This book came across my desk at just the right time. As a relatively new campus pastor, I’ve had several conversations with students who’ve been dismissive of the Bible. I gave them my best arguments for the Bible’s historical reliability but to little effect. It didn’t surprise me to come across critical opinions of the Bible at a university, nor distrust of an external authority among students. What has surprised me is when a student concedes that the evidence, for example, of the resurrection of Jesus is compelling, yet shrugs it off as if something could be true and still not matter.
I’ve been grasping for a strategy to commend the Bible to people for whom the Bible has answers to questions they aren’t even asking. So I was delighted that the British biblical scholar R.W.L. Moberly put his finger on my problem. On the opening page of The Bible in a Disenchanted Age he asks how the Bible can be a vehicle for faith in God in our "disenchanted world," where God and faith seem ever less meaningful and peoples’ deepest hopes and intuitions are oriented elsewhere than the biblical story.
This small book is his attempt to defend the traditional Christian belief that the Bible is God’s Word in human words, but his argument breaks with traditional defenses of the Bible on account of its historical reliability or through the logic of divine revelation. As such, it is pitched perfectly for Christians who recognize that we can no longer assume that people outside the church will grant that the Bible should be taken seriously because it’s God’s Word—no matter how loudly we say it is.
Why take the Bible seriously in our disenchanted age? By using a comparison between the book of Daniel and the Roman epic poem The Aeneid, Moberly shows how the Bible is both like and unlike other great works of literature that deserve our attention. Like The Aeneid, the Bible is a valuable source for learning about ancient history and is a cultural classic that has shaped, among other things, the life, art, and philosophy of the world, especially in the West. He points out that we have become too quick of late to overlook classics: "If countless others have found a book worthwhile, then if we don’t—at least on the first reading—it may be that the problem lies in us more than in the book."
These points build up a case for taking the Bible seriously, but he goes further to affirm the church’s belief that the Bible is Scripture, an authoritative revelation from God. A key notion for him is that of privilege. Why should we privilege the biblical canon, looking—as Moberly puts it—"here" rather than "there" for truth and meaning?
First of all, he suggests, everyone has a canon of some sort to make sense of a complex world; we inevitably privilege some lens through which we view life and interpret it. Since all people have a privileged perspective, there’s no reason to dismiss offhand the fact that Christians privilege the Bible. At the same time, Christians should adopt a humble attitude that commends the Bible as one way of seeing the world but not the only way, even if it is the one we’re convinced is best.
Second, a privileged perspective (the biblical canon) is closely linked to the community that endorses this perspective and lives by it: the church. It’s the people of God who make this perspective plausible and compelling for others. While there is an empirical aspect to faith, we can’t empirically prove that this privileged perspective is the right one. Significantly, an act of trust is needed to choose this story over another: "One should be led on to dare to believe that which these others believe, that in and through the biblical portrayal of the person, teaching, and works of Jesus (in his life, death, and resurrection) the reality of the living God is encountered."
As one comes to trust the people who trust the book, one comes to trust what it tells us of the living God; faith in God then helps one trust even more his revelation to us in Scripture. For Moberly, this is how we can invite people to trust the Bible enough to take it seriously in our disenchanted age.
Written with humor and charity, The Bible in a Disenchanted Ageis challenging without being difficult, and learned without feeling heavy. Moberly admits that some will find his defense of the Bible too theologically thin, while others will find it too thick. I found it just about right, and I suspect that pastors, teachers, elders, chaplains, and others who love the Bible and work among the “disenchanted” will agree. (Baker Academic)
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