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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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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 (PhD, University of North Carolina) is vice president for marketing and enrollment and is also special assistant to the president at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He is the author of several books, including Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible and Ethnicity and Identity in Ancient Israel.
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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.
Unfortunately, I have to register a reservation about his actual approach in doing this. Sparks first assumes the validity of the method both by examples and, frequently, by arguing based on the "consensus" of the scholarly guild, which non-experts are not in a position to challenge. Really? We have way too much of that sort of thing these days, with whole areas in biomedical ethics or environmental policy given over to scientists and "experts" who will decide for us what is and isn't true. As Angelo Codevilla has pointed out, this is just a ruse for people empowered by this rhetoric to tell everyone else to shut up and sit down and is profoundly anti-democratic.
For what is at the essence of the critical method if not an insistence that people making assertions, whoever they may be, provide evidence to the hearer's satisfaction of the truth of these assertions? David Deutsche has pointed out that in science, at least in the research seminar, the lowest novice can ask the Nobel laureate "on what basis do you justify your conclusion?" and expect a cogent summary of the evidence. It would be entirely rude and embarrassing to all present to respond in that setting "I am an expert and you a know nothing - how dare you challenge me?" I am sorry, but I refuse to allow experts to fence themselves off in their own fields immune from criticism from everyone else but those within their guilds. I do not want to hear about a "consensus" - I want to see evidence. If experts in Ancient Near Eastern literature have such great arguments for their views, let's hear them.
I suspect that talk about a "consensus" is a frequent mask for positions for which the evidence is not good. There are a lot of theories in Biblical criticism where the evidence is not good, for example, the idea of a "deutero-Pauline" corpus - Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and the Pastorals being written by an imposter. The main evidence is that the vocabulary is different. Try proving that Barrack Obama did not write "Dreams of My Father" by comparing it to the vocabulary in "The Audacity of Hope" and see how far that gets you. I guess it's all whose ox is being gored.
Another idea is that the evidence for the Exodus is poor. But ANE chronology is based on Egyptian chronology, and that's a mess. If you disregard the "consensus" on chronology, it is easy to find Egyptian evidence of the Exodus: it is found in the collapse of the Middle Kingdom as memorialized in the Ipuwer papyrus. "Sothic dating" and other techniques advanced by guild Egyptologists are little better than tea leaves. Sorry if they don't like uncomfortable questions coming from outside their little club. If the Egyptologists explained Sothic dating to their university colleagues, say some economists, their auditors would be appalled at the weak foundations supporting the entire discipline. And that is the key point - if the authors of the Biblical texts had their own perspectives and biases, so do the Biblical critics. No one has said it better that C.S. Lewis in his great essay on the subject "Fernseeds and Elephants" - try being critical of your criticism for a change.
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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