Sunday 4 June 2006
Dr. Bob Bites Back
It was only a matter of hours before Bob Thiel responded to my previous entry. Courtesy of Gary Scott at XCG, the "Doctor Bob" posting attracted more attention than it otherwise might.
Bob points out that at least one of his articles is indeed extensively referenced, and I thank him for providing the link. What can we learn from Bob's selection of sources?
First, both Dugger & Dodd and the Catholic Encyclopedia were used, as predicted. The first dates back to the 1930s, while the second goes back nearly ninety five years. In fact, the bulk of Bob's references seem to be seriously dated. The earliest I noted was 1885! Most seem to be out-of-copyright material that is now available free online.
Then there are the "in-house" references: LCG booklets, Tomorrow's World magazine, one of Alan Knight's books (a hyper-fundamentalist COG7 lay member with, as far as I know, no qualifications whatsoever in this area), Samuele Bacchiocchi (who does) and the 1950s Radio Church of God Correspondence Course.
Remove the outdated stuff and the sectarian material and there's not a lot left. Even then, I wonder about some. For example Bob cites (approvingly) a passage from the Gospel of Thomas in The Complete Gospels, a volume published by the Jesus Seminar. Did he realize that?
Bob states: "My articles, as any who read them can tell, are highly documented." One article, especially with these kinds of references, is hardly convincing. Bob then switches tack and lambasts his critics: "it really does not matter much what the anti-COGers choose to believe about what I write. They have never appeared to me to be like the Bereans—they do not seem to have “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11)."
The question however is not whether his critics have read the Bible (I'm sure most of us have as good a track record as Bob) but how they read the Bible. Is it just a fundamentalist's treasure trove of proof texts (the way LCG seems to treat it) or something that requires a bit more thought and care.
Bob seems to have sidestepped my suggestion of providing a bibliography on the early church, but I'm happy to provide a brief one of my own. I've listed just 5, all of which concentrate on the first centuries. They come from a variety of perspectives, all the writers are qualified in their field, all are informed by the best current scholarship, and all (with the possible exception of Koester) are written for the non-specialist. Immerse yourself in any one of these, and I think you'll agree that Bob's apologetic approach leaves something to be desired.
Henry Chadwick. The Early Church. London, Penguin Books, Revised 1993. (A little staid, but quite comprehensive)
W.H.C. Frend. The Rise of Christianity. Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1984. (Very comprehensive, widely regarded as one of the best)
Laurie Guy. Introducing Early Christianity. Downers Grove, Ill. InterVarsity Press, 2004. (An informed Evangelical perspective)
Helmut Koester. History and Literature of Early Christianity. Berlin & New York, Walter de Gruyter, 2000 ed. (More radical and densely argued than most)
L. Michael White. From Jesus to Christianity: How Four Generations of Visionaries & Storytellers Created the New Testament and Christian Faith. San Francisco, HarperCollins, 2004. (Brilliant overview)