Thursday, August 06, 2015

I (Still) Believe: Richard Bauckham

Many thanks to John Byron for having Zondervan send me a copy of a new book called, I (Still) Believe. You can pre-order it right now for its September arrival. Because I don't want to be too far into it when it is fully live, I'm only going to sprinkle reviews these next few weeks in the interstices of my schedule.

1. It's a great idea for a book and perhaps quite important, because these are not just evangelical scholars. In fact only three or four might fit easily in that category. They are all prime time scholars who have wielded the sword of the historical-critical method during their careers with world-class excellence. They were scholars in the modernist phase of biblical studies AND they remained people of faith. They have been through the fires of historical study AND they have kept the faith. This is a book of their testimonies, varied as they be.

2. There are 18 testimonies in all, and in alphabetical order, Richard Bauckham comes first. I only want to whet your appetite so you will buy this book, but Bauckham is clearly a genius. He has never thought of himself as a conservative although he is a hero to conservatives. Like N. T. Wright, as a scholar he has always thought of himself as only following normal historical method. And, as a historian, he has never found anything in his conclusions that contradicted his faith.

In that, Bauckham reminds me of something I have heard my colleague Bart Bruehler say repeatedly. Bart has just never been troubled by anything he has studied about the Bible, even though he is fully aware of the history of interpretation and biblical criticism. Indeed, given an allowance for God's involvement in the world, Bart has never seen any contradiction between the historical method and faith... and neither have I.

Bauckham knows just about everything about everything. His doctorate is from Cambridge in history. He taught theology for several years at Manchester. Then he ended his career teaching New Testament at St. Andrews. He reads science. He reads philosophy. He reads literature. He reads everything.

"I couldn't have remained a Christian without being sure that Christianity made intellectual sense in such fields" (20).

3. Here are just a couple more statements to whet your appetite:
  • "I would find it more difficult to believe in God if I did not believe that God became incarnate as the man Jesus" (24).
  • "I have always loved God... I can't account for it, except (of course) by the grace of God" (23).
  • "Nietzsche... is a powerful antidote to the superficiality of the 'new atheists'" (23).
  • "The Bible... is normative but not sufficient for theology" (22).
  • "I did develop [in my youth] a strong commitment to reading Scripture as the word of God, which I have never lost, though I no longer find it necessary to say that, to be the word of God in human words, it needs to be inerrant. (I would now say that the Bible is trustworthy for the purposes for which God has given it.)" (18).
4. In a Schenck post-note, Bauckham is popular for a number of reasons. He is part of the "early high Christology club," which means that he thinks the early Christians worshiped Jesus as fully divine almost from the very beginning. Also, the older he has gotten, the more he has come to accept early Christian traditions about authorship and other views such as 1) that the titles on the Gospels are original and 2) that the Gospels were originally written for all Christians rather than for specific communities.

But he has not come to these conclusions because he feels that they are necessary for faith. Indeed, there are others in this book with faith who would disagree with every one of those conclusions. Bauckham has come to these conclusions by simply applying the historical-critical method to the texts.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Richard Bauckham, mainstream scholar with faith!


Brian Russell said...

Thanks for the post Ken. I will look forward to reading the book.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Shouldn't the book have been titled, "We Never Stopped Believing?" From Sunday school to a theology degree?

The actual title, "We (Still) Believe," implies they faced crises of faith. How many of the contributors mention struggling with passages in the Bible that provoked crises in faith?

I edited a book of testimonies by people who grew up in conservative Christian backgrounds and who either grew more moderate/liberal, or converted to more inclusive non-Christian religions, or became agnostics or atheists. A few of them were biblical scholars. What they had in common was being raised in a conservative Christian background and leaving it, which can be a difficult thing to do psychologically and sociologically speaking, though it is also a common occurrence. Even in the case of Christian institutions of higher learning that were founded on the basis of conservative Christian beliefs and interpretations of the Bible, like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, even Fuller it is a common occurrence. I don't recall reading of many if any institutions that have developed in the opposite direction, i.e., from more moderate/liberal/inclusive biblical perspective back toward more conservative views (unless you count the Southern Baptist house clearing that took place in its seminaries in the 1980s, when professors' lectures were taped by conservative students and the professors were fired for denying or questioning inerrancy or creationism, all because the SBC leadership had become nothing but fundamentalists--though they also lost a number of large liberal arts colleges in the process who sued for their independence from the SBC during that time, so the result did not buck the overall trend I mentioned). The most conservative Christian colleges remain the youngest, founded in reaction to the overall trend.


Terry Wright said...

Don't forget that Bauckham also wrote about the Macbears of Bearloch!