Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Yarbrough on the Failed Enterprise of Christianizing Historical Criticism

In the latest Themelios Robert Yarbrough reviews four recent books on Scripture:
  1. Mark Alan Bowald, Rendering the Word in Theological Hermeneutics
  2. A. T. B. McGowan, The Divine Authenticity of Scripture
  3. Richard B. Gaffin Jr., God’s Word in Servant-Form: Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck on the Doctrine of Scripture
  4. Kenton L. Sparks, God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship
Sparks's book gets the most attention. This was a section that was especially insightful:

A final and poignant shortcoming of the book is that its vaunted center, historical criticism, is actually not amenable to Sparks’s deployment of it. He may try to Christianize it, but it is much bigger than he is and will recognize him as a scholar only to the extent that he bends the knee to its rules and internal logic. . . . Troeltsch, . . . did not invent historical criticism. But he codified its rules— criticism, analogy, correlation—and articulated its worldview. Historical criticism as generally affirmed by biblical scholars worldwide assumes those rules and requires that worldview. Otherwise, it is not “historical criticism” in the sense that nearly all of the “historical critical” scholars whose authority Sparks adduces would affirm. It is totalitarian in its conception, claims, and demands, all of which completely and utterly rule out the intellectual validity of historic Christianity as in any sense a revealed religion.

Sparks valiantly tries to argue around Troeltsch. . . . I think Sparks is resourceful and correct in his refutation of Troeltsch and applaud his efforts here. The problem is that Troeltschian historiography rules the roost in mainstream biblical scholarship. That is what “historical critical” means, or even “historical” when used by “historical critical” scholars (Bart Ehrman is an excellent example). It means radical doubt of the (biblical) source, analysis using the tool of analogy, and reconstruction under the principle of correlation. It is a radically immanent enterprise—divine causation is not allowed. I think Sparks is instinctively sensitive to this; it may be a reason (see the first weakness above) why the concept “Jesus is Lord,” the most fundamental of all cognitive Christian affirmations, plays no active role that I can recall in the formation of knowledge in this book. Jesus’ lordship is irrelevant and must remain so for historical criticism to operate. Believe it privately as you wish, but the moment it affects your scholarship, you have left the nurturing bosom of historical criticism.
You can read the whole thing here.