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Archive for February 12th, 2014

Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism

(Available on Amazon)

NOTE:It’s nearly four in the morning and I supposed I had too much notes more than I can finish as one review so this will have to be in parts.

This book was provided to me free by Baker Academic and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

This book attempts to advance the thesis that there is a place for Evangelicals to critically use historical criticism in Biblical scholarship.  It is a call for Christians to be Evangelical and critical (in the sense of utilizing historical criticism).  The book is more a collection of essays by various writers dealing with different portion of the Bible and an exploration of what historical criticism means in each respective parts of Scripture.

I had a hard time with the chapter on Adam.  The main point of this chapter by both co-writers was that the denial of the historicity of Genesis 2-3 does not seriously affect the essence of Christianity theologically.  Readers must remember that the chapter is not necessarily denying the historicity of Adam and Genesis 2-3, but merely trying to argue that historical critical methodology on this passage does not destroy the fundamentals of the Faith.  Here the chapter makes a distinction between Original sin and the idea of sins’ concupiscence and ends up doubting the former while affirming the latter.  However, one must wonder whether there is good justification for Christians to question the historicity of Genesis 2-3 in the first place; it seems to raise more eyebrow when the chapter’s case rest upon the suppositions that there were multiple sources (JEDP) behind the Pentateuch and alleged parallel of Genesis 1-11 with the Atrahasis Epic.  Concerning the Pentateuch as having various sources, I find it troubling that the writers failed to interact with Evangelicals’ rebuttal for arguments for multiple sources such as doublets, etc.  Since this book is written to encourage Evangelicals to embrace historical criticism, it would have been good for the writers to interact with those who oppose it and their argument.  Concerning the Atrahasis Epic and the argument that the Ancient Near East did not have a literary form that fits our modern conception of history, I have always had a hard time buying the argument by historical critical proponents such as Peter Enns that these were somehow literary fictions or the fact that people in the Ancient Near East could not and did not conceptualize ways of communicating straight forward truthful narratives; it seems very hard to demonstrate this to be the case conclusively.  Assuming the historical critical assumption that the ancient was not as complex as us now, it seems to me that communication of stories back then would appeal to straight forward sensory experiences while more conceptual ways of communicating events would be more advance and complex and a later development (think of the Apocalypic prophetic literatures, etc).  Again, it seems to be the case that the writers grant certain suppositions of historical criticisms that needs to be better examined.  These foreign presuppositions apparently include the mention of macro-evolution as a possible explanation for the persuasiveness of sin, but this is to bring into the discussion more debates and dilemmas.

I also had a hard time with the chapter on the Exodus narrative.  The writer tries to paint an alternative between minimalists and maximalists approach to history and the Bible.   He sees minimalists as having problem of denying the historicity of the Exodus narrative altogether while maximalists don’t have the evidentialists support for all the historical claims of Scripture.  I don’t think the chapter really establish a good alternative.  With the impasse between a maximalist or minimalist position I think it might be more helpful to explore and discuss the worldview that moves one to hold those position as way of moving the conversation forward (see my recent posts at https://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/maximalists-minimalists-in-light-of-presuppositional-apologetics/).

The book more than once mentioned that academic and intellectual studies of the Scripture is important.  I get that, and I agree but I don’t think that means one has to embrace historical criticism.  Since I respect the various authors’ effort to suggest a modified historical critical approach is possible, I think it’s only right I continue my review of the other chapters in another posts. Got to grab some sleep.

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