I Highly Recommend The New Book by Christian Scholar Kenton Sparks.

Christians do not trust the scholarship of atheists. They think we have an agenda and that we misrepresent the facts because we’re God haters. Okay, I guess. But Christian scholars are saying many of the same things we're saying while trying to maintain their faith. If you doubt what we say then try your hand at what your own scholars are saying.


Dr. Richard Knopp (pictured left) is using my book in his Apologetics and Philosophy of Religion classes at Lincoln Christian College and Seminary. He’s also attempting to answer my criticisms by requiring his students to read and evaluate Kenton L. Sparks book, God's Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship. I’m reading Sparks’s book right now and it’s excellent. Sparks is a Christian scholar who affirms inerrancy. If someone is concerned about his commitment to Christianity or whether he has some God hating agenda, Sparks has no such agenda.

I like how his argument progresses. He begins with Galileo in which Christians learned to re-read the Bible in light of the heliocentric universe. He argued that it wouldn’t do any good to ignore what was learned through science so Christian scholars began looking at the Bible differently. Sparks wrote: “Just as Galileo invited us to turn a critical eye toward the cosmos, so modern biblical scholars bid us to reflect critically upon our assumptions about the nature of Scripture and about how it should be read.” (p. 18) If Christians ignored the findings of Galileo it would discredit their faith. From this Sparks says there is a parallel tragic paradox, in that “the church’s wholesale rejection of historical criticism has begotten the irreverent use of Scripture by skeptics, thus destroying the faith of some believers while keeping unbelievers away from the faith.” (p. 21). His purpose in this book is to render the results of higher biblical criticism “theologically safe” just as Christian scholars did by admitting the results of modern science beginning with Galileo. (p. 23).

Sparks shows how that with the rise of philology we can date ancient writings because language changes throughout time and place. There is, after all, an Old- Middle- and Modern English, as well as British, Australian, South African and American dialects. This discipline began with the discovery that the “Donation of Constantine was a Christian forgery,” which was purportedly written in the 4th century whereby Constantine donated all of the Western Roman Empire to the authority of the Pope.

Sparks then takes us through three periods of hermeneutics, pre-modern, modern and post-modern, and shows us that people have not always treated texts in the same manner. He shows us how difficult it is for people who think they can understand a given text to do so, especially one in the ancient past. But since we must try anyway he proceeds.

The next part of his argument is where it gets good. He shows how historical criticism works with regard to the Assyrian Annals, which contains a lot of propaganda, and Babylonian Chronicles which are more accurate records, and why we know this. He shows how there are many texts in the ancient world which were psuedoprophetic, purportedly to be prophetic about the future but which were not, like the Uruk Prophecy. He also argues that “narrative stories that have the appearance of history may be fictional,” that these texts "can be the product of a very long literary process,” “sometimes written by different authors, and written in different historical periods, than the texts claim or imply.” (p. 71). From these parallels found in the literature of the ancient near eastern world he argues that “the evidence adduced above challenges the common evangelical charge that critical scholars approach the biblical texts with more skepticism than other ancient texts.” (p. 72). Right that.

Then in chapters three and four he shows why the Biblical critics are correct about the Bible, “in many instances,” especially with the Pentateuch, also called the Torah, or the first five books of the Bible. The Bible itself, if taken seriously, leads these scholars to think they were written by the same standards of other ancient near eastern literature in many places. It’s clear that Moses did not write the Pentateuch, if we take what it says seriously. There are problems of chronology, diverse narratives, legal diversity, and religious institutional progression, all reflecting a lengthy written process complete with anachronisms. Then there is the problem of Deuteronomy and the Exodus story itself. The normal evangelical “traditional” answers to these problems do not solve these issues, he argues.

This book is like a good novel. The reader wants to know how he solves these problems for his Christian faith and how he can maintain an inerrant Bible, so I won’t spoil his conclusions. I really like the fact that he’s being honest about what we can know about the Bible. I do not agree with his conclusions at all. In the end I think he undermines the basis for believing. See for yourselves. See if you can maintain your faith once you get done reading this book. I doubt you can.

17 comments:

Anthony said...

John Loftus: Christians do not trust the scholarship of atheists. They think we have an agenda and that we misrepresent the facts because we’re God haters. Okay, I guess. But Christian scholars are saying many of the same things while trying to maintain their faith. If you doubt what we say then try your hand at what your own scholars are saying.

Exactly. This is the reason why I have recommended to evangelicals, especially fundamentalists, four principal books (written by evangelicals) that led to my deconversion Sparks being the main one.

John Loftus: In the end I think he undermines the basis for believing. See for yourselves. See if you can maintain your faith once you get done reading this book. I doubt you can.

I agree and I am one of those who read this book in an attempt to incorporate the findings of criticism with my faith and found that I had nothing left to believe in. This led to my rejection of Christianity, then to agnosticism, and finally to agnostic atheism.

Theological Discourse said...

Hilarious, another "can you read this book and maintain your faith" challenge from Loftus. The guy wrote the book and obviously maintains his faith. This guy must be one of the good, smart, intellectually honest Christian scholars because hes saying what the atheists are saying, but the other Christian scholars must be the 'bad ones' because they're disagreeing with what the atheist say. Loftus, your lack of logical coherent thought never ceases to amaze me. If Christian scholars that say some of the same things as atheists is a good argument, then the reverse applies.

Anthony said...

TD, have you read the book by Kenton Sparks? It's published by Baker Academic. Yes, the author does maintain his faith, but all of the evidence really undercuts any kind of inerrancy that is held by evangelicals and especially fundamentalists. Indeed one would need to moderate and change his/her understanding of the Bible and Christianity.

After reading books by Sparks, Peter Enns, and Darrel Falk one can no longer espouse any kind of fundamentalism or even a strong conservatism.

Theological Discourse said...


TD, have you read the book by Kenton Sparks? It's published by Baker Academic. Yes, the author does maintain his faith, but all of the evidence really undercuts any kind of inerrancy that is held by evangelicals and especially fundamentalists. Indeed one would need to moderate and change his/her understanding of the Bible and Christianity.

1. Moderation and changing ones understanding of the bible does not make Christianity any less valid, unless you're going to admit that moderating and changing ones understanding of the theory of evolution makes it less valid.

2. I am not advocating moderation(at least without proper evidence to justify it) but even if someone were to moderate it, that says nothing about the validity of Christianity.

3. Just because you become more a more 'liberal' Christian does not lead one to deconversion, that is inherently illogical.


After reading books by Sparks, Peter Enns, and Darrel Falk one can no longer espouse any kind of fundamentalism or even a strong conservatism.

I wasn't aware that fundamentalism or strong conservatism were the only forms of Christianity, I also wasn't aware that Christianities validity was dependent upon the fundamentalism and strong conservatism interpretations of it.

Chuck O'Connor said...

Moderation and changing ones understanding of the bible does not make Christianity any less valid, unless you're going to admit that moderating and changing ones understanding of the theory of evolution makes it less valid.

How is Christianity based on a belief in a risen savior is equal to evolution? The former does not provide testable evidence the latter does.

Anthony said...

TD: Moderation and changing ones understanding of the bible does not make Christianity any less valid, unless you're going to admit that moderating and changing ones understanding of the theory of evolution makes it less valid.

The validity of Christianity and evolution are two separate issues although they can affect one another. And changing ones understanding of evolution does not invalid it. Do you, TD, reject evolution? Some forms of Christianity can be compatible with evolution, but this always works out in the form of Christianity accommodating science and evolution, not the other way around.

TD: I wasn't aware that fundamentalism or strong conservatism were the only forms of Christianity

Granted, they may not be the only versions, but only more liberal ones can be taken with any kind of seriousness in the light of our modern understanding of the world. TD, do you seriously believe that liberal forms of Christianity are legitimate ones? Or are you only granting this for the sake of argument?

TD: I also wasn't aware that Christianities validity was dependent upon the fundamentalism and strong conservatism interpretations of it.

Ah, but here is the kicker, if authors such as Sparks are right about the nature of biblical and historical criticism in regard to the Bible and biblical history, then this does affect the validity of Christianity. If Joseph Fitzmyer is correct in regards to the nature of the Messiah, then Jesus is not the fulfillment of such promises. How we understand and believe the Bible does affect its relationship to reality, science, and history and does determine if it is true.

The bottom line is that the evidence produced by these authors show that the Bible and biblical history are not really the hallmarks of God's revelation of himself to humanity. At least no different than any other religious claims. Hence Christianity is on the same plane as all other religious faiths and stands or falls on the evidence.

Theological Discourse said...


The validity of Christianity and evolution are two separate issues although they can affect one another. And changing ones understanding of evolution does not invalid it. Do you, TD, reject evolution? Some forms of Christianity can be compatible with evolution, but this always works out in the form of Christianity accommodating science and evolution, not the other way around.

way to miss the point. If you maintain that moderating and changing your beliefs about Christianity affects its validity, the same logic can be applied to the theory of evolution.


Granted, they may not be the only versions, but only more liberal ones can be taken with any kind of seriousness in the light of our modern understanding of the world. TD, do you seriously believe that liberal forms of Christianity are legitimate ones? Or are you only granting this for the sake of argument?

You're confusing titles with evidence again. A liberal view of Christianity is nothing but a title, for instance, I can have a 'liberal' view of Gods omniscience, but maintain a 'conservative' view on everything else. Does that make me a liberal or a conservative? where is the line drawn? do I believe that liberal FORMS of Christianity are legitimate? that question makes no sense considering the above example. How much stuff do I have to be 'liberal on' to be considered a liberal Christian? and on what issues do I need to be 'liberal on' to be considered a liberal Christian? Those are titles that are completely irrelevant to what the evidence tells us.


Ah, but here is the kicker, if authors such as Sparks are right about the nature of biblical and historical criticism in regard to the Bible and biblical history, then this does affect the validity of Christianity. If Joseph Fitzmyer is correct in regards to the nature of the Messiah, then Jesus is not the fulfillment of such promises. How we understand and believe the Bible does affect its relationship to reality, science, and history and does determine if it is true.

You're right, IF sparks and Fitzmyser are right, the same logic applies to the most fundamental, conservative, bible thumping scholar as well. It is silly to maintain that because a Christian scholar is saying the same things atheists that somehow means something. Jewish scholars say the same thing as atheists too, "Jesus wasn't the son of God" does that bolster Judaism as well?


The bottom line is that the evidence produced by these authors show that the Bible and biblical history are not really the hallmarks of God's revelation of himself to humanity. At least no different than any other religious claims. Hence Christianity is on the same plane as all other religious faiths and stands or falls on the evidence.

you're right, evidence produced by THOSE authors. You can't just ignore the evidence produced by the other authors either, especially when they have evidence that supports the 'conservative' view of things.
Lofuts talks about atheists having an 'anti christian agenda.' Whether or not that is true is irrelevant. People are right or people are wrong, whether or not they are biased has nothing to do with that.

philstilwell said...

Anthony said -> The validity of Christianity and evolution are two separate issues although they can affect one another. And changing ones understanding of evolution does not invalid it. Do you, TD, reject evolution? Some forms of Christianity can be compatible with evolution, but this always works out in the form of Christianity accommodating science and evolution, not the other way around.

TD said -> way to miss the point. If you maintain that moderating and changing your beliefs about Christianity affects its validity, the same logic can be applied to the theory of evolution.

Phil says -> The bulk of Christianity begins with the assumption that the Bible is the inerrant immutable revelation of a god. It is a manual for life. Imagine if you were were given a manual when you purchased a digital camera that you soon discovered to be both lacking details on some important aspects of your camera, and also included some misleading information. How long would you defend the writers of the manual? If the manual claimed inerrancy, and there were a single error, we are justified in rejecting it in its entirety. Science is different. It makes no assumption of divine revelation, but is instead an on-going investigation of the "camera" of life. Through experimentation, we learn how the camera works. If a particular "manual" for the "camera" of life offered predictive power above what an experimental exploration of the camera offers, then that would lend credibility to the claim that the manual had a divine source. The past 2,000+ years has not seen much success among the "manualists", yet enormous success among the experimentalist.

Anthony said...

TD: way to miss the point. If you maintain that moderating and changing your beliefs about Christianity affects its validity, the same logic can be applied to the theory of evolution.

The difference, TD, is evidence. The evidence for Christianity is on very shaky ground while the evidence for evolution is overwhelming. If you choose to reject evolution, its not due to the evidence, but to your preconceived notions of the Bible and religion. John's point in all of this is that the evidence for Christianity is on very shaky ground at best - problems with historicity, failed prophecies, problems with how the NT writers interpret the OT, especially regarding the concept of the messiah, etc. These problems are not just pointed out by atheists, agnostics, unbelievers, etc. but are also pointed out by professing Christians, some even conservative Christian scholars like Enns and Sparks.

You're right, IF sparks and Fitzmyser are right, the same logic applies to the most fundamental, conservative, bible thumping scholar as well. It is silly to maintain that because a Christian scholar is saying the same things atheists that somehow means something.

You are missing the point. The fact is that there are problems with the Bible, biblical history, and even Christianity, problems that even some more conservative Christians scholars are aware of. These are problems that people like you, Harvey Burnett, and others refuse to acknowledge. The reason that Enns and Sparks wrote their works is to inform evangelical Christians of these facts and to learn to deal with them.

TD: you're right, evidence produced by THOSE authors. You can't just ignore the evidence produced by the other authors either, especially when they have evidence that supports the 'conservative' view of things.

This isn't about my putting up my scholars and you putting up yours, its about admitting serious problems, and what evangelicals typically do is to deny them and interpret them away. If there truly was evidence that supported a "conservative" view of the Bible I would be a believer today. But the evidence of natural history, biological evolution, the problems with biblical historicity and biblical criticism all take there toll against Christianity.

Theological Discourse said...


The difference, TD, is evidence. The evidence for Christianity is on very shaky ground while the evidence for evolution is overwhelming. If you choose to reject evolution, its not due to the evidence, but to your preconceived notions of the Bible and religion.

Man, you really have a difficult time grasping the point. The overwhelming evidence for either is irrelevant to the point.

1. Change and moderation of X affects is validity.

That logic can be applied to the theory of evolution too, regardless of how overwhelming the evidence is.

Furthermore, all you're doing is supporting liberal and atheist scholars, the same can be said about conservative and fundy scholars.

"My point has always been that Christianity is not on shaky ground there are little to no problems with historicity, prophecies, and how NT writers interpret the OT, especially regarding the concept of the messiah, etc. These facts are not just pointed out by atheists, agnostics, unbelievers, etc. but are also pointed out by professing Christians, some even conservative Christian scholars."

You have no point, all you are doing is appealing to the liberal side and completely ignoring the other side, while at the same declaring the liberal side to be 'better'. Different ideas or ideas that agree with you does not = refutation of the other side.


You are missing the point. The fact is that there are problems with the Bible, biblical history, and even Christianity, problems that even some more conservative Christians scholars are aware of. These are problems that people like you, Harvey Burnett, and others refuse to acknowledge. The reason that Enns and Sparks wrote their works is to inform evangelical Christians of these facts and to learn to deal with them.

There ya go again, you think there are so many problems because 'liberal' scholars say there is. The same logic applies in reverse. "You are missing the point. The fact is that there are very little problems with the Bible, biblical history, and even Christianity, even some more liberal Christians scholars are aware of this. These lack of problems that people like you, Loftus, and others refuse to acknowledge."

Your lack of logical coherent thought is hilarious.


This isn't about my putting up my scholars and you putting up yours, its about admitting serious problems, and what evangelicals typically do is to deny them and interpret them away. If there truly was evidence that supported a "conservative" view of the Bible I would be a believer today. But the evidence of natural history, biological evolution, the problems with biblical historicity and biblical criticism all take there toll against Christianity.

Oh yes, now you appeal to your own experience. Hilarious, what you call 'deny and interpret away' others might call a logical coherent defense. This is EXACTLY what I am talking about, you completely ignore the other side, you just proved it. The liberal scholars aren't denying and interpreting things away!, only the CONSERVATIVE ONES ARE, then you appeal to your own personal experience saying 'If there truly was evidence that supported a "conservative" view of the Bible I would be a believer today." well if there were truly the problems you describe I would not be a believer today. So your ridiculous personal experience means as much to me as mine means to you.


But the evidence of natural history, biological evolution, the problems with biblical historicity and biblical criticism all take there toll against Christianity.

No, peoples INTERPRETATIONS of natural history, biology etc are taking their toll against Christianity, none of these things is 'set in stone.' All you are doing is taking the opinions of some people and declaring those opinions to be better or higher than the other peoples opinions. Hypocritically accusing one side of 'denying and interpreting' but not doing that for the other side.

Alex-20 said...

What people, especially christians, tend to forget is that the bible is an inspired Word of God, which imply that it does not matter whether a given bible story was historical or not, literal or not, scientific or not, as long as a story is in a book called the BIBLE, every bible story remains as an integral part of every christian.

There should be no compromise when it comes to the authority of the bible. It just amazes me when so many christians today questions the intergrity of the text which was quoted verbatim by the Prophets, by Jesus, by the Apostles and by early Church fathers, people who suffered the worst, even martyred for the sake of protection of the faith in the sanctity of the Bible and its message.

Its time christians choose between options: In the Bible or Science, Christianity or Atheism. There should be no any wish washy christians in the name of liberalism, oh, I believe in the bible but I do not believe Adam and Eve, the Flood or Parting the Red Sea were historical people or events!

The bible is true for Jesus quoted in it verbatim, period! If you doubt in the bible you need to doubt in Jesus also, that's the logical conclusion. Christians should never fall in the trap of atheists when they pressure us with some tricky derogatory phrases, "Bible thumpers", "circular reasoning" to quote in the bible and the like. Atheists fully know that the strongest weapon that christians have is the Bible and therefore they should produce serious doubt on this book.

What do I want to say exactly? That no matter how the words of the bible appear meaningless or illogical in the light of current scientific achievements, the Holy Spirit is capable of making a dead word become lively. Therefore I discredit any form of scolarship that will tend to undermine the authority and intergrity of the Bible.

Jason said...

How do you discredit it. Nothing you said discredits anything.

MKYD1917 said...

I read Sparks' book a year ago and thought it was excellent. It made me reflect in new ways on Scripture, and like Sparks, in the end my faith was strengthened and deepened by these insights:-) I don't see how this book can be construed as ammunition against faith, unless Christianity is narrowly defined as strict dictation view of Scripture and inerrancy which would be a gross mischaracterization of most Christian thought.

Anthony said...

TD: Man, you really have a difficult time grasping the point. The overwhelming evidence for either is irrelevant to the point.

I'm not concerned about your little logical game regarding evolution, but what I am concerned about is the evidence. Why do you want to spend time with logical games rather than the evidence?

TD: Furthermore, all you're doing is supporting liberal and atheist scholars, the same can be said about conservative and fundy scholars.

Neither Sparks or Enns, or even Darrel Falk are liberals, they are all conservative evangelicals. But nonetheless, they are trying to get their fellow evangelicals to see the evidence, the same evidence that many of the liberals and skeptics have been pointing out for a long time. You seem to want to put on blinders.

And, just so you know, I do read conservative and fundy scholars too. I am working my way through Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels As Eyewitness Testimony. I will soon be reading G.K. Beale's The Erosion of Inerrancy in Evangelicalism: Responding to New Challenges to Biblical Authority and I just placed on my wishlist and will purchase as soon as it is available The Bible among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature? by John N. Oswalt.

TD: You have no point, all you are doing is appealing to the liberal side and completely ignoring the other side, while at the same declaring the liberal side to be 'better'. Different ideas or ideas that agree with you does not = refutation of the other side.

Again, the ones that I pointed too (Enns, Sparks, etc.) are not liberals, they are conservative evangelicals, they are in your camp, you need to listen to them.

Your lack of logical coherent thought is hilarious.

Insulting me does not change the issue at hand, which is the evidence of natural history, evolution, and historical and biblical criticism. Does throwing insults at someone that does not agree with you make you feel better? Does it make you a man? Is that what Christ wants from you?

Oh yes, now you appeal to your own experience. Hilarious, what you call 'deny and interpret away' others might call a logical coherent defense.

Actually the "deny and interpret away" is essentially what Sparks, again a conservative evangelical, charges other conservative and fundamentalist scholars of doing. But since you have not read the book you wouldn't know this.

TD: well if there were truly the problems you describe I would not be a believer today

Of course I know you really do not mean this, but yes, TD, I do believe the problems are that severe and the only way to remain a Christian is to modify and change it so that it is no longer recognizable.

Let me ask you a question, TD. Is Christianity falsifiable? If so, then what evidence would you accept that would falsify Christianity?

TD: Hypocritically accusing one side of 'denying and interpreting' but not doing that for the other side.

Well, actually I'm sure that there are liberals and others who would interpret things in order to support certain preconceptions, I never denied such a possibility. But what I have been driving at is that people like Enns and Sparks (and others) are on your side of the fence and yet produce the evidence of these problems that people like you deny.

profrich said...

Rich Knopp: JL's editorial comment after his 6/7/09 post about my using his book and Sparks's book in my apologetics class is as follows:

"EDIT: I find it very interesting that in order to answer my arguments Dr. Knopp has basically granted many of them!"

RK: Nothing about merely USING particular textbooks implies that I am "granting" anything. I want my students to encounter the claims of both texts directly and wrestle with them. I do not believe that either text decisively undermines a robust Christian faith, even IF one's previous understanding of his or her faith may be modified some as a result of that interaction. If my formulation of my Christian faith is too strong or wrong, I want to correct it. But I haven't read anything that prompts me to abandon my basic Christian worldview.

To imply (or say) that my "answer" to JL's arguments consists of granting "many of them" is indeed "very interesting," especially since I'm either NOT doing that or I don't believe that the arguments sufficiently oppose a basic Christian understanding of life, the universe, and everything.

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Rich, I'll edit out that comment. I understand better now what you are doing. If you can sufficiently argue against both books then Kudos to you. I suspected you may have agreed a bit with Sparks and had adopted at least a few of his answers, i.e., that the genre is important when assessing the Biblical books, that accomodation is what God did, and that there is a trajectory pointing to a progressive revelation, none of which is damaging to your faith and none of which I addressed in my book.

On the accomodation theory of the Bible I did write about it here though.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Hi TD,

I read plenty of Christian apologetics books in high school and college, and only started reading more questioning books after I began exchanging letters with several friends who had left the fold. I tried to get them to rejoin the fold, and they explained why they honestly did not believe as they once did, and reminded me that they had read plenty of Christian apologetic books just as I had, and challenged me to read some books that they suggested.

When John writes that he'd like to see more Christians read such books and remain Christians, I take it to mean that such books will challenge the beliefs of many Christians who have a naive understanding of Scripture and how it came to be written, and how it ought to be interpreted in its historical context. Such challenges and questions may lead to a loss of
faith to varying degrees, and certainly not every Christian who reads such book will be able to rearrange their understanding in order to incorporate all the data in such books into their prior inerrantist biblical world view. Sparks and Enns are trailblazers in that respect among Evangelicals, as is also John Walton (see his book just out, THE LOST WORLD OF GENESIS ONE).

Anthony is a case in point of a Christian who left the fold after reading such books by Christian authors, like Sparks and Enns, i.e., rather than via reading books by atheists.

P.S., In contrast to all I've said above, there are also what one might call "avoidance apologists" on the web, who put up yellow tape like that at a crime scene, round certain books, and suggest by their negative online reviews that such books which lay outside the traditional inerrantist opinions that they personally hold are worthless, idiotic, etc.

In contrast to "avoidance apologists" there are people like the Christian prof who is using John's book in his class, and Christians who have found something of value in John's book worth speaking about and dialoging with, as well as people like John who have found much to praise in works by certain Christian authors who are well informed concerning the milieu out of which the Bible arose.