April 11, 2010

Confessional Reconstruction

Reading Scot McKnight & his three respondents at CT's forum this month on the Historical Jesus, my strongest impression is that these four scholars are focused on evangelistic goals, arguing over whether it's more effective to defend the Gospels or to let them stand as they are. In a pleasant surprise, Darrell Bock comes the closest to my own view, in this snippet:
As both Tom and Craig alluded to but I wish to highlight, there are different kinds of historical Jesus work. Some seek to reduce the data base of Jesus (and challenge the sources), but others seek to illuminate the sources and help to explain what is going on. Yes, we cannot "prove" it all, but we can make a compelling case for much of it, even key parts of it. When a compelling case is made, and when the burden of proof is high, that is impressive.
Good: Historical reconstruction isn't merely deconstructive. We can also "illuminate" and "explain" parts of the Gospels. Context matters. Amen, brother Darrell.

Bad: After that, Bock slips immediately back into defensive mode, talking about proof and persuasion. The rest of his article celebrates how historical work "attacks skeptical claims" in order to influence "discussion" that goes on "in the public square".

As usual, the evangelical goal of engaging with history is merely to support and defend, to "illuminate" and "explain". But then, what is HISTORY? The Gospels are many things, including a record of events. So my perennial question remains: do those events have any value of themselves? If they do, we must endeavor to reconstruct by faith a christian history of how those events most likely played out.

Yes, History has its limitations. Every intelligent reader of History understands that, to some degree. But as it now stands, the curious skeptic AND the struggling believer BOTH lack an opportunity to consider conservative reconstructions, based on the Gospels.

No, we don't want to construct our own straw man harmony of the Gospels, giving anti-faith activists an easier target. But the ironic tragedy here is that skeptical reconstructions display plenty of confidence in what they assert - and unbelievers lap that stuff up, despite their indefensible presuppositions, because of their confidence - but our christian scholars are the ones who won't go so far as to build one fluid chain of events based on the Gospels.

In other words, it's WE who don't seem to have faith!

That deep contrast may partly explain why innocent skeptics so often place more credence in liberal reconstructions. Conservatives are merely being oppositional. There's no alternative reconstruction being offered.

Let me be VERY clear. We do NOT need a "fifth gospel". The Gospels are perfectly fine, just as they are. But we do need to write a faith-based Historical Reconstruction of Gospel Events. We DO need to write Christian History. If we believe that it happened, then HOW did it happen?

This may or may not aid evangelism, and I don't care to predict if it will.

Integrity alone demands that we take on this challenge.


mike fox said...

this is a helpful post. unfortunately i don't know enough about critical issues in the gospels to contribute anything to your presentation, so let me just add that this post was a good read! thanks friend

Bill said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bill said...

Thanks, Mike.

IMHO, the single most prohibitive issue (for conservatives) has been chronology, with John 2:20 as the unacknowledged but de facto stumbling block. I'm hoping to open that up one of these days. We shall see...

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