Friday, June 19, 2009

Peter Oakes on F.F. Bruce and Evangelical Scholarship

For those who don't know, 2010 is F.F. Bruce's centenary and a few things are tenatively being planned to celebrate it. Otherwise, thanks to Peter Oakes for sending me his article, "F.F. Bruce and the Development of Evangelical Biblical Scholarship," BJRL 86.3 (2004): 99-123. This is an excellent piece that puts FFB in the context of post-war British evangelicalism and shows FFB as a churchman who could engage academic questions and maintain true to his faith. In the conclusion, two paragraphs really do sum up FFB:

"F.F. Bruce was, it seems to me, set up in the 1940s as something of a historian knight-in-shinning-armour, called in to do battle with the sceptical dragons. He did this job pretty well. He assumed that relatively dispassionate historical study would provide a reasonable defence, in the scholarly arena, of traditional Christian readings of key aspects of the Bible. He was proved substantially right. His work, and that of those who followed him, made a very important contribution to the change in temper of, in particular, New Testament scholarship between the beginning and end of Bruce's career. Today, a far higher proportion of scholarship is conducisve to traditional Christian beliefs than was the case in the middle of the twentieth century. The most obvious expression of this is the large number of evangelical scholars who are part of the mainstream of international biblical scholarship. Evangelical voices are a regular element of scholarly discourse.
But Bruce was never merely the knight. He saw clearly that, if evangelical biblical scholarship was to develop, evangelicalism needed to change some of its assumptions. From the very beginning, when he was maybe at his most confident about slaying dragons, he realized that open historical study of the Bible was likely to challenge evangeical views on many critical issues. His greatness is that he tackled this head on. He did not do this in order to win a place for evangelicals at the academic table - although he realized that it was a pre-condition of doing so. He did it because he was convinced that a truly evangelical faith must embrace history, not shun it. He was convinced that history would not let evangelicalism down He was convinced of this because he was convinced that Christianity was historically true."

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