5 Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew (Boersma)

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Boersma, Hans. Five Things Theologians Wish Biblical Scholars Knew. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress, 2021.

The idea behind this book is good; the book not so much. Boersma is correct that no one approaches the text without a commitment to metaphysics. Moreoever, we can only smile with amusement when someone says, “If you would just stay committed to the Bible,” presumably you would believe as I do. Unfortunately, much of Boersma’s discussion trades on ambiguities and straw men. To be sure, the book does have a few good chapters, namely the ones on metaphysics and heaven. The chapters are something like: No Plato, No Christ; No Plato, No Scripture; No Plato, no metaphysics; No Providence, no Scripture; No Heaven, No Scripture.

The Good

  1. We can’t simply appeal to “the bible” qua bible. We all come with metaphysics.
  2. If Christ is present in the Old Testament, then some form of a sensus plenior obtains. That seems to be unavoidable.
  3. He has a good section on Athanasius. However, Boersma doesn’t realize that Athanasius’s Christology undercuts Plato’s cosmology. If the Son is fully God, then we don’t have a Demiurge creating the world.
  4. Excellent chapter on metaphysics. His argument, though, might be inadequate. Key to the Platonic framework is the idea of “participation.” What does that actually mean? I’m not sure. Boersma neer defines it. Aristotle, too, pointed out that ambiguity in Plato. Once you get past his annoying habit of using “platonism” simply to mean “Augustine” and “realism.” Identifies 5 aspects of Ur-Platonism: 1) anti-materialism, 2) anti-mechanism, 3) anti-nominalism; 4) Anti-relativism, and 5) Anti-skepticism. On one hand this sounds like basic Christian wisdom. True, you find all of this in one form or another in Plato’s dialogues. But must it be called Platonism?

    In a throwaway line that must have had the Revoice guys in mind, Boersma (rightly) says our primary identity is in Christ, not in some made-up social identity (which also applies, mutatis mutandis, to other post-Marxist constructs).
  5. Excellent chapter on heaven. He puts a halt on many silly “anti-imperial” readings. He notes that their (often shrill) us vs. them rhetoric is the very violence they seek to oppose. In fact, he specifically calls out left-wing agendas, noting they treat sin and redemption in this worldly structures.
The Bad

  1. We’ll start with the most obvious problem: allegory. Boersma’s section on typology was actually good. Unfortunately, he doesn’t like the contrast b/t typology and allegory. What matters for him is allegory. Here is one problem: why even bother w/the original languages and the Hebrew-ness of Israel if the text is allegorical? All that matters is the “deeper meaning.” This is the fatal flaw in all allegorical schemes. Following upon that point, what criteria does Boersma have for saying “this deeper reading” is wrong while the other one is correct?
  2. He claimed Charles Hodge was a nominalist. Boersma said Nevin chose Plato and the Great Tradition while Hodge chose Francis Bacon. This is bad. Nevin chose German Idealism, not Plato.
  3. Boersma never defines biblical theology. At times it means “bad academics” and at other times it means “sola scriptura.” Even worse, he never defines sola scriptura.
  4. Very little of Israel’s story is connected with Plato. There is nothing Platonic about the Exodus, the Temple, or the Atonement. There is also nothing Platonic about the New Jerusalem descending to earth.
I can recommend other books by Boersma. I cannot recommend this one.
 

Alexander Suarez

Puritan Board Freshman
Would it be incorrect if one read Hans Boersma (or Craig Carter) and came away with the impression that they suggested you need to have the correct metaphysics before reading the Bible?

If so, this seems to remove the Bible itself as a supreme authority over our understanding of reality, as though the Holy Scriptures cannot correct our faulty metaphysics. For instance, to use Boerma's example in Chapter 2, wouldn't a reading of John 4:24 challenge our materialism as opposed to further confirm us in it?
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Would it be incorrect if one read Hans Boersma (or Craig Carter) and came away with the impression that they suggested you need to have the correct metaphysics before reading the Bible?

If so, this seems to remove the Bible itself as a supreme authority over our understanding of reality, as though the Holy Scriptures cannot correct our faulty metaphysics. For instance, to use Boerma's example in Chapter 2, wouldn't a reading of John 4:24 challenge our materialism as opposed to further confirm us in it?

To a degree. I agree with them on metaphysics. I think if you have a nominalist metaphysics (which isn't quite identical with materialism), then you have problems. I just don't think it is as neat and tidy as they make it.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
To a degree. I agree with them on metaphysics. I think if you have a nominalist metaphysics (which isn't quite identical with materialism), then you have problems. I just don't think it is as neat and tidy as they make it.
Do they think it is possible to derive a basic metaphysics from scripture to analyze other metaphysics to see whats true or not, a la Van Til? I'm asking if this is possible in principle, practice can be hashed out later.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Do they think it is possible to derive a basic metaphysics from scripture to analyze other metaphysics to see whats true or not, a la Van Til? I'm asking if this is possible in principle, practice can be hashed out later.

He doesn't make any claim one way or another on whether one can derive a metaphysics from Scripture. I actually think people have to presuppose (!) realism before they even get to Scripture for the reason that they have to think language corresponds to reality, etc.
 
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