Monday, September 10, 2007

Scholarship, Faith, and the BAR

A man in my church recently gave me some back issues of the Biblical Archaeology Review, which can be found online here. The March/April 2007 issue contains an article entitled "Losing Faith: How Scholarship Affects Scholars" (pp. 50-57).

This interview was participated in by the well-known Bart Erhman, James F. Strange ("a leading archaeologist and Baptist minister"), Lawrence H. Schiffman ("a prominent Dead Sea Scroll scholar and Orthodox Jew"),, and William G. Dever ("one of America's best-known and most widely quoted archaeologists, who had been an evangelical preacher, then lost his faith, then became a Reform Jew, and now says he's a non-believer").

The interview was interesting at parts, and boring at others. But there were some notable exchanges (and an unsurprising unanimous rejection of inerrancy (p. 52)).

Ehrman blames his turning on the problem of theodicy, where he concluded "Finally, because I became dissatisfied with all the conventional answers [though there is no hint of what these answers were nor why he rejected them], I decided that I couldn't believe in a God who was in any way intervening in this world, given the state of things. So that's why I ended up losing my faith."

Ehrman later comments that the implausibility of the resurrection had a "damaging impact on my faith."

Strange says "My faith is based on my own experience--a good old Protestant principle [one with which I am not familiar] ... I love the existentialist philosophers. I love to read them, not because they're giving me any testable facts. It's because it's like reading a really good poet. It does something to you that propositional truth never does."

Strange comments on the suffering of people saying that "Suffering tends to disconfirm the hypothesis [of a loving God that intervenes upon the earth]." (To him I would recommend the recent four message series presented by John Piper at Wheaton College.)

Dever, whose father was a "fire-breathing fundamentalist" was himself an ordained minister at age 17 who went to divinity school at Harvard. There he read George Ernest Wright's God Who Acts, who says "In Biblical faith, everything depends upon whether the original events actually happened." [Editorial note: There is something admirable in an unbeliever who at least recognizes that very fact, as opposed to these professing believers who think they can be a Christian with a "Christ" who didn't actually do what the biblical record says he did.] Dever freely admits that his scholarship destroyed his faith while working as an archaeologist in Israel (p. 54). He says, "That's when I converted to Judaism. [Laughs] I did it precisely because you don't have to be religious to be a Jew. And I'm perfectly comfortable where I am."

Now, I say all this, not to comment individually and refute their statements, which could be ably addressed. I say this rather to make a few short comments.

First, all these men allowed their experience to dictate their approach to God. They all, in essence, assert that "Because God did not act like I thought or think he should, I chose not to believe what God said about himself." However, we must realize that experience follows our exegesis and understanding of Scripture. It must not determine it. We must never allow our experience to dictate our understanding of God through his word. We must instead allow our understanding of God through his word to dictate our experience in God's created world.

Second, these men believe that true scholarship lead them away from the God who is the fountain of knowledge. Such an assertion is absurd on its face. It would be as if understanding that 2+2=4 convinces us that mathematics is a faulty and untrustworthy discipline.

The truth is that true scholarship always leads us to God, not away from him. And true scholarship recognizes the weaknesses of the fallen mind. These men seem not to recognize the truth of Ephesians 4:17-19 which asserts that the unbelievers mind is darkened, ignorant, and hardened against the truth. That is a darkness that only the Holy Spirit can overcome. God reminds us that he "who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

Faith is the the supernatural gift of God that comes from the light that reveals the true glory of Christ. These men have simply never seen it. Perhaps having tasted of the power of God and of the age to come, they have fallen away, as a dog returning to his vomit.

Third, these men, perhaps because of their rejection of inerrancy, fail to recognize the reason because the current state of affairs. The ultimate issue in evil in the world is the sinfulness of humanity. If you reject human sinfulness, then you do wonder why the world is broken, seemingly beyond repair. If you accept human sinfulness, but reject the crucified and risen Messiah, then you find the hopelessness of despair which comes when you realize there is no true remedy. The best you can hope for is to "try harder to do better." Atonement is found in things that bring no true hope.

Fourth, the hope of these men, as with all men whether the most educated and studied, or the least educated and knowledgeable is that the hope of life lies with God alone. One reason I am a Calvinist in my soteriology is because of situations like this. We cannot argue these men "into the kingdom." We are but vessels of weakness, used by God to proclaim forth his glory in the gospel. But ultimately God must open the eyes and bring regeneration and saving faith. And when that happens, true scholarship can take place.

I say again as I have often said, if I believed that I had to convince people to come to Christ for salvation I would put down my Bible, and never preach again. I have not the power of mind or eloquence of speech to convince even the most gullible to come to faith in Christ. Were not the sovereign power of God at work in preaching, my voice would be but a clanging cacophony of noise. Only the Spirit of God, working unilaterally and sovereignly in the hearts of sinful man, can take the preached word and bring spiritual life to the hearer.


Don Johnson said...

But if you didn't speak, what then?

Anyway, not really wanting to argue that point with you.

I subscribe to BAR and was grieved in spirit when that article came out. What a sad state of affairs for these men.

The term 'fundamentalist' for Dever's background, if I recall correctly, would not be what you and I understand by the term. I think it is Church of Christ... or something like that.

I also think that you will find that a lot of these intellectual excuses have something of the lust of the flesh or some other lust at the heart of the unbelief.

I did a little reading on some of these men elsewhere, just to find out where they were coming from. There is more to the story than they tell you in the article.

Suffice to say that the darkness in which these and all other lost men immerse themselves (and are immersed by nature) ought to motivate us to speak and speak again.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Larry said...

Hey Don,

Thanks for reading. Your first comment about "If I did not speak, what then?" I am confused about. Is that a reference to my last comment about my preaching?

If so, my point is that man's deadness in sins renders it impossible for me to convince them of salvation, and therefore, preaching is useless unless the Spirit of God is unilaterally and sovereignly enabling and bringing people to come to faith in him.

Don Johnson said...

Yeah, that was cryptic...

Well, I am decidedly not a Calvinist and I can't resist making some noise about it, even if it is cryptic.

I really don't want to throw you off the main point of this post, so I think I should leave it alone.

May we all faithfully preach salvation through faith alone, and may those who hear respond with faith, however we think it might be generated.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3