James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary, ed., Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).
Over the past few years there have been a number of books written that have called into question the Evangelical notion of inerrancy, especially as it pertains to the Bible being inerrant in matters of faith and practice, and history and science (though it is not technically a science book). The disturbing aspect of this is that some are being written by Evangelicals. One of those was written by Peter Enns, Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005). Enns primarily addressed the relationship between the Ancient Near Eastern literature and its effect on the Bible and inspiration. Another one was written by Kenton L. Sparks, professor of professor of biblical studies and special assistant to the provost at Eastern University, God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008). In this work, Sparks writes against the position of inerrancy he once embraced, and now, notes John Woodbridge, “with missionary zeal he hopes to persuade evangelical Christians who are inerrantists that they should follow his lead, adopt his thoughtful appropriation of higher criticism, and acknowledge that the Bible contains historical errors (p. 14).”
It was the publication of this book that prompted a panel discussion by faculty members of the Old Testament and Semitic Languages department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), our Free Church seminary. From this colloquium, it became clear that a book-length response to questions raised in Sparks’ and Enns’ books and others was a vital endeavor to defend the Word of God for the sake of the church. According to the editors, “we offer this book to help address some of the questions raised about the historicity, accuracy, and inerrancy of the Bible by colleagues within our faith community, as well as those outside it. There will be a special emphasis placed on matters of history and the historicity of biblical narratives, both Old and New Testaments, as this seems presently to be a burning issue for theology and faith (p. 23).”
John Woodbridge, a specialist in the area of the historical understanding of the doctrine of Scripture, highlights the importance of the book, and lays out a brief historical understanding of the doctrine of Scripture. Being a historian, he also recognizes the importance of “fresh opportunities” to define, explain and defend the historic understanding of doctrine/truth. As disturbing as these new writings are, they can be turned for good for the church’s understanding of God’s Word. Woodbridge notes “the present book constitutes a winsome invitation for its readers to consider a very significant claim: the Bible’s historical narratives are trustworthy. The narratives correspond to what happened in real time and in real places (p. 13).”
Hoffmeier and Magary, with an incredible team of scholars, respond to these issues in four main parts:
Part 1: Biblical, Systematic, and Historical Theology
Part 2: The Old Testament and Issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority
Part 3: The New Testament and Issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority
Part 4: The Old Testament and Archaeology
The best thing is to buy the book and read it! Below I include a few of the many book endorsements/recommendations.
“Standing athwart the tide of strident voices currently demanding that we abandon confidence in the truthfulness and reliability of the Bible, the chapters in this volume constitute a defense of historic Christian confessionalism on the nature of Scripture. Mercifully, however, they are not mere regurgitations of past positions. Rather, they are informed, competent, and sometimes creative contributions that urgently deserve the widest circulation. In months and years to come, I shall repeatedly refer students and pastors to this collection.”
D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
“Here is a collection of first-rate essays written by an international team of scholars, each affirming what must be called the historic Christian view of Holy Scripture – that the Bible, God’s Word written, is trustworthy and totally true in all that it affirms. Rather than simply rehearsing platitudes of the past, this volume advances the argument in the light of current debate and recent challenges. A magisterial undertaking to be reckoned with.”
Timothy George, Founding Dean, Beeson Divinity School; General Editor, Reformation Commentary on Scripture
“This book takes us to the front lines of many of the contemporary confrontations in critical scholarship, addressing the skeptics head-on. A host of able defenders contend for the trustworthiness of the Bible in the face of critical challenges and fairly criticize some of the ‘assured results’ of biblical criticism – opening the way for a more confident faith. Only the Holy Spirit himself can fully confirm the truth of God’s Word, but he can use books like this to confound the doubter and affirm the faithful.”
Bill Kynes, Senior Pastor, Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church, Annandale, Virginia; author, A Christology of Solidarity
Ever since the questioning, doubting and denial of God’s word in the Garden, humanity has questioned God and his word now inscripturated in the Word: Did God really say? Throughout history Evangelicals have responded with an unqualified “yes.” The Scriptures are inspired, inerrant, complete, authoritative and sufficient. Every generation wrestles with this same question about God’s Word. Today some so-called Evangelicals have questioned and outright denied the full extent of the inerrancy, authority and trustworthiness of God’s Word, claiming it may apply to faith and practice but not to history and science.
A number of Evangelicals are responding to today’s challenge to the Bible by saying, “yes! God has spoken, and all that He has spoken is true and can be trusted in all that it teaches in whatever subject it addresses.” Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? is one of the best and most thorough treatments defending that the Bible is completely true and trustworthy in the realm of history. Hoffmeier and Magary have compiled an excellent team of scholars not only to respond to the criticisms against the Scriptures but also to build a constructive case for the Scriptures. They have done this by focusing on the critical components associated with the history, authenticity and authority of the Old and New Testaments, and archaeology and the Old Testament. The foundation of the whole work is laid by a focus on biblical, systematic and historical theology and what these disciplines teach about history.
As disturbing as these claims are against the Scriptures, I give thanks to God that they have prompted an excellent response so that we now have a much stronger foundation for affirming the inerrancy of God’s Word, including matters of history. We don’t have to nuance the doctrine of inerrancy in light of contemporary challenges, and neither do we have to refer to a work that is 30 years old. This is a model example of the academy serving the church.
In matters relating to the doctrine of the Scriptures, this will be the book I recommend to pastors and leaders, as it will serve them and the church well. I am thankful for its writing and publication. It deserves the highest of commendations! It is a much-needed antidote to some so-called Evangelical’s unhealthy (and inaccurate) view of inerrancy.
To answer the question raised in this excellent book: Historical matters matter! God said so!
Gregory C. Strand, Director of Biblical Theology and Credentialing, Evangelical Free Church of America