July 15, 2009

Biblical Studies - 4

Loren Rosson's twist on the evolving "5 Books" meme was to identify major works of scholarship you really wanted to agree with, or appreciated the importance of, but just couldn't get on board with. To some degree, that's how I feel about most of the "BS" I've encountered so far. Yes, of course I mean "Biblical Studies", you potty-brain. ;)

One example I really don't want to admit feeling this way about is the ongoing works of Paul Barnett. In the past year, I've bought five of his books: Jesus and the Logic of History, Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity, and the After Jesus Series (1,2,3). I already admitted I haven't read all the pages in any of them - though I've read a lot I could never claim to have mastered his thought, so take the following comments for what they're worth. Informed impressions.

I've cheered at several sections and held my breath anticipating passages that never seem to come. Tantalizing is a pretty good way to describe it. In all five books he makes bold claims for the historicity of our Christ as we see Him in the Gospels, and spends lots of pages defending those claims and other aspects of his historiography. But his writing structure often seems to lurch back and forth between confident methodology and defensive positioning. Who is he writing for? I'm seasick and confused.

The first chapter of his latest release, Finding the Historical Christ, concludes its first chapter saying, "I am confident it is possible to find the historical Christ and that to do so calls for nothing more than patient and careful reading of the gospels as historical documents. For that, in truth, is what they are." Hooray! So let's build on that foundation! But the last chapter concludes little more. "That he was the Christ is the hypothesis that makes best sense of all the evidence, both before and after the resurrection."

Well, duh. Should I really read all 269 pages of [what seems to be mainly] arguments supporting that conclusion? Seriously, I'm sure I can learn a lot about some finer points in the debate, but it still all boils down to presuppositions, doesn't it? It still depends on what you accept as "evidence" to begin with and which non-negotiables you bring to the table. Doesn't it? That said, I'm very glad Paul Barnett is writing these books... for whomever it is that is helped by his writing of them. I mean that passionately and genuinely. But - and I hate to have to say this - I'm just not one of those who's being helped. I'll have to get over that, evidently. ;)

The last three paragraphs of 'Finding' make it clear to me that "History" is mainly Barnett's trojan horse to make the Gospels more acceptable for intelligent people. I'm okay with that. I'm just disappointed on behalf of "History". To take such a strong stand defending the historicity of the Gospels and then ultimately close in a cloud of ignorance on the details for the sake of taking an evangelistic posture designed to help unbelievers accept Christ more personally... well, that's great for evangelism, but what about the Church? Get saved and save people. Is that all we're here for?

The Gospel's harmonized Chronology and Sequence of Events deserve more attention, such as they can be reasonably reconstructed. But if we're not going to study the Gospels historically, why defend them as "historical documents"? In the end, I guess that's what sums up my frustration with Barnett. He seems only marginally interested in reconstruction, which is a real shame since the smattering of concrete discussion I've come across in his chapters contains some conclusions I think are solid and worth building on. I would be more interested in reading his long involved arguments if I could see them working towards a comprehensive account of Gospel Events. Oh, well.

No slight to Barnett, seriously, but is this really the cutting edge of faith based historical research on the Gospels?


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