Evangelical Scholarship, Retrospects and Prospects

Essays in Honor of Stanley N. Gundry

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Verlyn Verbrugge
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Zondervan
    , December
     2017.
     272 pages.
     $49.99.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780310087014.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Stanley Gundry has had a varied career, working in three major aspects of the world of religion: pastor, academic, and publisher. Gundry’s four decades of work with Zondervan Academic, a publishing company known for its Christian resources, has occasioned this festschrift in his honor. Unbeknownst to him—(apparently a difficult task considering his current role as editor-in-chief—this work brought together scholars of myriad expertise, united by their publication work with Gundry and Zondervan. Three other editors for Zondervan joined forces to complete this work; one of which, Verlyn D. Verbrugge, passed away before the book’s completion.

Appropriately, the chapters of the book reflect Gundry’s wide-ranging interests and publishing history as editor. After two chapters of personal reflections on Gundry’s life and work, the following chapters vary in topics from evangelical history, to biblical exegesis, to theological studies, to the role of theological education. The chapter “Does the Quest for the Historical Jesus Still Hold Any Promise?” is bookended by chapters on the meaning of inerrancy and the concept of women remaining silent in church as seen in Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. The book’s editors recognize this, describing the book as “perhaps, the most multifaceted collection of essays Zondervan has ever published” (back cover).

As a result, the book is uneven. Chapters probing the latest insights in a field are interspersed with others that seem dated, quoting scholarship that is more than twenty-five years old. This could, however, be a result of the range of topics in the book, some of which this reviewer has more familiarity in than others. Scholars and interested laypeople alike will find a few chapters of interest depending on their own field of study, but the book as a whole is too varied for the typical layperson.

That said, the book has value as more than just its individual chapters or as an homage to Gundry. More than a study, the book is itself an artifact providing insight into evangelicalism in America. Gundry has played a significant role in evangelicalism for the past half-century, as editor for one of the largest Christian publishers, as well as head of the most prominent academic groups for conservative Christians, the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS). Few evangelicals, especially those who have been educated at a Christian institution, will not have read at least one Zondervan-published book.

This work comes at a time when the very concept of “evangelicalism” is disagreed upon. While never settled, connections between evangelicals and the Religious Right—which culminated in the oft-quoted statistic that 81% of evangelicals voted for Donald Trump—has occasioned the study of the group through racial, sociological, and political lenses, as well as the previously emphasized lenses of theology and doctrine. Recent papers and panels at conferences for the American Academy of Religion as well as the American Society of Church History and the American Historical Society probe the meaning of the term, while debates ensue on Twitter over the meaning of the word, and who should rightly be considered an “evangelical.” Thomas Kidd’s forthcoming book, Who is an Evangelical? (Yale University Press, 2019) is one example of how this confusion is being addressed.

Evangelical Scholarship, Retrospects and Prospectsf urther complicates the issue by showing that even doctrinal or theological issues do not provide a clear marker for what an evangelical is. Gundry himself was the series editor for the Zondervan-produced “counterpoints” series, a collection of books that brought advocates of contrary views together to debate a wide range of theological issues—from interpretations of Genesis to the meaning of Hell. The books in the series highlighted general disagreements between Christians (broadly conceived), but also between evangelicals. Such theological disagreement is reflected in a very short statement, of which adherence is required for membership in the ETS. The first of two statements reads, “[t]he Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” Yet, even in the doctrine of inerrancy there is disagreement. While the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy is thought of as an area of agreement by evangelicals, Karen H. Jobes’s chapter on the doctrine points out continued tensions. She considers how the use of the Septuagint by the New Testament authors forces adherents of the statement to consider how a translation of the original autographs used by the authors compares to the original autographs themselves. One theme of Gundry’s life is his advocacy for women in ministry, a controversial topic within evangelicalism. In fact, Gundry’s work in this area came at personal cost: pushing him out of Moody Bible Institute, which set him in the direction of eventually becoming Editor-in-Chief at Zondervan.

In short: this work honoring Gundry is another instantiation of how the evangelical tradition is just that—a tradition: a “historically extended, socially embodied argument,” to borrow Alastair MacIntyre’s definition (211). Socially, politically, and theologically, evangelicalism has grappled with what it means to be an evangelical. This festschrift in honor of Gundry is a reflection of his life’s work, and a great example of how they continue to do so.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Daniel Roeber is a historian of Religion in America and a graduate of the Religion Department at Florida State University.

Date of Review: 
March 26, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Verlyn D. Verbrugge is Senior Editor at Large for Biblical and Theological Resources at Zondervan. He has published a number of articles as well as the acclaimed New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology: Abridged Edition (Zondervan, 2000), Paul’s Style of Church Leadership as Illustrated by His Instructions to the Corinthians on the Collection (Mellen, 1992), and A Not-So-Silent Night: The Unheard Story of Christmas and Why It Matters (Kregel, 2009).

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