King's Andy Cheung caught up with Darrell Bock, the well-known New Testament scholar, researcher and author based at Dallas Theological Seminary. During the interview, Andy asked Dr Bock about progressive dispensationalism, the DaVinci Code, the emerging church, and his writing and research projects.
Darrell Bock: Well, I have a wife and we have been married for almost 33 years. We have three children, two daughters and a son, all grown. The two girls are married and the oldest has two boys, so I am a grandfather (even though I am not so old). I like sports and played basketball until my body said my mind was too far ahead of it.
A recently published book of yours is Dethroning Jesus: Popular Culture and the Quest to Unseat the Biblical Christ [pub. Nov 2007]. Can you tell us a little bit about what this book is about?
This book traces six ides that have made the best seller list In the USA saying things about Jesus I do not think are correct. So we wrote a book responding. Those ideas included claiming that (1) we cannot know the NT text. (2) The extra-biblical gospels reveal another Jesus and show (3) that there was no orthodoxy originally, only various forms of Christianity. (4) That Paul had another kind of Christianity from Peter, James and Jesus. (5) That Jesus was about fighting the political oppressors of Rome. (6) That we have found Jesus' family tomb. We work through these issues one topic at a time.
Is it a written at a popular level or is it an academic work?
Dethroning Jesus is a popular book, but because it interacts with academic theories, it is a little on the high end of that category. Serious lay people can follow it.
I'm also delighted to see your long-awaited commentary on Acts (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) is now available. I was surprised to see in the preface that it's the culmination of a commitment made in the early 1980s to work on commentaries on Luke-Acts! Can you tell us a little bit about the process of writing these large technical commentaries?
We'll it took over 20 years. My son was 20 before I was done. It means working on a verse a day for years and then working and proofing it again and again and again until it is done. You read tons and learn more.
A short while ago, you wrote widely on matters relating to the DaVinci Code. Is this subject something that you intend to keep at the top of your agenda?
Well, not the DaVinci Code, but I do plan to keep writing in areas where the culture interacts with the Jesus and the Bible. There are so many crazy ideas out there. I distinguish between Christianity, where Jesus is unique and Messiah versus Jesusanity, where Jesus is just a great religious teacher but he is not Messiah nor unique. I will continue to write about the difference and the issues tied to that discussion.
What impact, long-term, do you think the DaVinci Code and similar works will have on the general public perception of the historical Jesus? In other words, do you think the negative effect of these works will be short lived?
It actually is that the DaVinci Code reflects issues that have been in the public square and now, popularized, reflect how many people are coming to see Christianity as a political creation of Constantine that has little, if anything, to do with the historical Jesus. Now Constantine did have a tremendous impact on Christianity, but the theology of the church long predates him as does the church's view of Jesus, as that is rooted in the experience of the disciples and Jesus' own teaching. But fighting the impression made by this other story that now shows up in novels and TV specials on Jesus and Christianity is going to be an ongoing task for the church---and many in the church have no idea how to respond to such claims. They sense these alternative ideas are wrong but do not know what to say when "experts" or books say otherwise. Thus the church needs to do a better job of instructing its own on such idea.
For Christians who want to know more about this, there any other books or resources that he would recommend?
There are dozens of books in the DaVinci Code. However there are very few on the early history of Christianity that deal with these issues. Among those that exist are my The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth behind Alternative Christianities; Craig Evans' Fabricating Jesus; Dan Wallace and two others have Reinventing Jesus. My blog at www.bible.org/bock also discusses these issues now and again.
I see on your blog that you written extensively on the emerging church. Can you tell us what your view is on that movement?
I think this movement is asking important questions and is doing some healthy and creative things about church. However, those who want to rethink theology or shy away from key theological ideas are not doing the church any favors. The death of Jesus and the reality of a judgment of God in the context of accountability to God are ideas that Jesus pointed to (try the Last Supper or many of his parables and discourses). Incarnating the gospel and appreciating the relational dimensions of theology in the call to follow Jesus are also important as emergents stress. The issue is how to integrate all of these themes and variety, not choose between them. There are kinds of emergents. This is important also to remember as not all emergents are emphasizing the same things. I find most of them motivated by a desire to be truly missional and personal in their walk.
You once wrote a book on progressive dispensationalism. For the benefit of those who don't know could you explain what this is, especially compared to what we might call traditional dispensationalism?
The key thing here is that PD (as it often is called) highlights the continuity of Scripture when traditional dispensationalism was known for making distinctions. So we argue how all the covenants of promise (Abrahamic, Davidic, and New) meet an initial realization in Jesus (not a revolutionary idea at all). This means that the prophets and the gospels are not about an era of the past (as many dispensationalists tend to argue by how they do their Israel versus church theology) but clearly address us as well as God's People. However, like other dispensationalists, Israel is also seen as having a future in God's plan as texts like Romans 11 and Acts 3:18-22 argue.
What are your next writing projects?
I have just committed to a commentary on Matthew and will be editing a major book on the Historical Jesus to appear in the WUNT series at the end of 2009.
Will the Matthew commentary be a full-scale technical one like Luke-Acts? What series does it belong to?
This is a series still in planning that I will also be an associate editor on. It will not be a commentary at the most technical level but one that engages that discussion and moves to application as well. So in a series designed to help pastors communicate the message to the church.
Dr Bock, thank you for your time.
The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty members of the Midlands Bible College and Divinity School. Prof Bock is a New Testament scholar and research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary in Texas, USA. His blog can be read at www.bible.org/bock
The Talks With Scholars series is a regular feature at the Midlands Bible College and Divinity School. Visit the interview page for more engaging dicussion and conversation with world class academics.