2008-05-31

‘Fabricating Jesus’: ch 1. Evans on Funk and Robinson

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing from this earlier post

After assuring the reader of his superior scholarly background in comparison with “modern scholars” of the Jesus Seminar, Evans goes and undoes all the intellectual confidence he has sought to establish by falling into the most astounding logical fallacies when he attempts to explain why 4 scholars in particular are no longer fundamentalist believers.

Of Funk and Robinson he says:

. . . [they point to] this Gospel saying and that deed and pronounce them inauthentic, deriving from the early church, not from Jesus . . . . I disagree with their understanding . . . . But even so, Funk and Robinson believe that a good amount of useful, reliable material emerges from the Gospels . . . . Their complaints tend to be directed against an ossified church housing a Christianity preoccupied with doctrine but not with social justice. They may paint with a broad brush, but I have no doubt there are churches that would do well to consider this criticism. (p.22)

Evans has written all this as a single paragraph and therefore, presumably, as a single coherent thought. But I fail to see the relevance of Funk and Robinson’s complaints against modern ossified churches to their views of about what sayings or deeds in the Bible are authentic. Is Funk here attempting to continue his blame of “misguided faith” as the reason scholars abandon fundamentalist views? Is he meaning to imply that scholars who expect too much of churches are at risk of abandoning their Christian faith? One thing is clear, however. Evans makes no attempt to even hint that the reasons Funk and Robinson appear to be somewhat “leftish” doctrinally could have any relationship to honest intellectual enquiry. Is his slide into the complaint about the humanness of some churches meant to deflect the believing reader from entertaining that possibility?

Robert Funk

Evans does not give the reader a history of Funk’s intellectual views, nor does he explain the reasons (from Funk’s own words) why he came to change his thinking and belief system. Evans is blind to all that. He can only find one thing in Funk’s Honest to Jesus worth commenting on, and that is any sign that Funk at one time in his life may have had a “rigid fundamentalist” outlook.

He quotes Funk as saying:

If the creationists had their way I . . . would have been stuck with a literalist reading of Genesis 1 and 2, which I had already acquired from attending Sunday school. . .

And from this passage Evans can make the following “insight” into Funk’s failing:

What strikes me is how Funk began his Christian experience with a “literalist reading of Genesis 1 and 2,” . . .

Other points in these lists that Evans sees are the smoking gun: Funk went to “Bible college” (Evans puts this in quotation marks), became “a teenage evangelist”, learned “by memorization” etc.

Surely any reader must ask themselves, What? Does not such a Christian upbringing apply to so many scholars and non-scholars alike? Is Evans really suggesting that there was anything distinctive about the upbringing Funk had that was sure to increase his risk of eventual dilution of his faith? No doubt if Evans was really interested in scholarly research and explanations he would conduct a control study to test his perceptions on why Funk flunked. Why does Evans completely ignore any explanation of Funk’s thought processes — from Funk himself? And compare these with other Christians who have remained “true to the faith” in Evan’s view?

Why does Evans deny Funk’s own explanations and re-personalize him in the image of his (Evans’) own presumptions?

James Robinson

Evans looks for the few passages where Robinson has divulged some of “his pilgrimage” (Evans’s words) and even quotes Robinson saying:

I am often asked by Christians who are not academics . . . how a lifetime of critical biblical scholarship has affected my faith . . . The implied answer is that such “higher criticism” obviously destroyed it. (pp.24-25)

Evans responds with as much interest to Robinson’s explanation as a cow responds to hearing humans talk. Evans finds significance in Robinson saying that he went to a literal-fundamentalist college at one time and for a time imbibed some of that perspective.

Here again, we likely have a rigid, fundamentalist understanding of Scripture.

How many scholars of whatever faith or sceptical persuasion don’t have such a background or have not had such an understanding at some point in their pasts? Are all the faithful scholars Evans knows relatively free from ever having experienced such things?

What exactly is the mechanic at work that Evans believes cause people with such a background to become sceptical of even the less-rigid fundamentalist claims of the Bible? He never explains and I cannot imagine one. Unless Evans is presuming to think that such a background has made them somehow hostile to the Bible and determined dishonestly to find fault with it. But such an assumption won’t work either. Many biblical scholars clearly love their studies and are driven by honest intellectual curiosity.

The spiritual condition of Funk and Robinson

Evans can discern the spiritual condition of these two scholars. They are just like adherents of the ancient Ebionite sect who believed Jesus was a good man but not divine. The name Ebionite means “poor” and is sometimes thought to have been applied by the orthodox to refer to their spiritually poor condition — although Evans does not spell that link out here.

Craig Evans is of course just playing a mind game. He has a model of how and why people leave the faith and he is looking for little clues which he can use to fit these two scholars into it. He shows no interest in noticing, let alone addressing, the reasons and explanations given by his subjects themselves.

Will look at his treatment of Price and Erhman next post in this series. They are so bad they don’t even get a spiritual rating at all from Evans!

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Neil Godfrey

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