David Crump, Encountering Jesus, Encountering Scripture: Reading The Bible Critically in Faith. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, May, 2013. 155 pp. Paperback, $20.00
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David Crump is a professor in the Religion Department of Calvin College. He’s written a couple other books, 1 so this isn’t his first rodeo.
In a philosophical way, this book is an exercise in ressourcement. Basically, the question is “what kind of wisdom might Kierkegaard offer readers of Scripture who are wrestling with the implications of higher criticism?” If that question either doesn’t make sense or doesn’t really appeal to you (either because of Kierkegaard or higher criticism or both), then you probably won’t find much to take away from this book.
If that question does appeal to you, you’ll probably love this book.
As Crump explains in the introduction,
In this book I explore the New Testament’s portrayal of the paradox of faith as both the catalyst for and the consequence of a personal encounter with the living Christ – an encounter that begs recognition in every area of a believer’s life. I do this in such a way as to demonstrate Kierkegaard’s insights into the nature of faith and personal decision. This book is not an exercise in philosophical theology but rather a living New Testament theology (12).
The introduction being labelled chapter 1, the first non-introductory chapter is chapter 2 and the focal point is how the earliest Christians began to recognize Christ in the Old Testament. Naturally this leads to a discussion of the NT use of the OT, and Crump takes a different stance than Carson and Beale (as best exemplified in the Commentary on The NT Use of The OT). Rather than a strict methodology, Crump advocates a kind of Kierkegaardian leap to seeing Christ fulfilling OT “prophecy” in the NT (like Matthew 2:15 for instance). There is something to be said for this, though I didn’t ultimately find it convincing (but that’s also because I don’t find the “Kierkegaardian leap” account of faith compelling, but it’s something I want to research further). I prefer the Beale/Carson approach, but I think Crump’s account can offer some wisdom to fit within that framework without jettisoning it altogether. Specifically, we grasp Jesus as the Christ by faith and the with that framework of faith, read and see him in the Old Testament. This is true (Crump’s point) and Beale/Carson’s method is helpful to unpack that truth.
The next chapter is an extended commentary on Mark 10:17-27 (the story of the rich man). Crump chooses it because it presents a figure who has a personal encounter with Jesus and has to choose “(a) faith or offense, (b) uncertainty or certainty, and (c) becoming an individual or remaining a member of the crowd” (51). As we all know, this man chooses poorly, but the lesson is instructive for us, particularly in a Kierkegaardian account of faith. Much of the chapter focuses on the different levels of offensiveness Jesus’ presents, but chiefly the emphasis on the offensiveness of uncertainty, which in part makes faith necessary. Or, as Crump puts it “This is the irreducible paradox lurking at the heart of Christian faith. Without uncertainty there is no reason to believe, for then we would know, and there would be no risk in believing” (66). As he then concludes:
The pivotal lesson of Mark 10:17-22 is that faith reveals an individual’s relationship to God moment by moment in an ever present immediacy. Consequently, the obedience of faith never rests on its laurels. Past devotion is only as personally significant as the present act of faith and obedience. Here is the truth that Kierkegaard refers to when he talks about the immediacy of faith. Immediacy is the “here and nowness” of believing in Jesus (69).
From here, chapter 4 turns to Paul, particularly the lessons we can glean from his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus. Crumps sees that understanding Paul’s theology, life, and ministry starts with grasping this encounter (similar to how Frank Matera centers God’s Saving Grace: A Pauline Theology on this). In Crump’s account, Paul himself makes a kind of Kierkegaardian leap. He then presents a reading of some texts in Paul to see how Paul reinterprets his experiences in light of the risen Christ and how that might be instructive for us today. Crumps is “convinced that Paul would happily endorse Kierkegaard’s insights into New Testament theology” (94), though readers will need to make up their own mind after reading (I’m not completely sold).
Chapter 5 turns to the Gospel of John, and specifically Jesus’ confrontations with the Pharisees in that Gospel. Here Crump also presents the distinction between objective and subjective thinking. The former is more abstract and universal in orientation, while the the latter is more concrete and personal. In both cases the focus of thought is on truth, the distinction is rather how truth is personalized. Too often, especially in theology, we can depersonalize our studies and consequently never have our lives affected by it. Crump wants to avoid this, and offers much wisdom on that front. Eventually, he notes “anyone who has surrendered their reason at the foot of the cross will discover that Christ hands it back again to be sued more appropriately and insightfully in the search for truth” (112).
The final chapter turns how this all affects theological education. It is a fitting conclusion and probably required reading for seminary students. The dangers of turning a fertile ground for personal encounter with the risen Christ into a sanitized, depersonalized affair. Seminaries are aware of this, and at least at Dallas, our professors tried to guide us through the terrain safely. Crump’s advice here fits into his overall framework, but even if you don’t buy the Kierkegaardian account of faith, there is much to glean.
I suppose that’s actually a good summary of the whole. Even you’re not a Kierkegaard fan, you can learn a lot here about how to read Scripture in faith and with a look toward a personal encounter with Christ. I found it a profitable read, and am a bit intrigued to re-investigate Kierkegaard. Not sure when I’ll have time for that, but in the mean time, if the opening question of this review intrigued you, and some of discussion pulled you in further, you might want to check this book out.