Slandering historical biblical criticism (HBC) is all the rage nowadays. Alternative methods of interpreting Scripture—e.g., inter alia, canonical, literary, linguistic, poststructural, and political readings—have all but displaced HBC. When HBC is taught, it is almost always with a caveat, such as: “this was how I was instructed when I was a student,” or “this is an important part of the history of biblical interpretation,” or “you have to know this first before we can advance to more nuanced readings.”
But just because the field of biblical scholarship has moved past the old hegemony of HBC does not validate the conservative claim that HBC is a rejection of Scripture, was misguided from the start, is evidence of the liberal attack on orthodoxy, or some other nonsense like that. HBC provides a part of the picture, a part that we must not lose: viz., the historical-cultural origins of the biblical text. HBC is the basis for a key Christian axiom: the text of the Bible is a human document and is thus not in itself the Word of God. Only Jesus Christ is, by nature, the Word of God. All other words must become the Word of God by means of the actualizing power of the Holy Spirit.
With that in mind, it is too simplistic when Peter Leithart, quoting Alvin Plantinga, pits HBC against belief in the resurrection. Certainly, it is untenable for any person to make HBC the entire picture; such a position would be contrary to the simple truth that revelation is hidden in time and space and must be made known to us by God. In other words, the being-in-act of God cannot be read off of the surface of history. And since we cannot directly identify God with any historical object or activity, HBC by nature cannot be the whole story. But it’s a part of the story that we have to keep in mind. We cannot simply hold up “the tradition[al] concept of miracle” over against HBC, as if the issue can be so crudely reduced to a choice between miracle and history, between resurrection and biblical criticism—between naturalism and supernaturalism.
So even though it is now fashionable to pooh-pooh HBC, I wish to plead with evangelicals everywhere to not fall into a false sense of intellectual pride, as if to say, “I told you so!” It would be a great mistake to dismiss the important insights of HBC, leaving it behind as just one more museum piece in the annals of Christian history. More importantly, it is intellectually misguided to conflate an anti-liberal stance with an anti-HBC stance. The two are not identical. And where liberals have made HBC the whole story, evangelicals have an opportunity to retain it as part of the story, albeit a necessary part. In the end, though HBC has fallen on hard times, the most courageous and theologically sophisticated approach would involve giving HBC its due, while integrating it into a doctrine of Scripture which is not threatened by human history but embraces it in correspondence to the way God embraced humanity in the incarnation.