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People of the Book?: The Authority of the Bible in Christianity

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In this book, John Barton offers a positive but critical evaluation of biblical authority. Among other topics, he discusses the canon, the value of the Bible as historical evidence, the Bible's witness to the faith, and the place of Scripture in worship. He shows Christians that critical reading of Scripture is a help rather than a hindrance to their faith and affirms that In this book, John Barton offers a positive but critical evaluation of biblical authority. Among other topics, he discusses the canon, the value of the Bible as historical evidence, the Bible's witness to the faith, and the place of Scripture in worship. He shows Christians that critical reading of Scripture is a help rather than a hindrance to their faith and affirms that they are not required to chose between fundamentalism and unbelief.


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In this book, John Barton offers a positive but critical evaluation of biblical authority. Among other topics, he discusses the canon, the value of the Bible as historical evidence, the Bible's witness to the faith, and the place of Scripture in worship. He shows Christians that critical reading of Scripture is a help rather than a hindrance to their faith and affirms that In this book, John Barton offers a positive but critical evaluation of biblical authority. Among other topics, he discusses the canon, the value of the Bible as historical evidence, the Bible's witness to the faith, and the place of Scripture in worship. He shows Christians that critical reading of Scripture is a help rather than a hindrance to their faith and affirms that they are not required to chose between fundamentalism and unbelief.

38 review for People of the Book?: The Authority of the Bible in Christianity

  1. 4 out of 5

    Benjamin Thompson

    Barton argues in this book that Christ is the gospel. Sounds good right? Except he thinks this means that Christ cannot be contained in the Bible. Effectively, this is the whole spiel, "the gospel cannot be fully expressed by human words." But he also argues that the Bible is just so obviously full of errors and contradictions that it cannot be considered the sole authority of Christians, much less inerrant. Barton takes the Bultmann route and instead argues that the scriptures "become" the Word Barton argues in this book that Christ is the gospel. Sounds good right? Except he thinks this means that Christ cannot be contained in the Bible. Effectively, this is the whole spiel, "the gospel cannot be fully expressed by human words." But he also argues that the Bible is just so obviously full of errors and contradictions that it cannot be considered the sole authority of Christians, much less inerrant. Barton takes the Bultmann route and instead argues that the scriptures "become" the Word of God in the Kerygma or preaching of them. He disagrees slightly with Bultmann, however, because he does believe in the resurrection and miracles of Jesus. BUT this isn't because the Bible says so. Rather, it is because their is historical evidence that the Bible is reliable on those points. Barton also Borrows a strong Falsificationism from Popper (despite the massive problems with such a view). From this he argues that because inerrancy can never be proven false, it is meaningless and can't be true. Besides, seeing the Bible as your final authority really just means reading whatever you want into it and calling it true. He calls this an ad-hominem attack but it's really a simplistic, uncharitable reading of his opponents position (there is a difference between calling a liberal's mom fat and saying he's a communist). Barton Believes (like Bultmann) that the meaning of a text does not lie in the words it expresses alone but primarily in the existential and historical realities which produced it. In other words, the meaning of texts is in the author. So the goal of all interpretation should be to get outside, behind and beyond the text, not inside the text. Barton finds himself on shaky ground here. Like Bultmann he says that the truth of Christianity lies in the tradition of the gospel preached and proclaimed. This gospel has the same existential significance as it did 2000 years ago (though it's not clear it had the same meaning). However, at the same time Barton wants to be a strong foundationalist. He believes all our beliefs must be ruled by reason and evidence. Whatever the evidence doesn't support must be thrown out. And so he is led to thinking that even though most Christians have held the Bible to actually be the inerrant Word of God, because there has been some disagreement on this point (He tries to bring Iranaeus and Luther to his side), we can say that the inerrantist is on shaky ground. But Barton is cutting off the branch he is sitting on! He is the one claiming that the traditions of the Church are more powerful than scripture. If the gospel lies in the preaching and actions of Christ through the Church but we can't be certain of truths that the Church has disagreed on then what is really the core of Christianity? After all there have been disagreements on every point of doctrine. It seems it can only be the subjective experience of hearing and understanding that Christ died and rose again (whatever those historical facts really mean). But if this is true than how can the truth of Christianity ever be falsified? After all, a subjective experience can never be proven wrong. While there are some good nuggets in this book, overall I left it wondering why Barton calls himself a Christian at all. He argues that the Bible shouldn't be a closed canon because the books of the Bible are really just classics of history. They gain their authority from their classiness. But other books are just as classic and timeless as the Bible, including books from other religions. So why shouldn't we incorporate those books as well? This is especially true since contradiction and error within a body of scripture is not really an issue for Barton. The only response it seems Barton would give is that those books are not in the kerygmatic tradition of the gospel. But this is only the kerygmatic tradition of Christianity; why not also include similar traditions of Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists etc? Like most liberal theologians, Barton is a mess. He has dodged the criticism of modern scholarship only to find himself in a pit of incoherence and conflicting ideologies.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Edwin Smith

    I appreciate a couple things about Barton's book. First, it is always good to be warned against "bibliolatry", especially since Jesus himself does it: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39–40) Second, I appreciate that for all his "non-fundamentalist" attempts at loosening the authority of Scripture, he seems to hold staunchly to the historical (i.e. I appreciate a couple things about Barton's book. First, it is always good to be warned against "bibliolatry", especially since Jesus himself does it: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. (John 5:39–40) Second, I appreciate that for all his "non-fundamentalist" attempts at loosening the authority of Scripture, he seems to hold staunchly to the historical (i.e. the resurrection) accounts. However, one of his fundamental assumptions is that Jesus and Paul seemed to hold a very high view of Old Testament at some points and yet jettison it completely at others. This evolves into his thesis that the New Testament likewise should be taken seriously (as observations on faith) and yet embraced with the freedom of keeping only what seems relevant at any given moment. That is, there is no "canon" to speak of and consequently no "authority" of Scripture, only a modest historical document that provides an account of the faith of some Middle Eastern fisherman. Yet while we see that Jesus does transform our understanding of the Old Testament (and as Barton says, Christ is our hermeneutic), he never jettisons it, but interprets it correctly. Of course non-Christian Jewish scholars will not accept the messianic evidence of Isaiah 53. There is in fact no category of such a person, for someone who sees the Messiah in Isaiah will see Christ and become a Christian. Furthermore, as to the canon, there has been since the Old Testament an understanding of "authoritative" books, not limited to direct prophecies only. When Josiah recovers the scrolls, it is clear that he is dealing with an authoritative text that redirects the course of his reign. What does Barton expect, that, following a council meeting of Paul and the other NT writers, that God would deliver instructions to each and the authoritative texts would be assembled right there? One of the most powerful aspects of the canon is their internal consistency despite different times, locations, and authors. (Luther's dislike of James is a poor argument, since (1) Luther did accept it as Scripture and (2) he was sort of free and curmudgeonly about that sort of thing—who hasn't wished for a book to be removed from the canon every now and then?). In the end, I fail to see practically how Barton's middle-of-the-road maneuvering works itself out. Either he begins to introducing various modern or other sources as biblical authority, which would fly his formerly clandestine liberal flag, or he theoretically expands the canon to other NT documents to which we have no access, and so it doesn't really make a difference on day to day instruction.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Danielle Cholly

  4. 5 out of 5

    Meredith

  5. 4 out of 5

    Tyler

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kristian

  7. 4 out of 5

    Caleb Archer

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Brasfield

  9. 4 out of 5

    Stacey Douglas

  10. 5 out of 5

    Malachi

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bryan

  12. 4 out of 5

    Minato

  13. 5 out of 5

    Josh

  14. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bishop D Hamid

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rob

  17. 4 out of 5

    John Betts

  18. 5 out of 5

    Adam

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    Sam

  20. 5 out of 5

    Christie

  21. 5 out of 5

    Zach Hedges

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mfcornett6

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tyrone Myers

  24. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

  25. 5 out of 5

    Joshua

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    Mike

  27. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Heintz

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jem Bloomfield

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tristan Galindo

  30. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Goddard

  31. 4 out of 5

    Vineyard Library

  32. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

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    Scott

  34. 4 out of 5

    Michael Knepher

  35. 5 out of 5

    Wade Rials

  36. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Nedelchev

  37. 5 out of 5

    BookDB

  38. 5 out of 5

    Ben

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