History. It would be an exaggeration to say that I was slack-jawed as I watched the development of the comments section of my recent book review -- but not by much.
Things were slow until Paul Doutell showed up to sound some cautions about Dan Wallace, one of the three authors of Reinventing Jesus. I agreed that I had my reservations about some things he'd said also, but pointed out that I'd reviewed the book, not the man. Paul responded that he'd done the reverse, and that seemed like the end of that.
But then one of the authors (J. Ed Reallylonglastname) showed up and defended Wallace, and took Paul to task. Then Phil dropped by. And Frank. Then Frank did another one of his "Me too! Me too!" posts. Meanwhile, in the original Comments, tables were turned over, drinks were spilled, and furniture began to fly. I even had to mess with someone's post, for either the first or second time, ever, at Pyro. It was a fairly good-natured brawl, with the requisite hand-wringers. I even made Michael Spencer break Rule 40 again! (I think I hold the record, am waiting for my T-shirt -- though Spencer's evidently forgotten my name.)
So I'm sure everyone's waiting with bated breath to hear my magisterial comment on the whole mess. "Everyone" in the sense of... okay, just me, but anyway, here it is. This is my "Me too, too!" post.
Dan Wallace. "Dan Wallace" the only name I had past associations with when I began reading the book. One-sentence summary of the impression I brought with me: personable writer, scholarly, author of a great Greek grammar, too much of an itch to be "different": read with respect, and caution.
Where did that come from? I first encountered Wallace through the "Professor's Soapbox," as his essays at www.bible.org used to be grouped. If you scan the titles of his articles under their current grouping, you'll see them as very wide-ranging (from "Biblical Gynecology" to "A Mishnaic Commentary on Matthew 1.19" to "Is Self-Love Biblical? Matthew 22:39").
I didn't read him voluminously, but would say I always found him worth the time, though he did irritate me betimes. It irritates me that he went over from using BC/AD to the trendy, politically-correct BCE/CE (as he explains here).
But Wallace's statements occasionally pass "irritating" and go well into "worrisome." Phil highlighted some in the previous thread's meta. Here's a prime example:
...evangelical Christians have to ask themselves what ‘faith alone’—that great clarion call of the Reformation—really means. Is the doctrine of justification by faith alone a necessary doctrine for salvation, so that all those who do not embrace it explicitly are damned to hell? Or is it an important clarification of the gospel which is nevertheless not the core of the gospel? Our attitude toward one another within Christendom depends on how we answer this question. ...when we go back to the scriptures, it does indeed seem clear that Paul has a doctrine of justification by faith alone. But that doctrine is not as easy to find in James, Peter, or Jude. Yet Paul seemed to accept these other apostles, along with their theological commitments, as genuine and true. But if they did not see things quite the same way as Paul did, who are we to insist on beliefs and formulations that just might exclude even some of the apostles?When Wallace mentions "beliefs and formulations that just might exclude even some of the apostles," it's hard not to see him as suggesting that James, Peter and Jude did not believe in justification by faith alone. It's hard not to see this as going in the direction of branding the Reformation's core as an "oopsie." And that's troubling -- especially if one accepts as authoritative Paul's teaching that by-grace justification was an Old Testament doctrine, not one "developing" within the New (Romans 4).
In that article, Wallace refers back to an earlier article in which he confesses to being "neither a systematic theologian nor the son of a systematic theologian," then nevertheless goes on to write about theology, and to say rather dismissively that writers of systematic theologies "almost always ...are simply unaware of the exegetical issues." Yet he can write about their field, and not they about his?
In this very thought-provoking article Wallace thinks 2 Peter 2:1 may teach that genuinely saved false teachers lose their salvation, and suggests that "Peter’s soteriology is not as developed as Paul’s is" -- maybe; he's not sure, he's just asking. Out loud, in the hearing of potentially hundreds of thousands.
Then there is The Gospel According to Bart. My impression of the passage Phil cited is the same as his: Wallace seems to feel that it is problematic to start with the premise that God is true, though all men are liars. I did not discern what authority Wallace sees as superior to God's, whether scholarly consensus, personal judgment, (mythical) "brute facts," or something else.
With this statement, I could hardly disagree more heartily. But that may form the separate topic of another post.
This book. This enters into why I read with caution. And, as I said, I was glad of both -- glad I read, glad I read with caution. It's a very good book; but I do think the Bible-believing position is presented less aggressively and confidently than it could have been. But the book can be of great use to those with the authority of Bible as their fundamental premise, rather than their pretty-confident conclusion. (See the review.) Hence, I recommended Reinventing Jesus with gusto, and still do.
All books. If we read only books by authors who exactly share our convictions... well, let's just say we'll be catching up with past seasons of 24 a lot quicker than anticipated. And perhaps taking up Monopoly and cricket.
I can readily think of a parallel: the late F. F. Bruce's The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Really great book. I'd recommend it anytime. But I'd wager good money (if Phil allowed it) that Bruce's position on Scripture was well to the left of Wallace's. Have you read William Barclay with profit? Helmut Thielicke? C. S. Lewis? As you probably know, I just went all over the theological map, in just three names.
If you're going to evaluate and recommend/warn about a book, you focus on the book. If you're doing the same for the writer, your focus broadens considerably.
Now, it is fair game to bring what you know about an author to your evaluation of the book. You might read certain nuances more attentively, be wary of various emphases. But still, you use the book and evaluate the book. Reading broadly is helpful for ministering broadly. Paul clearly believed this; he could quote Greek poets and philosophers from memory (Acts 17:28).
Closing thoughts. I actually got something out of what everyone contributed -- Paul, Ed, Phil, Frank, others. If that sounds wimpy, I'll just have to live with it. Phil and I share this: Fundies think we're soft, everyone else thinks we're hidebound and doctrinaire. That may mean we've struck the perfect balance. But probably not, at least in my case.
I agreed with the thought that we should focus on the book, not one author. But I also agreed that the questions raised about Wallace were legitimate and substantial, even if tangential. I agreed that no one should form a lynching party, and that on the broad scene of scholarship, what Wallace does is far more helpful than not. But I also agree that his occasional subtle, wheedling, insinuative snipes at what I do believe are foundational commitments are troubling and dangerous. Plus, I don't find the imprimatur of the ETS reassuring in any way.
Nor do appeals to what a dear Christian man someone says a writer is, serve to obviate objectively-based dealing with one's words in print. I'd bet that I'm not the only one who read Ed's affirmation of Dan Wallace, and thought of N.T. Wright's assurance that Marcus Borg was undoubtedly a Christian. Now let me say loud and clear: my point is not that Wallace is like Borg (he's not); it's that we shouldn't be comparing guesses based on reading Dan Wallace's heart. We should be reading his writings, and discussing them. And I also agree that private conversations won't clear up public statements.
So there. All cleared up, now? Great.