Tag Archives: Bible

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


CFB:

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 H . A:

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?

Bait and switch: The New Testament in the semi-public square


I appreciate Tim Keller’s exhortation (in his blog comments) to read Bruce Metzger. I’ll also point out the availability of Ben Witherington’s critique of Jesus, Interrupted by Bart Ehrman and the Evangelical Textual Criticism forum so I won’t be accused of an unqualified endorsement of Ehrman.

I know I’m not trained in exegesis, theology, or textual criticism, but I am a guy who has been in a variety of churches and Christian schools during my 42 years, and I know Christianity goes wrong in numerous ways. When something I love is going wrong, I want to say something about it. Historically, few of the people who implimented real change were the scholars and experts, but rather those who stood up and screamed.

I understand some personal pleas to leave the past behind, but I don’t understand the naive beliefs that institutions — and indeed books — cause each mistake only once. A great way to avoid making a mistake a second or third or tenth or hundredth time is to analyze what went wrong. You remember the quotation: Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it (Santayana).

Meanwhile, as a brief follow up to my last post, I dislike this contrast between evangelical apologetics and evangelical teaching:

Evangelical apologetics tends to say textual criticism, history, and reason are adequate to endorse the central message of the New Testament. As historical documents, the New Testament books testify, reliably, about Jesus. This is not an endorsement of historical-grammatical exegesis, nor is it a statement about the inspiration of each word in the family Bible. In apologetics, the historical reliability of the New Testament manuscripts is put forward, not the doctrine of inerrancy.

Evangelical teaching, however, doesn’t stop there. It takes the further step of claiming “inerrancy,” a word with too many operating definitions amongst U.S. believers, and a word that suggests a kind of accuracy that close scrutiny of some biblical texts renders impossible.

I understand why some people will say that apologetics must offer broader brushstrokes than exegetical teaching, but I don’t necessarily agree with their perspective. The problems conceded in apologetics ought to be part of the believer’s sober-minded approach to the texts. On these matters, we have an enormous number of irresponsible pastors and ministers in the U.S. Not many of them are as smart — or wise — as someone like Keller! And that’s an ongoing problem — to be a good Christian, it seems like you must not only be redeemed, but you also must be smart enough.

Why factual discrepencies in the Bible are a barrier to faith: lower-order and higher-order concerns


The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United St...

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United States Library of Congress, demonstrating printed pages as a storage medium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As this Ex-Fundamentalist-now-Reformed-Anglican-Anglo-Catholic-Episcopalian Mutt struggles with factual discrepencies in Scripture, I think I finally realized why evangelical and Reformed claims about the Bible have fallen on hard times.

And in part, this is a different thought to add to Ross Douthat’s analysis of why American became a nation of heretics, as described by Tim Keller.

The factual discrepencies within Scripture are nothing new, but what they mean, and why they mean what they mean, should be the puzzles addressed by Douthat, Keller, and many others who occupy influential positions in Christianity.

Otherwise, any Christian is on unstable intellectual ground: Making rational arguments based on a self-contradictory book is non-rational. If your starting point is non-rational, then ultimately, your rational arguments are unsupported.

To me, the challenge of defending the Bible in our time is understanding that people automatically, intuitively, common-sensically organize information according to “lower-order concerns” and “higher-order concerns.”

What do I mean by those phrases? Well, sometimes, when talking about how to grade an academic paper, my colleagues and I refer to “lower-order concerns” and “higher-order concerns.”

Lower-order concerns might be (in some cases) correct use of commas, while high-order concerns might be (in some cases) having a real argument and supporting it. Missing a couple of commas isn’t as bad as a thesis statement that argues nothing or an unsupported argument.

Considering claims about the Bible, people will be more likely to believe higher-order claims when lower-order claims are correct.

Basic factual information could be considered a lower-order concern. As a former newspaper section editor, I can assure you that, all kidding and warranted insults about journalists aside, a cub reporter can get the time and date and basic facts of a city council meeting — and get them right most of the time.

What that cub reporter (usually) cannot do is understand the political philosophies at work. The political philosophy, the ideas, behind a city-council decision might be a higher-order concern. (Granted, city councils don’t always appear to be populated by philosopher kings, but stick with me a few more seconds.)

Indeed, those journalists who leave newspapers and broadcast journalism to work for National Review or The New Republic are those journalists who, early on, excelled at getting the facts right — and then progressively moved into higher-order thinking. You worked hard at the lower-order concerns to earn the right to write about the higher-order concerns.

Now, in the Bible, what we see are numerous discrepencies in lower-order arenas. For whatever reasons, the Biblical texts we have today do not always give a consistent picture of the facts of important events — events important enough, evangelicals and Reformed folks assume, to be part of God’s revelation.

I think many, many people are not willing to believe the higher-order, theological and doctrinal, claims of the Bible because the lower-order issues are problematic.

Again, many people will say, “If you can’t get your facts right, why should I listen to you about anything else?”

Wouldn’t you think a similar thought if a salesperson or a politician couldn’t get his or her facts straight?

Isn’t that a normal, shrewd reaction backed by the Proverbs?

God hates dishonest scales, right? Let your yes be yes and your no be no, right? Truthfulness, right?

Of course, it’s not that simple — but simplistic thinking is exactly what evangelical and Reformed churches have offered on this topic. Sure, you can say there are non-simplistic answers by pointing to the big guns at the seminaries and all the Gospel Coalition folks, fine, but they’re not leading the vast majority of churches.

Here’s my current, tentative, in-progress solution.

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. I’m not sure the Scriptures reasonably can support the Bible-study industry that keeps Christian bookstores open.

I think believing in the atonement, based on the general thematic trajectory of the Scriptures, makes sense.

What doesn’t make sense are the Bible studies that try to unpack every little verse and turn each one into grand statements about humanity or morality or whatever.

The available text criticism simply does not render a Bible that reliable.  Furthermore, I don’t think the common use of the terms “inerrant” and “infallible” can possibly be relevant when glaring factual discrepencies exist. Maybe the problem is our post-Enlightenment, rationalistic way of considering something “inerrant” — without error — but more about that later.

Of course, text criticism is a very high-order matter. Someone might counter my arguments by elevating a side issue and saying that not many people know about the Bible anymore, at all, never mind text criticism. Not that many go to church anymore. Not that many people read anything anymore, so reading in and of itself, and the Bible, actually aren’t even the issues. The culture is the issue. Social change is the issue. Et cetera.

Maybe, but maybe not. Ex-evangelical and popular author Bart Ehrman teaches classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill each semester. I don’t know how large his classes are, but you can bet he’s taught hundreds by this point in his career.

And Ehrman is not the only one at a univeristy with his point of view. College for the middle class has almost become a political right, and kids have to take classes outside their fields to fulfill curriculum requirements. I imagine Ehrman’s perspective, and indeed his books, are presented positively in numerous universities to tens of thousands of students each academic year. (Although, as Ehrman himself has said, many people in New Testament text criticism remain believers.)

So consider the likelihood that many college-educated people have been forced to assess the higher-order claims of the Bible — its theology, its doctrine, its history, its claims about Jesus Christ — in light of the lower-order problems.

A significant portion of the college-educated middle class dismissed higher-order claims due to problems with lower-order claims.

When the lower-order claims fall apart, the higher-order claims do not seem legitimate.

Now, I also want briefly to note that we have to ask hard questions about why, if the Holy Spirit guided this canon down through history, God allowed us to wind up with a text that doesn’t offer the kind of testimony a cub reporter could get right.

And, if those discrepencies can be explained away legitimately and truthfully, then how can this Book truly be a book for all people, when it requires a specialist’s academic knowledge and historical and liguistic understanding to keep straight?

Could it be, simply, that certain understandings about “inerrant” and “infallible” render the Bible’s testimony unreliable at best, ridiculous at worst?

Maybe, just maybe, the task is to undo post-Enlightenment rationality. Maybe, as Stephen Toulmin tried to do late in his career, the task is to replace “rationality” with “reasonableness.” In other words, I don’t think we can advocate a self-contradictory text on the micro level, on the verse-by-verse level, unless we radically recreate everyone’s daily, default epistemology.

We could, however, understanding the Bible texts as historical testimony.

Please comment, correct, rebuke as you have time.

cheers,

Colin

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Easter in Islamic eyes: common ground and an impasse


A bit of perspective from Rollo Romig at The New Yorker:

With Easter on the way, I became curious about what the Koran has to say  about the crucifixion. I called an imam I know, Ibrahim Sayar, and we got  together over glasses of Turkish tea. Sayar does a lot of interfaith work, much  of which involves getting people from different religions together to eat  kebabs. In the company of Christians, he said, mentioning the status of Jesus in  Islam can be a great icebreaker. “I always tell people, there are millions of  Muslims named after Jesus and Mary—we call them Isa and Mariam,” he said. “Nobody names their children after someone they don’t like.”

In Islam, he emphasized, “believing in Jesus is an absolute requirement. If  you don’t believe in him, you’re automatically not a Muslim.” According to the  hadith—sayings of the Prophet, second only to the Koran in Islamic  authority—Jesus was assumed into heaven, and will return at the end of time in  the east of Damascus, his hands resting on the shoulders of two angels. When it  sees him, the Antichrist will dissolve like salt in water, and Jesus will rule  the earth for forty years. What Muslims don’t believe, though, is that Jesus  died on the cross. It’s spelled out quite clearly, Sayar said, in the Koran’s  fourth Sura, verse 157: “They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him.”

Read Romig’s entire article here:  http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/04/how-muslims-view-easter.html#ixzz1rULTAqja

Not an infallible Bible, but an infallible interpretation


Deutsch: Lutherbibel von 1534 English: Luther ...

Deutsch: Lutherbibel von 1534 English: Luther Bible, 1534 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jim Jones. David Koresh. More recently, a crazy couple in South Korea. Not to mention my own experiences growing up in fundamentalist Baptists schools and neo-Pentecostal churches.

Jones, Koresh, and the rest studied and applied the Scriptures — their unique interpretations of Scriptures.

In some minds, the uses and abuses of the Bible in our time strains its very credibility.

The Protestant Reformed view is that the Bible is infallible and inerrant.

But is the Protestant Reformed view of the Bible infallible and inerrant?

If the Protestant Reformed view of the Bible is infallible and inerrant, then something other than the Bible is infallible and inerrant – the point of view humans bring to the Bible can be infallible and inerrant, too.

Can the text be separated from its reader?

Who claims to have a perfect interpretation of the Scriptures?

If the Protestant Reformed view of the Bible is not infallible and inerrant, then the Protestant Reformed view of the Bible’s infallibility and inerrancy could be wrong, too.

If the Protestant Reformed view is infallible and inerrant to the extent that it corresponds to the Bible, then the position is circular: the interpretive tool is used to affirm itself.

Related articles perhaps from cooler heads: