Biblical Inerrancy – Part 1

by Dave on July 2, 2012

in Theology

I have come to the conclusion, like many others have, that this whole idea of the bible being free from error and without inconsistency has got to go! There are many reasons for this, and I will write more of them in the future, but here is a good second starting point (My first was my review of Christian Smith’s “The Bible Made Impossible”)

Roger Olson has a new post out containing a Review of Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture by Kenton L. Sparks (Eerdmans, 2012). This is rational, salient and sober. We have many faults as Christians, but I believe the most egregious is to practically worhip the bible over Jesus himself. This post cuts to the heart of much of it.

Here is a highlight of the post.

In other words, according to Sparks, there are records in Scripture that simply cannot be trusted as true because of the Bible’s humanity. He begins with blatant contradictions such as the accounts of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and death in Matthew and Acts; they cannot be reconciled. Most people are not particularly bothered by that. Only neo-fundamentalists find it necessary to try to harmonize them. The differences are not important theologically. One can easily respond to them by saying that, in spite of such contradictions, the Bible is “perfect with respect to purpose” (John Piper). We can chalk such flaws to human fallibility so long as we hold to a dynamic rather than verbal view of inspiration. (By “verbal inspiration” here I mean the idea that God led the writers to the exact words he wanted them to use. By “dynamic inspiration” here I mean the idea that God led the writers to the ideas he wanted them to record but allowed their personalities and cultures and fallible memories, etc., to affect what they wrote.)

What will trouble many evangelicals more is Sparks’ handling of the Old Testament texts of terror:

Where we judge that Scripture presents God as saying or doing something he would not say or do, we should confess that “these texts tell us more about the purposes of their human authors than about the purposes of God.” We will simply admit that the author of Deuteronomy wrongly believed (as Luther did) that God told his people to slaughter their enemies. To express in theological jargon, Scripture includes both “God-talk” (first-order words from God to humanity) and “god-talk-talk” (mistaken, second-order accounts of what God has supposedly said. This is an important distinction…. (105-106)

Telling the difference between these two types of texts is a matter of Christological discernment, not cultural accommodation. Sparks adamantly rejects any idea that his proposal is based on modern sentiments. To those who disagree he rightly points back to church fathers such as Gregory of Nazianzus and John Chrysostom and others who freely admitted that the texts of terror in question could not be taken at face value. The way premodern Christians handled them was to allegorize them. That method isn’t open to us. So where does that leave us?

I have not heard the Judas argument before, but I find the whole thing quite compelling.  Go read the whole post (and comments) to get a full flavor.

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Are Chickens Real?

by Dave on June 14, 2012

in General, Theology

I find myself getting into (internet) conversations rather frequently with people who believe that they can somehow know the truth about something in religion.  Generally, I find these folks who don’t like my interpretation of something in the bible, and they say something like “you have to be true to the word of god!  You are contorting god’s word! ”  or something like that.   They say that they, on the other hand, live under the authority of the bible and that I should too.

I explain to them that I do live under the bible, its just that my interpretation is different than theirs.  For instance, I don’t believe that the world was created anytime in the past 10,000 or 20,000 years or that it was in 6 days or in 6 periods of 1,000 days or anything like that.  I also don’t believe that there ever was a literal Adam or Eve or a garden of Eden, let alone a talking snake!  And guess what!  I believe that the bible supports my view and that my view is closer to the truth than theirs.

This seems to be a difficult concept for so many Christians to understand.  They think that how they interpret the bible is god’s word, yet anyone else who interprets it differently is twisting the bible and going against god’s word.

In the latest incarnation of this debate we were discussing the role of imagination in our perception of the world.  I was contending that pretty much all we do is imagine, that we really do not have direct access to truth in the world.  As an example I said that if I see a tree, what I am doing is making an imaginary picture based on electrical signals coming from my eyes.  And my eyes produced the electrical signals due to light hitting them.  So what I have access to is my interpretation, my imagination of the object that I assume light bounced from.

But of course, if someone were feeding electrical impulses to my brain just like the ones my eyes produce, then I would still see the tree, even though it is not there.

Just as you cannot directly see the tree, you also do not have access to absolute truth.  Or, there is no such thing as absolute truth to us.

My conversation partner clearly does not like that view.  He says that he can read the bible and see what it says and that the bible has absolute truths in it.  The problem is that even if the bible does contain absolute truths, he can never claim to know them.  The reason is that each of us can only see the world through our own perspective.  None of us are in a privileged position where we can know what is true and what is not.

 The best we can do is apply our reason to texts like the bible to come up with what we think is a rational notion of the truth.

Now, this brings up another rhetorical ploy of the biblicist.  They will immediately shout that you are putting your own thoughts above god’s!  What they fail to understand, and I wish I could figure out how to make them understand, is that they too are doing exactly the same thing.  The think that they know what the bible is telling them, but it is only their interpretation of what they are reading.  Or in the case of most of these folks, it is their interpretation of an interpretation made to translate multiple non-original documents written in a dead language over 2,000 years ago into our language and our society.

So, to help explain the idea to them that there is no absolute truth, I wrote the following fun reply and thought I would share it.

Are Chickens Real?  (or is there a true chicken to be known)

My daughter and I are raising a new batch of chickens this spring and they are nearly full grown now. We keep them in a coop in the back yard while they are young, and will be free range as they get older. Click the picture to see an enlarged version of what I am talking about.

Well, the dog in the picture is Freckles and she has had an interesting reaction to these new chickens. You see, we had chickens before and she never really bothered them. The chickens and her would simply ignore each other.

But when the chicks were young and we started keeping them in the coop, she would immediately throw herself against the wire on the coop and run around trying to get them and eat them. It was obvious that her brain saw these chicks and could only see them as one thing, a tasty meal that she must, absolutely must get.

My daughter and I were a bit shocked by this since she really did not do that to the other chickens. But after some research and thinking we realized that it was the peeping noise that the chicks made. The peep when they are young, and then start to cluck when they get older. That peeping noise was an obvious signal to her to eat them.

As time went on, the chicks start clucking, and now they only cluck. No more peep noises. But Freckles still attacks them in the coop and thinks they are food! Hmmmm.

Well, Nikki and I determined it was time to take the next step in chicken raising, so we put the chickens in the garden. You can see the garden behind the coop in the picture. We were a bit worried about Freckles because she was absolutely viscous toward them and the fence for the garden is not exactly bullet proof.

Much to our surprise, when we let Freckles out to see the chickens in the garden she totally ignored them! Worse yet, she would walk by them, wag her tail, then proceed to go over to the empty coop and freak out trying to find those good things to eat. She did not recognize that the chickens in the garden are the same ones that were in the coop, and the ones in the coop were food, but the ones in the garden are not.

It was an amazing experiment and we have more experiments to do on this, but I would like to relate this to this post (finally….. ;) )

First, it is clear that there is such a thing as a chicken that we all can agree to. But Freckles has two different subjective views of that chicken, and I pretty sure they both are different than my subjective view. Her view that the chickens in the chicken tractor are clearly interpreted by her as “food that I must eat”, but the same chickens in the garden are “chickens that I ignore”.

The two concepts for Freckles are just like it is for any of us. Each of us has our own contextualized version of what a chicken, or tree, or god, or bible, or sin is and they are all different. None of us is smart enough nor omniscient enough to know what the true chicken is like.

So, it is vital that we realize this when we talk to other people. Someone’s pet chicken may be a mouthwatering lunch to someone else. We need to be open to the fact that the objective truth is probably unattainable to either of us, but we can work together to try and get there.

I hope you enjoyed this, it is quite important that we all understand how we fit into the world.

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Christian Smith and Biblicism

by Dave on August 12, 2011

in Denominations, Theology

Christian Smith’s new book The Bible Made Impossible is an excellent argument for the need to go beyond the typical evangelical propositions concerning the bible.  Before people get too upset about him striking at the core of evangelical Christianity (more on that later), please note that he is also the one who coined the term Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) which is the opposite extreme.  I personally can attest to the problem with MTD since I belonged to a church for quite a few years who could not move past the shallow and selfish and go to the next level by helping others including the poor.  When I started complaining that we don’t need another building or to spend more money and we should start helping the poor they kicked me out.  So much for country club church with me.  Christian Smith nailed it in that one (see the Wikipedia article on MTD) and he has done it again with his latest effort.

As bad as MTD is, I believe Biblicism is even more dangerous.  Per Smith, Biblicism is:

  1. Divine Writing:  The Bible is God’s very own words in human language
  2. Total Representation:  Everything God wants us to know is in the Bible
  3. Complete Coverage:  All issues are represented there.
  4. Democratic Perspicuity: All reasonable people can get the meaning of what is written
  5. Commonsense Hermeneutics:  Read the plain literal meaning of the texts
  6. Solo Scriptura:  The bible needs no outside creed or teaching to interpret any part of the text
  7. Internal Harmony:  There are no inconsistencies
  8. Universal Applicability:  What is taught in the bible is valid for everyone at all times.
  9. Inductive Method:  Everything we need to know can be known by piecing together the bible
  10. Handbook Model:  The bible makes a good handbook for living using its divine knowledge

Does that sound like anyone you know?  It does to me.  I live in rural Virginia and regularly run across people for whom this is the only way to understand the bible.

Smith’s central premise is that there is Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism in Christianity and given that, Biblicism cannot be true.  Further, Biblicism itself contributes to the amount of interpretive pluralism out there in the community.  I certainly agree.  To say it in other words, if the bible is a divine representation of everything God wants to tell us and it is plain what those teachings are then why do so many people have different opinions about the truth the bible is supposed to reveal?  Good question.  The answer is that the Biblicism outlined makes the Bible impossible.  It is not the Bible we have been given.

I feel this biblicism is dangerous because:

Post continued, click here…

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Rational Religion

by Dave on July 16, 2010

in General, Theology

I know that it seems like an oxymoron, but I believe that there needs to be a rationality with which we approach religion or all of religion risks being relegated to irrational people with political agendas and cult like followings.  I am specifically following up to my previous post, Are the Southern Baptists a Cult?.  I have been actively participating in a series of posts relating to this subject over at the Jesus Creed, and decided that I need to start a longer term project of thinking through the relationship between religious beliefs and rationality.

To start, I propose this sequence:

  1. Personal Revelation with God Trumps All
  2. Solid, experimental physical evidence trumps the rest
  3. Reason trumps the rest
  4. Historic Church teaching trumps the rest (i.e. the church interpretation of bible)
  5. Scripture trumps the rest

To put this into practice, you could use this as follows.  Let’s take an example such as the existence of Jesus as God.  Step 1 would ask if I had a personal experience with God that I believe and makes it so.  This would not mean, in this case, whether you participated in a religious service and had a feeling like you knew Jesus.  Instead, step 1 would mean something like God spoke to you in your mind and gave you a vision of Jesus and he told you that this was Jesus and that he was part of God.  If you have not had that then you go to step 2.

In step 2, we would see if we have physical evidence of Jesus and his being God.  No we don’t.  So go to step 3.

Step 3 asks whether you can use reason to know that Jesus is God and is real.  No you can’t.  So go to step 4.

Step 4 asks if there is an existing exegesis of the Bible that will lead to this conclusion for you.  If you are a Christian then you have to answer yes, there is.

Then you go back a step and ask, given my base as step 4, is there cause to trump that.  In this case, is there cause for you to use additional reason.  If you don’t feel like researching it better then it is perfectly rational for you to accept the conclusion that Jesus is God based on the teaching of the Christian Faith of which you are a part.  Easy, right?

The key to this is that there are ever increasing hurdles that you would have to overcome as one goes higher and higher up the ladder, to step 1 or 2 for instance.  Said another way, if you simply open the bible and decide to read a passage on your own and take what it says on the surface and believe that, then you do not have a lot to stand on.  But if the Church had a history of interpreting the Bible the same way you did then you could be more confident in your believe.  Then if it was reasonable you would be more confident.  If there was physical evidence even more, and then finally personal experience you would be the most confident.

This is the way the Biblical references to Jerusalem are.  You could open the Bible and find the following passage in Matthew:

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east[b] and have come to worship him.”  NIV

In this passage you would make the assumption that Jerusalem was a city in the time of Jesus.  To add more credibility to this, one would see if the Christian Church teaches this.  A quick search of the Roman Catholic Catechism would tell you that they indeed think it is a city in the Ancient Near East (ANE).  Then you could think it is reasonable given both of those to think that.  Then you could search Wikipedia and see if there is physical evidence for this.  Then you can plan a trip and actually go there and know for sure that Jerusalem is a city that was in the ANE.

If this sounds reasonable then one would have to think twice about the arguments that Al Mohler made regarding the age of the earth in the speech I reference in my post Are the Southern Baptists a Cult?.  In that speech, Mohler argues over and over about how if we were to believe that the earth is old, then it would cause a mass rethinking of the theology that has come before.  90% of his speech is basically saying that he does not want to even consider the physical evidence because their teaching is more important.  I can interpret his hierachy of steps to be:

  1. Southern Baptist Church Teaching
  2. The Bible
  3. Reason
  4. Physical Evidence
  5. Personal Experience

He strongly made the argument that his church theology is the most important thing, and they will overrule Reason, the Bible interpretation, Physiscal evidence and everything else to maintain that their teaching is preserved.  Note that he is not saying that the Bible is the most important thing.  He is saying that their interpretation of the Bible is the most important thing.  If he was saying that the Bible is the most important thing then he would propose many more studies to try and understand how their interpretation may be wrong.  But he isn’t saying that.  What he is saying is that he won’t even look at it.

They are a cult.

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Ayn Rand

by admin on December 10, 2009

in General, Uncategorized

I came across this article was surprise by a paragraph near the end.  It says:

Rand, a Russian-born American philosopher and novelist, is best known for her magnum opus, “Atlas Shrugged.” A joint survey conducted by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that “Atlas Shrugged” is the second most influential book for Americans today, after the Bible. According to the Ayn Rand Institute, an estimated 20 million copies of her books have been sold.

The second most influential book for Americans today, after the Bible.  Wow.  I am going to have to study that a bit more since I think this sets up a tension in approach between the top two books on this list.  Or, would some who support the top book think the second is a proper implementation of its principles.


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