Friday, April 18, 2014

"Acient Word, Changing Worlds" by Stephen Nichols: A Review

Ancient Word, Changing Worlds: The Doctrine of Scripture in a Modern AgeOne of my favorite authors of history is Stephen J. Nichols.  His style of writing and his ability to make the complex more simple are abilities that few authors of historic theology have been able to match.  The previous books that I have read Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of the Christ and For Us and for Our Salvation: The Doctrine of Christ in the Early Church have been very insightful and helpful for me in understanding doctrines of Christology in the early Church and American history.

I recently picked up and read Nichols' book Ancient Word, Changing Worlds: The Doctrine of Scripture in a Modern Age and as the title suggests, the author traces the history of the doctrine of Bibliology in the modern era. What Nichols does is show how contemporary language regarding Scripture has changed. Words such as plenary, verbal inspiration, etc. are remnants of the modern era and its attack on the Bible.

Nichols makes an interesting argument early on in the Bible that I think is insightful. Christological debates have always been in the forefront, but they were central in the early Church.  As a result, out of the context of Christological debates, the history of theological language regarding Christ was born during this period.  The modern era however attacked the Bible in a way that it had not been before.  The residue of modernity -- including scientism, evolution, and anti-miraculous beliefs - led naturally to an assault on the Bible from both the secular and Christian worlds. As a result, much of the theological language we now use in speaking about the Bible was born out of this era.

Nichols looks at three aspects of Bibliology: inspiration, innerancy, and inspiration. Nichols provides the reader with the leading figures for the orthodox belief on Scripture (like BB Warfield and J. Mechen Greshem) and for those who attacked Scripture like Rudolf Bultmann and the events and writings that shaped the theological discussion.

What I liked the most was the author's discussion of inspiration and hermeneutics.  All along I was wondering if he would at all discuss postmodern Bibliology. He sees postmodernity as an attack on Scriptures perspicuity (or clarity).  I think he is right and others have made similar arguments (see The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception). I really enjoyed how Nichols points out the subjective nature of postmodernity in its approach to Scripture. When one rejects the original intent or the author or at least the knowability of the original intent, then interpretation becomes an issue of one's own beliefs.  As a result, we make the text say and mean what we want it to say and mean.  It would be helpful for Christians to understand this worldview.

As with previous books, Nichols provides primary sources for the reader to take in. Instead of just saying what other people wrote or articulated, the author allows the reader to see it for themselves.  I have found this particularly helpful in my own study of historic theology.

As always, I found Nichols' book insightful and well written. I always leave his books with a new and better understanding of history and theology.  Thus I recommend his writings to everyone. Though at times his books can be rather deep, Nichols is always careful to explain what each word means and also includes a glossary in the back.

For More
"Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought": A Review
Repost | "Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, and Living God's Word" by Stephen J Nichols
Weekly Recommendation - "Jesus Made In America" by Stephen J. Nichols
Why the Reformation Matters: A Lecture By Stephen Nichols
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