An anti-Enlightenment ax to grind

Craig Carter's book makes good points—and undermines them with his use of polemic.

Christian polemic is a worthy en­deavor. Done well, it imitates the fighting words of the prophets, saints, and Jesus himself through confident, courageous exposure of wickedness and error, whether moral, political, or intellectual. Done poorly, it uses the excuse of imminent danger (real or imagined) to justify point scoring, name calling, and scapegoating, all of which are vices and shortcuts in the life of the mind, and nowhere more damaging than in theological argument.

Craig Carter’s book is an exercise in Christian polemic. Many of the objects of his critique or praise are deserving of it. But the book’s alarmist framing and scorched-earth prose undercut its nobler goals and arguments. For the sake of orientation into Carter’s world, consider two sets of claims.

The first: the Bible of Old and New Testaments is the sacred book of the Christian church. As holy scripture, it is the inspired word of God for the people of God. Christians go to it for divine instruction; they expect to hear from it the speech of the living Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. It judges, rules, and guides believers as they seek to follow Jesus, and it is the material norm for all sound doctrine. To approach this book as if it were merely, or primarily, of historical interest makes no sense for Christians, whether laypersons, clergy, or scholars. Christian engagement with the Bible, rather, ought to be characterized by a combination of theological convictions and spiritual dispositions, not least regarding scripture’s divine authorship and unity in Christ and the accompanying posture of believers’ humble trust in the Spirit’s illuminating aid in reading it.