Taking God at His Word and reviews

Taking God at his WordEarlier this year, fellow blogger The Alethiophile suggested a sort of ‘book exchange’ – he would take book requests and review them, if readers would take a suggestion from him. He suggested ‘Benefit of the Doubt’ by Greg Boyd, which I reviewed a few months ago, and I suggested ‘Taking God at His Word’ by Kevin DeYoung for him to read.

Today, he published his review of the book. I started this blog post off as a comment, but it got a bit out of hand, so I publish it here and hope that others might find it helpful. You’ll almost certainly want to read his review before reading this, otherwise it won’t make much sense…


 

Hi there, as I was the one who recommended the book to you in the first place I feel a duty to respond 🙂 I’m sorry that you didn’t enjoy the book, but – as I said on Twitter – I do feel that you have been unfair in this review, and I’ll try to explain why. By and large the problem is I feel that you are writing a review of a book I don’t recognise.

My suspicion is that DeYoung has got your back up with the comments you mention about wanting someone else to accept his interpretation. His tone is polemical at times – perhaps you felt like he was attacking you and your views – and I think you’ve reacted strongly to that, which has coloured how you’ve read and reviewed the book.

Anyway, I’ve divided this up into a few sections which examine the points you make; I hope this isn’t too much but I find it helps to keep things neat and tidy.

1. DeYoung’s interpretation?

You don’t actually quote DeYoung’s full comment about interpretation (and in fact you don’t quote much in the review at all. I would say it’s generally good form in a review to let the author speak for themselves where you can and summarise where you have to.) The full quote is: “I do claim that you need to accept my understanding, because it’s not my understanding. It’s the teaching of the New Testament and the affirmation of the orthodox Christian church throughout the centuries.”

So DeYoung is not claiming himself as the infallible interpreter of Scripture, but simply in line with the way the church has always understood these things. The idea of ‘agreeing to disagree’ is a modern novelty: Athanasius or Augustine didn’t “agree to disagree” with the Arians, for example. This is why we have the ecumenical creeds. There is actually a kind of false humility in saying “I don’t claim that you need to accept my understanding” – because it gives the appearance of saying “I might be wrong” while actually putting your own particular belief beyond challenge or criticism. You don’t need to submit your views to scrutiny because you’re not saying other people need to accept that understanding.

If, for example, you claim to believe in the Bible but claim that Jesus is a created being, then I would say that you do need to change your opinion – not because I happen to believe something different, but because I believe the Bible says very differently and the church has always held this as an orthodox Christian belief.

It’s interesting that in this very review you say, “Yes, some things are really important historically. I would fully affirm the historicity of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus; those twin events are not only the lynchpin of christianity, but are well attested and can be relied upon as historical events as strongly, if not more so, than many an event in the ancient world.” When you say “really important”, how important do you mean? Would you say that someone who didn’t take the resurrection account as historical is actually in error, and would you want them to accept your particular view?

There must come a point at which we need to say that some beliefs are wrong. The church has always believed that Christ was “born of the virgin Mary” (to quote the Apostles Creed), and I don’t see how requiring someone to believe what the church has always believed when it comes to the virgin birth (or the rest of the creeds, for that matter) is setting oneself up as an infallible authority.

In particular, I think your statement: “this level of arrogance is sufficient reason to view DeYoung as an unsound, unhumble teacher whose work is not to be trusted” is completely unfounded.

2. The Bible – clear?

You say: “in his view the bible is wholly clear and can be readily understood. But if you read the chapter, there is no evidence of his appreciating the times, the cultures or the languages the bible was written in, nor to the various audiences to whom the books were written.” Actually I don’t think DeYoung says the Bible is ‘wholly clear’.  He quotes the Westminster Confession of Faith and says “Some portions of Scripture are clearer than others. Not every passage has a simple or obvious meaning” (which I think would cover your example of 1 Thess. 4:17).

But he does say “That which is necessary for our salvation can be understood even by the uneducated, provided that they make use of the ordinary means of studying and learning.” This is similar to other statements such as the Anglican 39 Articles, which says in Article VI: “HOLY Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.”

So I feel that you have misrepresented what DeYoung says and knocked down a straw man. Although study of culture and language may be beneficial in terms of nuance and background, the fundamentals of the gospel are understandable without them.

3. Quoting

You say: “Obviously, there are some scriptural references, though all too often they are piecemeal, stripped of context and have a strong odour of proof texting about them rather than the aroma of exegesis.”

When you quote 1 Corinthians 13:11 at the end of your review, is that ‘proof texting’?

I think DeYoung does a pretty good job of giving context in the book actually. Can you name any specific examples where he proof texts and takes things out of context?

I agree that DeYoung doesn’t quote from any liberal scholarship – but then, when I read Greg Boyd, I don’t recall him really engaging with any conservative scholarship. I’d say it was acceptable for a book written for a popular (not scholarly) audience not to engage with lots of different views – he’s trying to promote a particular view. Saying that he doesn’t quote from people who disagree is, I think, a little uncharitable. And doesn’t actually engage with any of his arguments.

In terms of the history, I think DeYoung would agree that literary genre is of course important (not sure what his position is on Genesis 1-2 with respect to evolution). But we do have to take seriously Jesus’ view of Scripture, and I think he presents a compelling case that Jesus had a truly high view of Scripture which we must reckon with. If our Lord and God thought certain things were historical, who are we to argue? (Incidentally, if you want an interesting read on historical criticism and evangelicalism have a read of this book.)

4. The fundamental disagreement

The fundamental disagreement I have with you is at the start of your post: “all too often he seems to treat it as though it were a single body of work with a single author.”

I think DeYoung presents good evidence that the writers of the Bible did indeed think it had a single author. I think this is precisely what e.g. 2 Tim 3:16 does claim for the Bible, or the book of Hebrews, or the apostles in Acts 4:25, and so on. The Bible’s words are God’s words. DeYoung is not elevating the Bible to the position of the Trinity, but if Scripture is the Word of God then it flows from Him and reflects His character, will, truth, etc.


 

Anyway, I’m sorry for writing a short essay in response to your review, but seeing as I suggested the book in the first placeI felt compelled to respond. There’s more that could be said but I think that covers the most important things!

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