Westmont Magazine A New Testament Journey
Bruce Fisk believes that traveling in the Middle East helps students in their journey through the Bible. For the past two years, the associate professor of New Testament has led trips to the historic region. He is also writing a book that uses his love for the land to help readers think through critical questions in the study of the New Testament.
In May and June, 19 students joined Bruce in Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. “We operated on two levels,” he says. “We explored the culture and religion of the modern Middle East, and we also visited archaeological sites and museums. We shifted back and forth from the past to the present.
“The Middle East is such a complex, varied world,” Bruce notes. “The experience of Christians varies depending on location. But you don’t need to hide your religious affiliation. People see Jewish, Muslim and Christian as a clear-cut, deep-rooted historical identities, not as statements about convictions.
“We felt welcomed, embraced and safe in our travels,” he adds. “Middle Eastern hospitality is amazing. We visited people who fed us, entertained us and welcomed us to their homes.”
A scholar who teaches, Bruce looks for ways to help his students learn. “I care about their intellectual and spiritual formation,” he says. “I try to model a life that refuses to dichotomize between heart and mind, that embraces tough questions. The issues on the table won’t be going away; they call for our best minds and for honest, rigorous scholarship.
“Nothing our students face is new. I want them to see how Christians have reflected on issues throughout the centuries. It’s fun to be part of a rich, lingering theological conversation.”
Bruce confronts questions at the heart of the gospels: How do Christians deal with different historical accounts of events in the scriptures?
“The Christian faith stands on a set of historical claims,” he says. “It really does matter if the resurrection happened. The Gospels recount events, not fables.
“But the ancients recounted history differently than we do. They used creative license, like we do with sermons. Preachers embellish stories, add dialogue, fuse accounts, abbreviate and expand. This approach doesn’t discount facts; it just means the authors have other intentions. They want to persuade and to shape thinking as well as to inform.”
The way the Jews and others interpreted the Old Testament during the first century interests Bruce. How did these narratives function in the New Testament world? What is the role of biblical narrative? How do stories work? How do we follow a book that is largely narrative?
Bruce is convinced that we have much to learn from early Jewish interpretation. Paul’s Jewish heritage is clear; his theology is deeply rooted in the Old Testament, but now he reads it through a new lens: the resurrection of Jesus.
“Paul sees the Old Testament in the light of God’s surprising new act in Jesus,” Bruce says. “But he also reflects the conventions of his time.
“Evangelicals create problems when they decide to read the Bible as a modern book,” he adds. “They get nervous when they see Paul doing something very different. We have to let Paul be Paul. He can’t conform to our modernist expectations.”
In the past year, Bruce has answered many questions about “The Da Vinci Code.” He says the best-seller is riding several waves: anti-Catholicism, feminism and interest in gnosticism.
“Salvation by secret knowledge is still popular,” he says. “People believe they can think their way to God.
“The book should be laughable to Christians,” he contends. “The fact that it unsettles them reveals ignorance about church history. The claim that Christians never thought about Jesus’s divinity prior to Constantine in the fourth century is ludicrous. But it provides a teachable moment and a chance to dialogue.”