks champions 'practical realism' as an approach that provides a more productive middle ground. Both evangelicals and nonevangelicals will benefit from this very frank discussion of the history and possible future for biblical scholarship."--Victor H. Matthews, Missouri State University

"Sparks issues an irenic invitation to reconcile academic consensus with evangelical conviction in ways that respect and inform both. His plea for his fellow evangelicals to take historical criticism much more seriously features impressive and honest arguments for mainstream critical stances toward Old and New Testament texts, informative tours of fields from hermeneutics to Assyriology to patristic and Reformation theology, and a bold proposal to affirm biblical inerrancy in terms of perfect divine accommodation to human error. May it encourage and shape the fruitful conversation we evangelicals absolutely need to have."--Telford Work, Westmont College

"Sparks asks hard questions. In this volume he provides answers that he believes satisfy intellectually as well as spiritually. His erudition is evident on every page. Of course, not all will agree with his version of 'practical realism' and how it relates to biblical hermeneutics, but few can deny that he has advanced the conversation in a way that is helpful and healthy."--Bill T. Arnold, Asbury Theological Seminary

"Sparks emphatically affirms both the methodology and results of historical and modern biblical criticism and the authority of Scripture. He distinguishes divine inerrancy from the finite and fallible human vessels through whom God chose to reveal God's Word. This is a valuable window into the 'progressive evangelical' approach to the nature of Scripture."--Elaine A. Phillips, Gordon College

About the Author

Kenton L. Sparks (Ph.D., University of North Carolina) is professor of biblical studies and special assistant to the provost at Eastern University. He is author of several books, including Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Academic (March 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801027012
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801027017
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,062,715 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dr. Marc Axelrod VINE VOICE on December 1, 2008
Format: Paperback
Kenton Sparks does his best in this book to convince evangelicals that it's all right to critically study the Bible while holding on to a belief in the Bible's authority and inerrancy. However, it gets more complicated than that. Sparks is out to expose conservative evangelical scholars who use faulty arguments to explain away the findings of more moderate and critical scholars.

Sparks begins by noting that scholars who study ancient Egypt and Assyria don't just accept any inscription they find at face value and call it authentic. They have tests that can reveal the inscription's authenticity. The same is true with the Bible. Sparks goes on to show that scholarly and critical studies of the Scriptures reveal that Moses didn't write the Pentateuch (there were several different traditions combined together over many centuries), the Flood may not have happened as it is written, the Exodus story may not have happened as it is written, the Creation accounts differ and reflect literary art more than they do actual science and history, John and the Synoptic gospels contradict each other at certain points (as do the OT books of Samuel and Chronicles), and Paul didn't write the pastoral epistles.

But after all this and more, Sparks still wants to hold to a doctrine of biblical inerrancy, holding that God speaks inerrantly through Scripture while accommodating Himself to all the errors that human beings made when they wrote the Scriptures. In other words, God is inerrant, but the Bible writers were not.

Sparks believes that if we allow for the possibility that large swaths of Scripture are inspired sagas or legends or myths that teach spiritual truth, many of the critical problems scholars face will disappear.
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I found this book very helpful and interesting, as I was seeking a way to make sense of certain difficulties I was having with the Bible. It was a relief to be able to acknowledge, for instance, that there are actually two different accounts of Saul meeting David for the first time, and as a Christian I don't have to try to explain that away.

However, it seemed to me like Sparks coming down on the side of male headship in marriage, contradicted everything he had said through the rest of the book. It was as if he was saying, "Yes, you can be free of traditionalist readings that have held you in bondage-- unless you're a woman, and married. In that case, go submit to your husband's authority-- and by the way, he should also be nice to you while holding the power to override you at any time he so pleases." It was kind of like a slap in the face.
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Format: Paperback
In this volume Kenton Sparks invites Evangelicals to reconsider biblical authority according to a paradigm which, rather than undermine critical biblical scholarship, seeks to integrate it. Sparks, an Evangelical himself, speaks directly to an Evangelical readership as he builds an erudite but broad argument for (1) a tendentious Evangelical view of biblical authority and inerrancy, and (2) the futility of Evangelical opposition to the methodologies and conclusions of critical scholarship. God's Word in Human Words is Spark's attempt to correct the former and provide a more constructive alternative to the latter.

Spark's Preface narrates a crisis of faith which may sound familiar to many Evangelical scholars. Through this crisis, Spark's describes the problem which is the impetus for this book. His Introduction describes this problem with a bit more detail and invites the reader to consider the possibility that critical scholarship, the antagonist in his original crisis of faith and the opponent to so much contemporary Evangelical biblical scholarship, is built on a solid foundation and is crucial to the future of that scholarship.

Chapter 1 is a useful sketch of the history of epistemology and hermeneutics. In addition to providing a background for the modern critical approach to the Bible, it lays the foundation for the epistemological position that will inform much of Spark's hermeneutic, namely practical realism. According to this position, a kind of "soft" post-modernism, real knowledge is sufficiently available to the investigator, even if theoretically never absolute. Hermeneutic is a secondary concern of this chapter, but it will receive more attention in later chapters.
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This is the most important book on evangelical, critical, biblical scholarship to date. Those who read its distinctive chapters in the pursuit of truth, with one eye on the church and one eye on the academy, will be duly rewarded. Although I do not affirm every argument or inference, and although I had already worked through many of these issues in my postgraduate studies, this book has strengthened my faith in the risen Lord and freed me to be completely honest with the nature of the biblical evidence. For this, I thank God and Professor Sparks.
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Sparks comes off a bit snobbish, claiming on more than one occasion that biblical scholars know what they're talking about, and if anything he says in this book disagrees with your Sunday School teacher, listen to the guy with the degrees. Okay fine, but the tone is a bit jerk-y.
This book challenged my more conservative, traditional beliefs about things like miracles, the exodus, Jonah, Daniel, and David. But it pushed me to see the Bible as something I hadn't before. Sparks' contention—and he is convincing—is that the Bible is more of a collection of traditions and documents that may have all kinds of ethical issues in them, but God is able to work in and through broken and limited human communication.

Sparks loses a star for his tone and another star for his unrefined (and unabridged) writing style in the second half of the book, getting progressively harder to read. But he receives stars for challenging me to think, and forcing me to interact with items I had never seen in the Bible.
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