The scandal of the evangelical mind, as an influential book by Mark Noll pointed out, is that “there is not much of one.” Noll indeed got at a very real issue: many evangelicals (including famous pastors and influential seminary professors and leaders) do bury their heads in the sand when it comes to engaging important critical issues. Recent well-publicized cases of Christian faculty being dismissed from evangelical schools following questionable charges of heterodoxy have, embarrassingly, only further underscored the point.
All that to say: I’m happy to see a new voice entering the discussion in the form of a new book edited by Christopher Ansberry (Wheaton) and Christopher Hays (Keble College, Oxford). Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism (SPCK, May 2013) looks to be just the kind of treatise that I would want to contribute to. Hays had this to say in a recent interview posted online:
“When I started writing the book, I was angry, angry at an evangelicalism that (I felt) had sold me a reductionist bill of goods; I felt that that fundamentalism had imperilled my faith by only introducing me to a critical straw man, and by telling me that if criticism were true, then my faith would fall apart. So the book started out with a scathing, perhaps figuratively ‘patricidal’ tone. But after I while I realized that precisely this sort of hostile tone was creating a schism in the evangelical community, as more and more evangelicals were getting burned and turning bitter voices into hostile articles and blogs. In this sort of vengeful response, the conservatives were simply being pushed further away from a sober (and I trust more profitable) view of historical-critical engagement with Scripture. So I had to go through a process of repentance for my own anger, insecurity, and wrath. Then I rewrote everything I had done, from a perspective of fraternity and charity (I hope), and I think the book is a great deal better for it.”
I can certainly relate to the feeling of having the arguments of critical scholarship mocked as “straw men,” as if one powerpoint slide could dismiss an entire scholarly movement. Too often, I’ve seen a total unwillingness to go wherever the evidence leads in favor of clutching on to untenable (and, I truly believe, unnecessary) bibliological or theological presuppositions. No wonder that many, like Hays, conclude that their evangelical educations have sold them “a reductionist bill of goods.” This conclusion is nothing unique, but Hays’ emphasis on approaching his criticism from a perspective of “fraternity and charity” is most welcome. According to the Amazon description, the book promises “essays on eight of the most provocative topics of critical investigation: the Fall, the Exodus, the Conquest, the Covenant as a Post-Exilic Phenomenon, Pseudepigraphy, Prophecy, the Historical Jesus, and the Paul of Acts versus the Paul of the Epistles.” Kudos to Team Christopher for putting forward a positive model of engagement with critical scholarship, and I look forward to picking up my copy of their book when it is released later this spring.