Craig Blomberg, Can We Still Believe The Bible, An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions.
Op-Ed and Theological Analysis by David Farnell
Baker Brazos: Grand Rapids, 2014. 287 pages.
Craig Blomberg has written a new work, Can We Still Believe the Bible?, Baker hails the book in the following terms, “Challenges to the reliability of Scripture are perennial and have frequently been addressed. However, some of these challenges are noticeably more common today, and the topic is currently of particular interest among evangelicals. In this volume . . . Craig Blomberg offers an accessible and nuanced argument for the Bible's reliability in response to the extreme views about Scripture and its authority articulated by both sides of the debate. He believes that a careful analysis of the relevant evidence shows we have reason to be more confident in the Bible than ever before. As he traces his own academic and spiritual journey, Blomberg sketches out the case for confidence in the Bible in spite of various challenges to the trustworthiness of Scripture, offering a positive, informed, and defensible approach.” He dialogues in questions of textual criticism, canon issues, translations, inerrancy, genre interpretation, and miracles, offering various solutions to various problems that center in these topics. This book is highly commended by Scot McKnight (Northern Seminary), Darrell Bock (Dallas Theological Seminary), Paul Copan (Palm Beach Atlantic University), Craig S. Keener (Asbury Theological Seminary) and Leith Anderson (National Association of Evangelicals). Bock himself encourages the reader to “read and consider anew how to think about Scripture” on the back cover.
Blomberg immediately tips his hand regarding the true nature of this work when the dedication page says, “To the faculty, administration, and trustees of Denver Seminary who from 1986 to the present have created as congenial a research environment as a professor could hope for, upholding the inerrancy of Scripture without any of the watchdog mentality that plagues so many evangelical institutions” (p. v). This statement reveals the dual nature of this work in that it not only reveals Blomberg’s unusual take on inerrancy but is intended to deride those who would dare question Blomberg’s positions that he sets forth in the work.
In evaluating this book, several thoughts immediately come to mind: Perhaps the term most summarizing the book is “angry rant” against anyone who would dare disagree with a critical British-trained scholar. The hubris and over-estimation of the writer is stunning that constitutes a basic warning of Paul to believers (Rom. 12:3--For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” Does not the Scripture warn against pride? Very little humility is displayed in this work, but an attack mode is maintained throughout the work. He less than subtely compares “A handful of very conservative Christian leaders who have not understood the issues adequately” as having “reacted by unnecessarily rejecting new developments (pp. 7-8). In this logic, disagreeing with Blomberg or those in the fraternity of critical scholarship means being too labeled ignorant as well as Nazi-like since he tells of a teacher’s warning to avoid “the far left or the far right” as being related to “Nazism and Communism.” Apparently, this indicates that Blomberg has found the proverbial Goldilocks position of perfect middle ground of understanding of biblical issues. He is enlightened as no one else is who is not a critical evangelical scholar. Rogers and McKim took a similar position in 1979 when they wrote about the 20th century, “In this century both fundamentalism and modernism sometimes took extreme positions regarding the Bible” (Rogers and McKim, The Authority and The Interpretation of the Bible, Harper and Row, 1979, p. xxiii). This present reviewer had Deja vie all over again when he read Blomberg at many places and recalled Rogers’ and McKim’s similar arguments to Blomberg.
In terms of Blomberg’s take on inerrancy, he attacks “extremely conservative Christians” who continue to insist on following their modern understandings of what should or should not constitute errors in the Bible and censure fellow inerrantists whose views are less anachronistic” (p. 10). Blomberg’s loophole in the question of inerrncy, however, is “genre” (pp. 10-11). He relates something that immediately causes the reader to take pause: “Most important, simply because a work appears in narrative form does not automatically historical or biographical in genre. History and biography themselves appear in many different forms, and fiction can appear identical to history in form” (p. 11). He relates that “the way in which the ancients wrote history is clearer now than ever before. Once again the result is that we know much better what we should be meaning when we say we ‘believe the Bible,’ and therefore such belief is more defensible than ever” (p. 11). He attacks “ultraconservatives” who do not abide by his assessment in the following terms, “once again, unfortunately, a handful of ultraconservatives criticize all such scholarship, thinking that they are doing a service to the gospel instead of the disservice that they actually render” (p. 11). This attack continues in his attack on The Master’s Seminary as an questionable reaction to Biola/Talbot: “founding of the Master’s Seminary and breaking away from Biola University and its Talbot Theological Seminary in protest against their retreat from fundamentalism.” (p. 143). He did this also in 2000 with his book, Solid Ground (Leicester:Apollos, 2000) when he almost word for word attacked in angry, livid terms not only The Masters’ Seminary, but the motives of those involved in its founding, including its President, John MacArthur (Solid Ground, p. 315-315) where he advocated censorship of any book or opinion that would dare disagree with renown British scholarship as he exemplifies, “I can hardly imagine such a book [i.e. The Jesus Crisis, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998] ever being published by a major Christian press in the UK and that “I do think that British evangelicals, however, have better developed mechanisms for formal co-operation and joint scholarship ventures.
(Solid Ground, 313).
Because of limited space in a review, Chapter 4, “Don’t These Issues Rule Out Biblical Inerrancy” (pp. 119-146) and Chapter 5, “Aren’t Several; Narrative Genres of the Bible Unhistorical” (pp. 147-178) deserve special scrutiny for any one who would affirm belief, and especially inerrancy, in the Bible. Blomberg here addresses the “fundamentalist-modernist controversy.” He claims that the idea of inerrancy as understood by American efforts is largely an American phenomena: “Other branches of evangelicalism, especially in other parts of the world not heavily influenced by American missionary efforts, tend to speak of biblical authority, inspiration, and even infallibility, but not inerrancy” (p. 119). He relates that some have “consciously rejected inerrancy as too narrow a term to apply to Scripture” (p. 119). He relates that these misunderstandings about inerrancy emerge especially “among those who are noticeably more conservative or those who are noticeably more liberal in their views of Scripture than mainstream evangelicalism” (p. 119). He mentions the following who, in his belief, have misunderstood inerrancy because they are too conservative: “from the far right of the evangelical spectrum, Norman Geisler, William Roach, Robert Thomas, and David Farnell attack my writings along with similar ones by such evangelical stalwarts as Darrell Bock, D. A. Carson, and Craig Keener as too liberal, threatening inerrancy, or denying the historicity of Scripture.” (p. 120). In response to this, the writer of this review would urge the reader to examine the latest book from Geisler and Farnell, The Jesus Quest The Danger From Within (Xulon, 2014) to make up their own mind as to the interpretative approaches of Blomberg and these scholar especially in terms of inerrancy (we report, you decide). Blomberg addresses the effect that creeds and confession of Christendom especially in terms of inerrancy (p. 120-121).
He relates that “[t]here are two quite different approaches [to inerrancy], moreover, that can lead to an affirmation that Scripture is without error” (p. 121). These two approaches are “inductive approach” that “begins with the phenomena of the Bible itself, defines what would count as an error, analyzes Scripture carefully from beginning to end, and determines that nothing has been discovered tha would qualify as errant” (p. 121). The “deductive approach” that begins with the conviction that God is the author of Scripture, proceeds to the premise by definition that God cannot err, and therefore concludes that God’s Word must be without error” (p. 121). He reacts negatively against the deductive approach of “evidentialists and “presuppositonalist” by noting that these two terms “ultimately views inerrancy as a corollary of inspiration, not something to be demonstrated from the texts of Scripture itself. If the Bible is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16), and God cannot err, then the Bible must be errant. Hence, the inductive approach to Blomberg requires that the Bible prove that it is inerrant through critical investigation of the texts themselves rather than the others that just assume the texts are inerrant. Thus, he shifts the burden of proof from the Bible to that of the scholar. It is the critical investigator that must establish whether the text is truly inerrant. Importantly, Blomberg believes that the real debate on inerrancy is one of “hermeneutics” (p. 125). Thus, under this logic, one could hold to inerrancy but believe that a particular event in Scripture is really symbolic and not to be taken as literally an event in the time-space continuum (creation in six days (126). As a result, “Gensis 1 can be and has been interpreted by inerrantists as referring to a young earth, and old earth, progressive creation, theistic evolution, a literary framework for asserting God as the creator of all things irrespective of his methods, and a series of days when God took up residence in his cosmic temple for the sake of newly created humanity in his image. Once again, this is a matter for hermeneutical and exegetical debate, not one that is solved by the shibboleth of inerrancy” (p. 126). One must note, however, that Blomberg reveals his startling differences with inerrancy as defined by ICBI in 1978: “We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to relativizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship. “ Here Blomberg’s position is neither grammatical, historical, or literal, for Blomberg argues, “defenders of inerrancy do not reflect often enough on what it means to say that nonhistorical genres are wholly truthful” (p. 128). He also reflects a deja vue mantra of Rogers and McKim who wrote in 1979, “But often without realizing it, we impose on ancient documents twenty-first century standards that are equally inapproapriate.” Rogers and McKim, said “To erect a standard of modern, technical precision in language as the hallmark of biblical authority was totally foreign to the foundation shared by the early church” (Rogers and McKim, The Authority and Intepretation of the Bible An Historical Approach, p. xxii). Blomberg also supports elements of speech-act theory also maintains that “Vanhoozer’s work is indeed very attractive, but it is scarcely at odds with the Chicago Statement” (p. 136). The reader is referred here to Geisler/Roach evaluation of Van Hoozer for a different perspective, “Kevin Vanhoozer on Inerrancy,” in Inerrancy Defended, p. 132-159. One wonders at this statement of Blomberg, since Van Hoozer denies the grammatico-historical approach, and as Geisler/Roach conclude, “[Van Hoozer] also claims to affirm much of the ICBI statement as he understands it. But that is precisely the problem since the way he understands it is not he way the framers meant it, as is demonstrated from the official commentaries on the ICBI statements” (Geisler/Roach, Inerrancy Defended, p.
The practical result is genre can be used to deny anything in the bible that the interpreter finds offensive as a literal sense. The allegorical school did such a thing, the gnostics did it to scripture and now Blomberg applies his updated version of it with genre being applied to hermeneutics. Blomberg’s use of genre, to this present review, smacks of an erie similarity to Rogers’/McKim’s deprecation of literal interpretation when they noted Westerner’s logic that viewed “statements in the Bible were treated like logical propositions that could be interpreted quite literally according to contemporary standards” (Rogers and McKim, The Authority and Interpretation of the Bible, xviii). In Chapter 5, Aren’t Several Narrative Genres of the Bible Unhistorial,” his use of hermeneutics continues to be the means by which he can redefine what normal definition of inerrancy would be, and he uses it to deny the plain, normal sense of Genesis 1-3 (p. 150), while advocating that we must understand the author’s intent in such passages, with the key question from Article 13 of ICBI, “standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose.” Applying a completely wrong understanding of this clause of ICBI as well as the original intent of the founders of ICBI, Blomberg advocates that idea that “the question is simply one about the most likely literary form of the passage” (p. 150). From there, he proceeds to allow for non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3 that are, in his view, fully in line with inerrancy, e.g. Adam and Eve as symbols for every man and woman (p. 152), evolutionary and progressive creation (pp. 151-153), a non-historical Jonah (p. 160), the possiblility of three Isaiah’s (p. 162), Daniel as Apocalyptic genre rather than prophetic (p. 163-164), fully embracing of midrash interpretation of the Gospels as advocated by Robert Gundry as not impacting inerrancy (pp. 165-168) as well as pseudepigraphy as fully in line with inerrancy in NT epistles under the guide of a “literary device” or “acceptable form of pseudonymity (168-72). He argues that we don’t know the opinions of the first century church well-enough on pseudepigraphy to rule it out: “[B]arring some future discovery related to first-century opinions, we canot pontificate on what kinds of claims for authorship would or would not have been considered acceptable in Christian communities, and especially in Jewish-Christian circles when the New Testament Epistles were written. As a result, we must evaluate every proposal based on it s own historical and grammatical merits, not on whether it does or does not pass some pre-established criterion of what inerrancy can accept” (p. 172).
Several summaries after reading Blomberg’s work are in order:
First, under the logic of Blomberg, one would wonder if Galatians would not have been accepted by evangelical communities since in it Paul has quite a few charged statements against the Judaizers that today’s evangelicals might seem unfair such as “If I or an angel from heaven preach to you a different gospel than that which you heard, let them be anathema: “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:6-10). In Galatians 5:12 Paul says in Galatians 5:12 that those false teachers who advocate circumcision, “I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves where Paul advocates that the false teachers who proclaimed works in salvation through circumcision should slip with their knife and cut off some important member. In the Philippians, Paul calls out two ladies who are bickering with each other by name, I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. In the Pastorals, Paul calls by name heretics and delivers them over to Satan, Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme. In 2Tim. 4:14 lexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Would Paul’s warning to take every thought captive (2 Cor. 10:5) not call for rigorous examination of all evangelical positions that we might be faithful to God’s Word (1 Cor. 4:4). What about Jude’s warning about false teaching that “crept in unnoticed” or 2 Peter’s language of no uncertain terms, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” (2 Pet. 2:3-4). Would critically trained evangelicals advocate such language as too harsh, too censorious or even Nazi-like. Surely Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23 was within the bounds of evangelicalism today, one would hope at least.
Second, it is not only very poor logic, highly unprofessional to name call evangelicals who are concerned for inerrancy issues as “Nazism and Communism. “(p. 7). In light of the Scripture verses quoted above about certain NT books defending the faith, would some critically-trained evangelicals call Paul’s concern for the inspiration and inerrancy of the Word in such terms? Surely Paul’s warning (2 Tim. 4:2-4) that false teaching would arise would cause these evangelicals to have a concern: “each the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. Does an seminary education, Ivy league or critically-trained, immunize one from these concerns?
Second, Blomberg shows a remarkable lack of understanding the ICBI 1978 and 1982 statements, and, at times, clearly is in opposition to them. He clearly does not accept them as originally intended or as a guideline that he will abide.
Third, this book, published by Baker, is an angry rant rather than a scholarly discussion. Blomberg’s anger completely overwhelms his discussion to the point of absolute distraction. His arrogance in his own personal assessment of himself as a evangelical critical scholar who truly discerns the issue strikes one very negatively.
In conclusion, perhaps a better title for this Baker book should be Can We Still Believe Evangelical Critical Scholars? Why? They some, like Blomberg, say that they believe in inerrancy, but Blomberg’s book leave much doubt as to whether they really do believe it the way the church has traditionally maintained that doctrine throughout the millennia. Indeed, the present review challenges all to re-read Rogers’ and McKim’s work (1979), as well as Rogers, Biblical Authority (1977) to discover startling parallels in many thoughts between their position and that of critical evangelical scholars like Blomberg today. It is painfully obvious in this book that Paul’s warning of not to be taken captive by philosophy has been totally overlooked, ignored and disregarded by Blomberg (Col. 2:8--See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.) as well as Paul’s warning to take every thought captive (2 Cor. 10:5—“We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ”
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