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God's Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship [Paperback]

By Kenton L. Sparks (Author)
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Pages   416
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.99" Width: 6.03" Height: 0.86"
Weight:   1.24 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Mar 1, 2008
Publisher   Baker Publishing Group
ISBN  0801027012  
EAN  9780801027017  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
In their studies, students at conservative colleges and seminaries are introduced to the methods and conclusions of critical biblical scholarship. These conclusions often produce a disconcerting challenge to the faith students came to explore. A few embrace the skeptical stance, resulting in a "secular" response. Many display a "traditional" response, rejecting biblical criticism as a threat to biblical authority and a faulty result of Enlightenment thinking. Between these two poles, is there a third way? Can evangelical students and scholars incorporate the insights of biblical criticism and at the same time maintain a high view of Scripture and a vital faith? Kenton Sparks has wrestled with these questions as a student, pastor, and scholar. In God's Word in Human Words, he argues that the insights from historical and biblical criticism can indeed be valuable to evangelicals and may even yield a new set of solutions to seemingly intractable problems in biblical studies while avoiding pat answers. This constructive response to biblical criticism includes taking seriously both the divine and the human aspects of the Bible and acknowledging the diversity that exists in the biblical texts. The discussion is substantive, thorough, and even controversial, as the author offers up challenges to the evangelical status quo.

Publishers Description
The conclusions of critical biblical scholarship often pose a disconcerting challenge to traditional Christian faith. Between the two poles of uncritical embrace and outright rejection of these conclusions, is there a third way? Can evangelical believers incorporate the insights of biblical criticism while at the same time maintaining a high view of Scripture and a vital faith? In this provocative book, Kenton Sparks argues that the insights from historical and biblical criticism can indeed be valuable to evangelicals and may even yield solutions to difficult issues in biblical studies while avoiding pat answers. This constructive response to biblical criticism includes taking seriously both the divine and the human aspects of the Bible and acknowledging the diversity that exists in the biblical texts.

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More About Kenton L. Sparks

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Kenton L. Sparks (PhD, University of North Carolina) is professor of biblical studies and special assistant to the provost at Eastern University. He is author of several books, including Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible.

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1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Bible Study > General   [2774  similar products]
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Reviews - What do our customers think?
same old heresy  Aug 7, 2009
Heretical views presented in a thoughtful manner by a sincere and scholarly spokesman are all the more dangerous for their attractive packaging. That is precisely what we find here in Sparks' book - a book that I fear will influence many young students who do not have the longer perspective of history to give them pause before accepting his well-presented but noxious ideas. In a nutshell, he argues for a Bible whose accounts of David's life are fabricated propaganda, whose prophecies are after-the-fact deceptions, and whose teachings must be weighed to sift through contradictory theologies and outmoded ways of thinking and yet in some way still represents the Word of God for the church. To respond to it thoroughly in a forum like this is simply impossible because of the sheer volume of material it covers. I will have to limit myself to several general observations.

First, in spite of his genteel and thoughtful manner, Sparks' work is in fact disingenuous. I say that because he writes to an evangelical audience as an evangelical and yet his book undermines what evangelicals have regarded as the sine qua non of evangelicalism - the inerrancy of Scripture. The doctrinal statement of the Evangelical Theological Society, adopted at its inception begins with the words `The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs...' In other words, Sparks claims to be an evangelical but his ideas, are clearly outside the borders of evangelicalism and if widely accepted by evangelicals would lead to collective suicide. It would be akin to an alleged Darwinist trying to persuade his colleagues to abandon natural selection in favor of intelligent design. It is one thing to disagree with core evangelical beliefs - anyone has a right to do so - but at least have the integrity to admit what is going on. I would have much greater respect for Sparks if he had the courage to end the pretense of being evangelical - to declare himself a theological liberal and leave evangelical institutions and be honest about what he is doing.

That leads to my second observation: that his work is disingenuous in another sense. Sparks gives the false impression that the weight of evidence against inerrancy has slowly been accumulating to the point that it is now considered irrefutable by any honest scholar. This is simply nonsense. In fact, the evidence that Sparks musters is all old news. There is absolutely nothing here that was not known 100 years ago - before evangelicalism as a movement was born. The evidence for and against Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, the authorship of deutero-Isaiah, and the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles are all well-worn debates on which Evangelicals have traditionally been of one mind. Sparks brings no striking new findings to those debates, nor does he muster any devastating new discovery from archaeology or evidence from history that renders evangelical views on these matters obsolete. Interestingly, what hard evidence has accrued in the last hundred years has tended to confirm the veracity of the Scriptural accounts but you would never know this reading Sparks' book. What is new is that Sparks has adopted views incompatible with evangelicalism and tried to remain and evangelical while doing so.

It is no exaggeration to say that this book could have been written 100 years ago. In many ways it was. Liberal scholars like Charles Briggs and more popular authors like Harry Emerson Fosdick were making all the same points at that time. In fact, it was in reaction to these ideas that evangelicalism as a movement got its birth. Countless scholars have confronted the very same material that Sparks presents and have found it wanting. As but one example, J. Gresham Machen studied under the leading liberal minds of Germany over a hundred years ago. There he confronted all the same evidence that Sparks puts forth. But unlike Sparks, Machen ultimately came to a different conclusion - regarding the evidence as far too weak and speculative. He became a staunch defender of inerrancy as a professor at Princeton Seminary and then at Westminster. His books Christianity & Liberalism and The Christian Faith in the Modern World are still amazingly relevant today and the average reader would benefit far more from Machen's timeless insights into these perennial debates than from Sparks' work.

I will make only one final observation regarding the substance of Sparks' argument. Sparks contends that such a radical remaking of evangelical thought regarding the Bible is necessary primarily because of what he calls the Bible's `theological diversity' - a euphemism for blatant contradictions. Examples of such diversity include the food regulations of the Mosaic Law vs. New Testament freedom, the command to kill the enemies of Israel in war vs. the command to love your enemies, the permission to beat slaves and the command to treat them kindly, etc. (p. 226) Once again, these conundrums present nothing new that Christians have not had to deal with since the Bible was completed. But what is striking is how skeptical Sparks' conclusions are compared to those of believers down through the ages. He seems unable, or unwilling, to seek a deeper paradoxical unity that will encompass these seemingly perpendicular realities. He everywhere assumes incompatibility rather than harmony. Perceptive thinkers (eg GK Chesterton) have understood the centrality of paradox to the Christian faith as symbolized by the cross itself. In Christianity we find the surprising intersection of seemingly perpendicular truths such as God's justice and mercy. Sparks' method boils down to choosing between alternatives rather than wrestling with the paradox. Ultimately he becomes the arbiter of which principle is higher or lower and what can be discarded as opposed to what should not. Is it not at least possible that harsh treatment may in fact hide a greater mercy? Is it not possible that a soldier can kill without violating the command to love? Countless others down through history have discerned deeper harmonies where Sparks' sees nothing but contradiction.

In short, Sparks never probes any deeper than the prevailing sensibilities of the age in which he lives. That is not a coincidence. It is a reflection of his view of Scripture, a view which he urges upon the evangelical world to its own detriment. Sparks' Bible is no longer an authority to which we submit but a Rorschach blot upon which we can project our own preferences. It is a path that seems reasonable to the wise of this world but its practical effect is to neuter the Word of God and to render it impotent. The tragedy is that this path has been followed before in the mainline denominations. If the evangelical community adopts Sparks' views it will suffer the same slow death those denominations are experiencing and deservedly so.

I believe it was Spurgeon who quipped that the Bible is the anvil that wears out a thousand hammers. Long after Sparks is forgotten, the Bible will still speak with the authority that Sparks seeks to undermine. Let us hope that the evangelical community is wise enough to perceive the threat and to anchor itself by the unchanging and inerrant Word of God rather than the shifting winds of human opinion.
With Reservations  Jul 23, 2009
Sparks' book is long overdue. Evangelicals and other conservative Christians just look foolish asserting Moses wrote the Pentateuch, Jonah is history, and Daniel's prophecies were given in the 6th century BC, and even more that Genesis 1-11 is history, not legend. Like others who have sought to mediate a high view of scripture and the historical-critical method, Sparks adopts an incarnational and accomodational approach to scripture, as have C.S. Lewis, Clark Pinnock and Peter Enns, i.e., the Bible is like Ancient Near Eastern literature in every way, yet without sin.

Unfortunately, I have to register a reservation about his actual approach in doing this. Sparks first assumes the validity of the method both by examples and, frequently, by arguing based on the "consensus" of the scholarly guild, which non-experts are not in a position to challenge. Really? We have way too much of that sort of thing these days, with whole areas in biomedical ethics or environmental policy given over to scientists and "experts" who will decide for us what is and isn't true. As Angelo Codevilla has pointed out, this is just a ruse for people empowered by this rhetoric to tell everyone else to shut up and sit down and is profoundly anti-democratic.

For what is at the essence of the critical method if not an insistence that people making assertions, whoever they may be, provide evidence to the hearer's satisfaction of the truth of these assertions? David Deutsche has pointed out that in science, at least in the research seminar, the lowest novice can ask the Nobel laureate "on what basis do you justify your conclusion?" and expect a cogent summary of the evidence. It would be entirely rude and embarrassing to all present to respond in that setting "I am an expert and you a know nothing - how dare you challenge me?" I am sorry, but I refuse to allow experts to fence themselves off in their own fields immune from criticism from everyone else but those within their guilds. I do not want to hear about a "consensus" - I want to see evidence. If experts in Ancient Near Eastern literature have such great arguments for their views, let's hear them.

I suspect that talk about a "consensus" is a frequent mask for positions for which the evidence is not good. There are a lot of theories in Biblical criticism where the evidence is not good, for example, the idea of a "deutero-Pauline" corpus - Ephesians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and the Pastorals being written by an imposter. The main evidence is that the vocabulary is different. Try proving that Barrack Obama did not write "Dreams of My Father" by comparing it to the vocabulary in "The Audacity of Hope" and see how far that gets you. I guess it's all whose ox is being gored.

Another idea is that the evidence for the Exodus is poor. But ANE chronology is based on Egyptian chronology, and that's a mess. If you disregard the "consensus" on chronology, it is easy to find Egyptian evidence of the Exodus: it is found in the collapse of the Middle Kingdom as memorialized in the Ipuwer papyrus. "Sothic dating" and other techniques advanced by guild Egyptologists are little better than tea leaves. Sorry if they don't like uncomfortable questions coming from outside their little club. If the Egyptologists explained Sothic dating to their university colleagues, say some economists, their auditors would be appalled at the weak foundations supporting the entire discipline. And that is the key point - if the authors of the Biblical texts had their own perspectives and biases, so do the Biblical critics. No one has said it better that C.S. Lewis in his great essay on the subject "Fernseeds and Elephants" - try being critical of your criticism for a change.
A lot to think about  Jun 27, 2009
This book is a discussion of the difficulties raised by historical criticism of the Bible and a discussion and criticism of the evangelical responses to historical criticism, followed by the author's own suggestions for constructive evangelical responses. It is basically an argument for limited inerrancy. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the complex topic of biblical inerrancy.
I Highly Recommend This Book.  Jun 7, 2009
Christians do not trust the scholarship of atheists. They think we have an agenda and that we misrepresent the facts because we're God haters. Okay, I guess. But Christian scholars are saying many of the same things while trying to maintain their faith. If you doubt what we say then try your hand at what your own scholars are saying.

Sparks is a Christian scholar who affirms inerrancy. If someone is concerned about his commitment to Christianity or whether he has some God hating agenda. He has no such agenda.

I like how his argument progresses. He begins with Galileo in which Christians learned to re-read the Bible in light of the heliocentric universe. He argued that it wouldn't do any good to ignore what was learned through science so Christian scholars began looking at the Bible differently. Sparks wrote: "Just as Galileo invited us to turn a critical eye toward the cosmos, so modern biblical scholars bid us to reflect critically upon our assumptions about the nature of Scripture and about how it should be read." (p. 18) If Christians ignored the findings of Galileo it would discredit their faith. From this Sparks says there is a parallel tragic paradox, in that "the church's wholesale rejection of historical criticism has begotten the irreverent use of Scripture by skeptics, thus destroying the faith of some believers while keeping unbelievers away from the faith." (p. 21). His purpose in this book is to render the results of higher biblical criticism "theologically safe" just as Christian scholars did by admitting the results of modern science beginning with Galileo. (p. 23).

Sparks shows how that with the rise of philology we can date ancient writings because language changes throughout time and place. There is, after all, an Old- Middle- and Modern English, as well as British, Australian, South African and American dialects. This discipline began with the discovery that the "Donation of Constantine was a Christian forgery," which was purportedly written in the 4th century whereby Constantine donated all of the Western Roman Empire to the authority of the Pope.

Sparks then takes us through three periods of hermeneutics, pre-modern, modern and post-modern, and shows us that people have not always treated texts in the same manner. He shows us how difficult it is for people who think they can understand a given text to do so, especially one in the ancient past. But since we must try anyway he proceeds.

The next part of his argument is where it gets good. He shows how historical criticism works with regard to the Assyrian Annals, which contains a lot of propaganda, and Babylonian Chronicles which are more accurate records, and why we know this. He shows how there are many texts in the ancient world which were psuedoprophetic, purportedly to be prophetic about the future but which were not, like the Uruk Prophecy. He also argues that "narrative stories that have the appearance of history may be fictional," that these texts "can be the product of a very long literary process," "sometimes written by different authors, and written in different historical periods, than the texts claim or imply." (p. 71). From these parallels found in the literature of the ancient near eastern world he argues that "the evidence adduced above challenges the common evangelical charge that critical scholars approach the biblical texts with more skepticism than other ancient texts." (p. 72). Right that.

Then in chapters three and four he shows why the Biblical critics are correct about the Bible, "in many instances," especially with the Pentateuch, also called the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible. The Bible itself, if taken seriously, leads these scholars to think they were written by the same standards of other ancient near eastern literature in many places. It's clear that Moses did not write the Pentateuch, if we take what it says seriously. There are problems of chronology, diverse narratives, legal diversity, and religious institutional progression, all reflecting a lengthy written process complete with anachronisms. Then there is the problem of Deuteronomy and the Exodus story itself. The normal evangelical "traditional" answers to these problems do not solve these issues, he argues.

This book is like a good novel. The reader wants to know how he solves these problems for his Christian faith and how he can maintain an inerrant Bible, so I won't spoil his conclusions. I really like the fact that he's being honest about what we can know about the Bible. I do not agree with his conclusions at all. In the end I think he undermines the basis for believing. See for yourselves. See if you can maintain your faith once you get done reading this book. I doubt you can.
Sparking a Debate Over Inerrancy and the Critical Study of Scripture  Dec 2, 2008
Kenton Sparks does his best in this book to convince evangelicals that it's all right to critically study the Bible while holding on to a belief in the Bible's authority and inerrancy. However, it gets more complicated than that. Sparks is out to expose conservative evangelical scholars who use faulty arguments to explain away the findings of more moderate and critical scholars.

Sparks begins by noting that scholars who study ancient Egypt and Assyria don't just accept any inscription they find at face value and call it authentic. They have tests that can reveal the inscription's authenticity. The same is true with the Bible. Sparks goes on to show that scholarly and critical studies of the Scriptures reveal that Moses didn't write the Pentateuch (there were several different traditions combined together over many centuries), the Flood may not have happened as it is written, the Exodus story may not have happened as it is written, the Creation accounts differ and reflect literary art more than they do actual science and history, John and the Synoptic gospels contradict each other at certain points (as do the OT books of Samuel and Chronicles), and Paul didn't write the pastoral epistles.

But after all this and more, Sparks still wants to hold to a doctrine of biblical inerrancy, holding that God speaks inerrantly through Scripture while accommodating Himself to all the errors that human beings made when they wrote the Scriptures. In other words, God is inerrant, but the Bible writers were not.

Sparks believes that if we allow for the possibility that large swaths of Scripture are inspired sagas or legends or myths that teach spiritual truth, many of the critical problems scholars face will disappear.

Sparks calls on seminaries and Christian universities and evangelical think tanks to be more like the Catholics and encourage people to think through these issues more freely and clearly.

In retrospect, I should say that I really enjoyed this book and I am sympathetic to Sparks' overall case. He may be right about John dating the crucifixion of Christ to the time the lambs were being sacrificed right before Passover. Moreover, I also have noticed that John seems to have the Last Supper the day before Passover while the Synoptics seem to have it as the first night of Passover. Sparks may also be right about the composition of Isaiah, and time will tell whether or not he is right on matters of historicity.

Yet there are many parts of this book where a person may be tempted to strenuously argue with Sparks. Number one: it is not a foregone conclusion that the Exodus story could not have happened. Perhaps at a future point in time, archaeological or textual evidence will surface that will support and concur with what the Pentateuch says.

Moreover, even if we allow for differing strands of tradition within the Pentateuch, there is nothing that I am aware of that discourages an evangelical from holding that these traditions go back to Moses.

Furthermore, it is not a foregone conclusion that Paul did not have anything to do with the Pastorals. Yes, the language and content differ from what is in the earlier Paulines, but writing styles and content can change through the years, and it may reflect that Paul is relying on Luke as an amanuensis (The pastoral epistles share a lot of words in common with Acts chapter 20, which of course was written by Luke).

Finally, and more to the point, how helpful is it to cling to a doctrine of inerrancy while at the same time affirming that the Bible contains errors? Wouldn't it be easier to switch over to a progressive evangelical denomination that doesn't take a strong stand on inerrancy? Of course, if my criticism is valid, then there is really no need for this book except to encourage Christians to use their brains without throwing out the faith altogether.

Another concern that I have is that Dr. Sparks didn't really do a good job of explaining why an inerrant God would call for the Israelites to slay and utterly destroy the Canaanites. He says that God is accommodating Himself to human error, or something along those lines. I wasn't convinced. It seems much more likely that the Canaanites were being punished for offering human sacrifices and for centuries of gross sin and idolatry. On the one hand, I have no problem with a sovereign God judging the world. He's God, and I'm not. He has the right to do what he wills with His creation.

On the other hand, ethical issues can be raised with why God chose the Israelites to kill off whole nation groups.

With all the concerns that could be raised with this book, I am still giving the book five stars. Why? Because Sparks displays his pastoral wisdom and biblical knowledge on almost every page of the book, and he does a fine job of encouraging evangelical Christians to use their heads as well as their hearts.

On a sadder note, I do not know how long Dr. Sparks will be welcome in the more conservative evangelical churches after this book gets a wider reading. It's too bad, because the evangelical community needs more critical thinkers like Dr. Sparks, people who love Jesus as well as integrity and honesty in scholarship.

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