Understanding the Normative Text

I am currently reading God's Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship.

Here is a review by Art Boulet that I have been looking forward to that was just published by Review of Biblical Literature.

Here's an excerpt,

"While it is true that some evangelicals have “walked away from their faith” because they were approached with some of the results of critical biblical scholarship, Sparks demonstrates that the fault does not lie with biblical criticism but on the reluctance of evangelicals to actually engage, appropriate, and integrate these results with evangelical theology. If the evangelical answer continues to be fideism or pretending that the “problems” do not exist, then the laypeople, seminarians, and graduate students who are approached with the strength of these issues are left without a paradigm or hermeneutical method that can account for both data produced by biblical critics and the faith they hold."

- Arthur Boulet
Westminster Theological Seminary
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


  1. And on balance...(from the same RBL)

    "It is one thing, for instance, to suggest that at times God accommodates divine purposes and meaning so as to use human language: anthropomorphisms, metaphor, and other nonliteral use of language. It is, it seems to me, a thing of a different order to say that God uses human authors who thought they were writing narratives with genuine historical referents—but those authors were mistaken about what they themselves were actually doing. More precision in defining and applying the key concept of accommodation” is needed, it seems to me, before Sparks’s proposal can be regarded as cogent and coherent."

    Jeffrey A. Gibbs
    Concordia Seminary
    St. Louis, Missouri

    With deference to Mr. Boulet, Westminster Seminary seems itself to have a robust history of engaging these issues in a constructive manner.

  2. ...unless one is inclined to describe people like Kline, Silva, or Poythress as people who pretend problems don't exist or act in an "unengaging or fideistic" way. I am not willing to paint those guys with that brush.

  3. Glad you mentioned Gibbs review. I haven't read that one yet and am looking forward to it.

    It'll be good to see the wide variety of engagement that Sparks thesis developes.

    Roger ~ "...unless one is inclined to describe people like Kline, Silva, or Poythress as people who pretend problems don't exist or act in an "unengaging or fideistic" way."
    Is this a qoute from Gibbs or Sparks?

    I really would have no idea whether any of these scholars have engaged in an unengaging matter on this topic. The burden of proof of course lies in Sparks if indeed he alluded to these.

  4. the Kline, Poythress, Silva qoute is from a much more suspect source...me.

  5. Hi Roger,

    I'd like to clarify what I meant in that quote that Miguel has brought attention to.

    In that quote I do not mean to say that evangelical scholars have not dealt or engaged with critical biblical scholarship. Obviously they have, especially some of the more prominent authors among the faculty, past and present, of Westminster.

    The key part of the quote, which is the key point that Kent is bringing up in his book, is that they fail to "engage, appropriate, and integrate these results with evangelical theology."

    As Kent points out, a large majority of the arguments evangelicals bring to the table when they engage critical scholarship simply do not hold up to scrutiny. A large majority of evangelical scholarship engages critical biblical scholarship merely to show that the points it makes are wrong and that the traditional views are correct. This is not so much "engaging" as it is "defending" against.

    When the immense amount of data, both biblical and otherwise, points to the truth of many points made by critical biblical scholarship, evangelicals must not only engage, which they have in the past, but also appropriate that critical biblical scholarship and integrate it with evangelical theology. This should not be seen as some sort of "liberalizing" of evangelical theology, but a strengthening of evangelical theology.

    Does that make more sense?

  6. Thanks for the elucidation Art.

    Before having a better sense of approaching apparent difficulties from critical scholarship I too sensed a need to "defend" first for fear that the authority of scripture would be undermined or all together nullified.

    The posture that I appreciate from Enns and Sparks is their willingness to honestly engage the data and seek some measure of appropriation. I see these guys still allowing the text of scripture to absorb our world and not the other way around.

    It's an understandable reaction to hold close to us in protective mode what we cherish, like our faith. And in this instance it can also be a knee-jerk reaction that arrests what could be an otherwise progressive development of the churches doctrine of scripture.

  7. "...what could be an otherwise progressive development of the churches doctrine of scripture."

    What would you say, if the evangelical church were to "integrate" critical scholarship into their framework, the doctrine of scripture would be "progressing" towards? If the doctrine is seen to "progress" towards the points made by many critical scholars, would evangelicals have to do more than simply change their definitions of "inerrant" and "infallible" to accommodate criticism? If the text is maintained to be inerrant in light of criticism, and the definition of inerrancy (for instance) is not changed, where do you see possible progressions?