Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Blight of Anti-Supernaturalism: Christianity Today's Common Complaint

I'm now several entries into a series. These posts aim to explore a particular intersection: that place where world-class Old Testament studies meets up with American Evangelicalism. My question is, how has Evangelicalism in the U.S. reacted and responded to the larger world of biblical scholarship? I'm using Christianity Today magazine as my main source.

A common contention among the writers of CT is that objectionable theories regarding the Bible are founded upon a philosophical bias against all things supernatural. For example, in a 1959 book review, Gleason L. Archer, Jr. (pictured above) applauds E. J. Young’s booklet, Who Wrote Isaiah? for its “excellent defense of the genuineness of the entire 66 chapters of Isaiah.” The book, says Archer, “furnishes much-needed apologetic material for scholars, Bible teachers and seminarians who hold to the historic Christian faith.” Again, “Not simply as a matter of faith but of keeping true to the laws of evidence, Dr. Young most convincingly demonstrates that no other theory of authorship does justice to all of the facts.” Then, reinforcing Young’s thesis, Archer states that it is a fallacy to think “that Isaiah 40-66 could have been inspired, no matter who wrote it.” Such a view “by implication renders the New Testament untrustworthy, for John 12:41 unequivocally asserts that the same Isaiah who wrote Isaiah 6:10 also composed 53:1.” Higher critical theories positing multiple authorship and different periods of provenance in the book of Isaiah stem from infidelity. Their inconsistencies and confusion are united only in “a philosophic prejudice against the possibility of supernatural prediction of the future.” [1]

Young’s own review of 1962 books on Old Testament theology sharply criticizes several of the entries on the ground that their underlying positions fail to “do justice to the supernaturalism of the Old Testament.”[2] A reprint essay by C. S. Lewis on “Faulting the Bible Critics” asserts that scholars go wrong by their “constant use of the principle that the miraculous does not occur.” [3] (Evangelicals using the voice of C. S. Lewis in defense of supernaturalism may have been a little misleading, though. In another context, Lewis said that some of the early biblical stories were clearly "legendary").

In one of the few substantial biblical essays to appear within the last 30 years, Allan MacRae takes on the question of the unity of Isaiah:

After some higher critics had generally accepted the idea of “second Isaiah” on the ground that predictive prophecy was impossible, some of them continued to marvel at its great similarity of style to “first Isaiah.” One even said that this second Isaiah wrote in such a way as almost to make one think that he was actually Isaiah come back from the dead! Higher critics who have adopted a naturalist frame work on which to stretch the books of the Bible have not done well in helping us to determine the author of the biblical Book of Isaiah. The same could also be said for the Book of Daniel. Any light that higher criticism can therefore shed on the authorship of a book of the Bible, or on the circumstances of its writing, is desirable. Yet we must take great care to avoid being misled by antisupernaturalists who rule out the activity of God in directing the writers.

Later, MacRae criticizes Wellhausen’s theory of the Pentateuch because “The theory leaves no room for divine revelation.”[4]

But in at least one review, the defense of supernaturalism is viewed not so much as a badge of honor, but more as a crutch. In a 1972 book review by L. R. Dewitz, The Old Testament: Its Claims and Its Critics by O. T. Allis receives its own share of criticism. With apparent tongue in cheek, Dewitz laments the side-stepping of real problems: “For one who, like Allis, acknowledges the unique disclosure of God in the Old Testament and realizes his way of action, nearly everything falls into place. There are hardly any problems left.” Regarding the 600,000 men reportedly involved in the Exodus, the reviewer quotes Allis to the effect that “it is only when full justice is done to the supernatural in the record that [the numbers] become credible and we can accept and rejoice in them as the biblical writer would have us do.” [5]

[1] CT, III (February 2, 1959), 35-36.

[2] CT, VII (February 1, 1963), 7.

[3] CT, XI (June 9, 1967), 8.

[4] “The Ups and Downs of Higher Criticism” CT XXIV (October 10, 1980), 34-35.

[5] CT, XVI (July 7, 1972), 28-29.

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