Prof McGrath and I Exchange on Dethroning and Other Interaction Dec 13

Its Christmas, and life is exciting. Engagement is the word for the day. Responses to my pieces (CT media article and Dethroning) are coming in from other bloggers who disagree. My responses can be seen at the following sites, as well as in the most recent comments from the blog here on Nov 27 discussing Dethroning.

The two relevant pieces are:

Blog # 1:

Its Christmas, and life is exciting. Engagement is the word for the day. Responses to my pieces (CT media article and Dethroning) are coming in from other bloggers who disagree. My responses can be seen at the following sites, as well as in the most recent comments from the blog here on Nov 27 discussing Dethroning.

The two relevant pieces are:

Blog # 1:

Jim West:

His most fundamental complaint is that I called Crossan and Borg liberals. Here is my response:

"What is interesting is that I have been in forums with both Marcus
Borg and John Dominic Crossan, where they refer to themselves as
"liberal". I would not object to the term conservative being applied
to me. I do object to the term fundamentalist. There are issues of
engagement involved here. There are profound differences between
fundamentalists and evangelicals (as well as among evangelicals). I
have enjoyed interacting with works of Crossan and Borg and often have
learned from them. I have enjoyed my engagement with them on a variety
of issues. What I object to (and try to challenge) is the excluded
middle fallacy they often apply to their reading of and definition of
Scripture (history or metaphor). To choose one is to exclude the
other. I am not at all certain it is this simple.

In my books, I do not apply a theological standard to the arguments I
give (In fact, in my The Missing Gospels, I specifically made this
point about the method of engagement employed). I do not say in making
my case that the Bible is the Word of God, so it must be. I try to
present historically and culturally grounded arguments to the issues
presented and arguments made (so let’s step back a bit from the
bibliolatry charge). The point of writing this piece was not to blame
the media (sorry, Jim). I actually have regularly defended the media
in my interviews, often in conservative contexts where the message
would not be popular (see my blog, website noted above, from Dec 12
for a recent example). My goal in the CT article was to say to those
who do not like what is said in public or THROUGH the media doing its
job, engage. What better place to do that than in the public square.
So I respond here noting that labels that people accept are not
"labels", but those that they do not accept are. Surely there is more
substance to offered in these discussions than merely complaining he
called me a liberal or conservative.



Blog # 2:

James McGrath (Butler U):

For my response on this one, check out, the entry for Nov 27 on Dethroning. It also was submitted at the site. Full credit should be givien to Prof. McGrath for letting me know he posted a review on his site. I appreciate the fairness it reflects.


  • Tom R

    Jim West’s response to Bryan L
    Jim says that “I’ve spent a good bit of my eyesight reading fundametalist authors and always with the same outcome: what they write is garbage.” I was wondering how much of your eyesight have you spent reading Liberalmentalist scholars? Do you read every new book by Crossan et al? Admittedly they don’t have much new to say and how much you need to read in order to gain credibility in the eyes of Jim is a question only he can answer. I sometimes wonder how much is enough. At what point does the average Christian say this is the truth and let’s get on with life? I realise it is partly your job to engage but not every Christian is going to feel the need.

    • bock

      Jim West, Bryan L, and Crossan and Borg’s First Christmas dlb


      I do read pretty much most of what Crossan and Borg write (Liberalmentalist is not my term nor would I use it). These two authors cover new topics and passages, though their emphases are often the same. They write exceddingly clearly and are very good representativesof the pointof view they hold, so they are very worthy of careful attention (not to mention how many people read them and find their approach attractive).The issue is not only reading the material but interacting with it. The issue is also not only how I process their material (or ay given person) but appreciating the impact their writing has for others and thus engaging the perspective they represent. Some of your friends and neighbors are reading them, so the time and preparation to know what Borg and Crossan argue and why is worth it for the sake of conversations that may well result.

      For example, I have read The First Christmas (their latest), but have yet to blog it. Their take is that this material is purely theological and metaphorical, not historical. They note numerous issues in the infancy materials that have been long discussed (most I treated in my Luke commentary written over ten years ago). So the question is do I simply repeat what I said then (for example, I had long excurses going through the issue of the genealogies and the census). Let me note two examples now.

      There is much discussion of the census in Luke 2 and if Luke got its timing wrong. That is a legitimate question to raise given what our outside sources say. All the five points they go through argue that Luke got it wrong, I went through each of these points one at a time in my excursus on the issue when I wrote my commentary (interacting with the source they cite presenting the arguments for problems, with my claiming it ain’t necessarily so and citing historical rationale). We know Augustus went to great troiuble throughout the Empire to organize the Empire and required many censuses for tax purposes (so the claim of an empire wide census is accurate in terms of all the work Augustus did in this regard to move in this direction, if one recognizes that the point being made is that he did launch an effort to organize tax collection across the Empire). The part tied to direct Roman rule over Israel was not well received in Judea as Josephus notes. Josephus dates this to AD 6, too late for Jesus’ birth. This timing question is where the key discussion on the census lies. Part of the issue is how long would such an effort take to organize and to whose name was it ultimately attached (the one who finally completed it versus when it was started?), not to mention if the text in Luke should be read the way it is often translated (other plausible options have been made). Another issue is if local custom in doing the census might have been respected, in which case registering in the family’s region might have taken place. But a second factor and issue Crossan and Brog raise make matters even more complicated and raise additional elements into the mix.

      They argue that for Matthew, Joseph and Marty are from Judea, while in Luke they are from Nazareth, with the suggestion that neither source really knows where they are from and that the only motivation for both is to get Jesus to be born in Bethlehem to fulfill prophecy (with no actual knowledge of that fact or real historical intent in that regard). Never mind that we have little real evidence that earlier readers (supposedly familiar with ancient writing and litertary practices) actually read these texts as lacking historical intent about Jesus’ birthplace,

      Now on whether Nazareth or Bethlehem was home, they make much of the dream that sends them back up to the north for arguing in Matthew’s view the original home of the couple is in the south. All of us know these sources are selective in what they give us. Did the couple, knowing the divine role of the child, decide or intend to move to the south until the dream directed them back to their earlier home? If so, two things result (this kind of possibility is no different in kind then the kinds of reflection Crossan and Borg give to these narratives but it does take us in a different direction). So the couple registers where they were planning to go and live (back to their ancestral home- perhaps a simple reference to Judea versus Galilee?) until the dream directed them back up to the north. Both accounts then simply read the events from distinct geographical orientations (just as the accounts take the perspectives of Joseph and Mary respectively). Each of these perspectives are legitimate parts of what the source materials give us.

      Now some might object that I have "harmonized" the accounts, but, in fact, what I have done is to work with sources we all know give us only part of the total picture. If Crossan and Borg can put one set of combinations together to argue for an understanding of the whole, then why cannot someone else argue the material belongs in a different, plausible combination. In other words, harmonization is not the issue, for BOTH options are doing that.

      In fact, none of what Crossan and Borg supposedly show disproves a Bethlehem birth, something both Matthew and Luke affirm, yet a historical Bethlehem birth is what Crossan and Borg ultimately question.

      Here it is the extent of the denial to argue there are no historical concerns in both Matthew and Luke that is important to see. Some do argue (I don’t) that Luke has problems in the details but the locale of the birth is correct.That is yet another approach and it also would show that Luke and Matthew intend history to a greater degree than the choices Borg and Crossan give us suggest. In other words, Borg and Crossan run to theology and metaphor too quickly as the only alternative and do not even consider other kinds of approaches as options. One can have theology, metaphor and history as well. To force a choice is to commit the logical fallacy of the excluded middle.

      My response has been longer than intended but I hope the general point comes through. Engagement at the level of specfiic arguments are important for some of us to work through and for more of us to be familiar with. In addition, there could well be more than the two kinds of options Borg and Crossan often raise for these issues. All our sources are selective enough in what they cover that differences do not always equate to errors (and even if some see errors in some of the details, that conclusion does not lead one to be required to reject the sources in their entirety or in the more important points of what they claim, especially on points where they agree. It need not change the fundamental genre of the material). Pointing such things out (in terms of both details and method) is a part of careful engagement. To be aware of these complexities is something to be done not only for our own understanding and ability to engage, but for the sake of others who may have legitimate kinds of questions about what they see and hear in the public square because of works such as those by Crossan and Borg.


  • steph

    This seems to suggest that
    This seems to suggest that Jim would censor your response on his blog. He hasn’t, of course. He has posted it on his blog as it appears here. I think a suggestion otherwise is misleading.

    • bock

      This seems to suggest dlb


      Thanks for the note on the update at the site. My intent was not to make such a suggestion, but simply to note such a response had been sent but was not yet up. I have edited the entry to reflect the change.


  • Geoff Hudson

    Bock’s Protestation (Blog 1)
    Jim West wrote:”That Bock inoculates his students implies that they will get some sort of infection if they read Crossan unprotected. Yet, as far as I know, you can’t catch a disease from a book. If you, though, lose your faith because of one- you didn’t really have any to begin with.”

    The last sentence is a nonsense. Plenty of folk might claim the opposite, i.e. they gained a ‘faith’ by reading a book. And many could testify that they lost their ‘faith’ by reading a book. Why would you want to read a book involving ‘faith’ subjects if you didn’t hope it might have some effect? Those who write religious books bear considerable reponsibility for changing people’s lives. If ‘catching a disease’ by reading a book means changing one’s mind about ‘faith’, then one can indeed lose one’s faith so to speak by reading a book. And of course such books are not just for scholars, but also for those down there in the pews.

  • Aslan Cheng

    Start reading
    I just got throught the introduction of the book, it well summarize the scholars’ works of this field. This book is very helpful for me to understand what’s behind the hype. This book is readable for me (I am a Chinese. live in Hong Kong). Your style of sermon for me is very interesting. Last time I attended your Luke sermons. Thanks for your effort for laypeople.