The key to understanding the Bible is history, specifically, the history of a particular family, the fathers and the sons of Abraham. In order to understand what is written in this book we have to have a clear grasp of the key events of that history, and the way that they were understood and explained within the Bible itself.
The human authors of the Bible placed great importance upon events, dates and times, and understood God to be acting through them. Their theology was not based upon points of doctrine, but history, and what God had promised to do in it. When they did deal with doctrine as we understand it, it was always in terms of the history of their ancestors and the covenants that God made with them, which was what we today call the history of salvation.
It should not be controversial to say that the integrity of the Bible as a self-sufficient unitary entity must be respected. After all, it is a universal and basic axiom of literature. Whatever use we put the Bible to, we must first understand it on its own terms and respect its literary integrity. Only then may we apply what we have learned to our own day and situation.
Tom Wright has done an admirable job of demonstrating the historical reliability and credibility of the Bible in terms of a particular modern historical theory, in opposition to the open and plain rejection of Bible history by modern scholars like Crossan and others. However, there are two weaknesses in his methodology that will eventually undermine his solid achievements. First, his biblical history completely ignores the first eleven chapters of Genesis, which are the historical foundations of the Christian religion, and second, it fails to directly address the problem of metaphysics and the goal of salvation, which has the practical effect of totally nullifying the history of biblical Israel.
The liberal project depends upon rejecting the Bible’s account of history and insisting that true religion has nothing to do with it. It focuses upon abstract things like “relationship” and ideals like hope and trust. The primary reason is of course the almost total acceptance within the academy of Darwinian and old earth theories that make biblical history meaningless. No-one who wishes to be taken seriously as an academic, or be a part of the religious establishment, can go against this consensus.
Modern evangelicalism has adopted the same basic ideas and rejected the history of the Bible, in particular the history recorded in Genesis, and the goal of salvation as the restored Davidic kingdom of Israel. There can be no dispute about that. In doing so they have adopted the methods and mentality of liberalism, and for the same reasons. Modern evangelicalism is simply a variation of liberalism, despite their vehement denials and rhetoric. Modern evangelicalism and liberalism are essentially the same thing. Professor James Barr made this very case against modern fundamentalism, accusing it of theological dishonesty and hypocrisy for its attacks upon liberalism when it had in fact adopted its basic premises and methods, in the process abandoning the historical Christian position on Genesis and history, and he is indisputably right.
There is a closely related problem. Metaphysics is broadly understood to mean “that which is beyond the physical”. Anything that falls into this category has, at best, a tenuous link with history, and at worst, no link at all. Without question there is a broad cross-cultural consensus that the true heart of Christianity is ultimately transcendent, centreing upon the invisible, immortal and immaterial soul, and a heaven that exists in another dimension from the earth. To this way of thinking and believing the great events recorded in the Old Testament necessarily become metaphor, thus making them irrelevant as fact, and this completely destroys the Bible’s own understanding of the covenants, Christ, and the goal of salvation, which is entirely material and earthly. This is why it works so successfully with the liberal anti-history project.
Whatever variations within liberalism and evangelicalism may be, both reject the truth of biblical history to a greater or lesser extent, but fundamentally they are in agreement on the age of the earth, and the consequences of that for accepting the biblical account of history. Consequently they have a serious problem in handling the Bible, because they are not able to accept its integrity in regards to its truth, if only in part, their vehement protestations notwithstanding, or its integrity regarding its unity and completeness.
Darwinian and metaphysical theories are a curtain that hides the clarity and purity of the gospel in the same way that the Medieval Papacy concealed the gospel behind a thick veil of newly invented doctrines and practices. When the veil is pulled aside the plain gospel of bodily resurrection through Jesus Christ into the never-ending Davidic kingdom shines forth in its purity and simplicity.