Loss of Transcendence - Lesson 10

Christian Response to Biblical Criticism

In this lesson, you'll learn about the various forms of biblical criticism and how Christians can respond to them in a balanced and thoughtful way. You'll understand the historical development of biblical criticism and explore its major forms, including source, form, redaction, and literary criticism. As you delve into the Christian response, you'll discover the importance of affirming the authority of Scripture, recognizing the human element in its composition, engaging with the criticisms, and maintaining a commitment to the truth. Ultimately, this lesson will help you integrate faith and reason, and encourage a balanced approach to interpreting the Bible.

James Houston
Loss of Transcendence
Lesson 10
Watching Now
Christian Response to Biblical Criticism

TH730-10: Christian Response to Biblical Criticism

I. Introduction to Biblical Criticism

A. Definition

B. Historical Development

II. Major Forms of Biblical Criticism

A. Source Criticism

B. Form Criticism

C. Redaction Criticism

D. Literary Criticism

III. Christian Response to Biblical Criticism

A. Affirming the Authority of Scripture

B. Recognizing the Human Element

C. Engaging with the Criticisms

D. Maintaining a Commitment to the Truth

IV. Conclusion and Application

A. Importance of a Balanced Approach

B. Integrating Faith and Reason

  • Explore the loss of transcendence in modernity, examining its historical and philosophical context, defining transcendence and immanence from biblical and historical perspectives, exploring the impact of various movements on theology, and considering responses to the loss of transcendence.
  • In this lesson, you will gain insight into the Greek world's origins of language and culture, the evolution of Greek history and thought, and the differences between Greek and Roman history. By examining the works of Luke as a Roman historian, you will better understand the cosmic and intimate nature of Christian history.
  • The Christian historiographical revolution redefined history as linear and purposeful, contrasting with ancient Greek, Roman, and Jewish approaches and profoundly impacting the study and writing of history.
  • In this lesson, you gain a deep understanding of the Dark Ages, the Reformation, and the factors that led to the loss and eventual restoration of transcendence in Christianity.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into the Reformation and Enlightenment's historical contexts, key figures, and events, as well as their impact on society, religion, and the loss of transcendence, ultimately discovering ways to reclaim transcendence in the modern world.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into the loss of transcendence in modern society, its consequences, the role of Christianity in addressing the issue, and strategies for engaging with secular culture and promoting spiritual renewal.
  • This lesson teaches you about Radical Christianity, its importance, and how to cultivate it through deepening your relationship with God, prioritizing spiritual growth, and practicing radical love and social justice in a world experiencing a loss of transcendence.
  • Through this lesson, you grasp the factors contributing to the loss of biblical authority and learn strategies to reaffirm its importance in Christianity.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into contemporary biblical criticism, its methodologies, impact on theology, and learn to appreciate its contributions while recognizing its limitations.
  • By examining biblical criticism and its various forms, you gain insight into how Christians can respond thoughtfully, affirming Scripture's authority while engaging with criticisms and maintaining a commitment to truth.
  • By examining the loss of the soul, you'll understand its diminishing importance in modern life and learn to integrate science and spirituality for a holistic, transcendent perspective.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into classical interpretations of the soul and their interaction with Christian theology, while also understanding their modern theological implications.
  • This lesson equips you with a comprehensive understanding of the embodiment of faith, its historical development, theological implications, and practical applications in the Christian life.
  • By studying this lesson on embodiment in community, soul, and culture, you will learn how these concepts impact spiritual formation and shape your understanding of Christian faith and practice.
  • The lesson on embodiment and self-sacrifice offers insights into the New Testament, emphasizing Jesus' incarnation, the human body as the Holy Spirit's temple, and self-sacrifice as a key Christian virtue, while providing theological and practical applications.
  • This lesson equips you to understand the biblical concept of sin, the factors contributing to its loss, and offers practical steps to reintroduce sin in teaching and preaching for a more complete Christian faith.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into the cardinal sins and their contemporary significance, learning how to identify and combat them in modern society for personal and spiritual growth.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into C.S. Lewis's critique of the loss of transcendence in modern society, his theological perspectives, and his emphasis on imagination in Christianity.
  • This lesson offers an in-depth analysis of the theological differences between Oxford and Cambridge and their impact on the loss of transcendence in modern theology.
  • What then did Lewis write about in The Abolition of Man? The symbol is that the immediate threat is not the abolition of man, but the abolition that there are men without chests. And he means that being without a chest is living two dimensionally and not three dimensionally. It’s not that you just live in space and time, but that you live with space, time and God or, indeed, space, time and morals. And so really it’s simply to live an amoral life. And you begin to lose your emotional life when you live with amorality.

  • Through this lesson, you gain insight into Jacques Ellul's critique of technological society, its consequences, theological implications, and the need for a countercultural response in the face of modern challenges.
  • This lesson guides you in understanding the loss of transcendence, seeking understanding, and retaining hope amidst the challenges of modern society.
  • You gain insight into Jacques Ellul's life, his views on the loss of transcendence, and the influence of his work on theology and society.
  • You will learn about the concept of technique in the modern world, its characteristics, societal effects, and the spiritual implications it holds for faith and transcendence.
  • In this lesson, you gain insights into the implications of technique on society, its challenges, and ways to respond from a biblical perspective, ultimately aiming to strengthen human connections and reclaim transcendence.
  • Through this lesson, you gain insights into the Psalms' structure, types, role in ancient worship, and their significance in modern Christian life, prayer, and spiritual growth.
  • In this lesson, you will explore the role of domestic involvement in the Psalter, its significance in Ancient Israel's worship, and the impact of the Psalms on the community, values, and beliefs.
  • Gain insights into the connection between biblical eschatology and secularity, understanding key aspects and themes while learning to reclaim the transcendent in eschatology.
  • This lesson offers insight into the theological tensions between immanence and transcendence, their impact on modern theology and worship, and the practical steps for reintegrating them into the Christian life.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into the concepts of immanence and transcendence, their effects on theology and culture, and the importance of integrating both for a balanced Christian worldview.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into time and eternity, God's relationship with them, and their impact on human experience and theological concepts such as soteriology, eschatology, and Christian living.
  • Gain insight into Old Testament concepts of time, the role of numbers and patterns, the significance of time in biblical prophecy, and the theological implications concerning God's sovereignty and human responsibility.
  • This lesson provides insight into the New Testament's complex understanding of time, addressing concepts such as the Kingdom of God, the present age, and eternal life, and offering guidance for Christian living.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into the loss of transcendence in modern society and learn how to recover and foster a transcendent view within your personal faith and church life.

This course on the loss and recovery of transcendence in our contemporary culture is, of course, appropriate for all Christians, but, I think, especially for us here in North America, for the political prominence of a Christian religious culture that we’ve had in North America that makes us all the more exposed to the secularisation of contemporary Christianity. 

A last example of reading into the text one’s own presuppositions is that of the later 16th century scholar, the Italian Catholic Fausto [Sozzini 00:00:16]. And it was through people like Sozzini that there spread the doctrine called Socianian teaching. And what was meant by Socianianism was a denial of Christology, of Christ being the Son of God and removing Christ and, of course, denying the Trinity completely. And this was the beginning of a new Deistic proclamation. And Deism is, as Klaus Bockmuhl in a book that he wrote many years ago, traced as the threshold into atheism, for when God is an abstraction in the metaphysical world then He vaporises into atheism in the next century. And that has been the significance of all this higher criticism, all this scepticism: that the character of God Himself becomes lost.

And so when we observe and assess what is the nature of higher Biblical criticism, the first thing we have to observe is it’s a confession of faith, that historical, Biblical critics regard their enterprise as scientific because they restrict their enquiry to empirical data. So of course, they rule out straight away any conception of transcendence. It’s never within their sphere of enquiry and investigation. But if you admit that there is a horizon that is transcendent then human reason is never sufficient. So human reason is only sufficient if it is not the Word of God, if it is not with a transcendent authority that is presented and revealed to us. And, of course, something like the Psalms becomes a major hindrance to scientific Biblical scholarship. Now if it’s restricted to reason, the sequence of that thinking is then it’s simply based on faith in oneself.

As Professor Brevard Childs has rightly argued, the role of the Bible is not being understood simply as a cultural expression of ancient peoples, but as a testimony pointing beyond itself to divine reality to which it bears witness. Such an approach to the Bible is obviously confessional, yet the Enlightenment’s alternative proposal was to confine the Bible solely to the arena of human experience. It’s a limited commitment that is really no commitment at all. So you get it either way, you see. Historical Biblical critics will not give you an apology for their faith in man. What we’re doing as Christians is we’re giving an apology for our faith in God. That’s the difference. We’re looking at two ends of the telescope, different ends. And if you look at the wrong end of the telescope and your eyebrow happens to be rather bushy, you will see strange sights in the sky. And that’s what happens with this objectivism of being scientific. There’s a kind of irony about it.


Secondly, it contradicts the logic of the Bible’s nature. We’ve studied the stars by the logic of astronomy. We don’t study stars by the logic of the microscope. We study microorganisms, infinitely small with a very different instrument. And by its own testimony, the scripture is inspired of God, as we read in 2 Timothy 3:16. And so for the orthodox, the Bible’s character integrates into holistic unity three components. It says it’s concerned with God as its divine author. It’s concerned with the inspired human author and it’s concerned with the text. It’s a threefold cord which is not easily broken.

And as the Apostle Paul argues as God is spirit, He must be known by possessing His Holy Spirit. And so in 1 Corinthians 2:6–15, Paul is arguing that no one can know God except by the spirit of God. And so personal transcendence cannot be known through the lens of science. That’s not the primary purpose of exegesis. The primary purpose of exegesis of scripture is to know God and to be known of God and to become holy as God is holy. The scriptures are holy to transform us into His image and likeness. But without His spirit, our depraved and human spirit is always woefully insufficient to exegete the text of scripture.

What the historical Biblical critic does not understand is that he is exegeting as a sinner and not as a saint. He is exegeting therefore from a projection of his own rebellion, or her own rebellion. And of course, we see how violently this takes place in the feminist revolt and the feminist hermeneutic of scripture that there are those who are so wounded and have been so hurt in their sexuality by the culture that we have lived with. And none of us question for one moment now about the sins of male chauvinism: we agree that there’s been a huge injustice to women in our culture. But for that reason you don’t so violently react that you want to write a feminist scripture because you’re doing it out of your wounds, not out of your healing. But we can see how hugely this has affected the credibility of the text for so many people in our culture today.


I may say that on this theme that I took my beloved middle daughter to Japan in early May/end of April and for the first time in my life, I led a women’s retreat and led it, in all places in the world, in Japan. Well, what was the purpose of the women’s retreat? It was to indicate that God has made us male and female equal and that we, in our evangelical bias, have forgotten that the Incarnation would never have taken place without the obedience and the faith of Mary. It’s time we evangelical Christians woke up to have a reverence of Mary. And so in our culture, we’re still male chauvinists because we don’t understand the equality with which God has created us male and female. So that was our theme.

And you can imagine the revolt of these women who have never heard this because in Japan a woman is defined as one who walks three steps behind a man. And on every clothes line in their backyard, there are two clothes lines. The upper clothes line is for the men’s underwear and the lower clothes line is for the women’s underwear. So every day, every morning, they go out they’re wounded. They’re wounded. They’re wounded. Well, it was an amazing event when my daughter and I were both teaching because at the end of it all the pastors were very curious how we were stirring up these women and they wanted to be there for the last session. And likewise, the husbands wanted to be there to hear why there was revolt now in the family. And so I said hands up those of you want your menfolk to be in our last question and answer session. And of course, to the great joy of everybody, not a hand went up. There was a great roar of joyous laughter that this was the first time that they had heard a Christian witness to the equality of women. So yes, there is great healing that is required among women and we’ve seen how that has been taking place, that it’s happened actually very often much more in the secular culture than in the Christian culture. We still have this prejudice. Well, we have to remember then that when we’re exegeting scripture, that we’re all sinners and the inequality of the sexes is one of the sins of this generation.


Thirdly, we should be concerned about the credibility of Biblical authors. Even historians who are so sceptical about the historicity of the Bible concede that the Biblical authors are not lunatics, that many of the Biblical writers became martyrs for the sake of the truthfulness of what they testify of what they had seen and heard. Sane people don’t suffer and die in order to give a false testimony about what they’ve experienced. They say this is what I’ve seen and heard; this is me; how can I be false to what I’ve experienced? And so this is the historicity and the authenticity of scripture, that it’s written by people who were prepared to give their lives for the faith. When you read Jeremiah, you know that Jeremiah suffered. And as a teenager, as I was a suffering teenager, I had five or six commentaries on Jeremiah like no other book in the Bible. I loved Jeremiah because I identified with him so deeply. So that is how we see the reality of scripture in a very personal way.

And fourthly, history depends on testimony and tradition, not science. Science is the inappropriate discipline for studying history, just as science is the inappropriate discipline for understanding you and me. And so we have to recognise that without testimony and tradition as acceptable authorities, you’ll get nowhere in history. It was the memory that the early Apostles had, like Polycarp, who said my life was changed by the memory of being in the presence of the ancient Apostle John. Now, we don’t know which John, but it was one of the Apostles and that memory was the memory for the rest of his life. And so there’s a strong memory of continuity that takes us from the time of Jesus through the Apostolic period to all that was to follow.

Fifthly, we critique the scriptures falsely when we forget the testimony of the Church. Historical Biblical critics are deaf or discount the testimony of the millions of Christians over two millennia. How can you do that? How in the world can I say that everybody in the last two millennia is all wrong about the Bible and I’m the only guy that’s right? What hubris. That person is more than being proud; he’s a lunatic. And to avoid lunacy is to know that somebody else agrees with you and, of course, the stronger the fellowship, the greater the credibility. There are times when I’m tempted to say I must be crazy in thinking this, but if you tell me you think the same thing then perhaps we’re not crazy after all. So if that happens with two people, what about the millions upon millions who’ve always believed in the authority and the credibility of the scriptures? And so the stronger the fellowship, the stronger the credibility.


The Belgic Confession gives classic formulation to our orthodox conviction that we believe without a doubt all the things contained in the canonical books that comprise the Bible, not so much because the Church teaches and receives them and approves of them as such, but, above all, because the Holy Spirit testifies within our hearts that they’re from God and also because they prove themselves to be from God. You see, the orthodox see light within the light of faith. They believe in order to understand, as Anselm and Augustine before him remind us that I believe that I may understand. And then you have to believe in science in order to understand science, so it’s a principle that we all apply in all the practicalities of life.


And then sixthly, historical Biblical criticism offers no certainty. In fact, the frontispiece of this book that summarises the end road of historical Biblical criticism is the Tower of Babel. And that’s where we are: we’re at the Tower of Babel. It’s confusion. There’s no consensus. There’s total disintegration that takes place. Unassisted human reason can only attain relative evaluations, never absolute [lives 00:16:39]. So what these writers forget is the prosological voice, if you like, of the Old Testament of the I AM that I AM. It’s all grounded on having some burning bush experience and to say, like Saul of Tarsus, Lord, what will thou have me to do. So actually, it’s our own willingness to have an open mind with an open spirit; whereas, so many of these critics think that they have an open mind, but they don’t realise they dof not have an open spirit. Their spirit is wilful, arrogant, professionally self-centred so often.

Seventhly, we declare again that human reason is depraved, as Pascal in his Pensées so well puts it, ‘The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.’ Or as Calvin in his Institutes Book 2, Volume 2, Chapter 2 says, ‘For we know all too well by experience how often we fall despite our good intentions. Our reason is overwhelmed by so many forms of deception, is subject to so many errors, dashes against so many obstacles, is caught up in so many difficulties that it is far from directing us aright.’ In other words, orthodoxy is more consistent with the reality of human nature than modern scholarship often is.


Then eight: salvation history is best explained by a transcendent author. Genesis to Revelation gives us a unified salvation history and that salvation history is giving us a unity in which, of course, as Hebrews 1 expresses it God has spoken in times past in divers ways, in divers manners unto His people. But finally, he’s spoken to us in His Son. So we understand the cultural connotations, the cultural contexts, different as they were from our own, yet the central message of the Bible is that God’s own being is of such a nature that He’s Emmanuel, He’s God with us. It’s not that God is showing largesse to us, but that God is expressing His being, His very being, as social, as relational. He’s with us. Sin then is that rupture with that relational character of God that we’ll talk about in our next session.

So in closing, what is the value of historical Biblical criticism? The value is that where sin abounds, grace does much more abound. The value is that we all need to be critical about scripture, that we don’t accept platitudes, that we assimilate truth as we recognise it to be. So there is a place for being critical. You don’t say like the schoolboy said—as we said before—that I know that Plato knew nothing and I like to be with him. We have to do our homework. We have a task. God has given us minds. We’re to use them. Like the parable of the talents, we’re accountable for the gifts that God has given to us. There is a task of scholarship. We don’t decry its importance. And one of the things that really I rejoice in is that today I believe we’re facing a new renaissance and it’s the renaissance of intelligent Christians. I think people are beginning to say you know, it’s far more intelligent to be a Christian than to be an atheist because with an atheist I’ve stopped using my mind. I’ve stopped exploring. But the intelligence of a Christian is that we never stop exploring. For the role of the Christian is not to view life from the balcony, like so much scholarship, but to live on the road as always having new perspectives. And so I know in my old age that I’m still a pilgrim; I’m still on the road; because every year of my life I have new perspectives. The vista are always changing. The new is always appearing. And the path of the just is as a shining light that keeps on growing unto the perfect day.


Perhaps we can close in prayer. Dear Father, we realise that we’re not sufficient for these things, that the attacks of the enemy have been violent, that they continue to be subtle and that they are deeply disturbing of our faith. Give us the grace, give us the mercy, to be renewed day by day. May we be like the Apostle John that leans in the upper room on your bosom. As we dwell between your two breasts, as Bernard of Clairvaux could declare, the breast of divine grace that forgives us as sinners and the breast of your mercy in daily forgiveness that we remain sinners. And there, Lord, we learn the whisper of your prayer in the upper room and your prayer for us even in the most intimate place that we can be, which is on the breasts of our Lord. And we hear your prayer on our behalf to the Father through the Son, Father, keep thine own from the evil one. May we never forget, Lord, that the evil one is always close to us. But we thank you that you are closer than all thought, all breathing, all that we can be. In your presence we thank you that we can live and live eternally. And this we ask in the name of the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.