Book Review: The Bible And The Believer

The Bible And The Believer:  How To Read The Bible Critically And Religiously, by Marc Zvi Brettler, Peter Enns, & Daniel J. Harrington


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.  A Jew, a Jesuit, and a Protestant critical scholar walk into a bar and have a dialogue about faith and critical scholarship.  Seeing that their views are generally in harmony with each other despite their varying backgrounds, they decide to write a book together thinking that as like-minded individuals they can encourage people to be both “religious” and critical by approaching the Bible as they do.  Guess which one gets more attention?  The fact that this book of nearly 200 pages can be reduced to a joke about people walking into a bar and on the slippery nature of textual criticism [1] suggests a deep failure on the part of the authors.  Let us make no mistake, this book is not very good, but it is bad in a way that is deeply instructive about the way that critical scholarship erodes the faith of people who study in many seminaries and makes them ineffective at preaching the Gospel since they are trained to have such serious doubts about the Bible’s reliability and authority by showing some of the sad remnants of such a benighted religious education.

This book’s organization is extremely simple, and it gives me an idea of the sort of book I would want to write myself in collaboration with others where the conversation itself becomes text.  The three perspectives of the book are represented, respectively, by Marc Zvi Brettler, who serves as the liberal Jew who tries to point out how critical scholarship has spread like a metastatic cancer through the Conservative and even Orthodox perspectives of his faith, Peter Enns, who laments the hostility of so many Evangelicals and conservative protestants to the critical theory he represents even as he tries to paint the corruption of such an approach as a necessary part of genuine faith, and Daniel J. Harrington, a Jesuit who praises both critical theory and the magisterial approach of the Catholic Church towards highly centralized religious authority.  Each of them gives an attempt at syncretism between the critical approach and their own faith tradition and then comments on the efforts of the other two, and all of them end up pretty chummy with each other and thinking that there is no great gulf between their own belief systems.

The problem is that the similarity of the particular people involved (and others of their ilk) is that their genuine faith is not Bible-based at all but a faith in their own skill and those of others who share their approach as textual critics.  By approaching the Bible as judges of the text and its veracity based on their own standards and not as those who approach the Bible as a soon-to-be convicted felon approaches the bench and hopes for a merciful judgment, their religion is useless and worthless.  By assuming all kinds of things about the Bible and its supposed contradictions and its imaginary sources and fictive authors like Second and Third Isaiah and so on, the authors show that the sort of faith that one can have as a critical scholar is not the faith that anyone wants, nor is it the sort of faith that can serve to challenge our own chronological snobbery and the fashionable vices and injustice of our own times.  These authors may be able to pal around with each other and find no great difference between the approach of the others, but their approach is quite distinct from a genuinely godly and biblical one.

[1] See for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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