F.F. Bruce: a life
F.F. BRUCE: A LIFE
The definitive biography of a New Testament scholar
By Tim Grass
Paternoster. 283 pages. £14.99
ISBN 978 1 842 277 379
This biography is important for those who want to understand the development of evangelicalism in Britain since the second world war.
F.F. Bruce was a very significant figure in that development. When, in 1947, he became senior lecturer and then professor in Sheffield University’s newly formed Department of Biblical History and Literature, he was one of very few evangelical Christians involved in biblical or theological academia. Later he moved to Manchester University to be, for 20 years, Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis.
Books and articles for various journals and magazines poured from his pen. Some were at an academic level, such as his commentary on the Greek text of Acts; others were aimed at helping a much broader group of people such as students in CUs (his Are the New Testament Documents Reliable? was a vital resource for many) and fellow members of the Christian Brethren to which he remained loyal all his life. Although the subtitle of the book describes him as a New Testament scholar, his learning and writings covered Old Testament and church history topics as well.
Personally, I found this biography informative rather than inspiring. The author has done his research very thoroughly — abundant footnotes refer to his sources, including many personal contacts with those who knew the professor. He makes clear that, on some important issues, he not only disagreed with some of the eschatological beliefs (for example) long associated with the Brethren, but, more significantly, with the way conservative evangelicals had long believed Scripture should be handled.
Evidence suggests that he sat somewhat lightly to the doctrine of the infallibility of the Bible and believed that systematic theology (doctrines deduced from the overall teaching of Scripture) should not be allowed to influence one’s understanding of particular texts or passages. So, for example, he did not have a problem about suggesting that the apostle changed his view about some aspects of the second coming in a later epistle from that he had expressed in an earlier one.
The author records these things without passing judgment on them. Nevertheless, a thoughtful reading of this book raises important questions for us today. Has the entrance of evangelical scholars into academia been entirely positive for the cause of the gospel? Of what dangers should they be aware? Has a measure of academic respectability been bought at a price? Is the downgrading of systematic theology, common in some Bible colleges today, leading to a drift away from fundamental truths that are, or undergird, the gospel?