I (Still) Believe explores the all-important question of whether serious academic study of the Bible is threatening to one’s faith. Far from it—faith enhances study of the Bible and, reciprocally, such study enriches a person’s faith. With this in mind, this book asks prominent Bible teachers and scholars to tell their story reflecting on their own experiences at the intersection of faith and serious academic study of the Bible.
While the essays of this book will provide some apology for academic study of the Bible as an important discipline, the essays engage with this question in ways that are uncontrived. They present real stories, with all the complexities and struggles they may hold. To this end, the contributors do two things: (a) reflect on their lives as someone who teaches and researches the Bible, providing something of a story outlining their journey of life and faith, and their self-understanding as a biblical theologian; and (b) provide focused reflections on how faith has made a difference, how it has changed, and what challenges have arisen, remained, and are unresolved, all with a view toward the future and engaging the book’s main question.
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About the Author
John Byron (Ph D, University of Durham) is Professor of New Testament and Greek at Ashland Seminary in Ashland, Ohio. He is author of Cain and Abel in Text and Tradition, Recent Research on Paul and Slavery, and Slavery Metaphors in Early Judaism. He has contributed to numerous journals and edited volumes.
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I (Still) Believe
Leading Bible Scholars Share Their Stories of Faith and Scholarship
By John Byron, Joel N. Lohr
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2015 John Byron and Joel N. Lohr
All rights reserved.
A Life with the Bible
I suppose I was a bit precocious as a biblical scholar. I think it was at the age of thirteen that, when the class was asked to write an essay on a book we had read in the school holidays, I wrote about the volume on Ezra and Nehemiah in the International Critical Commentary series. In those days the debate was about whether Ezra came to Jerusalem before or after Nehemiah, and I remember I came up with a theory all my own about that. Actually, my interest arose out of a fascination with ancient history. Reading about the Persian empire, I think I already had a historian's instinct to want to grapple with the primary sources, and the Old Testament offered some easily accessible texts of the period that I could study for myself (in the King James version!). At the same time I read Herodotus on the Persian wars and tried to put the book of Esther together with Herodotus's account of Xerxes. This probably sounds like a weird point of entry to biblical studies, but I'm owning up to it here because it says something about my interest in biblical studies right down to the present: I have an insatiable interest in history as such, quite apart from its relevance for faith. I hugely enjoy detailed study of the sources and puzzling over problematic details of the evidence or the events. Readers, especially those who know that I am also a theologian, sometimes attribute apologetic concerns to work of mine that has actually been driven by the motives of a historian. Apart from anything else, I just want to understand what happened in the past! I doubt if good historical work on the Bible can be done without some degree of purely historical curiosity.
I guess that could be the beginning of the story of a biblical scholar of that rather rare variety: someone whose interest in the Bible has never had anything to do with personal religious faith. But in fact I was at the same time acquiring a serious Christian's interest in the Bible, which did make me think about issues of historical reliability in relation to the inspiration of Scripture. At that time, as a young teenager, I opted (with no encouragement at all from the relatively liberal clergy I knew then) for something like scriptural inerrancy because it seemed to me to make theological sense. I think even then this was tempered by understanding that Scripture contains a wide variety of literary genres. For example, I don't think I ever thought the early chapters of Genesis should be read "literally" in the creationist sense. But I did develop 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.) I think it may be because I was grappling with serious biblical scholarship at the same time as my Christian beliefs were taking shape in my teenage years that I never had any sort of crisis of faith over issues to do with the nature of Scripture. From as soon as I was seriously interested in the Bible, I knew about critical scholarship and I knew that everything was debated. I was prepared to take a critical attitude to all brands of scholarship.
I was one of a few students at my school who opted to do Religious Education (as it was then called) as a subject for public examinations. The syllabus we followed was almost entirely in biblical studies. As usual with school work that really interested me, I read more widely than the course really required, though strictly limited by the resources of local libraries. I remember reading B. H. Streeter's The Four Gospels, a classic of Gospels source criticism. If I remember correctly, that was before I had any Greek, which must have made it hard going. However, I did learn some classical Greek. Greek was not taught at the school, though I was fortunate to be able to take Latin to a high level (something now rare in state schools in England). But one of the Latin teachers kindly tutored me in Greek sufficiently for me to do well in an examination in the subject. Since I never had the opportunity to learn New Testament Greek at university, I have often seen this, with hindsight, as providential. The same Latin master gave me my first copy of the Greek New Testament, an old Westcott and Hort. (As far as I know he was not a Christian, and maybe he thought he didn't need it anymore.)
It will be clear that I was unusually bookish and intellectual in my youth. I think I knew from the age of about seven that I was going to write books, though I had no idea what sort of books they would turn out to be. At that time I was writing little stories and plays. At secondary school for several years I edited and myself wrote a good deal of a weekly magazine composed entirely of humorous writing. Somewhere at the back of my mind there has always been the sense that my ideal form of life would be that of a full-time writer, though I doubted this would ever be practicable and it is delightful to be actually living such a life now that I've retired from university employment. It's as though this is the part of my working life for which the rest has been preparing me. The fact that I have always thought of myself as a writer (later: a scholar-writer) partly explains why it has been a very high priority for me to keep researching and writing even at times when my other duties in university employment have been sufficient for a full-time job and most other academics in that situation would not have got much writing done. People sometimes ask how I have managed to publish so much. One answer is: I'm a writer; it's who I am. Another is: It's my vocation from God.
I grew up in the Church of England. In other words, my parents sent me to "Sunday school," which in England in those days meant Christian education for children on Sunday afternoons. (It was before most families had cars and wanted to do other things as families on Sunday afternoons.) In those days people did not take young children to church services, and I only started attending services after I was confirmed at the age of twelve and could receive communion. Then church became an indispensable part of my life. As I came, in my late teens, to identify strongly as an evangelical Christian, I tended a little to disparage my traditional, non-evangelical Anglican heritage, but I see now that it was formative and crucially important. But a process of thinking through my faith, largely on my own and over a period, led me to an evangelical emphasis on Scripture and the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ crucified.
Equally important, however, in my personal appropriation of Christian faith in my teenage years was the need to make sense of life and to find a meaning to life that was there in reality, not just invented for myself. I think I took it for granted that Christianity was about the whole of life, because what I wanted was a holistic, integrated view of reality. So, in those formative years (as a school student and then an undergraduate) I read books about Christianity and science, Christianity and literature, Christianity and philosophy. I couldn't have remained a Christian without being sure that Christianity made intellectual sense in such fields.
Although I didn't think of it in these terms, I was training myself to be a Christian intellectual, bringing Christian faith to bear in the world of ideas and public practice. And I seemed to be more aware than most English Christians of my generation that we were moving into a much more secular world in which it would not do to be merely traditionalist. Christian witness needed to engage with the realities of the contemporary world. I am making this point in the present context because this desire for distinctively Christian engagement with the contemporary world has stayed with me and become a major part of my thinking and writing about the Bible. Alongside the strongly historical interest I have already stressed there has also been a persistent concern for the contemporary relevance of Scripture.
From what I have said it might seem obvious that, when I applied to study at the University of Cambridge, it should have been to study theology. If anyone had told me it made any sense to gain a degree in theology without any thought of entering the ministry, I might well have done so. As it was I studied history. Given that I was likely in any case to keep up my interest in biblical studies, as well as a growing interest in Christian theology, studying history as my degree subject actually meant I got a much broader education at university level than if I had done theology. I also acquired a very good training in historical method, studying with such giants as Geoffrey Elton, then the most eminent of Tudor historians, and A. H. M. Jones, whose work on the later Roman Empire was magisterial. I took Jones's special subject on the reign of Justinian, which was entirely focused on the primary sources. Jones (at least at that stage of his life, two years before he died) was a supremely dull teacher and so one had to be self-motivated, but of course I was. I was also drawn to the history of ideas, taking courses on political thought from Plato to Rousseau and thought and religion in early modern England. I began to think of myself as a historian of ideas, including religious ideas, and undertook a doctoral thesis on the career and thought of William Fulke (1537 – 1589), a Cambridge theologian who, among other things, wrote a commentary on the book of Revelation. Hardly anyone had ever heard of him then and hardly anyone has now.
Tracing my path to being a New Testament scholar is difficult. At no stage did I really think I would become a New Testament scholar and nothing else, and, even when eventually I became more of a New Testament scholar than anything else, I still didn't think I was only a New Testament scholar. I'm still trying to relate the New Testament to everything else that interests or concerns me — whether it be ancient history, Christian theology, the mission of the church or the big issues of our time such as climate change and poverty.
I will mention two people who, in the period when I was so amazingly lucky as to have a postdoctoral research fellowship in Cambridge, drew me in different, though not inconsistent directions. One was C. F. D. (Charlie) Moule, whom I knew initially because he was a fellow of Clare College, where I was a student. Charlie recognized and encouraged my serious interest in New Testament studies. When I was still working on my thesis on Fulke, he invited me to his "Tuesday evenings," which were informal seminars for a specially invited, small group of students he thought would benefit from them. The others were all undergraduates in theology or postgraduates in biblical studies, and when I was attending they included Rowan Williams, then an undergraduate, as well as Andrew Chester and Jim Voelz, on their way to becoming New Testament scholars of note. When I became a research fellow, Charlie invited me to his senior seminar, which I attended for most of three years. That was where I saw New Testament scholarship, not just in books, but being done by senior scholars such as John Robinson, Barnabas Lindars and John O'Neill, as well as by PhD students, and I got to participate.
The second key person was Jürgen Moltmann, though I did not get to meet him until years later. Somehow I found myself thinking a lot about the book of Revelation and biblical eschatology generally at a time when systematic theology in Germany was rediscovering eschatology as actually concerned with the future of the world. Reading both Pannenberg and Moltmann showed me how biblical eschatology was not a curiosity belonging to an ancient world picture, incredible in the contemporary world, but a decisive element of a worldview that could make very good sense of the contemporary world. Reading Moltmann's Theology of Hope for the first time (when it had not long been available in English) was one of the most exciting theological experiences of my life. This was creative theology for today that took the Bible, Old and New Testaments, just as seriously as the Reformers had done in their very different time. Theology of Hope and the two major books of Moltmann's that followed it(The Crucified God and The Church in the Power of the Spirit) opened up for me hermeneutical structures for relating the central themes of biblical revelation to the contemporary world. In that sense they helped me to go on seeing the Bible as credible and relevant — something biblical scholarship alone could never have done. Committed as I am to doing the best possible historical work on the biblical texts, I also know that to go on hearing the Bible as the Word of God we must also do creative theology rooted in the Bible, theology that is not just a painstaking arrangement of proof-texts but draws on all the rich resources of understanding and experience that are available in our context and that engages the concerns and the challenges of our context.
The Bible, in other words, is normative but not sufficient for theology, something that some biblical scholars who aspire to do theology find it hard to recognize, just as some scholars in both biblical studies and systematic theology think the Bible is best kept out of theology. Of course, not everyone can do everything, but it is therefore lamentable that so often the collaborative potential of the various theological disciplines is sabotaged by specialization and professional self-protection. In teaching undergraduates — both in my years at Manchester when I was teaching historical and contemporary theology and in my years at St. Andrews when I was teaching New Testament — I usually found students keen to make the connexions between the various subjects they were studying, especially between biblical studies, theology and ethics, while it was some of their teachers who disdained attempts to reach across specializations. In my own case, I sometimes got the feeling that, despite membership of SNTS (the Society for New Testament Studies) and a string of publications on the New Testament, while my teaching post was in theology I was not regarded as really a New Testament scholar. In fact, in a variety of ways I was trying to bridge the disciplines throughout my time at both Manchester and St. Andrews. It was thanks to some likeminded colleagues in St. Andrews that mutual engagement between biblical studies and theology became a characteristic of the School of Divinity there.
All this seems to me relevant to the fact that I have never experienced anything like a "crisis of faith" through my study of the Bible — or through any other kind of study, for that matter. There seems to me nothing remarkable about that fact, but people sometimes find it surprising. They usually have in mind issues relating to the historical reliability of the New Testament, to which I shall return. But at this point I think it may be helpful if I go back behind my work to the deeper roots of my faith. I have always loved God. I hesitate to say that because I cannot recall hearing anyone else say it, but I am sure it must be true for lots of other people. I can't account for it, except (of course) by the grace of God. What I mean by saying I have always loved God is that, from whenever it was that the word "God" had genuine meaning for me, I loved God and wanted to live in a way that would be pleasing to him. The idea some people have that being a religious believer is about obeying arbitrary divine commands out of fear of punishment is quite alien to me.
Excerpted from I (Still) Believe by John Byron, Joel N. Lohr. Copyright © 2015 John Byron and Joel N. Lohr. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Testimony Still Matters John Byron Joel N. Lohr 11
1 A Life with the Bible Richard Bauckham 17
2 Believing through the Prism of Irenic Pietism Walter Brueggemann 29
3 A Sudden Scholar Ellen F. Davis 43
4 In Quest of Truth James D. G. Dunn 55
5 Scholar on Fire Gordon D. Fee 69
6 A Word of Gratitude Beverly Roberts Gaventa 83
7 How I Have Drifted through Life John Goldingay 93
8 Faith, Historical Criticism, and the Grace of God Donald A. Hagner 105
9 On Trust Morna D. Hooker 117
10 Beliving More Edith M. Humphrey 129
11 Responding to and Searching for Truth Andrew T. Lincoln 145
12 A Man of Two Places Scot McKnight 159
13 Four Cords and an Anchor J. Ramsey Michaels 173
14 Fides Quarens Intellectum: Reflections of My Life as a Biblical Scholar Patrick D. Miller 187
15 Learning to Be a Theologian R.W. L. (Walter) Moberly 201
16 Again and Again God's Spirit Surprises Katharine Doob Sakenfeld 211
17 Wrestling with Words, Limping to Light Phyllis Trible 223
18 Why I Have Kept the Faith Bruce K. Waltke 237