Is The Bible True?: How Modern Debates And Discoveries Affirm The Essence Of The Scriptures, by Jeffery L. Sheler
The short answer to the book’s deliberately provocative title is yes, the Bible is true, at least insofar as it is a reliable source that can be favorably viewed with regards to its truth claims when taken fairly and justly . This is not to say that the book does not have anything to criticize about contemporary trends in religious thinking. On the contrary, the author does have some critical comments, particularly of trends that are gimmicky or anti-intellectual, comments that will be appreciated by a large proportion of the book’s readers. The author, a long-time USA Today author on the religion beat, was able to write this book with the permission of his employer, and it pays off considerably. The work itself combines serious reportage with a refreshing honesty and a willingness to take scholarly matters seriously while remaining accessible in its style. This is an easy book to like on several levels, including its style as well as its content and perspective. As someone who reads a lot of apologetic works , it is striking to see that the author comments somewhat negatively on apologetics as a genre, perhaps finding such works unconvincing to the skeptics and perhaps even the open-minded.
In terms of its contents, this book has a lot to offer in its modest 250 page length. The author begins with four chapters on the Bible and history, commenting on the battle over scripture, the content and canonicity of scripture, questions of authorship and authority, as well as whether the Bible can be considered as history. Then the author spends eight chapters commenting on the relationship between the Bible and archaeology and pointing out how findings like the Tel Dan stone have demonstrated the historical legitimacy of scripture, while pointing out that it is often far more complicated than a narrow reading would suggest, a thoughtful approach that takes the Bible seriously enough to examine it in light of its context as a Near Eastern work with given historical conventions, and looking at aspects of archaeology relating to the patriarchs, the Exodus and conquest, the monarchy, as well as the days of Jesus, commenting a bit on the origins and future of biblical archaeology as well. Four chapters follow on the relationship between the Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls that demonstrate the Jewish origin of much of the language of the New Testament and the fertility and complexity of Second Temple Judaism. Six chapters follow on the relationship between the Bible and the historical Jesus, looking at the various unsuccessful quests for a historical Jesus apart from the Gospel accounts and the biases and presuppositions of the Jesus Seminar crowd, while pointing to the nuance of the nativity, miracle stories, and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The book closes with two chapters that are critical about the phenomenon of Bible codes and a chapter that affirms the respectful attitude of the author towards the Bible, leaving a book that contains a great deal of intellectual heft as well as sincere belief.
And that combination appears to be the raison d’etre for the book’s existence, in order to present a view of the Bible that is both respectful and reverential on the one side as well as intellectually serious and robust on the other side, without engaging in fads or irrational exuberance. This is a book that appears to be, far more successful than most attempts, aimed at providing a happy marriage between faith and reason, between the confidence of readers that they are people of sufficiently serious intellect and also genuine biblical faith. Let this be a lesson to other authors, in that it is possible to write seriously about the Bible in such a way that bolsters faith and does not pit the head and the heart, or the spiritual and the intellectual, against each other. For both the specific content as well as the approach of the author, this book is a worthy one to read, and will likely find an appreciative audience long after some of its findings and discussions have to be updated with even newer ones that help demonstrate the reliability of the biblical account of history.
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