Evangelical Scholarship


Just finished browsing the latest issue of the Journal of Theological Studies, and found much to be thankful for. Of particular interest to the readers of this blog will be more reminders that the most reliable sources for knowledge of what Jesus actually did and said remain Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. This has been generally admitted by academic scholarship for some time, but has yet to percolate into the press, most seminaries, and too many pulpits. I find myself having to challenge the idea that it’s been conclusively proved that the New Testament was all made up in order to repress true Christianity two or three times a year; if you don’t, you’re shirking your duties.

So it’s great to read, for instance, that the latest and most authoritative commentary on the Gospel of Thomas confirms that ‘any relevance to historical Jesus research is negligible’ (p 805), and that ‘agreement in substance between… scholars with distinct perspectives may be indicative of the emergence of a majority opinion that considers the use of apocryphal gospels in historical Jesus research to be problematic’ (p 765).

Which isn’t to say that the early church wasn’t almost as theologically diverse as some would like to think; but it does confirm that Christians have been right to use the canonical gospels in order to discover what Jesus actually taught rather than what He was believed to have taught. It’s also good to be reminded that even this real diversity was less threatening to orthodox contemporaries than the revisionists try to convince us. Even that hammer of heretics, Irenaeus, ‘spent considerable energy urging the church, especially in Rome, to preserve its toleration for diversity’ (p 817).

Finally, news of a new book on the relationship between Science and Christianity by a Professor of Physics at Oxford University asserting in the most vigorous terms, which the reviewer found quite persuasive, that ‘the pursuit of science is a natural and important aspect of what it means to be a follower of Jesus of Nazareth’ (p 898). The writer, Andrew Steane, not only believes in the resurrection, but considers that the other miracles can be believed ‘on the basis of reliable testimony’, and argues that miracles do not contradict the findings of even the most up to date science (ibid). The title is Faithful to Science, and I can’t wait to read it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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bloke as future scientist w test tube etcMost Christians are a bit defensive when the latest developments in science are being celebrated, but Evangelicals often seem especially so. I’ve never worried much about any apparent contradictions between science and Scripture, since it seems pretty clear that the Bible was not given as a science text, and is bound to be misunderstood if treated as one. So it never occurred to me that thinking about the Bible in relationship to developments in science could actually be a spiritually positive thing, until I found the blog Undivided Looking.

The blog is run by Aron Wall, a postdoctoral researcher studying quantum gravity and black hole thermodynamics at UC Santa Barbara, and is not only the best internet resource on the relationship between physics and Scripture specifically, and science and religion generally, that I’ve yet come across, but also the best that dozens of others have come across, as comments on the blog show regularly. This is only the most recent of several memorable ones:

This site has quite literally been a Godsend to me.  I’ve always loved science but until about 5 years ago, I assumed you had put your brain on a shelf to be a christian.  No big bang, no creation, etc… I now look at science as learning about God, and He becomes more incredible to me every day!

It’s also a great read if you’re actually interested in the science; I’ve tried several introductions supposed to be helpful to the layman, most recently Peter Coles’s Very Short Introduction to Cosmology, but none of them were as helpful as Wall’s blog series on ‘Fundamental Reality’. Wall’s blog has several series of this sort, and I can also recommend ‘Did the Universe Begin?’ (start here, where there are links to all the preceding posts) and the still ongoing ‘God and Time’, first post here.

I’ve found that I need to set aside quite a bit of time, an hour or so, before tackling even a single post, but the result has sometimes been that I’ve understood not only some aspect of science, but some aspect of God’s word, for the first time. If you find the subject interesting, you’ll find the time well spent, and if you just want something to recommend to the next wise guy with a ‘science has disproved all that’, I don’t see how you could do better.

Remember the newspaper headlines in September about a newly discovered manuscript that ‘proved’ that Jesus was married? Closer examination of the fragment of manuscript points overwhelmingly to forgery. Read the report by Peter Williams of Tyndale House, Cambridge, here.

Evangelical scholars were among those who noticed the evidence against authenticity. Francis Watson of the University of Durham, Andrew Bernhard of Oxford, and Mark Goodacre of Duke University, ‘along with evangelicals Simon Gathercole and Christian Askeland [both of Cambridge], played a significant role in exposing the problems with the manuscript and claims about it on blogs and in the media,’ says Williams.

It’s well known that the massive sums paid by museums and universities for fragments of this sort have led to a substantial cottage industry to produce them. This one was only discovered because a) it seemed so unlikely that Jesus’s wife, had she existed, would have left no other trace in the 1st and 2nd century documents, and b) the forgers did a particularly shoddy job. There’s a lot of others out there waiting to be exposed.