I grew up going to a very liberal United Methodist Church. After the Lord converted me when I was sixteen year old, through the witness of some other Evangelicals; and I learned about what true faith and doctrine is from people that really believed in the OT and the NT, I went to talk to my liberal pastors over a period of several years. My mom did not want me to leave the Methodist Church, so I endured it for several years, but at the same time, read good books by evangelicals that sustained me while I waited to go to college and my mom promised that she would let me go to an Evangelical church after I graduated from high school. I did not enjoy the liberal church, it was spiritually dead and very dry; but I endured it out of respect for my mother. When I went to talk to the liberal Pastors, by respectfully asking specific questions, I discovered that they did not really believe in any miracles in the Bible, and they denied truths like the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. They gave me answers that seemed like intellectually sounding statements, but their statements were lacking in specifics or content; or their answers sounded like symbolic jargon. They would use phrases and sentences like “the existential longing of the human spirit gives rise to belief in the resurrection” and the “human heart and desire for a Savior causes the symbols of the virgin birth to be developed in church history later”, etc.; I thought, “wow, these Pastors (I remember talking to at least 3 of them on these issues) have been lying to the congregation and the poor elderly ladies (and a few elderly men) that give their tithes and offerings for years”.
Later, I left the liberal United Methodist Church for an Evangelical Baptist Church that actually believed the Bible and I continued to grow in my faith while studying at Ga. State University.
Liberal Scholars like James D. G. Dunn
Paul Bilal Williams, director of the Muslim Debate Initiative
http://thedebateinitiative.com/ (Paul Williams left the Debate Initiative sometime later, but was the director of this Muslim Da’wa group at the time I first wrote this article.)
and a British convert to Islam, who claims to be a former Evangelical, likes to recommend and quote from James D. G. Dunn, a Methodist scholar and preacher. Williams also likes to use James Barr, Bart Ehrman, and E. P. Sanders. I asked Paul Williams in some com-boxes if James D. G. Dunn believed in the virgin birth, since he quoted from Dunn extensively and recommends several of his books. See Paul Williams recommended books at his own “blogging theology” [ no longer there; as Williams has deleted his blogs several times and now has a new one, bloggingtheology.net ]
After I asked Paul Williams, the first time, “Does Dunn believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Al Masih?” As I recall, Williams said, “I don’t know”. (we have debated in his com-boxes a lot since June or July of 2011 (?), and I cannot find the first time I asked him this.) I was amazed at that, after all the quoting and recommending that he did of Dunn, that Williams indicated what seemed like to me that Dunn never even talked about the virgin birth of Christ. Williams kept chiding me for “not being up on the latest scholarship” and claimed that Dunn is not a liberal and not an “anti-supernaturalist”. It is true that Dunn is not as liberal as others like Bart Ehrman and John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, but it seems to me that he is still pretty liberal in the way he treats the New Testament.
Since I couldn’t find the first conversation we had, I recently asked him again, “Does James D. G. Dunn believe in the virgin birth?” (at his recommended reading list blog article)
“I have no idea and it is completely irrelevant.” Paul B. Williams
Well, I found material on Dunn in a local seminary library that shows my suspicions were right – Dunn does not believe in the virgin conception/birth of Jesus Christ. (Charles Quarles documents Dunn’s lack of belief in the virgin birth extensively in chapter 9 of Memories of Jesus: A Critical Appraisal of James D. G. Dunn’s Jesus Remembered. Edited by Robert B. Stewart and Gary R. Habermas. Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2010, especially pages 188-196.)
I am still working through this book, trying to understand accurately where Dunn is coming from; and also working through another book, The Historical Jesus: Five Views (IVP, edited by Beilby and Eddy, 2009) where Dunn writes one of the chapters and interacts with the other scholars. [ other chapters are by Robert Price, John Dominic Crossan, Luke Timothy Johnson, Dunn, and Darrell Bock.] I will probably put more posts up on these issues as I see fit and learn more about Dunn.
Here are some statements from Quarles’ chapter:
Quarles states that “Dunn rejects the virginal conception on several grounds.” (p. 188)
“He (Dunn) suggests that the virginal conception is not a necessary implication of birth from the Holy Spirit, but could have been “an elaboration of the basic information”. (Quarles, p. 188, Memories of Jesus, footnoted to Dunn’s Jesus Remembered, p. 347)
“Dunn’s rejection of the virginal conception seems to be influenced by a certain skepticism regarding the very possibility of the event.” (Quarles, p. 193)
“. . . Dunn adds,
Here we also need to be aware of the biological and theological corollaries of insisting that the virginal conception/birth was a historical fact. E. g. Arthur Peacocke concludes his brief study, “DNA of Our DNA,” in G. J. Brooke, ed. The Birth of Jesus: Biblical and Theological Reflections (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2000), 59-67, with the blunt statement: “For Jesus to be fully human he had, for both biological and theological reasons, to have a human father as well as a human mother and the weight of the historical evidence strongly indicates that this was so – and that it was probably Joseph. Any theology for a scientific age which is concerned with the significance of Jesus of Nazareth now has to start at this point.” (Dunn, Jesus Remembered, p. 66 [ sic, this is actually on page 347, in footnote # 48] ; quoted by Quarles, Memories of Jesus, p. 193)
“Any theology for a scientific age” sounds something like, “the miraculous virgin conception/birth of Christ is too incredible for anyone in our modern scientific world to believe in.”
Yet, Muslims accept the virgin birth of Christ (Qur’an Surah 3:45-48; Surah 19:16-33; 66:12), because of the Qur’an, and its dependency on the previous Scriptures. The Qur’an says that Allah revealed the Torah to Moses and the Injeel to Jesus and it confirmed the previous Scripture. Muslims believe the Qur’an confirms the previous Scriptures, both the Injeel of Jesus and the Torah of Moses. Yet, it contradicts the Injeel and the Torah in many areas. On the issue that it does not contradict, the virgin birth, Muslim apologists use liberals who don’t believe in the virgin birth, to cast doubt on the Bible in other contexts other than the virgin birth. That, is inconsistent.
Again, as Dr. James White said many times in his debates with Muslims on these issues, “Inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument.”