David Crump, professor of religion at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, argues for personal encounter and faith as integral to properly understanding Scripture. In Encountering Jesus, Encountering Scripture: Reading the Bible Critically in Faith, Crump contends for a radically life-reorienting faith in Jesus Christ (12). This radical reorientation manifests in the way we read Scripture, particularly the Old Testament in light of the New. As Crump argues, Jesus was the messiah no one expected and those earliest ones who placed their faith in him took a significant “leap of faith,” borrowing from the categories of nineteenth century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Historical evidence alone cannot account for the “earliest disciples faith in Jesus as Messiah” (29). A dramatic personal choice, following an experience of Jesus, leads to a transformation of previous knowledge and expectations. Thus, the Emmaus road encounter in Luke 24 becomes the paradigm for “existential experience to reinterpretation in a leap of faith,” according to Crump (34). Consequently, the lens for reading the Old Testament is transformed by a “gospel-inspired imagination activated by the Holy Spirit” (40). To this end, Crump asserts that we live moving forward by faith and then look backward in order to understand. Credo ut intelligam (“I believe so that I might understand”) becomes the standard for Christian life and experience.
Crump takes readers through the gospel narratives to demonstrate the necessity for this dramatic leap of faith in encountering Jesus. Jewish Messianic expectations were left unmet in the reality of Jesus’ life and ministry. Crump notes, “The disparity between initial expectations and actual experience creates a situation ripe for disappointment….The greater our expectations, the larger that hole may become” (53). The offensive ministry of Christ in the face of Pharisaic Judaism lead to further indignation on the part of self-righteous Jews. When confronted with Jesus, Crump notes two options available to everyone: faith (belief) or rejection (unbelief). He notes, “Choosing to be ruled by the offensiveness of Jesus’ demands, as opposed to trusting him despite his seeming unreasonableness, is finally to choose rebellion against God” (55). The encounter of Jesus and the rich man in Mark 10:17–25 illustrates the dilemma of faith or rejection. Each person must choose, against all odds, to throw their weight in with Jesus or persist in their rejection. To this end Crump observes, “[When] an individual risks believing in the face of such uncertainty, faith gives birth to its own personal certitude. Faith after the fact becomes its own confirmation” (67). The life of Paul confirms this observation, encountering Jesus and believing despite a previous life of disbelief, leading to a life of personal certitude. Crump’s concluding chapter is perhaps the most helpful in connecting the dots from Scriptural witness to personal experience. In academic studies, Christian experience can safely be embraced because only then will students “[come] to understand why making the leap of faith is the only ‘reasonable’ thing to do once the Savior calls your name” (125).
Encountering Jesus helps readers to understand the extraordinary place of faith in the life of a Christian. Though reason is not contrary to faith, human reason can be the barrier obstructing people from faith. Faith in Christ radically re-oriented the lives of the apostles, who reinterpreted the writings and faith of their fathers in the new light of Christ. To this point, Crump treads some potentially murky waters. The argument that no indications of Jesus are to be found in the Old Testament until a faith-activated lens comes into place is suspicious. That Matthew dramatically (and almost illegitimately) reinterprets Hosea 11 to fit the life of Christ is a bold claim. Crump would also do well to provide greater explanation on the role of the Spirit in faith. His Kierkegaardian thesis is helpful (and I believe it is right), but his ongoing discussion of faith leaves little room for the role of the Spirit. Crump also lends much credence to redactional criticism within the gospel narratives and tips his hat to the new perspective on Paul, which may concern some readers. Though some serious disagreements regarding bibliology and theological nuance exist, I believe Crump offers a thoughtful read to biblical scholars, both old and emerging. Though James Smith recommends this book for his college-aged children in the preface, I would be cautious to offer such a volume to young minds apart from serious discussion and dialogue. Despite these concerns, I appreciate Crump’s continual insistence that only the eyes faith can properly interpret Scripture and experience, and for that I commend this book.