Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical
Christopher M. Hays and Christopher B.
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THE growth of the Evangelical movement in the past half-century
has posed interesting challenges for those Evangelicals who wish to
participate in mainstream academic theology. This collection of
articles asks whether Evangelical scholarship can embrace modern
historical criticism without compromising the doctrinal beliefs
that are central to Evangelicalism.
The authors draw an interesting parallel with the conflicts
when, before the Second Vatican Council, the traditional church
authorities conducted a lengthy war with what was regarded as
"modernism". They wish to see Evangelical scholarship move beyond
the similarly rather polarising caricatures that have often dogged
debate, to something akin to the more creative encounters in recent
Traditional disputes over biblical inerrancy are sidelined in
favour of a series of case studies. There is a particularly good
treatment of the Adam/Eve narratives in Genesis 2-3. The consensus
of critical scholarship regards these narratives as mytho-poetic,
whereas Evangelicalism (drawing inspiration from Augustine) has
laid great weight upon their historicity, and the passing of Adam's
sin - and guilt - down subsequent generations.
The resolution offered here is to recognise that the narratives
them selves do not actually support the idea of inherited guilt,
the source of all human sin being found in the free and responsible
acts of individual people. Adam is everyone; everyone is Adam. The
thrust of Genesis 2-3 is to demonstrate the basic character of
humanity's relationship with God, and this does not require a
belief that an individual person, Adam, ever created the
ontological source of human guilt.
Thus relieved of such a responsibility, Genesis 2-3 is able to
enhance the traditional Evangelical emphasis upon individual
responsibility for sin. In this instance, historico-critical
research actually strengthens an important tenet of
Chapters on the Exodus, and broader Deuteronomic history argue
that an exodus from Egypt did happen, and that a reasonably
consistent "Mosaic" voice can be discerned in the first five books
of the Bible. Beyond that, the authors are content to accept that a
great deal of imaginative re-telling of the stories took place
before the books assumed their current form. To argue about the
historicity of a passage tends to miss the point. It matters more
that the voice of Moses continues to speak dynamically through the
Judaic tradition, even hundreds of years later. It is authority,
not authorship as such, that is the mark of authenticity.
The chapters on the New Testament are more tentative, where
certain aspects of the historicity of the texts are understandably
regarded as more crucial. At this point, longer treatments - of,
for example, the Virgin birth or the empty tomb - are required,
which go beyond the sphere of historical criticism as such.
Overall, the authors believe that from a more honest engagement
with historical criticism a more authentic picture will emerge of
how God has chosen to reveal himself; but, they suggest, all
historical judgements can only ever be a buttress, rather than a
pillar, for Christian faith. This leaves open the question: where
are the actual pillars to be found? At this point, the nature of
the authors' appeal to the development of tradition becomes
Dr Peter Forster is the Bishop of Chester.