Can We Still Believe in God?
Answering Ten Contemporary Challenges to Christianity
- ISBN: 9781587434044
- Published By: Brazos Press
- Published: June 2020
In Can We Still Believe in God? Answering Ten Contemporary Challenges to Christianity, Craig Blomberg addresses common points of skepticism and objection regarding the Christian faith. He takes up issues such as the problem of evil, contradictions in Christian scripture, and the undesirability of the Christian life. The original contribution of the book lies in the perspective from which Blomberg approaches the topics, namely, as a New Testament scholar. Rather than rehash evidence from cognate fields, Blomberg concentrates on how the New Testament speaks to various challenges to Christianity.
The first chapter takes up the question of evil and suffering. Blomberg suggests that the New Testament does not primarily offer an account of why there is evil but rather what God has done, is doing, and will do in response to evil. The New Testament thus concentrates on the ways and works of God in overcoming the evil in the world.
The second chapter takes up the plight of the unevangelized by considering the New Testament’s teaching on hell and the afterlife. Blomberg offers a mediating approach that draws out the problems with “literal” readings of the New Testament description of hell.
The third chapter addresses objections to Christian discrimination against slaves, women, and the LGBTQ+ community. With respect to slavery, Blomberg surveys the subversive moments of scripture (particularly 1 Corinthians 7:18–23 and Philemon) and notes the progressive character of God’s revelation. The discussion of gender roles surveys the evidence for complementarian (the view that restricts certain authoritative ecclesial roles to males) and egalitarian (the view that positions of authority, whether in society or church, are not based on gender) readings of Scripture—demonstrating that the discrimination of women is not a necessary consequence of the Christian faith.
The fourth and fifth chapters take up the problem of miracles. Blomberg does so by concentrating on the significance of the miracles in the New Testament, namely, to signal the coming of the kingdom of God. The consensus of scholars, he argues, regarding the “credible and consistent pattern” of Jesus’ miraculous activity strengthens the Christian faith’s claims regarding Jesus’ unique identity (63).
The sixth chapter considers the problem of violence in Scripture. Concentrating once again on the New Testament material, Bloomberg argues that Jesus sets forth a vision of peacemaking. This vocation will lead Christians to reject all forms of glorified violence (whether they adopt a just-war or pacifist approach). “A Rambo-like spirit,” Blomberg says, “may be one of American culture’s icons, but it should be allowed no place in the Christian church” (92–93).
Chapter 7 considers whether divine agency undermines human freedom. The issue comes to a head in the doctrine of predestination. Rejecting reprobation (God’s active foreordaining of some of humanity to eternal damnation) but recognizing God’s salvific initiative, Blomberg argues for a form of single predestination, which, alongside an operative—albeit admittedly extrabiblical—account of middle knowledge, leaves “human freedom and responsibility . . . intact.”
In chapter 8, Blomberg addresses the apparent contradictions in the gospels. He offers an even-handed response. He avoids, on the one hand, the tendency of some pockets of American evangelicalism to impose the standards of modern historical criticism on ancient documents, thereby overplaying their hand regarding the historical reliability of the gospels. He also avoids, on the other side, pressing the apparent tensions in the gospel writings in such a manner that neglects their context (literary, historical, etc.).
The ninth chapter addresses a topic that has risen to prominence under the scholarship of Bart Erhman, among others: the scribal errors of New Testament. Following a customary tack, Blomberg defends the overall reliability of scripture by appealing to the insignificance of the discrepancies in the original manuscripts.
Finally, in chapter 10, Blomberg addresses the objection that Christian faith is restrictive of human behavior. The New Testament, he argues, offers a moral vision that promotes human flourishing. The undesirability of Christianity often rests on a caricature that underplays the “fundamental principle of freedom” (153).
Overall, the book serves well as an introduction to the New Testament’s response to common charges laid against the Christian faith. It is not, however, without potential shortcomings. At times, the resources from other fields recommended for further research are unhelpful. In taking up the issues of gender justice, for instance, Blomberg argues that philosophers debate whether ontological equality may coexist with functional subordination. As an example of the affirmative position on the issue, he cites an essay by Ray Ortlund Jr.—whom many likely do not consider a philosopher in any meaningful sense of the term.
The volume’s primary contribution lies in Blomberg’s unique aim to bring the New Testament material to bear on contemporary issues of apologetics. The addressed themes are widely researched in apologetics, but the resources of the New Testament often take a back seat to the other cognate fields. Can We Still Believe in God? thus succeeds in offering a distinctive defense of Christian belief.
Brent Rempel is director of graduate programs and lecturer of theology at Stark College and Seminary.Brent RempelDate Of Review:February 15, 2022