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The Bible in a Disenchanted Age: The enduring possibility of Christian faith, by R. W. L. Moberly

15 June 2018

John Inge considers a way of approaching scriptural plausibility

WALTER MOBERLY is a distinguished biblical scholar who wrestles here in a profound and engaging fashion with vital questions concerning engagement with the Bible in a disenchanted age, that is “one in which faith and God seem ever less comprehensible or meaningful to an increasing proportion of the population”.

He helpfully examines how the Bible might be understood as a vehicle for faith without becoming preoccupied with questions of historical reliability or unreliability, as has so often been the case. In its place, he suggests “taking the journey of biblical exploration in the company of people both past and present whom one has good reason to trust”.

Having provided a helpful overview of the manner in which the Bible’s status has been diminished during the past two centuries, from Benjamin Jowett, who argued in 1860 that it should be treated “like any other book”, through to Richard Dawkins, he embarks upon a fascinating case study: a comparison of the Aeneid and the Book of Daniel, to which he returns throughout the book, to focus on how biblical content differs from the religious content of other traditions. The underlying question is the difference between scripture and “ancient history” or a “classic”.

Moberly introduces the notion of “plausibility structures”, developed by the sociologist Peter Berger, to cast light on how selected writings can be privileged as scripture. He points out that people are most likely to take seriously the privileging of the Bible and of Jesus if they encounter the “plausibilty structure” of authentic Christian lives.

That having been said, Dawkins and his like take an “evidentialist” approach and suggest that to believe in God is “to hold a scientific hypothesis for which there is no good evidence.” In response, the author commends faith seeking understanding, using an exegesis of John 17.16-17, before returning to the case study and Matthew 28.

He suggests that Jesus’s authority can be understood only through “an existential engagement” with the Bible, “a responsiveness to the God who Jesus represents, as the only way in which words relating to God can cease to be just words about God but can also become words from God that convey a living divine reality”. This will be possible only through the plausibility structure provided by Christians in the Church. No such equivalent exists for the Aeneid (even though, as he points out, the latter was privileged as late the mid-20th century by T. S. Eliot as being in continuity with the Christian tradition.)

The writing of the book is lucid, and the argument is clear and persuasive. I commend it as a valuable resource to any intelligent Christians who may have taken the authority of the Bible for granted without properly considering what enables them to do so. It would be useful in apologetics, and, finally, I hope that it will be read by non-believers who would value this sophisticated account of how a biblical scholar who is also a committed Christian can approach his work with both intellectual integrity and faith.

Dr John Inge is the Bishop of Worcester.

The Bible in a Disenchanted Age: The enduring possibility of Christian faith
R. W. L. Moberly
Baker Academic £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30

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