Thursday, September 27, 2007

Apologetics Study Bible released

I'm not a fan of long blog posts... but this is a review that needed a little space, so please forgive me.

Given that I'm doing apologetics on the 'front-lines' every week through speaking, answer questions, writing books, and replying emails to the hottest issues of the day, the release of this Apologetics Study Bible was of keen interest to me. I wondered how they would tackle some of the objections I face on the street and with my own every growing list of questions.

Late yesterday afternoon, UPS delivered my pre-ordered Apologetics Study Bible from Amazon. This work has been many years in the making, having heard about it from J. P. Moreland while sitting in his class on consciousness. Moreland is one of the editors of the work. So is another friend of mine and former colleague, Paul Copan.

This Apologetics Study Bible is how theologians and philosophers defend the evangelical faith. It does not represent how thoughtful creatives, artists, or those in the humanities defend the faith. So expect from this work what it is offering. It doesn't follow the tradition of G. K. Chesterton or C. S. Lewis as it does Francis Schaeffer and Alvin Plantinga.

I've been thumbing all over the book since I received it--last night and this morning. I am pleased with the many notes and the honest evangelical scholarship throughout the work. And the articles highlighting various questions, helps the reader at least begin to think about some of the weightier questions people are facing today. For brevity, many of the articles hit the nerve of the controversy and the short answer to the question.

Most of the scholars in this book are professors and researchers and some of the best in their field on these particular topics. I would have liked to see some Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox and the like to also get a little representation-- like N.T. Wright). I would also have liked to see more women apologists represented, like Eleanor Stump and Nancy Pearcey. The names that are used to market the book like Colson, Zacharias, and Strobel have very little input in these pages. I would have like to seen a little more information and perspective of reaching some of the existential issues as well as practical ways to articulate. So much of my own work at Soulation is translating those abstract arguments into tangle ideas for the common-person to feed on. And my own work is to breath the life of metaphor and meaning into it.

There is only one article on the Trinity that I can find. This article by Douglas Blount (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) spells out how God can be three in one sense and one in another. After spelling this out (a bit unsatisfactory) there is no indication that I can find (yet) in the bible of the great significances of the Trinity... as an answer to deeper problems that every other religion in the world falters on.

My alma mater, Talbot School of Theology, is very well represented in these pages, including every philosopher I studied under while at Talbot.

J. P. Moreland has over 10 articles. Doug Geivett has one on religious experience. Garry DeWeese has one on knowledge. Scott Rae has three on ethical issues, including business and homosexuality.

Talbot's Dave Horner has an article on beauty which gives an ontological look at beauty, though I would have liked to see an entry as well on the role of imagination and metaphor as truth teller. (Yet evangelicals are not as good at that.)

There are many other familiar names in this volume: Arnold, Bock, Copan, Habermas, Craig, Dembski, Feinberg, Finley, Geisler, Groothuis, Hazen, Hultberg, Ware, and others.

The "scripture twisting" sections found in the text are especially helpful to show how aberrant versions of "Christianity" use those verses to mean things contrary to historical or exegetical thought.

Again, this study bible is an apologetic engagement from the conservative evangelical side, much of which is represented by the Baptist point of view. And within that, they have done a fair job balancing some views that are sometimes polarizing in evangelical discussions. Their discussion of origins (youth earth vs. old earth) is short but presents the major arguments of each, concluding that there has been too much heat in the debate and that both sides should continue to seek out evidence.

Their discussion on sovereignty vs. free will was also well played, with Bill Craig weighing in on Molinism and Bruce Ware showing well the tension but evidence for sovereignty and free will in Scripture.

These issues, once hotly debated in evangelicalism, has found some common ground and are moving forward with honest dialog.

Not as much can be said about the way gender is viewed in this study bible. And this is something I want to highlight.

This is an area of real apologetic need. And if the strong patriarchical view is what God is really teaching us, there must be a better way to reconcile it with sound philosophy. We need a better presentation on what God thinks about gender, theologically and philosophically (I haven't found any philosophers on gender represented in this work--Rebecca Groothius would have been a good choice). In fact, in reading the Bible alone with historical background I would not reach the forced conclusions some of the commentary this book pushes. Based on the evidence below, I would have either treated this issue more fairly or left it altogether out of the study Bible. As it is, it is an ugly mark against it, especially in light of today's evangelical scholarship.

One article, "Does the Bible Demean Women?" by Sharon James (author, pastor's wife) tows the typical hard patriarchal line that doesn't even hit on a lot of modern scholarship or arguments dealing with the equality of women. In the article, she eternally subordinates the Trinity to justify her position (a heresy in the early church) and even concludes that the roles of man are 'provider and protector' and the roles of a woman are 'nurturer and carer' (a stereo-type that ties down both genders). Ironically, her article falls in the book of Esther where the queen is playing the role of 'provider and protector.' For a good treatment on how femininity is unfairly boxed in with romanticism or stereo-types, see "Femininity Beyond Fairy Tales" in Jonalyn Grace Fincher's Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home.

"Is God Male?" by Chad Owen Brand (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) continues with gender misconceptions. If God is masculine as his article implies, then that really does rule out that femininity is made in the image of Go--a category he doesn't want to deny but gives no room for it. He says the Holy Spirit is neuter gender in the Greek but with male pronouns, but he avoids that the Holy Spirit is feminine in the Hebrew. Then he caps off his article by saying that seeing God as only a Father and Jesus as only a Husband is the key to life transformation--leaving no room for how potentially homosexual that sounds for a man to think of Jesus as his husband. Again, this really is a gross misconception of the work being done in the area. It is not even a good apologetic!

Some of the verse-by-verse commentary says that the Bible is clear that men and women are equal, etc., yet this view was only formulated in the late 1970s by the patriarchalists which did not find it "clear" prior to that. Beware of cultural moves in gender that say the Bible is 'clear' on some of these issues. Most of the time it isn't clear and requires good scholars and research to find the clarity.

Both of these entries pay lip-service to the equality of women but do not give good grounds of it. They say men and women were made in God's image, but even the translation they use, Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), says God created 'man' in his image. They use the masculine word even though the Hebrew word can be used for humans--male and female--not just males.

I appreciate many things about the Apologetics Study Bible. If the editors could have seen that the gender issue is like the creation issue (a non-essential issue), they would have made a better study bible. Seeing that the general editor of this study Bible is part of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (like Chad Owen Brand) and that the HCSB version (like the ESV) were translated with a gender agenda in mind that skews gender in some texts to maintain modern-day partriarchialist views, I am not surprised to see the bias on the gender debate.

But I expect better things from scholars.

Here's is evidence to me of gender agenda taking precedence over apologetics: I wanted to see what the editors would say about 1 Peter 3:6.

It says in the verse that Sarah called Abraham, "Lord." This particular phrase is not Peter's quoting from Genesis, where the story of Abraham is found. Rather, it is Peter quoting from a Jewish source contemporary to him that is not part of the Scripture.

This particular verse has come up in my apologetic conversations. In the notes in the Apologetics Study Bible they do not mention this apologetic issue, rather they immediately go to the gender debate, about subordination in the Trinity and the subjection of women to men. I perceive it is because of their focus is so pitted on the gender debate, they overlooked the more important apologetic issue in this particular verse.

To the editors' credit they do note in Eph 5 that Paul commands mutual submission of the sexes, but this doesn't inform the special articles written by James or Brand nor does it inform the commentary on 1 Timothy 2:11-15 (which is, in my opinion, abominable). Even some patriarchalists are conceding there was mutual ruling in the Garden of Eden. For an apologetics book, this contradiction between Eph 5 commentary and 1 Tim 2 commentary should have been more clearly dealt with.

I just wish a poor treatment of gender didn't show up in a work that offers so many other valuable insights and resources.

In the back of the study Bible are timelines and charts of major apologists throughout the ages. This is good for the reader to see the tradition, learn new names, and, consequently, pick up some new titles.

Overall, I think this Apologetics Study Bible an excellent resource. But it lacks in the area of gender, imagination, and existential engagement. Someone reading this may perceive that all apologetics is academic and find it irrelevant to their daily life and neighbors. While so much of cerebral apologetics depends on research in the academy, a lot of work still depends on the thoughtful creative to translate truth into a truth and goodness full of beauty and everyday life.

If you are new to apologetics, this study Bible will help get you started. Even better, my book, Living with Questions, covers a lot of the major first questions in our culture and it's easier to walk through.


Jimmy Kinnaird said...

Thanks for your comments on the Apologetics Bible. I have considered buying it, but now I may go and look first. I will probably buy it, but your comments have helped me to understand that there are many other nuances of questions and answers that even the best resource by itself cannot treat effectively.

Dale Fincher said...

Hey Jimmy... yeah, it depends on what you're looking for. There's a lot of great resources here in one place. I think the verse-by-verse commentary is alone worth it as a reference work.

But you are right, even the best resources can never be exhaustive and everyone beings their own theological framework to the table. But it is great to know the different sides as we grow to think like Jesus.

Paul said...

Would you say your biggest complaint is how they argue for their conclusion on the gender issues and not necessarily the conclusion they come to? I know you disagree with the conclusion, but there are probably many other issues where you disagree with the conclusion. I take it that it's the neglect of good arguments against their own that you find troublesome. Is that correct? (And by 'they' I mean the author(s) of the relevant sections and the editors.)

Dale Fincher said...

Paul, you are correct. The very reasoning isn't solid. And, on my view, is part of the reason I disagree with the typical conclusion in the gender debate.

To say that God is male is difficult to take and not well argued (one of the difficulties of a work like this Study Bible is that space is limited). We can use male gendered words, but to say that God is male is problematic on many counts, most importantly, how it leaves women as image bearers of God as well as the feminine qualities God also possesses in the Scripture, like metaphors of child bearing and huddling young under his wings.

They should have used better qualified apologists in the actual gender debate deal with this issue (just like they brought in Phil Johnson and Bill Dempski for the ID issue).

After all, we are looking to give a sound answer to the arguments against the Christian faith. There were no philosophical arguments undergirding the gender issue here, only certain interpretations of texts, some of which was based on speculation.

Because we encounter women who find the Christian faith intelligently lacking in this area, I would expect better in this study Bible which would be addressing the issues of our time.

But as I said in my review, there are many good things about this Study Bible and many great names contributing. It is good to see some philosophers and theologians actually working together. That's refreshing.

Philip said...

Sounds like someone needs to write an article about gender in the Bible and the proper, Biblical way to view male and female. Just a thought.

Dale Fincher said...

Philip, who is this 'someone' you are referring to? ;)

Have you seen our Unmuted article? While it isn't spelling out how gender is revealed in God, it does point out stereo-types and inconsistencies in the evangelical church regarding gender 'roles.' Here it is:

Philip said...

Yes I have read that article. The topic was very interesting to me, and it does start to open up the general issue of gender. However, the article, as you said, doesn't deal primarily with that. I'll have to reread it though to refresh myself with what you two said.

My main question about this Bible would be: how does it deal with problematic passages? There are plenty of passages in Scripture that people view contradictory and purely wrong. Does it deal with such passages well?

Dale Fincher said...


I do believe it handles problem texts well, at least the ones I've looked at so far, particularly the discrepancies around the resurrection.

As I said earlier, I think this would be a great reference piece as it puts a lot of tools in the same place. And while I think they are weak in gender, I do believe the most critical aspects of this work were compiled by some of the best in evangelicalism. So it is scholarly and not simply stereo-typical, worn-out, rhetorical replies.

I think you should get it, Philip. You'll like it!

Philip said...

I probably am going to get it for the very reason that it has so much in one source. I have multiple commentaries and books, but its frustrating to have to spend more time finding things that bring light then actually studying what people say about it. It will definitely be a good source.

Dale Fincher said...

i agree. And you can refer to your other sources to go deeper.

This is fantastic for those who have never studied apologetics before. It'll open their eyes to the controversies as well as how talk about them.

Philip said...

I posted on my blog a short story that I wrote. It's still in the process of being revised, but I thought you might like it. CHeck it out if you want.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dale,

thanks for the work reviewing the book. you are right that it manifests the typical perspective on American apologetics, and it certainly has its strengths.

It could have been so much richer, fuller, better, more beautiful and truthful.

Are we aiming too low, here, as evangelical apologists? Its like we're stale and blind...

The gender stuff irks me to no end. When that gets intertwined in the Trinity, it is a BIG stumbling block. How is Jesus God's SON? Why would I want him to be my husband? And I am supposed to support a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage? This reading of the ESCHATON mandates gay marriage. Talk about apparent incoherence.

Thanks for letting me rant a bit,

Mstr Luke

Dale Fincher said...

Mstr Luke...

An interesting point that we'd do well to consider in the conversation on gender.

And, yes, I'm with you on American apologetics... we can be fuller and freer. But that's a cool thing... we at least know we can be fuller and freer. So let's move in that direction.

Capt Solo

Mark 16:15 Ministries said...

Your insightful analysis of the Apologetics Study Bible were transparent and honest. I do not believe the general public however is struggling with the same issues you are, and I am sure you are well aware of that. The issues you raised were ones of integrity and well-taken, but probably fit better in the academic class setting than a Study Bible.
My observation of the Bible were the notes should have been broader in comprehension to include writings, references and arguments from the sources outside traditional orthodoxy, at least to defend themselves, as remember until 300 AD there was no orthodoxy in place. Many Christians 100-300 AD were Arians, strict monotheistics (from Jewish heritage) and various other persuasions. Adding to that, many revered Church Fathers (Origin et al) were heretics in their own right in some of their views, so why hold them up in such high esteem as definers of orthodoxy? It would seem to me the Deity of Christ, Blood of Christ, Repentance, Baptism, Holy Spirit, Millenialism and literal Bible hermeneutic are the stable ingredients in early Christianity.

Dale Fincher said...

Thanks, Mark 16:15 Ministries, for your gracious comment. I appreciate that.

I must say that I find it completely the opposite than what you suggest. The problems I raised are not better suited for the academy as they are problems and issues I'm finding on the street, 'doing ministry' and working with people of all ages who are thoughtful humans trying to make sense of things. I've been out of the academy for several years now and focusing more poignantly on what it means to be appropriately human as an integrationist.

On the areas of gender, the popular evangelical church is confused. We are finding casualties leaving the church over it because some other religions are more charitable toward women (i.e. wicca). In areas of evangelism and practical apologetics, I would find this very important. This isn't an academic problem. It's an everyday cultural problem that is flying under the radar of many 'leaders.'

Some of the issues in the Apologetics Study Bible I do not encounter on the street. So the irony is that this Study Bible may actually be more academic than even my criticism. Lay people read plenty more in works of imagination than they do in philosophy, yet there's little time spent on the value or importance of apologetically developing a Christian imagination (which is why I mention the tradition of this Bible is outside the Chesterton/Lewis tradition--which is the most popular apologetics tradition in terms of books sold--men whose work on apologetics were outside the academy). So in short, I do think my criticisms were actually directed at those debates and concerns that are outside of the academy rather than those in it. As I said in my view, evangelicals aren't strong in those areas and so we dismiss them. And I think it's a poor reflection on who we are and what we stand for.

I'm unsure what you mean by the second half of your post. Maybe I'm misreading it, but are you suggesting heretical views should be allowed to defend themselves in a work like this? Maybe you can clarify that.

Thanks again, for your gracious post. And thanks for reading!