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Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The Narrowing, Part III: Bible Babble

Wonderful Books
Today, Christians have access to wonderful books which open up the world of the first century and genuinely throw light on the New Testament. I am reading one at the moment, but I shan't tell you the title since in one- fatal - respect it is flawed.

Sadly this flaw runs like a vein through most of contemporary biblical scholarship. It mars so much of it, rendering it - for the purposes of the church -  partial at best and useless at worst.

I Blame The Narrowing
The moment we set reason as King (I blame The Narrowing for this - the so-called Enlightenment), we begin to ask all the wrong questions and get all the wrong answers. We ask, for example, who wrote the letters of Paul. We won't believe the simple written verdict "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus... to the saints in...." but minutely dissect the grammar, style etc., and come up with the Scholarly Verdict - "not Pauline". We trust in our mind's verdict, we trust in the verdict of the Scholarly Community - which tomorrow may change its opinion based on the 'latest research' of a single clever paper by Joe or Jane Babble.

As if a guy can't write in a thousand  different styles? Particularly if you have just had a beating from a particularly nasty prison guard or you are trying to craft the letter to suit the needs of a different culture. I sometimes review sermons I wrote just a decade ago and wonder who the author was. One day they will say of  The Radical Disciple, "This book does not belong to the Stott corpus". As a student I remember the tedious boring arguments against authenticity and found a 1000 immediate common sense responses to every one of them......

The fallout of all this Reason is King stuff is tragic. These guys then reduce the number of Paul's  letters they take seriously, and thereby distort his teaching. And they have the cheek to say in the title of their books "Paul's view of X".

The tragedy is that even us evangelicals are enticed by academia. In pastors' conferences you sometimes hear "you must get the latest commentary on Y by Z", Z turns out so often to be a university scholar and the commentary turns out to be as interesting as a Haynes car manual and as dry as dust to the soul. The devil must be laughing.

Take with a big pinch of salt
So the book I am reading which purports to tell me what Paul thought about community is going to be a let down. The author has already ruled out Ephesians and the Pastorals - four out of thirteen letters. So I shall take everything he says with a very large pinch of salt. There is gold among the dross, but sadly the gold has lost its shine.

Distanced from the Church,  Writing for Peers
The real problem, of course, is that so much of this stuff is written by men and women in ivory palaces, who have little connection with the church, no concern for the impact of their words upon the man in the pew, but every concern for how their work will be viewed by their peers: they are writing for the gallery.

Not surprisingly, these books come and go like actors on the stage. Unlike some of the mighty scholars of the past, their sun soon sets never to rise again. 

Scholars who take the Scriptures seriously, and make the glory of God and the good of the saints their great passion will discover, along with the Augustines, Calvins, Bunyans, Ryles, Spurgeons, Stott's and Lloyd-Joneses that in the centuries to come, the saints will rise up and call them blessed.

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