How Many Deceptions Can a Fundamentalist Pack into One Book Review?

Denny Burk has posted his review of my book, a review published by the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology. (Some of my readers may remember Denny Burk from this earlier post.) I’ll write a proper response to Burk’s “review” when I’m feeling a little better (I’m down with a bug). In the meantime, let’s have a little competition. If you’ve read my book, read this review, and let’s count how many times Burk distorts or completely misrepresents my arguments in Human Faces of God. The person who identifies every deception and distortion in the review will get a free copy of Note to Self. If you’re already owed a copy of Note to Self, I’ll give you something else. And to give you a little help finding an obscure distortion, be sure to read my initial response to Burk’s initial reaction to part of my book from several months ago (see comment thread here), and then note Burk’s failure to adjust his misreading of my statement in his published review.

Also, something very strange is going on on Burk’s blog post. Yesterday, there were ten comments in response to his review of my book. Then I checked and all but one had been deleted. Then another person commented, noting that all the comments had been deleted. Then that comment was deleted. I don’t know what’s up. But it’s very puzzling.

So, let the count begin.

11 thoughts on “How Many Deceptions Can a Fundamentalist Pack into One Book Review?

  1. Thom,

    The main problem with Burk’s review was its complete lack of engagement with the substance of your book, he mentions the conclusions of your primary arguments against inerrancy only to say that “there is not a single objection to inerrancy that he raises that has not already been ably answered in the relevant literature.”  Interestingly enough, Burk goes on to promise engagement with at least one of your objections to inerrancy only to refer (without reference) to the work of other scholars who disagree with your reading of 1 Tim 2:12-14.  In so many ways, one got the sense that Burk saw his own review as an unnecessary exercise.

  2. I wouldn’t call it the main problem, but yes, his lack of engagement with my arguments is a significant problem. Even the one issue he chose to address is really peripheral in my book, and he totally missed the point I was making with it, which I’ll explain when I write my response. But you’re right that a proper review would have been an unnecessary exercise for him: all he needs to do is state my conclusions (which he doesn’t even do honestly or accurately), and any committed fundamentalist will know automatically that my arguments are wrong. 

  3. My beef with your book (which I thought was well written and deserving of a healthy 4/5 on the Amazon scale) was that you spent too much time in the book swinging for the fences against the theological bedrock of Christian orthodoxy and not enough time arguing against inerrancy per se (strange criticism, I know).  I would have preferred something more along the lines of Smith’s, “The Bible Made Impossible” that focused more on the general realities of Scripture that can be observed directly from the text itself and relied less on academically popular historical reconstructions of the original setting in which Scripture was written (I’ve read enough biblical criticism that I’ve become jaded to the possibility that such a task is even possible at this point).

  4. Here’s the thing. I felt there were already numerous books on the market that dealt with the minute biblical errors, textual discrepancies, etc. I’d read several of those, but they weren’t very helpful to me personally and they didn’t seem all that important to me, since my faith wasn’t about inerrancy at that point anyway. (I was a postliberal.) So I wrote the book, like I said, that I wished someone had written. The problem is much bigger than just minor textual problems.

    And I agree that there are some academic historical reconstructions that are tenuous, and there are some issues where such reconstructions are by and large impossible. But that’s not the case across the board; in many cases, we have sufficient data to make a fairly strong reconstruction; in other cases, not so much. So the key is to know where we can speak and where we should be silent. The best biblical critics have no trouble saying, “We don’t know much about the provenance of this text, and probably never will.” But of course there will always be sensationalist and agenda-driven scholars from every conceivable direction.

  5. “So I wrote the book, like I said, that I wished someone had written.”

    Fair enough.

    While I have your attention, how on earth did you make it through Ch. 8 without mentioning Lk. 17:20-21?  That was criminal.  If I remember correctly, you spent most of the chapter arguing for an imminent and spectacular coming of the kingdom on the basis of Mk. 9:1 and Mk. 13 only to ignore the two verses that would most clearly contradict thisthesis and thereby further your overall argument against inerrancy.  It almost seemed as if you were more interested in demonstrating that “Jesus was wrong!” at this point in the book.  Am I right or am I right?

    “So the key is to know where we can speak and where we should be silent.”

    For my part, I’ve given up on OT historical criticism, everything that predates the intertestamental period might as well be a mystery to me.  Heck, I’ll even go so far as to say that we aren’t capable of teasing
    out much of the theology contained in the OT with any level of
    confidence outside a major breakthrough nor do I feel all that good
    about the accuracy of our modern translations in the non-narrative parts of the
    OT.

    Here’s my argument, if the majority of NT critics still can’t figure out something as obvious to me as Schweitzer’s apocalyptic Jesus (I think this is still true even for non-evangelical scholars) why should I have any confidence in their less talented OT counterparts on matters that I consider to be significantly more difficult?  You see my problem…

  6. Luke 17:20-21. Because Jesus is addressing a different audience and making a different point precisely because he’s addressing that different audience. I don’t see this as a contradiction against the Olivet Discourse at all. In the apocalyptic predictions, he is speaking to his disciples. In Luke 17:20-21, he is speaking to Pharisees. And the point he’s making to the Pharisees is that the kindgom of God has already been inaugurated with his coming, and the signs they’re looking for are already in front of their eyes. This is not inconsistent with his teaching to the disciples. There, the kingdom of God has already begun as well, but will be consummated at the end of the generation. Like Jesus typically does, he is being obstinate with the Pharisees, who don’t believe the signs he’s already provided. But his disciples do believe, so he has no reason not to clue them in to future signs. Jesus refused to offer signs to unbelievers. 

    And no, I didn’t exclude Luke 17 because I was more interested in showing that Jesus was wrong than that inerrancy is wrong. Rather, I didn’t think to include it because I never saw it as a contradiction in the first place. 

    Re: OT criticism, let’s just say I’m not as cynical about the state of OT scholarship as you are.

    Re: Schweitzer, I don’t see your problem, because the reality is that in general terms, Schweitzer’s reading has long been and remains the widespread consensus. The few non-evangelical scholars who dissent from it also have their own particular agenda. I.e., in the case of Crossan, he still wants to make Jesus relevant ethically for today, and clearly feels he must do so by making Jesus a sage, rather than an apocalyptic prophet. Ironically, I do think that Jesus is ethically relevant today, in large part due to his apocalyptic worldview. The Seminar gives way too much credence to GThomas, and the majority of NT scholars don’t do that, and thus agree on an apocalyptic Jesus. So, for me, the problem you see doesn’t really exist. 

    I also wouldn’t say that their “OT counterparts” are “less talented.” 

  7. “And the point he’s making to the Pharisees is that the kingdom of God
    has already been inaugurated with his coming, and the signs they’re
    looking for are already in front of their eyes.”

    Yeah but the coming the kingdom is always a future imminent event in Luke as in the other synoptics – it has “come near” (Lk. 10:11) and will take place “in this generation” (21:31-32) before all the disciples “taste death” (9:27) – so it seems more likely to me that Jesus’ main point in v. 20 is that this future imminent event will not take place “with observation” (i.e. “with things that can be observed” following the NRSV).  Moreover, there are a couple logia in Thomas (3, 51, 113) that speak to the invisible nature of the kingdom with wording that is suspiciously similar to 17:20-21 so I don’t think my reading of v. 20 is all that unlikely.

    “Rather, I didn’t think to include it because I never saw it as a contradiction in the first place.”

    Understood.

    “I also wouldn’t say that their ‘OT counterparts’ are ‘less talented.’ ”
    I was in a crabby mood when I wrote that, forgive me.

    Thanks for all the interaction Thom, you’re the best!

  8. But I would argue that 17:20 cannot mean what you take it to mean and be internally consistent with Luke’s Olivet Discourse, in which signs and portents are detailed prior to the arrival of the kingdom, and in which the coming of the kingdom is described as something that cannot not be observed. Thus, either 17:20-21 contradicts ch. 21, or means something else, which is what I think, and I think for good reason, as offered above. And the idea that the kingdom had entered quietly first in Jesus’ ministry is not isolated to Luke. It’s as I laid out in my book, with the chart in chapter 8. The altered Christian apocalyptic timeline.  

    It’s good interaction, so thanks!

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