I was very pleased recently to happen upon a book which takes on the difficult issues we face today from both the secular world on the left and the ultraconservative church world on the right.
Like you, I am around people who are confident that “educated people all know that the Bible is no longer as trustworthy as Christians used to believe,” and people who are calling every Christian who does not unpack things the way they do as “liberal” and unfaithful. If either kind of person were willing to do some reading, here is the book I would give them. And even if they aren’t open, this one really helps me!
Craig L. Blomberg, Can We Still Believe the Bible? An Evangelical Engagement With Contemporary Questions (Baker, 2014)
So what is the book about?
Let me quote the author (pp. 7-8). [My “translations” for you of what the six topics involve are in this blue font]:
There are some areas where a curious phenomenon has occurred over the past generation. I am thinking of areas of scholarship where new findings, or at least much more intense study of slightly old discoveries, have actually strengthened the case for the reliability or trustworthiness of the Scriptures, even while the most publicized opinions in each area have claimed that there are now reasons for greater skepticism!
Six in particular have captured my attention enough for me to devote some specialized study to them. They involve textual criticism [methods used to try to determine what the original texts of the Bible writers were – and how changes appeared in different copies over the years], the canon of Scripture [which special books are seen as acceptable to be included in the library we call “the Bible” (and why the ones chosen were)], the proliferation of English (and other) translations of the Bible [which of the many translations today can be trusted, and why], the doctrine of biblical inerrancy [the belief that the Bible can be trusted, especially using the word “inerrant” – see the Free Methodist approach below], the diversity of literary genres among books or sections of books that appear to many as historical narrative, and the manifestations [whether or not all the biblical materials that seem, at first glance, to be telling us exactly “what happened” are “historical” in the way we moderns use that word], and meanings of the miraculous [understanding the bible miracles, including, DID THEY ALL HAPPEN?].
Sadly, there has also been a backlash in each of these six arenas. A handful of very conservative Christian leaders who have not understood the issues adequately have reacted by unnecessarily rejecting the new developments. To the extent that they, too, have often received much more publicity than their small numbers would warrant, they have hindered genuine scholarship among evangelicals and needlessly scared unbelievers away from Christian faith. As my Christian eighth-grade public school history teacher, Dorothy Dunn, used to love to intone with considerable passion, after having lived through our country's battles against both Nazism and Communism: "The far left and the far right—avoid them both, like the plague!”
So you can see why a Free Methodist, who has little use for left wing skeptics and for right wing over-simplifiers, would like Blomberg’s approach. Blomberg is on the spectrum where the people who teach in our denominationally-related colleges, universities and seminaries are. That is why I share with you the links to Ben Witherington’s (from Asbury Seminary, one of our foremost Wesleyan biblical scholars) blogs on this book. Witherington, of course, wants to nuance a few things Blomberg says slightly differently, but is extremely enthusiastic about the book’s value and wisdom.
This book will help you in responding to people, widely reported in the secular media (on the far “left”), who glibly assume the Bible cannot be trusted, and also in responding to people, widely reported in the religious media (formed on the far “right”), who are inclined to misunderstand good scholarship and fight the wrong battles about the Bible.
If I may think back to my days in the parish, I can think of two groups from your church this book can really help.
I remember students going off to University and coming back and telling me their profs teach (or imply) that real “scholarship” does not support what the Bible claims. This book can help them to see how false this notion is.
As well I was aware that many of my people continually read what an old friend and pastor termed “pablum” – Christian books whose authors treat the Bible as a how-to-manual for complex disciplines like psychology, sociology, economics, politics, or any other major discipline typical of university curricula. Tons of those books (and now web sites) are in use by our people. Blomberg will help your people to read and think more discerningly.
I had one area of slight dis-ease with this marvellous book as I read it. The author still wants to identify himself as believing in the “inerrancy” of the Bible, though he (rightly, I think) wants to qualify this word in several ways. I understand his need to connect to this audience, but by the time Blomberg has redefined “inerrant” I agree with him, and, as evidenced on the web, many “inerrantists” are livid!
I think he would have been better off to drop the word, and to use language like that of our Free Methodist Article of Religion (which intentionally avoids the word “inerrant” – because it means so many different things to so many different people). Here is the wording from ¶108 of our Manual:
The Bible is God’s written Word, uniquely inspired by the Holy Spirit. It bears unerring witness to Jesus Christ, the living Word. As attested by the early church and subsequent councils, it is the trustworthy record of God’s revelation, completely truthful in all it affirms. It has been faithfully preserved and proves itself true in human experience.
The Scriptures have come to us through human authors who wrote, as God moved them, in the languages and literary forms of their times. God continues, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, to speak through this Word to each generation and culture.
The Bible has authority over all human life. It teaches the truth about God, His creation, His people, His one and only Son, and the destiny of all humankind. It also teaches the way of salvation and the life of faith. Whatever is not found in the Bible nor can be proved by it is not to be required as an article of belief or as necessary to salvation.
Blomberg clearly shares this confidence in the scriptures with us, though he chooses not to drop the word “inerrant”. Yet he helps us with those (on the far “left”) who do not share our confidence in the Scripture and with those (on the far “right”) who say with vigour that they do – but without carefully looking at what the Bible actually says!
In the end, I would agree with Scot McKnight’s blurb on the back cover, where he says that this book is the finest example of how to defend the Bible.