Tag Archives: Bible

For Resurgence and Mars Hill Church, ‘unity’ is the new ‘touch not my anointed’


Here’s a screen grab of a Resurgence email I received Tuesday:

An email from Mars Hill Church and Resurgence (screengrab)

From an August 19, 2014 email sent from Resurgence, a ministry of Mars Hill Church.

Good, healthy unity and community are great practical analogies for Trinitarian theology. Love one another, someone famous said.

But like anything else that proceeds from the mouth of Pastor Mark Driscoll these days, one must consider the context of what is being said, and, unfortunately, suspect something other than God is motivating the message.

That’s because Driscoll has been caught in numerous instances of plagiarism, and 40-plus elders and many congregants have left the Mars Hill churches during the past three years, and former Driscoll associates like Ron Wheeler and Mike Anderson have revealed shocking information about working with the pastor.

So I find Driscoll’s appeal for “unity” to be little more than the manipulation of a biblical text for the purposes of keeping more people from leaving his church.

In several books detailing abuses of power and cult-style leadership within churches, authors have pointed out a biblical passage that has been manipulated by pastors and ministers:

“Do not touch My anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm.”

The passage, found in the Old Testament books of First Chronicles and the Psalms, has been used by pastors and self-anointed prophets to maintain an unassailable control over their congregations and rebuff any critique.

Among the dozens of books analyzing that type of manipulation, I would most strongly suggest Twisted Scriptures by Mary Chrnalogar, By Hook or By Crook: How Cults Lure Christians by Harold Bussell, and Churches that Abuse by Ronald Enroth.

Now the questions for long-suffering members of Mars Hill churches are clear: Unity at what price? Dwelling together at what price?

 

The reality of pastoral gossip, or, Pastor Mark Driscoll trains you in godly leadership


One of the great things about Christian leaders is their example.

You can learn from their examples. You can follow them as they follow Christ.

As Ron Wheeler notes in this open letter to Mark Driscoll, one trait of a godly leader is the ability to hold private disdain for those with whom you work in ministry.

Wheeler writes,

But then I listened as you slandered and maligned the men and women we worked with behind their backs -who though we didn’t agree with some of them theologically- were wonderful people, and never deserved to be spoken of, or treated the way you did. People who I know would have considered you a friend and have no idea how you really felt about them. I have personally tried to go back and apologize to people who were “kicked to the curb”, along the way, and yes, I do feel I was complicit to your actions; guilty by way of association and being silent.

For that, I could not be more sorry. [emphasis added]

Clearly, Ron Wheeler is bitter because he is not able to experience the freedom and grace to slander and malign others.

(I admit I have failed to understand freedom and grace so my faith is shaky. I realized if you tell me about someone else, you’ll probably tell someone else about me. Christianity is, more often than not, the last place for sharing personal matters. Just go to secular psychologists for confession — they have solid ethics.)

Another thing Wheeler failed to learn from Pastor Driscoll’s godliness is the wisdom of Machiavellian political maneuvering.

Again, Wheeler writes,

Then you involved yourself in our Eldership in a most irresponsible and reckless manner. In hindsight, it never should have gotten to that point, and I accept full responsibility for that, but what I needed was trustworthy, Biblical accountability, and instead I got slander, threats, and verbal abuse. We had good elders who were caught between a pastor dealing with personal and familial sin, and an outside accountability that was reckless, irresponsible and ultimately had a destructive influence on a once unified eldership. I know it all now. I’ve read the communication you had with the other elders behind my back. Ugly, slanderous, defaming lies, Mark. I thought you were my brother and you treated me like scum.

On March 17, 2005, I sent a letter of grievance to the Board of Acts29, asking them to address what I had come to realize over time, were serious character flaws of yours. I made the case that Biblically you were unfit and disqualified as an Elder. A case based off long established patterns of pride, lack of self-control, sexually vulgar and slanderous speech, exaggeration that bordered on deception, gossip about others and confidentiality issues. An excerpt from that letter stated: “The fact that Mark is an incredibly talented leader and charismatic personality, cannot in any way substitute for the simple Biblical requirements of being Christ-like, much less the qualifications of being an Elder. I can make a Biblical case from Titus regarding his being overbearing, quick-tempered, self-controlled, upright, and holy, as well as 1 Timothy regarding being above reproach, self-controlled, respectable, not quarrelsome, and a good reputation with outsiders”.

Not surprisingly, we got a response letter from the Board of Acts29 informing us that they would accept our resignation from Acts29, as we had made our continued participation in the network contingent upon their dealing with your issues. Apparently, they lacked the fortitude and resolve to deal with your out-of-control behavior, and so became complicit themselves. How the board of Acts29 abdicated their responsibility in this, is beyond my comprehension. In addition, I was heartbroken as there were so many guys in the network that I loved. Guys that I came to miss dearly over the next few painful, depressing years. You asked me not to contact any of the guys and be “divisive”. I never did, you know. When I finally did just recently, I discovered that you had completely misrepresented what happened in my situation. Thus, what I had seen you do to others, finally came full circle around to me. It sucked. I didn’t like it at all. [emphasis added]

Before I get to the Mark Driscoll Leadership Tips we can draw from this passage, I just want to thank the Lord for the way the Holy Spirit has led Pastor Driscoll and the members of Acts29 in Christ-like behavior, wisdom, and discernment. I’m grateful that the evangelical flock can look up to these men of character, integrity, and timely insight. I’m glad all those prayers for Driscoll and Acts29 were fruitful. We’re blessed because all that time in The Word bore fruit.

Now, the tips we can learn from Driscoll’s godly leadership.

One, if you feel like you’re called by God, tell any lie you feel necessary to protect the manifestation of that calling. Can I get an Amen? The manifestation of your calling is yours at any cost — because Jesus paid ALL costs. That is grace and freedom, bro — the will to power must also be the will to maintain power.

Two, when in a pinch, work your network. That’s why you go to conferences with members of the Evangelical All-Stars on the speaker lists. You’ve gotta have friends and connections. Look, say what you want about the Roman Catholics, but they’ve got this down-pat. How else do pedophile priests face accusations only to get new jobs in other parishes? They’ve got a killer network, man.

But as a Protestant, you accept no earthly authority — remember that. Say to yourself, “I accept no earthly authority.” It’s far more meaningful than that silly “Jesus prayer” repeated endlessly by Eastern Orthodox monks. You accept no earthly authority. When you face accusations, you just cash in your networking chips.

This method worked wonders for C.J. Mahaney, who got his famous pals to ignore concrete evidence and declare him righteous. They might as well have said, “He’s so well-networked with us, we can’t imagine him doing anything wrong.”

Books that can help you become a godly leader like Mark Driscoll

the-prince
Because “it is better to be feared than loved.”
Pastor Mark Driscoll certainly has been feared.
 
The-Art-of-War
“Appear weak when you are strong, strong when you are weak.”
That could be Pastor Mark Driscoll’s Ministry Motto. It’s also could be the recipe for both false humility and bullying.

UPDATE: PLEASE ALSO SEE “POSTSCRIPT TO ‘THE REALITY OF PASTORAL GOSSIP’ — A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

Crosspost: Voddie Baucham, Shy Kids, and Spanking 5 Times Before Breakfast


Colin Foote Burch:

First, my wife educates our children at home.

Second, the faddish curricula denounced by the author in her post below are indeed poisonous.

Third, something is extremely wrong with the Bible-believing Protestant outlook in the United States when Voddie Bauchman becomes an expert to anyone about anything (then again, he didn’t invent the idea of spanking little kids constantly for each minor infraction).

While Ed Stetzer and others try to revitalize churches in the U.S. through studious engagement with missiology and evangelism, they remain silent about the plethora, the hoards, the multitudes galvanized by dangerous kooks. It takes a certain amount of brainwashing, “groupthink,” or “social proof” for the galvanized multitudes to exist, but meanwhile, outsiders look at the child-rearing beliefs propagated by the dangerous kooks and intuitively know those beliefs are horribly misguided.

Let me be crystal clear: I’m not equating Stetzer and Bauchman.

But I’m not sure how Stetzer and his well-intentioned followers will distance themselves from people like Bauchman. Apparently, on the surface level, in the sense of daily language, the former believes nearly the same theology and doctrine as the latter.

I doubt there will be much success for Stetzer and his cohorts when “Christian” means everything from child abuse to self-help tips, and when the Bible can say anything, when any slender biblical phrase becomes an adequate foundation for a crazy interpretation – which sounds like a caricature of Freudian literary interpretation! Bauchman, Freudian literary critic — who knew? (Be sure to read the accompanying post below.)

The message of Christianity cannot be “spank your kids a lot, for every infraction.”

 

Also, consider: Maybe Stetzer would have more help today if Christian adults hadn’t years ago wrecked their children by following egotistical, over-confident men with Bibles and a smug sophomore’s ability to assemble proof from a text.

CAN YOU BUILD A MOVEMENT THAT CONSTANTLY POISONS ITSELF?

No — but don’t stop believin’.

 

Originally posted on Homeschoolers Anonymous:

Crosspost: Voddie Baucham, Shy Kids, and Spanking 5 Times Before Breakfast

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on June 17, 2013.

One of the traps that we got ourselves caught in was looking to religious leaders for guidance on how to raise our children. It’s ok to seek guidance, but we didn’t always check what we learned with scripture. We read a lot of books and went to parenting seminars/classes over the years:  Train Up A ChildShepherding a Child’s HeartTitus2.com, Ezzo’s Growing Kids God’s Way, etc.

We weren’t the only ones. Some of these books/classes were trendy and many churches across the states would jump on the bandwagon. During the mid 1990s, I spent time visiting homeschool forums online and I’d hear of new parenting books/programs popping up…

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‘Conservative Anglican leaders’ more worried about PR than prison sentences


“We are equally concerned for the affected communities in Chile from the recent earthquake, terrorist attacks in Kenya, and the backlash from the international community in Uganda from their new legislation.” — statement from the Global Anglican Future Conference, released Saturday (April 26)

That new Ugandan legislation is Orwellian in the worst sense of the term, as it requires citizens to report to the police anyone suspected of being gay,” in the words of the Religion News Service. 

So, to follow the Jesus who said, “neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more,” one must rat out “suspected” gays who, if convicted, could face “life in prison,” the RNS says.

But the Global Anglican Future Conference equates the backlash against this horrible law with earthquakes and terrorism.

There’s your Bible-believing community, Uganda-style — or is that Soviet style? Or Big Brother style?

No, no, no — of course not. Jesus said, “I did not fulfill the law. Go and find sinners, and punish them. And if your sin isn’t opposed by national legislation, throw the first stone.” He said that, somewhere, Ugandan politicians and conservative Anglicans are sure of it. Tyranny without end, Amen.

The Many Valuable Lessons I Learned in ATI: Laura’s Story


Colin Foote Burch:

Linked below, ladies and gentlemen, is a multifaceted example of what happens when people really, really get to know their Bibles. Take note: the founder and leader of the described organization memorized entire chapters of the Bible. Mainlines churches just need more Bible so they can make sure their kids stop wearing denim and their women don’t use tampons, because all these things become apparent if you just really get to know the Word. This is what really, really, actually happens when people get into the Bible. The craziness ONLY HAS BIBLE SATURATION AS ITS SOURCE. Read the post — the guy doesn’t ALLOW anything but the Bible. For the record, I attended one of Bill Gothard’s “Institute of Basic Youth Conflicts” multi-day conferences, and a close friend forwarded me this post to explain what she experienced in Gothard’s ATI.

Originally posted on Homeschoolers Anonymous:

HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Laura” is a pseudonym.

The 14 years I spent as a student in ATI taught me many valuable lessons for my life. Here are some of the highlights:

* Parents are always right.

* Men are always right. Therefore, your father is double-right.

* Getting out from under the “umbrella of authority” means you will have many problems, including being raped. (Not sure what the warning is for boys who get out from under their umbrellas. I’m a girl so always heard the rape thing.) The fiery darts of Satan will have nothing to stop them from hitting you. We all know that an umbrella is the best possible analogy because their thin, flammable fabric is the perfect substance with which to stop fiery darts.

* If your umbrella – dad or husband – has holes, then Satan will…

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‘Biblical’ destruction


1-Bibel-1USA Today describes the Colorado rainfall as “Biblical.” Indeed we appreciate the rainfall’s adherence to dogmatic teaching. Then again, if you browse a Christian bookstore, you’ll notice just about anything is worthy of the “Biblical” label. So now I fear the rainfall will become anything it wants to be — and destroy even more in the process.

Peter Enns agrees with me! OK, seriously, he just might, maybe


I was frustrated with Tim Keller following my exchange with him about textual criticism of the Bible in university classes.

However, in this post from April, scholar Peter Enns talks about the need for evangelicals (generalized) to re-evaluate how they read the Bible.

(I know — the post appeared in April. But my despair about American Christianity steers me from reading blogs that might deepen my despair. One must guard against crippling depression if one is to provide for a family. One can only meditate upon The Sickness Unto Death so many times.)

I’m sure some readers will miss the overlap between the two posts, but at least to my way of thinking, how someone reads an authoritative text, and how someone applies that authoritative text, equally sit at the center of Enns’ post and my post.

However, I don’t approach all this from seminary training.

I speak from 40 years of Christian faith and doubt,

4 Christian schools (kindergarten through 12th grade) of various affiliations,

6 churches of various evangelical and charismatic and mainline associations,

Intervarsity Christian Fellowship small group leader training,

Small group student leadership for NCSU’s IVCF,

Summit Ministries Worldview Camp,

A full term at L’Abri Fellowship in Greatham, England,

10 years in a formerly Knight Ridder-owned newspaper newsroom,

3 years of owning and operating a coffeehouse-used bookstore-performance space,

and now 5 years of teaching in a state university.

But, hey, everyone can show me the abstract mathematical reasons why my previous concerns and warnings were wrongheaded.

In the above-linked post, Enns uses the familiar metaphors of ear to the ground and finger on the pulse to describe Keller’s sensitive awareness of evangelical culture.

Here’s another metaphor for the evangelical situation: You can have complete awareness of what’s going on in your house, you can know it like the back of your hand, you can master interior decorating and all kinds of home repair, and still miss the approaching EF-5 tornado.

Bible-based cult leader sentenced today


Peter Moses Jr., former leader of the Black Hebrew Israelites, was given two life sentences today in a Durham, N.C., courtroom. (See local news channel video here.)

Notice the role of personal Bible study in this man’s life, as reported by the New York Daily News this afternoon:

From his house on Pear Tree Lane, Moses managed to closely monitor and control his five “wives.” The women called one another sisters, studied the Bible together and shared chores. They would periodically share Moses’ bed.

The women handed any money they earned over to their leader, while Moses sat at home and brooded over his theology.

In YouTube videos shown in court, Moses revealed the pillars of his faith. He preaches from the Bible and looks forward to an end time when he will be surrounded by servile women. He is certain that the black race will rise over all others.

Moses murdered a 4-year-old boy because he thought the kid was gay. He also murdered a “wife” who tried to escape.

I hope now my recent post about “Orthodox Anglicans” quoting Scripture will be understood as more relevant, urgent, and sane.

‘A Conflict of Beliefs’ — a bad document for Orthodox Anglicans and differences with The Episcopal Church


Update: See this post about the leader of a Bible-based cult who was given two consecutive life sentences in Durham, N.C., on July 5, 2013.

Sustain your “Orthodox Anglican” identity by embracing Bible-thumping primitivism.

Ignore each chance for thoughtful engagement and instead force the false choice of heretical liberalism or fundamentalist quote-mongering.

I want to explain why these are the take-away lessons from the document entitled “A Conflict of Beliefs: Orthodox Anglicanism and The Episcopal Church.”

(The document isn’t especially new, although it was recently given some renewed exposure by someone in my county. I find the underlying lack-of-thinking especially annoying.)

Read the document, linked above, or briefly revisit it. Consider the possible reasons why The Episcopal Church leaders make some of their statements. Then, consider these brief points:

1. Scholarship — yea, even conservative, traditionalist scholarship — has illuminated and contextualized books of the Holy Bible and its (human) writers. “A Conflict of Beliefs” pits liberal, progressive, yea even heretical scholarly views against the primary source material.

In other words, the document is a comparison of apples to apple fritters and apple tarts and artificially-flavored-10-percent-real-fruit-deep-fried-pre-packaged apple pie snacks.

Why not answer scholars with scholars? Because the Bible is adequate? Sure it is — read No. 2.

2. Snake-handlers in the Appalachians support their practice with Scripture, with Biblical authority, taking the language in its plainest sense and applying it to their lives. What does that have to do with “A Conflict of Beliefs”? Well, having gone to various types of Christian schools and churches my entire life, I would like to testify that snake-handlers have everything to do with the silliness behind “A Conflict of Beliefs.” That’s because in less audacious areas of life, evangelicals (and “Orthodox Anglicans”?) do the same types of things based on the same near-drought levels of Scriptural warrant, and encourage others to do so, too. Should the snake-handlers interpret things differently? Really? So you’re making an interpretive move against the plain sense of Scripture? Kind of like The Episcopal Church leadership quoted in “A Conflict of Beliefs”? Sure, it’s not the same thing, is it?

So why not provide some context from contemporary scholars or theologians — pick your favorite seminary, heck, pick your favorite Presbyterian — who can use context and explanation for “Orthodox Anglican” views? 

By the way, the Appalachian snake-handlers are not fully compliant with Luke 10:19, which in the New International Version reads, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” I’m not sure if snake-handlers trample on snakes, but at least they’ve obtained the means for obedience. But I’ve never seen or heard of them messing with scorpions. Perhaps grace-filled living would spur me to realize scorpions don’t live in the Appalachians.

3. Satan quoted Scripture to Jesus (Luke 4:9-11). Satan encouraged Jesus to take the Scriptures authoritatively. How funny that the only thing “A Conflict of Beliefs” encourages us to do is to follow Satan’s lead, with only three brief exceptions of the 39 Articles and a quotation from an ex-Episcopalian minister. Honestly, the inclusion of the 39 Articles and the minister’s quotation seem out of place — they aren’t Bible verses! After so many Bible verses, who even needs the 39 Articles or the minister?

For that matter, who needs anything in the Book of Common Prayer? Who needs any commentaries? Who needs any scholarship? Who needs any sermons or homilies? Who needs a Bible dictionary or a concordance?

These things just get in the way of Bible-thumping primitivism.

And let’s face it. Once you’ve made liberalism and liberals the target, you can use the Bible to usher-in all kinds of not-liberalism. The Bible can say anything you want it to say, and I guess that’s fine by “Orthodox Anglicans.”

If you take the Bible literally . . .


Rev. Matthew Westfox of the United Church of Christ: “As a Christian, you can take the Bible seriously, or you can take it literally, but you can’t do both.” — from an interview at The Good Men Project

The aggregate of thoughts, feelings, and years


I can stand up for hope, faith, love
But while I’m getting over certainty
Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady  — U2

With this blog during the past five years, I’ve tried to make the case that Protestant evangelicalism and its close cousins are intellectually problematic exercises in futility.

The available Reformed and fundamentalist views of God, humans, and the Bible never really work out, intellectually or experientially, without constant guess work and endless, tiny adjustments in the particulars of belief.

Unfortunately for me, this line of argument has been just as futile as evangelicalism.

Even when others have understood specific, concrete stories from my own life, they could not understand what brought me to the point of exasperation.

What can’t be explained is the aggregate of thousands of hours in conversations with friends, ministers, and psychologists.

What can’t be explained is the aggregate of thousands of hours of observations and, later, evaluation of those observations, the mulling over and over of words spoken and actions observed.

In other words, I don’t have arguments for or against evangelicalism. I have a life that offers deep and broad reasons why evangelicalism as a way of life does not work and couldn’t possibly.

When I found a church with candles and liturgy, I thought at least I could continue to believe in God and worship what T.S. Eliot called “the still point of the turning world,” which I took to be the Incarnation. That was the best I could do.

These days I see people going back in the same direction I came from, tempting the darker forces of religion to control congregations. But there is no way to bottle or package my experiences and my perspectives and present them concretely as a cautionary tale. Others are trying to bottle and package their experiences and their perspectives, and they carry more certainty than I do, maybe with fewer years, but with more zeal.

For them, “there’s one size for everyone.”

For me, “this particular size works for no one.”

Which is the more limited point of view?

G.K. Chesterton once contrasted the pagan circle with the Christian cross. The circle is closed, he said, with no expansion possible. The cross, however, extends infinitely in four directions, essentially in all directions.

I am sure my opposites would consider my point of view to be the circle, and their point of view to be the cross. Of course, I see it the other way around. The only thing I can say in response is that the liturgy and the candles — and, certainly, the bread and wine — enabled me to imagine the cross extending infinitely into past and future, while its crux remains firmly at “the still point of the turning world.”

The strange thing about the way sovereignty is assumed among Reformed, fundamentalist, and evangelical circles is this: there’s nothing to imagine. Only precision of abstract doctrine, none of the genuine mystery of the Baptized God and His universe as sensed and intuited by poets, novelists, and artists. Perhaps there’s nothing to imagine because the ministers feel certain they have grasped the mind of God.

The imaginations that drove Chesterton and J.R.R. Tolkien and Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor were Roman Catholic. The imagination that drove T.S. Eliot was Anglo-Catholic. The imagination that drove Aleksander Solzhenitsyn was Russian Orthodox. The biggest imagination that was close to evangelicalism was C.S. Lewis, who was Anglican. Are there any evangelical,  fundamentalist, or Reformed authors or poets of their caliber in the last 100 years? Perhaps in parts of Europe, but certainly not in the United States or the United Kingdom. I doubt the Reformed, evangelical, or fundamental crowds would claim John Updike or Garrison Keillor — they’re too liberal.

Elsewhere, others have said that our wills fail because the images in our subconscious minds undercut us. The imagination, as most deeply engrained in our minds, as most symbolically woven together with our beliefs, runs on stores of images. Those images must have a basic goodness to them if our wills are to accomplish what our rational minds say we want to achieve.

The Christian imagination ought to be broad and deep and it should buoy our wills toward good ends. The mindset that focuses on doctrinal precision and steps and methods and curricula and numerical growth in congregations only engages the rational mind. This is a failing mindset. As Chesterton said, “The mad man is not the man who has lost his reason. The mad man is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”

‘We can’t argue with personal experience’


An excerpt from the recent Strange Days column:

“I’m sure this woman believes she is in touch with God when she speaks in tongues, and I’m sure she feels righteous in dismissing science. I’m not going to judge her faith or religious practice. I probably won’t ever have to converse with her or occupy the same space as her. Right now, somewhere else in the world, someone is rubbing a rabbit’s foot or reading a horoscope or begging a dead relative for rain — and these activities are equally meaningless to me and my obligations to my community and my family today.”

Read all of “See me, feel me.”

Conservatives showed me factual discrepencies in the Bible


Before I began listening to debates between Bart Ehrman and conservative defenders of biblical faith, and before I started (slowly, still) reading Ehrman’s Jesus, Interrupted, I read a paper by a New Testament scholar at the conservative Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry.

Rodney Whitaker’s paper, “The Moon of Our Darkness,” was a defense of the Bible as the guide for the Christian’s life. And, the paper offered me the first time I can clearly recall being confronted with a factual discrepency in the biblical record.

Also before I started investing time in Ehrman’s debates and writings, I read C.S. Lewis on Scripture by Michael J. Christensen. That book, which attempts to use Lewis’s perspective to navigate contemporary controversies about the Bible, began with several examples of factual discrepencies in the Scriptures.

Through decades of Christian schools and church attendance, I never heard any of these discrepencies addressed. In fact, I heard, on a few occasions, ministers and teachers suggest their weren’t any discrepencies or contradictions, and they even suggested people who don’t believe the Bible because of contradictions couldn’t point out any.

And so for the better part of 30 years, I believe the Bible contained no factual discrepencies.

Now, as a 42-year-old who went to conservative Christian schools from kindergarten to 12th grade (with only the exception of part of 2nd grade), I want to try to understand a different point of view, and I want to consider its validity or lack thereof.

Part of that process has included considering what Bart Ehrman has to say.

Unfortunately, I think the narrative people took away from this blog is more simplistic: that I just picked up Ehrman and thought he settled everything.

Tim Keller, not aware of my background, once said to me in a blog post, “If you are going to recommend [Ehrman's] views as the basis for making faith and life choices, you should at least read a couple of books by Bruce Metzger, Ehrman’s mentor.”

Uh, I’ve been basing my faith and life choices on American, Bible-believing fundamentalism. That’s why I should read Metzger.

So Ehrman, who himself has a fundamentalist background, has raised some questions that are interesting to me and relevant to me because I’ve seen how sweepingly literalist interpretations of the Scriptures were applied within social situations, schools, and churches — and the results typically varied between ugly and harsh.

But even the reputedly enlightened Reformed crowd seems to care very little about the way sweepingly literalist interpretations are applied in America each day.

Among some Reformed circles, you can easily become too liberal, but you can’t become too conservative.

Many fundamentalist, Reformed, and evangelical leaders don’t seem to care about addressing discrepencies because they’d rather have their congregations snowed and compliant than well-informed. Besides, admitting actual, plain-sense contradictions could get messy.

Furthermore, those leaders are caught in their own contradiction: God inspired everything in the Bible for a specific purpose, but wait, the factual discrepencies result from conventions of ancient near East literature so the discrepencies don’t matter.

If God had a specific purpose for inspiring an historical record, couldn’t he do it correctly? Couldn’t He do it as precisely as He set so many biological and chemical processes in place? Of course He could.

And, if He wanted the canon to contain certain stories, why include details that will be contradicted later? He could tell a meaningful story without including unnecessary details.

To draw on the Christensen book again:

“There are historical problems. For example, how did Judas kill himself? Matthew 27:3 records that he threw his money at the feet of the priests and went out and hung himself. Acts 1:18 records that Judas bought a field with the money he received and there fell headlong on the ground, his body bursting open and his intestines spilling out. [[Burch's note: he couldn't have thrown the money at the feet of the priests and then bought a field with it, even if the stories of Judas' death could be patched together.]]

“There are genealogical problems. The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 does not agree with the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3. Neither does the genealogy of Genesis 4 square with that of Genesis 5.

“There are factual problems. According to Matthew there was one angel at Jesus’ empty tomb. Mark says it was a young man sitting down. Luke says two men stood by the women and proclaimed the resurrection. And John says two angels sat where the body of Jesus had lain, and appeared only to Mary Magdalene.

“There are numerical problems. 2 Samuel 10:18 records that David slew the men of 700 Syrian chariots. 1 Chronicles 19:18, a parallel account, records that David slew the men of 7,000 Syrian chariots.

“There are major and minor inconsistencies. Who commanded King David to take a census of Israel — the Lord or Satan? 2 Samuel 24:1 claims ‘the Lord.’ 1 Chronicles 21:1 claims ‘Satan.’ Whom did the voice from heaven address at the baptism of Jesus? Matthew 3:16 reads, ‘THIS is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ Luke 3:22 reads, ‘THOU art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.’”

I realize most people, myself included, haven’t read the Bible in a “horizontal” way, comparing parallel accounts and such.

However, in light of the above excerpt from Christensen’s book, why would God use particular details if He was also going to provide contradictory details? He could have provided differing accounts in which details did not conflict.

In other words, two different eyewitness accounts of any type of incident could rely on two different sets of details — instead of having conflicting information going head-to-head.

I’m still having trouble with the idea that something is factually inaccurate yet truthful — at least in the context of saying God inspired certain writings.

Replying to a critique from ‘The Grand Book’ blog


Back in April, I posted “Why Factual Discrepencies in the Bible are a Barrier to Faith.”

Today, I received a reply that  responded to several points I made.

And, now, here’s my reply to the reply:

Thanks for your reply. I approved your comment on my blog (I have it set up so I have to approve all comments because I was getting a lot of junk in my comments sections).

Your lengthy reply deserves an adequate response.

In the first section, I quote things you’ve said and made replies. After that, I give examples of factual discrepencies.

“And on what basis is rationality unassailable?”

My argument was not that rationality is unassailable, but rather that rational arguments based on non-rational grounds don’t make sense.

“…nowhere in New Testament literature do I see the preeminence of Reason” Oddly enough, here you are making a rational or reason-based argument based on a lack of evidence in the New Testament texts.

“Isn’t it really just a reaction to the Enlightenent where humanity, in it’s arrogance (for it issued in the bloodiest Century EVER when it deified Reason) decides it has the right to place “God in the Dock” (on trial).”

Maybe I can just say that Thomas Aquinas would probably not make reason the bad guy, but rather the people who use it. Actually, I’m more likely to agree with you in one sense: David Hume said reason is and ought to be slave to the passions. So it always has been a tool of convictions and beliefs, but that doesn’t mean that one can just say “the Enlightenment and 20th Century were bad therefore reason is to blame.”

On lower-order and higher-order concerns, let me give a brief illustration: If my wife, children and I are traveling, and our car breaks down in a rural area, I will certainly talk to the first person who stops to help. However, if that person does quirky things and says unusual things and acts strangely (lower-order concerns) then I’m going to be wary of his offer to take all of us to a safe location (higher-order concern).

“And how does one get better information than these eyewitnesses (or those who received information from them) as an English-speaking American postmodern skeptic 2,000 years after the fact? Why would I accept the culture-bound skepticism of my generation over the testimony of 1st Century Middle Eastern eyewitnesses who both spoke the language (Aramaic) and were able to write in the “lingua Franca” of het day?”

I like most of this point, and especially agree about culture-bound skepticism. However, I’m pretty sure the Gospels were written in Greek. You’re right to say the disciples spoke Aramaic. Considering their class and education, they most likely couldn’t write in Greek. So who wrote the Gospels?

“If some facts do not line up as reported by different sources from different cities for different audiences with different intents that does not equal a lack of truthfulness. The author of this article may have been a journalist as I was myself, but the authors of the N.T. books (for example) are under now such social contract to deliver the daily news.”

OK, as long as we’re admitting that we’re divorcing factual accuracy from truthfulness. Maybe I am too “Greek” in my thinking but I smell relativism here. Then again, I love poetry so I’m actually quite cool with metaphors and the idea of getting to the “essence” of an experience rather than just the facts. Maybe I should read the Bible in more of a poetic way. Seriously, maybe I should and will.

“This is patently poor thinking. Having undermined scripture (without a single example) he now wants to base the Nicene Creed on it? Then he says that a Bible-study industry cannot reasonably supported by these same documents? What Bible-study industry?”

Well, you may have gotten the facts right, but you sure missed my intentions (which ironically is what you say I’m doing with the Bible). I transitioned from my previous points by saying, “Of course, it’s not that simple,” which is my way of admitting that there is fault in what I have said previously, and I’ve only given a simplistic overview. THEN, I proceed to make a point that you made earlier, which is that multiple witnesses provide good evidence in the areas in which they agree. To answer your question about the Bible study industry, I use your own words: “Christian bookstores now stay open not by selling serious theological or exegetical works…” Yes, very true, but many of those books are still labeled as Bible studies, and wherever I go, I can’t get away from books by Beth Moore and Kay Arthur and others. Maybe I should have said, “alleged Bible studies.”

“Okay. Cherry-picking.”

No, the exact opposite — looking for broad thematic unity within the canon. The opposite of cherry-picking.

Now, before I give examples factual discrepencies (which I had before in earlier blog posts because I consider all the posts to be part of one work), I will say that I’ve been watching video clips of Ben Witherington, D.A. Carson, and others making a case for the reliability of the New Testament. And this actually goes to your last point: specialists CAN explain differences between, for example, the geneologies at the beginning of Matthew and Luke. I’m not sure how someone could take the plain sense of the text and make the two geneologies work  together, but specialists in other fields can. But as I give these examples of discrepencies, I am acknowledging that some scholars might be able to shed genuine light on the related subjects. However, very few people I grew up with — both in the non-denominational charismatic churches and in the Independent Misisonary Baptist schools — even KNEW the phrase “ancient near East literature.”

But I am acknowledging that “plain sense” or “historical-grammatical” isn’t necessarily always the “right” way to read the ancient near East texts.

In what follows, I show examples of discrepencies in the “plain sense” or “historical-grammatical” reading of Scripture, the way my Christian schools and churches all approached the Scriptures.

To be concise, I’ll begin by quoting Michael J. Christensen, who at the beginning of his book “C.S. Lewis on Scripture” tries to give the background for why he is writing the book.

“There are historical problems. For example, how did Judas kill himself? Matthew 27:3 records that he threw his money at the feet of the priests and went out and hung himself. Acts 1:18 records that Judas bought a field with the money he received and there fell headlong on the ground, his body bursting open and his intestines spilling out. [[Burch's note: he couldn't have thrown the money at the feet of the priests and then bought a field with it, even if the stories of Judas' death could be patched together.]]

“There are genealogical problems. The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 does not agree with the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3. Neither does the genealogy of Genesis 4 square with that of Genesis 5.

“There are factual problems. According to Matthew there was one angel at Jesus’ empty tomb. Mark says it was a young man sitting down. Luke says two men stood by the women and proclaimed the resurrection. And John says two angels sat where the body of Jesus had lain, and appeared only to Mary Magdalene.

“There are numerical problems. 2 Samuel 10:18 records that David slew the men of 700 Syrian chariots. 1 Chronicles 19:18, a parallel account, records that David slew the men of 7,000 Syrian chariots.

“There are major and minor inconsistencies. Who commanded King David to take a census of Israel — the Lord or Satan? 2 Samuel 24:1 claims ‘the Lord.’ 1 Chronicles 21:1 claims ‘Satan.’ Whom did the voice from heaven address at the baptism of Jesus? Matthew 3:16 reads, ‘THIS is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’Luke 3:22 reads, ‘THOU art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.'”

Now, some other observations:

Genesis 1:1-2:4 presents a much different order of creation than Genesis 2:5-2:25.

Mark 6:8 and Luke 9:3, supposedly parallel accounts, differ on whether Jesus sent the disciples out with a walking stick or told them not to take one.

My Oxford edition of The New English Study Bible says, in its intro to 1 Thesalonians, that the account of Paul’s travels in Acts 17:1-18:5 does not seem to match up with the presuppositions of 1 Thes. 2:7-9 and Philippians 4:16. Admittedly, I’m not sure I fully understand this one, but I assume the folks behind the Oxford edition of a study Bible are sharp enough to consider.

Tim Keller argued off point and slipped toward ad hominem


I thought I would let some time go by before I picked up the following matter.

I replied to a Tim Keller blog post back on April 10. My reply, which can almost stand without reference to the original post, was:

What about text criticism? Sure, the Bible has always had its critics, but consider how the impact of the critics has changed. The plain language of the Bible includes discrepencies, or at least what appears to be discrepencies, about basic factual information. People are more likely to believe higher-order matters like doctrine and theology when the lower-order matters like basic facts are clear and sound. And now, many middle-class kids have taken university courses like Intro to the New Testament, so they are faced with lower-order difficulties that make higher-order propositions harder to believe. My full argument is here: http://liturgical.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/why-factual-discrepencies-in-the-bible-are-a-barrier-to-faith-lower-order-and-higher-order-concerns/ All the best, Colin

This argument may or may not be valid, reasonable, or crazy.

But notice how Keller, in his reply, did not actually address the argument.

Rather, he took on completely different issues that were not warranted by either my comment or the blog post to which I linked. Keller’s reply:

Colin — Ross Douthat does not mention text criticism as a big issue nor would I. Text criticism of the Bible actually supports confidence in it, if taken as a whole. Bart Ehrman, yes, claims that text criticism undermines out trust in the Bible, but his own teacher–Dr Bruce Metztger of Princeton, the leading text critic in the world–always taught the opposite, namely, that text criticism shows we can have more confidence in the Bible than any other ancient text. That is, we have far more confidence that we have the actual words of the original words of the Bible than we do that we have the original words of Plato, Aristotle, or Homer, etc. Bart Ehrman’s view of text criticism is a minority view among text critics. If you are going to recommend his views as the basis for making faith and life choices, you should at least read a couple of books by Bruce Metzger, Ehrman’s mentor.

Notice that Keller argues against (1) liberal interpretations of the data from text criticism and (2) Bart Ehrman. He also says (3) if Bruce Metzger was Ehrman’s mentor, I should read Metzger. Then, (4) he follows with a suggestion that I use Bart Ehrman as a “basis for making faith and life choices.”

However, what was my argument? It was actually a bundle of arguments. My arguments, summarized in the comment and given more space in the link that appeared in the comment, were (1) lower-order concerns influence beliefs about higher-order concerns, and (2) Ehrman-like critiques of the New Testament are being used in many university classes today (critiques that focus on factual discrepencies in Scriptural records), and (3) students might be persuaded by Ehrman-like views of lower-order concerns to reject Christianity’s higher-order concerns.

I did not argue for liberal interpretations of the data from text criticism, nor did I argue for Bart Ehrman in general, nor did I argue that Ehrman’s take on text criticism is accurate.

I argued that Ehrman’s take might be influential. I also used Ehrman’s work as an example of what might be taught in many universities.

I did not recommend Ehrman’s views as a basis for “making faith and life choices,” period. (Read my blog post again here, or scroll back up to see my original comment on Keller’s blog.)

I have certainly used some of Ehrman’s writings, in previous posts, to wrestle with issues of both apologetics and personal devotional use of the Bible. But that’s different from making Ehrman a “basis” for “faith and life choices.”

In fact, in my post that I linked to from the comment, I wrote something that Ehrman emphatically disagrees with: “I think believing in the Nicene Creed, based on the testimony of Scripture, makes sense. As ancient testimony, the Scriptures reasonably could support the Creed.”

So Keller’s reply was essentially an ad hominem attack, taking the focus off my points and placing the emphasis on me. It’s a dishonest argumentative move, and it certainly doesn’t have a drop Christianity in it.

Keller simply did not address my argument. I’m confused and distressed because Keller is held up by many as one of evangelicalism’s sharpest minds.

My fear (not an argument, but a fear) is that people will do with Keller the same thing that they do with so many political, religious, and media figures: make him into an infallible source, above any critique.

Is all this too much for an exchange over a blog post? No. Because our names and our discussion are now (and nearly forever) searchable and findable on the Internet.

Furthermore, when a highly regarded public figure makes a strong reply, many people do not realize that the reply is off-topic because they are already enamored with the public figure. Think of debates between political candidates, when every supporter believes his or her candidate won.

What do the words “truth” and “accuracy” and “intellectual honesty” mean to you?