In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of ScriptureWritten by Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder, eds Reviewed By Johnathon Bowers
In the midst of an increasingly secular society, Cowan and Wilder have felt the need to give a fresh response to the Bible’s detractors. To do this, they group common objections under three headings that divide the book into its parts: (1) philosophical and methodological challenges; (2) textual and historical challenges; and (3) ethical, scientific, and theological challenges. The goal of the volume, according to the editors, is to “meet the Bible’s critics head-on and to respond to all of the major challenges to the inspiration and authority of Scripture” (p. 7).
Part 1 begins with Douglas Geivett defending the philosophical viability of divine communication (ch. 1). He argues that not only can God speak to human beings; he wants to do this. In chapter 2, Douglas Blount describes the inerrancy of Scripture in terms of supreme trustworthiness. Charles Quarles, in chapter 3, pries apart biblical higher criticism from its anti-supernatural associations and encourages Christians to wisely apply its methods to the study of Scripture. Richard Melick rounds out the presentation in Part 1 by arguing that the Bible contains a “self-correcting mechanism” (p. 90) that guides the interpreter into a proper understanding of its message (ch. 4).
Paul Wegner and Daniel Wallace take up, in Part 2, the reliability of the OT and NT texts, respectively, demonstrating how the methods of textual criticism have helped us establish the original wording of Scripture with great accuracy (chs. 5–6). In chapter 7, Terry Wilder contends that ancient readers were not credulous and would have been able to detect forged documents posing as Scripture. Mary Jo Sharp, in chapter 8, compares the biblical account to ancient pagan myths and shows how figures such as Osiris, Mithras, or Horus bear little resemblance to our risen Savior. The historicity of the OT and NT receives notice in chs. 9–10 as Walter Kaiser and Paul Barnett, respectively, survey archaeological and historiographical evidence corroborating the Bible’s claims. Finally, Douglas Huffman takes up the issue of Scripture’s internal historical consistency and identifies a number of mistaken assumptions that lie behind charges of contradiction (ch. 11).
In Part 3, Matthew Flannagan and Paul Copan interact carefully with the conquest narratives in Joshua and conclude that God did not order genocide then nor does he condone it today. However, God is free to make exceptions to moral requirements (such as not killing the innocent, broadly considered) should he deem it necessary for some greater purpose (ch. 12). Chapter 13 addresses the issues of slavery and sexism as James Hamilton, applying a biblical-theological framework, contends that Scripture supports neither practice. Regarding the relationship between the Bible and science, William Dembski proposes that the two do not necessarily conflict (ch. 14). In chapter 15, Craig Blaising maintains, against the confusion of over two centuries of historical-critical approaches to Scripture, that the Bible is in fact a coherent literary unit with a consistent message. Following this, Paul Wegner, Terry Wilder, and Darrell Bock affirm in chapter 16 that the books of the Protestant canon are the only documents that can rightly claim to be the word of God. Lastly, Steven Cowan wraps up the volume in chapter 17 by demonstrating the inspiration of Scripture on the basis of Jesus’s testimony.
In Defense of the Bible boasts a number of strengths. First, the breadth of topics covered supports the book’s claim to be a “comprehensive apologetic.” The reader will find that the salient objections to Scripture’s authority are treated, and treated well, for the most part, in this volume. Second, the variety of authors defending the reliability of the Bible adds its own apologetic weight to the subject. Each voice is unique, and some voices differ at points, but the cumulative effect is very edifying. Finally, the book is accessible to a wide audience. The chapters vary in terms of sophistication, but educated laypeople, seminary students, and scholars alike will benefit from the material.
In closing, I’ll mention two weaknesses of the book. First, James Hamilton’s tone in his chapter on slavery and sexism is at times unhelpfully abrasive and dismissive of opposing views. He opens with this statement: “Does the Bible condone slavery and sexism? Of course not! The suggestion is ridiculous, but we live in a world where absurd conclusions seem as rational as the truth is preposterous” (p. 335). True as his observation may be, leading off with this kind of language, especially in a work on apologetics, does little to win a hearing.
Second, William Dembski curiously suggests that we should prioritize the biblical text over authorial intent when we interpret Scripture (pp. 366–70). His point is that, when it comes to reconciling the Bible with science, we should not read into Scripture our own ideas about the human author’s potentially faulty cosmology. Rather, we should focus our efforts on the text God inspired him to write. While I grant the substance of Dembski’s concern, it is nonetheless problematic to drive a wedge between text and authorial intent, even when we are dealing with a dually authored book such as the Bible. Instead, we should pursue human authorial intent through the biblical text, recognizing that this intent is at the same time God’s intent, though the latter may at times extend beyond (but not contradict) the former.
Bethlehem College and Seminary
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
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