Overview: I (Still) Believe explores the all-important question of whether serious academic study of the Bible is threatening to one’s faith. Seventeen prominent biblical scholars share real stories from their lives of faith and scholarship.
About the Author(s): John Byron, PhD (PhD, University of Durham) is the Professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary. He enjoy teaching and researching a variety of topics in Early Judaism and Christianity. 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.
Joel N. Lohr (PhD, University of Durham) is Dean of Religious Life and Associate Professor at University of the Pacific in California. He is author, co-author, or editor of a number of books including Chosen and Unchosen, The Torah: A Beginner’s Guide, and The Abingdon Introduction to the Bible.
I wanted to do a book review on this book because I think it is vital that people understand that Seminary is not equivalent to cemetery. Even less than a month ago I had a Fundamentalist Baptist jump all over me because he believes my seminary training was just a way that liberals are trying to destroy Christian education. Unfortunately, many people equate higher biblical education and biblical scholarship as a liberal evil. Thus, naturally I was interested in this book containing the testimony of some of the most well respected Christian scholars in the world.
Be warned: This is not a puff piece……
My first impression upon reading the overview of the book was that these great scholars would share about why they still believe even though biblical scholarship has a tendency to question their faith. On that front, I was slightly (not entirely) disappointed. The stories were great (as we will see below) but I actually thought the short stories might be more apologetic in nature. They were not.
My other first impression was that it must have been a great feat getting stories from such a great collection of biblical scholars. We are not talking about popular pastors like John MacArthur or RC Sproul. These are giants of Theology. Just to be clear about who is in the list I have them listed here.
- Richard Bauckham
- Walter Brueggemann
- Ellen F. Davis
- James D. G. Dunn
- Gordon Fee
- Beverly Roberts Gaventa
- John Goldingay
- Donald A. Hagner
- Morna D. Hooker
- Edith M. Humphrey
- Andrew T. Lincoln
- Scot McKnight
- J. Ramsey Michaels
- Patrick D. Miller
- R. W. L. Moberly
- Katharine Doob Sakenfeld
- Phyllis Trible
- Bruce Waltke
The last thing I noticed before really digging into the book is that most of the stories are short, concise, and edited in a way that makes them very easy to read.
The book comes in multiple formats. I downloaded by electronic version and read it on Kindle. But the book also comes in paper back. As far as I could find, no hard cover is offered for it yet.
The cover is very nice and looks inviting. It lists the contributors so anyone who is interested in biblical scholarship would recognize the contributors listed on the front cover.
The book has something for everyone. It has a number of great auto-biographies and it also contains some great apologetics. In addition, the book also tells a lot of stories. If you like a good short story this book will please you.
Some of my favorite quotes from the book are below.
(The first quote by Bruce is referring to the time he signed up for the military rather than seminary but the regretted his decision)
Thursday night cold sweat trickled down my spine, a sure sign of a bad conscience. I prayed earnestly that God would get me out of my conflicted mess. Friday morning I received a letter from the army: “all your papers are lost; start over again.” I did not obey. (Bruce K. Waltke, Pg 240)
The morning after I graduated with the ThD degree, Elaine and I, together with my parents, who had come from Jersey City for the graduation ceremony, prayed that God would direct my steps to the right teaching opportunity. As soon as we finished praying, the phone rang. Dr. Walvoord, the president of DTS, was on the line, inviting me to join the faculty for one year, while he sought a replacement for a Hebrew professor who resigned a few months earlier to become a professor at Brandeis University. (Bruce K. Waltke, Pg 242)
“When our certitudes and our formulations of them are small, they cannot withstand the force of biblical criticism” (Walter Brueggemann, Pg 41).
My brief narrative includes no crisis of faith, no rude awakening to historical study, no traumatic loss and reclamation of confidence. In reflection, I am a bit surprised by that myself, especially as I had grown up in a church environment that was naively literalistic in its treatment of Scripture. In that small congregation there was not a lot of the anxiety about protecting the Bible from historical inquiry, but at the same time there was also no sign of intellectual curiosity or discomfort over its inconsistencies or gaps or other difficulties. (Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Pg 85-86)
My introduction to the critical study of religion was entirely a positive development, but I nevertheless graduated from college thinking that the church was well past its sell-by date. (Beverly Roberts Gaventa, Pg 86)
I vaguely felt a problem that I did not know how to deal with. On the one hand, from my work in classics I was familiar with approaches to authorship of ancient documents in terms of various kinds of philological and historical arguments, issues that needed to be weighed on their own merits. On the other hand, because of my Christian commitment to the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture, I felt unable to go against the explicit statements of the text (supported by various autobiographical details, especially in 2 Timothy) that the author was Paul. (R. W. L. (Walter) Moberly, Pg 202)
The best parts
The best parts of the book are the stories by the scholars where their faith was continually tested and the reasons why they were able to maintain their faith even in the face of scrutiny. Naturally, this is main reason most people are reading this book.
But the stories go beyond how these scholars were able to overcome their own struggles. The book also demonstrated the dangers of churches and teachers who are more traditionalists than truth seekers. When these fundamentalist churches push the belief on people that the Bible has to be perfect and without flaws in order to be inspired by God, they are setting christians up for failure. In fact, this is exactly how the famous author Bart Ehrman became an agnostic.
Over-all the book did a great job of trying give people a frame of reference and understanding for the Bible in a more honest and scholarly way. Rather than lose your faith when the Bible seems to have conflicts, engage and wrestle with the issues. Seek God and always be willing to re-think your view on the Bible or the Christian faith.
The worst parts
Some of the stories wandered a bit and had no clear purpose other than detailing the accounts of how they grew up to become scholars. While the read was interesting I am not sure these short bios are helpful in instructing others as to why they also should “still believe.” One such example is the first story by Scot McKnight.
I will use Scot again to point out the second issue with some of these stories….
“That conclusion, that historical Jesus studies are of little to no value for the church, reshaped my work. I tell my academic friends at times that “We are not historians; we are Christians.” (Pg 186)
Perhaps it is a good thing that this book wasn’t just about Scot McKnight, because he completely skirted around the point of the book which is encouraging Christians to still believe in the face of difficulties. Many of these difficulties arise from the Bible not lining up with historical facts. Rather than deciding to just not look at historical studies, Christians need to understand how to properly engage historical studies without losing their faith.
I did really like this book. I would have liked to see the stories have a bit more apologetic tone to them since that seems to be the nature of the book. But the short bios were good even if they did not contribute to one’s ability to defend their own beliefs.
I personally, connected with the authors who spoke about the dangers of Fundamentalism and literalism because as a young man preparing for Bible College, I also had to deal with difficult struggles trying to figure out what to make of the fact that Bible scholars do not really believe in biblical inerrancy, which is what my church taught.
My final recommendation is to read the book. Especially if you are struggling with the issues of theology and scholarship I recommend this book. I also recommend reading the blog entries by Ken Schenk who is going to be doing an in-deth post on each biography.