A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Why Four Gospels?

I love to read! Someone once asked me that in my old age if I had to choose between losing my hearing or my sight, which one would I pick? While the thought of going without either one is not a pleasant prospect, if I definitely had to choose, I would prefer to keep my sight because as Thomas Jefferson said, "I cannot live without books."

And the books I enjoy the most are the ones that challenge the conventional wisdom. I like having my mind pushed to think differently in reference to what I believe and the positions I hold. I admire those authors who are not willing to tow the line of scholarly consensus. They put their thoughts in print and make their case, and they force the rest of us who simply go with the conventional flow to ponder our position.

That is why I am extremely excited about a new book written by a friend of mine, Dave Black, Professor of New Testament and Greek and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Well, it's not really new; it's a second edition, which really means that it's new and improved. It's entitled, Why Four Gospels: The Historical Origins of the Gospels. In the preface to the second edition Dave writes,

THE PROTESTANT CHURCH culture in America, of which I am a part, often overlooks the immense contribution that the science of patristics makes to the way we understand the Scriptures. Now I certainly do not wish to replace a text-centered hermeneutic with an approach that is enslaved to the dogmata of councils and creeds. My claim in this book is not that the fathers of the church solve the synoptic problem. It is that any approach to a solution that rejects their testimony is, by definition, illegitimate.

It is fascinating to contrast the secular historian's approach to the early church fathers with the skepticism of biblical critics. I fear that the very contrast between "history" and "theology" only contributes to the atomization of an already fragmented discipline. To suggest that evangelical Christians should pay attention to the fathers will strike many as absurd. Is not the very hallmark of Protestant Christianity the commitment to a text-centered hermeneutic? Though I am very happy to be classified as a textbased exegete of the New Testament, it will be clear that I think we have abandoned a rich source of knowledge. For me, this means that although I delight in studying and reading the New Testament in its original language, I think it is an advantage – rather than a detriment – to learn Scripture through the works of Tertullian, Luther, Calvin, Barth, and Yoder. Indeed, I believe that the fragmented and atomistic approach to the New Testament documents today is often merely an excuse for intellectual laziness.

The last thing I want to be is intellectually lazy, but I must confess that at times I have probably relied on the conclusions of the guild of biblical scholarship too much without delving into the matter for myself. Dave has done that for us, and his conclusions challenge the conventional wisdom I have all too often simply accepted.

For more than a few scholars, integrating their Christian faith with their biblical scholarship is a chore; for Dave Black it comes naturally. He not only challenges me in reference to my obligation to be a missionary for Jesus, but just last week he advised me that I would find it more fruitful to read Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics in the original German!

I will be reviewing Dave's book on this blog, but you don't have to wait for me. You can order Why Four Gospels? from Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Energion Direct-- the last one provides free shipping. Like N.T. Wright, Dave has a gift to take the deep and profound thoughts of a scholar and put them in clear and accessible language.

I am looking forward to reviewing Dave's book. Any bloggers who would like to review his book as well, you may request a review copy from the publisher at pubs(at)energion(dot)com. Let me make an important point here-- if you request a review copy, please make sure it is reviewed in timely fashion. When I agree to post a review of a book and the publisher sends me a free copy, an agreement has been made. The publisher agrees to absorb the expense of giving a book to me at no charge. In return I offer the review. When I am asked to review a book that I believe I do not have the time for, I graciously refuse. It's a matter of integrity, plain and simple.

Why Four Gospels? Read Dave's book and find out for yourself.


Bruce said...

Allan, I have admired Wesley's habit of reading. It is no secret that Wesley read the Patristic Fathers and it leads me to ask, Are Wesley's Notes on the Bible influenced by his reading? Does Wesley take an approach that is text based? What kind of relationship is there between a text based approach to the scriptures and an approach informed by the fathers?

Allan R. Bevere said...


Yes, Wesley's Notes are influenced by his reading of the Fathers in places. If by text-based you mean the primacy of Scripture as the final arbiter over everything else, yes, Wesley did proceed in that way in his reading of Scripture. Such an approach does not preclude the Fathers' readings nor anyone else's for that matter. There were certainly ways in which Wesley's hermeneutical approach was more Anglo/Catholic than Reformed.

While I put Scripture as primary there is a give and take between text and interpreter. In other words, there is no such thing as an objective reading of the Bible, nor a reading free from interpretation. When someone says to me, "Well it's just a matter of one's interpretation," my response always is, "It's all interpretation."

I think the Fathers are highly instructive for us as we seek to understand the Bible. They didn't always get it right, but then neither do we.

Marvel Boy said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Allan! I might have to go ahead and request a review copy too ...

bruce said...

Thanks for the response Allan. I love the discussion and the way we can think through on this blog.