GWIHW: Ch. 4 “Traditional” Responses to Biblical Criticism
As Sparks noted in his introduction there have been three basic responses to modern biblical criticism:
- The Traditional response which rejects the results of biblical criticism to protect biblical authority
- The Secular response which rejects and undermines biblical authority on the basis of biblical criticism
- The Constructive response which accepts the basic assumptions and conclusions of biblical scholarship but do not regard these as fundamentally hostile to traditional religious belief (which Sparks also calls Believing criticism)
It is with the first of these that Sparks is primarily interested with in this chapter. Sparks believes that many traditional responses while being “complex and nuanced critiques that should be taken more seriously” ultimately in his mind do not “adequately resolve the theological difficulties presented by biblical criticism. The solution lies elsewhere” (p 134).
The first traditional response Sparks deals with is fideism (“blind faith”) the term philosophers use to describe the state of being when religious views are held so tightly no factual reality of rational evaluation could affect it:
- Fideism is often indicated by special pleading
- Indicated when someone rejects certain theories or opinions simply because the opinion belongs to a Non-Christian or a Christian blinded by Non-Christians (Ad hominem fallacy)
- Indicated when an unusual or unexpected amount of effort is necessary to defend our beliefs
- And in Sparks opinion, the most telling indicator of fideism is when we find ourselves believing that our own view of things is literally ” what God says” while the views we oppose reflect “what human beings say”
In Sparks opinion evangelical scholarship is too often fideistic and creates flimsy philosophical and theological deductive shields in an attempt to avoid dealing with any of the inductive discoveries of HC.
Sparks also deals with Philosophical critiques of biblical criticism. While weak and erred fundamentalist arguments against HC that were originally articulated in the nineteenth century are incorrectly still being applied today, i.e., modern HC is built on naturalistic Enlightenment agendas, these sorts of philosophical critiques have become much more sophisticated. Sparks considers two example; one from Iain Provan, and one from Alvin Platinga who both base their arguments on problems of the Enlightenment.
Sparks ultimately disagrees with this linchpin of their arguments because they tend to carry their criticisms of the Enlightenment too far: “Although Enlightenment era epistimologies certainly involved many erroneous assumptions, including in many cases an unjustified skepticism towards miracles, revelation, and God, the Enlightenment was also an age of progress. Great advances in the sciences and in our knowledge of human psychology, society, literature, and history were made during the Enlightenment… What is needed instead is a nuanced way of appreciating and capitalizing on the benefits of the Enlightenment without embracing its problematic and even sinister dimensions” (p 143).
The above options all have one inherent weakness in “refuting” HC: they ignore the biblical data that HC is dealing with (sort of ironic); therefore, the best traditional response to HC is Critical Anti-Criticism which “claims to accept the validity of historical criticism but limits or adapts the critical method in order to avoid or reverse the standard conclusions of modern biblical criticism” (p 144). One of the strange paradoxes that Sparks’ notes is that anti-critical evangelical scholarship is very palatable to conservative readers but often unconvincing to critical scholars. There are a variety of charges leveled against the methodology of anti-critics which lead critical scholars to find their conclusions unacceptable:
- Artificial Presentation of the Critical Evidence
- Artificial Comparative Analogies
- Selective and Illegitimate Appeals to Critical Scholarship
- Lowering the Threshold for Historicity
- Red Herrings–The Misleading Use of “Test Cases”
- Misleading and Illegitimate Harmonizations
- Critiquing Biblical Criticism with the Biblical “Testimony”
- Pleading Ignorance and Obfuscating the Issues
[All in all a fairly positive assessment!]
Sparks concludes that evangelical scholars because of the strong evidence compiled by biblical scholars are “increasingly willing to consider how critical scholarship, might be constructively integrated with an appropriately high view of Scripture’s authority” (p 169).