Believe it or not, I do appreciate some agnostics and atheists. Often there can be broad areas of common ground, and I will therefore recommend their material from time to time. Sometimes I may even agree with them quite a bit. One example is Melbourne journalist and commentator Andrew Bolt.
I know Andrew, and I like the guy. I could even consider myself to be a distant friend of his, or at least a fellow comrade in arms. I like what he does most of the time and I am glad he is on the scene. We need more writers and commentators like him.
As an indication of my appreciation of him, I did a quick word search on my website. The word “bolt” appears in 65 articles. Now it is possible I may have been talking about ‘nuts and bolts’ or some such thing in one of them. But I suspect almost all are articles which have to do with the work of Andrew Bolt, which I approvingly quote and promote.
In addition to often citing him and his work, I even gave his 2005 book – a collection of essays – a nice review. See here: billmuehlenberg.com/2006/05/24/a-review-of-still-not-sorry-by-andrew-bolt/
However on at least several occasions I have had to take him to task. You see, Andrew is a conservative commentator, and so am I. So that means we often see eye to eye – probably on most things in fact. But he is not a Christian – and he seems to be quite proud of that fact.
So when he writes a column or blog post attacking Christianity, needless to say I am not as impressed. Not because he disagrees with me, but because – as with so many other atheists such as Richard Dawkins – when he starts writing about things theological and biblical, he often is simply way out of his depth.
Indeed, he can embarrass himself at times when he wades into these discussions which he clearly is not well versed in. Like Dawkins, he has various areas which he is pretty capable in, but religion in general and Christianity in particular are certainly not his strong suits.
These guys simply make themselves look foolish when they try to offer their ‘knock-down’ arguments against Christianity. Bolt did this for example in a most ungracious fashion back in 2001 when he posted an attack on Christianity on Christmas, of all days.
I wrote a reply to it and sent it in to the Herald Sun soon thereafter, but it never saw the light of day. So I have posted it on my website: billmuehlenberg.com/2003/12/25/another-look-at-jesus/
I even sent it in the following Christmas, hoping for a right of reply. But still no dice. Now Andrew has been an editor at the HS for some time now. I do not know what his status was back then. But given how often he rightly talks about free speech and the importance of proper public debate on contentious issues, I wonder if he even raised his voice about my piece back then and sought to have it printed.
He has taken pot shots at Christianity on other occasions as well. For example, when Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ appeared in 2004 Bolt wrote a quite nasty review of it. As I recall, he even managed to somehow find ‘homophobic’ content in the film!
And in 2009 he was at it again with a rather unhelpful piece in which he tried to inform us about “the essence of Christ’s preaching” and of St Paul’s as well. Sadly he was way off the mark again, wandering into territory which he clearly was not suited to. I discussed that article here: billmuehlenberg.com/2009/07/04/truth-and-christianity/
Yet having said all this, so often Andrew out-Christians Christians in defending their faith and taking on challenges to the faith. For example in 2007 he wrote a great piece highlighting the many attacks on Christianity, at least on Christian morality. I discuss approvingly his article here: billmuehlenberg.com/2007/04/07/open-season-on-christianity/
He often writes about things which Christians should be writing about, but do not – things like abortion, increasing statism, political correctness, decreasing freedom of religion, etc. So he is a funny kettle of fish really. But in his piece which he posted yesterday he was back to his old unhelpful ways, unfortunately.
Entitled “Which Genesis story should Christians believe?” he seems to think he has made some unique and devastating critique of Christianity. Of course he has done no such thing. He simply rehashes the same old tired arguments that are wheeled out so often, only to be shot down in flames.
He gives us two great pieces of “evidence”: the supposed differing accounts of creation in the opening chapters of Genesis, and the alleged contradictions in the Gospel accounts. Like Dawkins, he is probably patting himself on the back now, thinking he has delivered some telling blows here.
Sorry, but no deal. His objections are without any merit, and have repeatedly and amply been dealt with before. And what is the basis for all this earth-shattering criticism? Bolt informs us: “As Robin Lane Fox sums up in his superb The Unauthorised Version: Truth and Fiction in the Bible…”
There you have it folks: one book by one author, and Bolt thinks he had somehow dismantled biblical Christianity, and rendered it a smouldering pile of rubbish. But Bolt conveniently fails to inform us of several key facts. Fox of course is an atheist, so he might just have some biases here at play.
Also, he is not an Old Testament scholar; nor a New Testament scholar; nor a theologian; nor an exegete; nor a Biblical authority. He is an English historian. And he is a radical controversialist at that, challenging most mainstream scholarship on all things biblical.
He has been carefully critiqued by many actual authorities in the field. But the real question is, is Bolt even aware of these other scholars? Has he actually ever read any of them? Is he even interested in doing so? There would be many hundreds of international scholars and experts who can give us a much different account of these matters than someone like Fox.
Now Bolt might reply that he is too busy to read these authors. But of course if he is too busy to inform himself of the current state of play of biblical scholarship, and too busy to actually understand what he is writing about, then he really shouldn’t be engaging in these rather juvenile pot shots at biblical Christianity in the first place.
If he does have a bit of time, I would be happy to suggest some titles for him. In fact, if memory serves me right, I did that very thing back in 2001 when he first came out with his Christmas hatchet job. If I did, I take it that he has not bothered to follow up on my suggested reading.
But let me make a few more recommendations here – this time just on the New Testament. No one claiming to be even remotely up on the literature on NT scholarship would fail to be aware of the massive output of English scholar N. T. Wright.
Simply consulting the first three of his projected 6-volume Christian Origins and the Question of God, which runs to around 2,100 pages so far, would show just how very woeful it is to rely on liberal writers like Fox. Of course he has written dozens of other major works, but just these three would be a great starter for those critics who are really interested to see where the debate is at today.
Some other heavyweight contributions to NT scholarship, Jesus studies, and work on the gospels, would include the 2006 volume by Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans); or the 700-page work by NT scholar Darrell Bock, Jesus According to Scripture (Baker, 2002).
Craig Keener’s 830-page volume, The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (Eerdmans, 2009) would be another, along with the 750-page Lord Jesus Christ by NT expert Larry Hurtado (Eerdmans, 2003). And here are a few more volumes which anyone serious about these issues should be aware of:
Bock, Darrell, The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities. Thomas Nelson, 2006.
Bock, Darrell and Daniel Wallace, Dethroning Jesus: Exposing Popular Culture’s Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ. Thomas Nelson, 2007.
Eddy, Paul Rhodes and Gregory Boyd, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. Baker, 2007.
Evans, Craig, Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels. IVP, 2006.
Hill, C.E., Who Chose the Gospels? Probing the Great Gospel Conspiracy. Oxford University Press, 2010.
House, H. Wayne, The Jesus Who Never Lived. Harvest House, 2008.
Komoszewski, J. Ed, James Sawyer, and Daniel Wallace, Reinventing Jesus. Kregel, 2006.
Marshall, David, The Truth About Jesus and the ‘Lost Gospels’. Harvest House, 2007.
Perrin, Nicholas, Lost in Translation? Thomas Nelson, 2007.
Roberts, Mark, Can We Trust the Gospels? Crossway Books, 2007.
Strobel, Lee, The Case for the Real Jesus. Zondervan, 2007.
Witherington, Ben, What Have They Done with Jesus? HarperSanFrancisco, 2006.
Wallace, Daniel, ed., Revisiting the Corruption of the New Testament. Kregel, 2011.
There are many dozens more recent works of profound scholarship which the critics could consult if they were really interested. But that is the real question here: are they, or have they already made up their minds? They can talk a lot about weighing up the arguments and real public debate, but when it comes down to it, do they really mean it?
In closing, I do not doubt that I will continue to plug and promote Andrew Bolt when he does good commentary on areas he is well-versed in. But I will, in the name of intellectual honesty – something which he too says he champions – certainly not hold back when he strays from his areas of expertise and comes out with rather silly and thin hatchet jobs such as this.
It is hoped that Andrew will rise to the occasion, and start checking out some scholarship that he apparently has not yet read. You never know, he might find that this material will even change some of his preconceived ideas. Let’s hope so anyway.