One of the latest wave-making academic books within evangelicalism is Kenton L. Sparks’s God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008).
Today the Old Testament Department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School had a stimulating “brown bag seminar” for an hour during lunch to discuss this book. I left that meeting thanking God for Trinity’s gifted OT faculty.
- Dennis Magary moderated.
- Dick Averbeck summarized and evaluated.
- James Hoffmeier summarized and evaluated.
- Willem VanGemeren summarized and evaluated.
- Lawson Younger offered comments.
- John Monson (who was friends with Peter Enns while they both studied at Harvard) offered comments.
I don’t feel at liberty to publish my notes or their handouts online, but suffice it to say that the OT faculty agrees that Sparks’s book is deeply flawed and dangerous. (I’m paraphrasing, not directly quoting.)
Sparks uncritically accepts critical views and is overconfident in his conclusions while severely criticizing evangelicals like D. A. Carson, Robert Yarbrough, Kevin Vanhoozer, and James Hoffmeier. Sparks takes the debate beyond Peter Enns’s Inspiration and Incarnation. The book’s subtitle should not include the word “evangelical”: God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship.
More reviews of this book are forthcoming. (For example, look for one by Bob Yarbrough in the next issue of Themelios.) Here are a couple of others already published:
- The enthusiastic RBL review by Arthur Boulet, an M.A. student at Westminster Theological Seminary and an ardent supporter of Peter Enns, is sad. A sharp friend of mine who is working on a PhD elsewhere emailed me this after reading it: “This review makes me want to cry. May God grant grace.”
- The review by Kevin Bauder is a breath of fresh air in comparison.
2. Gary L. W. Johnson comments on Sparks’s book in the introduction to Reforming or Conforming: Post-Conservative Evangelicals and the Emerging Church (ed. Gary L. W. Johnson and Ronald L. Gleason; Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 23n21:
Sparks in particular paints contemporary defenders of inerrancy in very unflattering colors. Old Testament scholars such as R. K. Harrison, Gleason Archer, and E. J. Young are accused of sticking their heads in the sand to avoid dealing with the real issues raised by critical Old Testament scholars (133ff ) while New Testament scholars such as D. A. Carson and Douglas Moo are said to be guilty of deliberately dodging the issues of New Testament critics (167). Even greater disdain is heaped on Carl Henry, who had the misfortune of simply being a theologian and not a biblical scholar (138). However, the most reprehensible aspect of Sparks’s work is the facile labeling of all defenders of inerrancy as Cartesian foundationalists. Sparks declares Cornelius Van Til, and his presuppositional apologetics, to be Cartesian because Van Til underscored the importance of certainty, which to Sparks’s way of thinking automatically makes one a Cartesian (45). If that is the case, then we must place not only the Reformers and the church fathers in that category, but Christ and the apostles as well! Van Til was no Cartesian. His apologetical approach was rooted in classic Reformed theology, especially in the Dutch tradition of Kuyper and Bavinck, stretching back to the noted Dutch Protestant scholastic Peter Van Mastricht (1630–1706), who was an outspoken critic of all things Cartesian. As Richard Muller notes, “Mastricht’s consequent stress on the necessity of revelation for Christian theology (theology defined as ‘living before God in and through Christ’ or as the wisdom leading to that end) led to an adamant resistance to Cartesian thought with its method of radical doubt and its insistence on the primacy of autonomy of the mind in all matters of judgment.” Richard Muller, “Giving Direction to Theology: The Scholastic Dimension,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 28 (June 1985), 185.
3. Robert W. Yarbrough, “The Embattled Bible: Four More Books,” Themelios 24 (2009): 6–25.
5. “Scripture: How the Bible Is a Book Like No Other,” in Don’t Call It a Comeback: The Old Faith for a New Day (ed. Kevin DeYoung; Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 59–69.