Friday, 24 February 2012

Appreciating F. F. Bruce.

Tim Grass' F. F. Bruce: A Life (Milton Keynes: Authentic Media, 2011) is billed as the definitive biography of the famous New Testament scholar. Its certainly a fascinating read, and Grass has done a terrific job in tracing the main contours of his life and career, sprinkling the narrative with fascinating glimpses into the real Bruce, and also laying bare his intellectual development, mainly through the eyes of his chief publications.

Fred Bruce's life spanned the greater part of the twentieth century. Born in the north-east of Scotland in 1910; Bruce's early life was moulded by his Brethren upbringing. He studied Classics at Aberdeen, and only later moved somewhat effortlessly into Biblical Studies, famously becoming the Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at Manchester in 1959.

I don't want to comment on the whole of the book here, some of my reviews have been getting far too long lately. So I'll just comment on a few of the areas of the book which I found particularly interesting and helpful.

As an evangelical and a profesional historian working in the 'secular' univeristy system, I guess I owe a certain indirect debt to Bruce, since he was perhaps one of the first to demonstrate to the wider evangelical constituency, which in the first half of the twentieth century was notably anti-intellectual, that it was possible to be faithful to scripture and be academically rigorous, and respected. Bruce broke ground that many others, in both biblical studies and other cognate areas, have to continued to plough with considerable profit.

Woven as a thread throughout the book, is Grass' detailed treatment of Bruce views on the nature of Scripture. In some more fundamentalist circles, Bruce has been regarded as 'unsound', and suspect in this area. While he certainly did not go out of his way to affirm the notion of inerrancy, Grass argues that Bruce stuck closer to Calvin's view of biblical inspiration - allowing greater space for the witness and testimony of the Holy Spirit - than to the Princtonian and Warfieldian view that had come to dominate certain aspects of British evangelicalism by the 1950s.

There's much more here too; Grass unsurprisingly, having already written a detailed history of the Brethren, provides much on Bruce's Brethren background. Although belonging to the Open, rather than the Exclusive, Brethren, Bruce was in many ways an untypical Christian brother. A strong critic of the kind of dispensationalism current in Brethren circles, and no fan of their premillenialism either, Grass suggests that Bruce was often tolerated on account of his eminence as a biblical scholar rather than for his passionate advocacy of Brethren distinctives. His embrace of women's ministry tested that tolerance to the limits it seems!

Grass is not afraid to make some more critical comments either. Bruce was much stronger in print than in person it seems. While respected as a teacher his lecturing and preaching style were hardly inspiring!

This is a fine biography, striking an ideal balance between a standard type life and a more intellectual biography. Maybe it should have been titled 'The Life and Thought of F. F. Bruce'?!

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