The inaugural NT symposium at Syndicate: Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism
And it has just begun, on the delightful book, Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism ed. by Christopher M. Hays and Christopher B. Ansberry.
You can read my brief introduction, here.
Kent Sparks’ response has just gone live, here, with a response written by Hays et al. Join in the conversation!
I had originally penned a longer intro which summarised the whole book in more depth. So, after you have read my intro, here is what I cut out, namely short summaries of each chapter (the first and last chapters are covered in the introduction over at Syndicate).
In chapter two, “Adam and the fall”, Hays and Stephen Lane Herring explore modern historical-critical concerns relating to Genesis, not with a view to endorsing it all, but to draw out the most significant point, namely: “most critical scholars deny that there was a historical couple named Adam and Eve who were the sole genetic progenitors of the human race and were responsible for the advent of human sinfulness and mortality” (24). They then examine the theological ramifications of this critical denial. Via analysis of Paul’s Christ-Adam typology, they alight on James 1:13-15 as a “clearer New testament count of sin”, which presents at the same time a “leaner hamartiology” which can be “sustained without Adam” (45).
In chapter three, Ansberry wrestles with questions relating to the historicity of the Exodus ultimately arguing, after summarising maximalist and minimalist scholarly camps and the concerns of branches of historiography and narratology, that the Exodus is a real, remembered event. But it has, in the canonical tradition, developed through re-appropriation, meaning that the Exodus narratives, as presented in scripture, are not straightforward or one-on-one retellings of what happened, true only in the sense that they correspond directly with what happened. They are interpreted, elaborated stories. Ansberry insists that “something of its historical occurrence is essential to Israel’s identity ... as well as Christian orthodoxy” (71), but not in a way that sacrifices integrity when confronted with historical-criticism.
In chapter four, Ansberry and Hwang tackle questions relating to the provenance, composition and development of the Deuteronomic Torah, particularly the claim that it is as “pious fraud” (74). A fascinating overview of contemporary scholarship leads to the question: “Can a fraudulent, pseudepigraphic document function as a reliable repository of theological truth?” (83). By using historical-critical results relating to the development and usage of the Mosaic traditum, they provide reason for answering in the affirmative. Particularly, these critical tools “can make evangelicals more attuned to [Deuteronomy’s] locus of authority as well as to the way in which Deuteronomy’s theological ideas have been received by Israel throughout her history” (93).
In Chapter five, “Problems with prophecy”, Amber Warhurst and Seth Tarrer cameo together with Hays. They lay out those places where prophesied events do not occur as foretold. Once again, rather than retreating into an apologetic stance, they practice critical faith and faithful criticism to set themselves new questions. They use the results of many historical-critics to re-examine the relation between prophecy and fulfillment in the Old Testament. They note, for example, that the goal and fulfillment of prophecy are understood in surprisingly broad terms and are indeed often explicitly conditional upon human response. These issues offer the framework for constructively engaging historical-critical claims in ways that need not threaten a broadly evangelical outlook at all. Examples of prophecy given “after that fact” are then discussed with emphasis on Daniel, of course. In recognizing that this is a particular genre (dating back a long way to the Uruk Prophecy), there is no reason for such occurrences in scripture to cause the kind of mental anxiety that evangelicals in particular feel about many historical-critical assertions. Likewise, also with deferred prophecy, their work in this lengthy chapter suggests that “apparent problems with prophecy in the Bible” need not “jeopardize the Christian faith”. These “‘problems’ stem not from a shortcoming in Scripture itself, but in our preconceptions about what prophecy must be” (123).
Chapter six, co-authored by Ansberry, Casey Strine, Edward Klink III and David Lincicum, delves into the questions relating to pseudepigraphy. Summaries of critical scholarship pertaining to the authorship and the Pentateuch, Isaiah, the Gospel of John and the Pauline corpus, suggest that one’s account of the locus of a text’s authority need to be clarified. Ultimately:
[A]cceptance of pseudepigraphy or pseudonymity in the biblical canon neither undermines the principal tenets of the Christian faith nor operates outside the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy. Rather it refines our understanding of the nature of Scripture, reorients our focus away from the human author’s work to God’s work, and reinforces our trust in the Spirit’s activity through the production of Scripture. (157)
Chapter seven is a bold attempt to confront critical issues relating to the “historical Jesus”. Michael Daling and (once again) Hays “contend that the discipline of historical Jesus scholarship does not lead inevitably to heresy, so much as it engages both believing and non-believing scholars in debates of real significance for the beliefs of the Church” (159). They make this claim by taking firm hold of the nettle, and the thorny questions surrounding Jesus’ self-understanding, miracles, virgin birth and resurrection. Again, having summarized some of the critical issues in play, their concern is to elucidate the theological ramifications of those historical-critical concerns. Ultimately, orthodox Christianity can accommodate both the notion that Jesus was ignorant of certain things, and that this or that miracle story is not historical, even if a wholesale rejection of miracles raises its own problems. Nevertheless, the evangelical may not deny either the virgin birth or the resurrection, even if some flexibility can be allowed for how these are precisely interpreted. Historical-criticism is simply “out of its methodological depth” imperially to adjudicate on these matters.
The final “case study” chapter, penned by Aaron Kuecker and Kelly Liebengood, relates the contradictions between the Paul of Acts and the Paul of the letters, both in matters of chronology and theology. After examining a few scholarly proposals for negotiating these tensions, they present six points for negotiating the theological challenges these issues raise. Ultimately:
The fundamental question, then, in any comparison of Luke’s Paul and the Paul of the epistles is not whether the two portraits paint the same life or theology of the apostle to the nations, but rather whether Luke’s Paul and the Paul of the epistles bear witness to the same Messiah Jesus who pours out the Spirit and makes known the Father. (202, italics theirs)