Can We Still Believe The Bible? An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions By Craig L. Blomberg (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2014) 287 pp. + XVI, Paper $15.90
Given the many recent challenges to the reliability and trustworthiness of Scripture, most notably by Bart Ehrman, volumes such as this one are needed. Craig Blomberg, long time professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, has the scholarly credentials to tackle this topic.
Blomberg believes, contrary to popularized skepticism concerning the Bible, that new studies and findings have actually given us greater reasons to trust Scripture. There are six such areas that he wants to identify (see pp. 7-12) and he devotes long chapters to each. It should be mentioned at this point that some of Blomberg’s most important thoughts are found in his endnotes. Given this fact, a better choice would have been to place these comments in footnotes. I found constantly flipping back to the endnotes time consuming and annoying, but necessary if the arguments of the book are to be understood.
The first chapter, and the best in the book, deals with textual criticism and variants. The chapter entitled “Aren’t the Copies of the Bible Hopelessly Corrupt?” provides an excellent introduction to the issues involved in textual criticism and a powerful and informed refutation of the type of skepticism that Ehrman and others have popularized. The second chapter, dealing with canonicity, is of almost equal value offering a wealth of information on the canonization process. Issues such as the Apocrypha, Gnostic texts, and Mormon and Muslims scriptures are also addressed. The chapter is somewhat marred, however, by an unfortunate tangent in support of integrationism and criticism of the biblical counseling movement (pp. 71-81). These tangents (I would call them rants, and there are many of them) are easily the greatest weakness in the book. Had Blomberg stayed with a narrow scope defending the trustworthiness of the Bible I would recommend this work highly, but such is not the case. I will return to this issue momentarily.
Chapter three deals with translations, offering a good overview of the history of modern translations and the three major philosophies behind translations. This chapter is weakened by the author’s view that all translations available today are good except for a few cultic ones (pp. 83-85, 104). Also his harsh criticism of those who do not take his view, such as Al Mohler, was unnecessary yet revealing of Blomberg’s own views (pp. 110-113). As a matter of fact Blomberg often took those he calls conservative Christian leaders to the woodshed (pp. 7-8, 10, 77, 210-217). While criticism of some who are defending extreme positions is warranted, Blomberg often goes to his own extremes in devaluing their views.
Inerrancy is the subject of the next two chapters. He opens with an attack on those he deems on the far right of the evangelical community, such as Norman Geisler, Robert Thomas and David Farnell (p. 120, cf. 142-143, 166-168). These men are concerned about the drift they see today in the area of inerrancy as defined by the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy (p. 123), a drift that Blomberg denies. Good material is found in these pages but Blomberg works hard to convince the reader that believing in inerrancy does not mean accepting a literal Adam and Eve, a young earth (pp. 150-155), Job or Jonah as historical characters (pp. 155-163), the single authorship of Isaiah (pp. 160-164), nor the traditional view of the authorship of the New Testament books (pp. 169-171). He personally accepts some of these things, such as theistic evolution, and rejects others (p. 177), but sees none of these issues as germane to inerrancy (p. 164).
Blomberg turns to miracles in the last chapter as a support for the trustworthiness of Scripture. He defends modern reports of the miraculous including trips to heaven and resurrections (pp. 180-186), believes that Joel 2:28-32 was fulfilled at Pentecost (p. 203), is enthusiastic concerning Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement (p. 209), and delivers a scathing attack on cessationism (pp. 210-211). In addition he seems to believe that there are 2 billion true Christians on the planet and 200 million of them have participated in some way with a miracle (p. 218). And he affirms that some Mormons are saved (p. 272). This is all very disturbing.
Returning to inerrancy in the conclusion, Blomberg believes only a tiny minority of Christians have ever accepted it (p. 221-222) and it is thus not particularly important in the big picture of the Christian faith. As a matter of fact the one affirmation in the Chicago Statement that he rejects is a warning concerning the grave consequences of rejecting inerrancy (p. 273). Clearly Blomberg sees inerrancy as a good but dispensable doctrine, which is truly unfortunate in a book defending the trustworthiness of Scripture.
The value of Can We Still Believe the Bible? seems to diminish as one travels through the book. There is some excellent information within its covers but due to the caveats mentioned above I would recommend this book, which is one of Christianity Today’s 2014 books of the year, only to those who have a good handle on the issues.
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel