Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism (Skinner)

Hays.AnsberryLast summer I was on a plane to England and I found myself with seven hours to spare. (Between teaching, writing, and family responsibilities, when does that EVER happen?) So I reached into my bag to look over the books I had brought along for the trip. The one that struck me as most interesting at that moment was Christopher M. Hays’ and Christopher B. Ansberry’s book, Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013). I had picked up the book at the 2013 SBL meeting in Baltimore, but hadn’t yet had a chance to read through it. I have been meaning to post about this volume since the summer but have just now gotten around to it. This book has already been reviewed in numerous places on the web, both positively (see here, here, here) and less positively (see the somewhat shortsighted review offered here). Thus, I don’t intend to provide a review here, though I would like to offer an endorsement. In fact, when I was in the book stall at this year’s SBL meeting in San Diego, I stopped a friend and said, “You need to buy this book. While you and I have moved beyond these conversations years ago, our students have not.”

Here’s the Table of Contents:

1. Towards a Faithful Criticism, Christopher M. Hays
2. Adam and the Fall, Christopher M. Hays and Stephen Lane Herring
3. The Exodus: Fact, Fiction or Both?, Christopher B. Ansberry
4. No Covenant before the Exile? The Deuteronomic Torah and Israel’s Covenant Theology, Christopher B. Ansberry and Jerry Hwang
5. Problems with Prophecy Amber Warhurst, Seth B. Tarrer and Christopher M. Hays
6. Pseudepigraphy and the Canon, Christopher B. Ansberry, Casey A. Strine, Edward W. Klink III and David Lincicum
7. The Historical Jesus, Michael J. Daling and Christopher M. Hays
8. The Paul of Acts and the Paul of the Epistles, Aaron J. Kuecker and Kelly D. Liebengood
9. Faithful Criticism and a Critical Faith, Christopher B. Ansberry and Christopher M. Hays

One of the things I most appreciated about the book was its balance between eloquence and substance. In recent years I have seen a whole new crop of young scholars with the ability to address substantive academic issues in compelling and interesting ways with the result that these “academic” books are actually fun to read (see e.g., Timothy Michael Law, Chris Keith, Anthony LeDonne, Chris Tilling). At the end of the day, some will feel that the contributors have perhaps not gone far enough in their conclusions. I am of the opinion that this is an ideal resource for seminarians (and potentially advanced undergraduates) who hold the Bible to be authoritative but don’t wish to jettison all intellectual honesty when studying the Scriptures critically. I have long abandoned using the term “evangelical” when self-identifying because of the negative connotations so often attached to the word, especially here in the United States. Perhaps the highest praise I can give this book is that it handles important subject matter in a way that makes me think there *might* be–sometime in the distant future–a context in which it would be okay to begin calling myself an “evangelical” once again. Then again, maybe not…..but as long as scholars like this are shaping and advancing the conversation, I’d be open to the idea.


Biblical Scholars Discuss “aha” Moments at Pete Enns’ Blog (Skinner)

Bible-ReadingFor the past few weeks, Pete Enns has been hosting guest posts by Biblical scholars who formerly self-identified as evangelical and read the Bible with a rigid hermeneutic (i.e., through the grid of “inerrancy”). Thus far, he has posted his own reflection, followed by those of John Byron, Daniel Kirk, Michael Pahl, and Charles Halton. Today he posted the reflection he asked me to write. I appreciate what Pete is doing with this series and I also appreciated him asking me to contribute. It gave me an opportunity to reflect back on how far I’ve come and on how I understand the Bible today–both as a scholar and a man of faith.

The “Response Book”: A Few Reflections on a Uniquely Evangelical Phenomenon (Skinner)

How God Became JesusOver the past few days my social media feeds have been inundated with various posts about two recent books: Bart Ehrman’s How Jesus Became God  and a multi-author “response” volume entitled, How God Became Jesus: The Real Origins of Belief in Jesus’ Divine Nature—A Response to Bart D. Ehrman. Various memes have even been created to promote one side or the other (see here and here). The latter book boasts an international lineup of evangelical luminaries, including Simon Gathercole, Craig Evans, Michael Bird, Charles Hill, and Chris Tilling. The book has also received endorsements from academic heavyweights like Larry Hurtado and Richard Bauckham. Many of the comments in my Twitter and Facebook feeds have offered words of praise for the “response book” while suggesting that Ehrman’s book is self-serving and part of the “same old story” he continues to tell. In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I know several of the individuals involved in these projects, I respect all of them, and have benefited from some of their past work. That said, I wanted to take a moment to offer a few (perhaps unpopular) reflections on the things that come to my mind when I see yet another evangelical publication aimed at responding to or refuting the work of some scholar outside the evangelical fold. For the record, I have not yet read either book in this debate (both are on the way to my office), so I can’t yet speak to the substance of this particular “response book.” The following reflections are more about the culture that continually feels compelled to produce such responses:

(1) I remember sitting in my first theology course (at an evangelical institution) and hearing my professor lament that many in the evangelical world were too interested in reacting or responding to the arguments of non-evangelicals, with the result that they rarely, if ever, engaged in projects that were genuinely creative or constructive. Sadly, I have found this to be true over the past 15 years. Reacting to those with whom you disagree appears to be a critical part of the warp and woof of evangelical life. So many of the positive comments about the second volume that I have read to this point use descriptors like “brilliant defense” and “cogent response,” which at least gives the impression that those who are reading the book believe this is why the “response book” exists. This general impression makes me sad and a little uneasy, especially since I hold the conversation partners in this debate in high regard, as scholars and as individuals.

(2) To my mind there is an interesting irony in the “response” to Ehrman: the very faction that wants to strip him of his credbility unwittingly contributes to his acclaim. They end up giving him more attention when they really want people to stop reading him. Further, they also unwittingly give the impression that it takes five or six evangelicals to counter one non-evangelical scholar. Evangelicals can’t wait to read a book written by “some of the most learned and faithful scholars within evangelicalism” (an actual quote I read), but the wider, non-evangeical public often views this scenario as an army at war with an individual…which brings me to my next thought. 

(3) One word: Fear. Projects like this one give many non-evangelicals the impression that evangelicals are afraid of the arguments that contradict their own. Whether this is true or not is debatable.

(4) I know many gifted and creative scholars working both within and outside of evangelical circles. Those who get the most attention are not necessarily those who propagate a non-evangelical narrative or even a non-Christian narrative, though I often hear this critique. Generally speaking, those who get wide attention do so because of the quality of the work they put forward. Yes, Bart Ehrman gets a lot of publicity. Much of this is related to his ability to write compellingly for non-specialist audiences. He communicates, both on television and in print, in a creative and original way. You may not be thrilled with his narrative, but you can’t doubt his ability to connect with the wider public. When the evangelical faction as a rule begins to do truly interesting, creative, and constructive work, they may begin getting the same attention. However, this might also require a re-thinking of the evangelical narrative in which greater nuance is applied and ground is ceded to those with better, more compelling, and more convincing arguments.