Archive for March, 2009
…according to J.I. Packer. And your’s may be too!
I have run across the quotes below from a variety of sources. One of the books I read when I first experienced a “crisis of faith” (not my own words) was J.I. Packer’s “‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God.” This book was one source which hurried me along on my walk from faith, helping crystalize in my mind the things I only vaguely felt before I started reading. So I included a bunch of quotes from there.
Too much of evangelical christianity is based on things which are implied everyone must accept without critical examination. It is easier and more compelling to talk of one’s “need for a saviour” or the importance of “allowing Jesus into your heart,” than it is to explore the foundations of the doctrine of scriptural inerrency.
Anyway, I’m wondering if you find these quotes as painful to the mind as I do… I find many of them alarming as well. I won’t pick them apart, but will just ask, how are we to understand anything apart from reasoning? Evangelical christianity tries to have it both ways, appealing to reason, while denying the role of critical examination of faith at the same time. Either just call it faith, something for people to personally explore and experience, or call it reasonable and promote critical examination. Evangelical christianity says go ahead, use reason all you want, just not to examine if the bible is true.
J.I. Packer (all quotes from “‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God”):
“The only right attitude for us is to confess that our works are vile and our wisdom foolishness, and to receive with thankfulness the flawless righteousness and the perfect Scriptures which God in mercy gives us. Anything else is a conceited affront to divine grace.”
“We may not look to reason to tell us whether Scripture is right in what it says (reason is not in any case competent to pass such a judgment); instead, we must look to Scripture to tell us whether reason is right in what it thinks on the subjects with which Scripture deals.”
“The humble pupil of Scripture will trust his text-book and not doubt its claims for itself.”
“For Christians to consent to study Scripture on the assumption that it is a fallible human book would not argue intellectual honesty so much as uncritical muddle-headedness; and if they are consistent they will decline to do it.”
“Must Bible study conducted on these principles be hidebound and unenterprising? No. It is true that the student will not spend his time in speculative reconstructions of ‘real’ facts and truths supposed to lie behind, but to vary from, the biblical record; for he will see such enquiries as attempts to answer questions that are based on wrong principles and that should never have been asked. Nor will he develop theories about the origins and authorship of biblical books which go against the Bible’s own testimony.”
“We do indeed summon sinners to bow before the authority of the written Word of God; but this is a call, not to stop thinking, but to stop thinking sinfully, and to start bringing one’s thoughts into captivity to Christ.”
“Reasoning could at best suggest only probability; but the nature of faith is to be certain. Any measure of doubt or uncertainty is not a degree of faith, but an assault upon it. Faith, therefore, must rest on something more sure than an inference of probability.”
“…it is entirely natural for sinners to think of themselves as wise, not by reason of divine teaching, but through the independent exercise of their own judgement, and to try to justify their fancied wisdom by adjusting what the Bible teaches to what they have already imbibed from other sources (‘modern knowledge’).”
Norman Geisler (defending biblical inerrency, on understanding biblical “difficulties”):
“Be fully persuaded in your own mind that an adequate explanation exists, even though you have not yet found it.”
“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but–more frequently than not–struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”
“Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore.”
“Reason must be deluded, blinded, and destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and…know nothing but the word of God.”
John Piper (from evangelistic booklet, “For Your Joy”):
“If you’ve asked some of these same questions and you’re looking for some answers — baed not on our own thoughts and theories but upon God’s Word — we invite you to join us. For your joy.”
“It’s interesting in the early church, the facts about Jesus’ life, the facts aren’t the center of controversy. It’s the claims of who he was and what he was doing. And that’s where you need to give your attention. Who was He?”
“If we are perplexed by any apparent contradiction in Scripture, it is not allowable to say, the author of this book is mistaken; but either the manuscript is faulty, or the translation is wrong, or you have not understood.”
“Belief cannot argue with unbelief, it can only preach to it.”
Paul (1 Cor. 1:18):
“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”
A note I wrote to capture the thoughts, but probably will not send:
If you feel it is important to live a life of biblical christianity, then it should be important for you to examine what the bible says. And if that is important, it should also be important to examine what the bible is; how it came to be written, who wrote it, why it was written. When you accuse me of elitism in this, and ask what I think of people who are not able to do that, study the bible critically and analytically, what about faith like a child, etc., I completely agree that not everyone can do that. But think, not everyone can study Greek and Hebrew either, not everyone can study John Calvin’s Institutes, or even read Pilgrim’s Progress in its unabridged forms. Yes, we all have different abilities. And we depend on others to do this work for us to the extent that we can’t. But to the extent that we can, in something important to how we live our lives, it is important to study it as well as we can, at least to a degree commensurate with how important it is and how able we are to pursue that knowledge (time, education, etc.).
Do conservative christians believe you should not examine the bible? Of course not. But I would venture to say that many feel you should not examine the bible unless you are finding it to be authentic and true. Or maybe it is that they welcome it being examined because they know it is true, and you will find that as well. And that if you don’t, it is because you are wrong. So it is OK to examine it, but only if you reach the same conclusion they do. I guess that is what having certainty in your religion means. And maybe people are entitled to have certainly about things if they want to, even if it is misguided. But it can be a terrible way to go about understanding the world we live in, and to understand ourselves, and even to understand God.
Quick follow up to the last post, concerning the evidences Christians see in answered prayer. I know this theme has been written about in any number of places before, but this is my fresh experience.
This week my 3 year old was hospitalized overnight for an illness. He’s completely fine now, having rebounded quickly following the treatment he received. But before the hospital stay he was very badly off, and going downhill. A Christian friend remarked to me afterward, “Just think of what might have happened if we didn’t live in this day and age.” Which were my thoughts exactly, not only in this day and age, but in this modern country. He very likely would have died without the care he received.
Now I am infinitely thankful to have a happy and healthy little guy this week, and cherish each moment with him more than ever. And to the Christian it is an answer to prayer. I’m fine with that, a Christian being thankful to God for his renewed health makes perfect sense to me, and we can rejoice in that together. But to see it as answered prayer, what does that say for children (and their parents) in other ages, in other countries, has God shown no care for them, has God rejected their prayers? How many of those parents prayed in faith for healing for their children that never came?
I guess Christians desire to see it in a simpler sense, just be thankful for what God does and leave the big picture to him, whatever happens is done in his infinite wisdom. Of course people in the modern west need to bear sorrows as well, Christian and un-believer. And maybe that is a poverty of the Church in the west, where life is comfortable and death can seem so distant; God can seem more the God of prosperity than the God of comfort for the poor in heart.
But it still seems to me like a slap in the face to those who do not see the same “results,” God healed my child but not yours. And the reason is not that I live in the most modern age in one of the most modern countries, it is because God answered my prayer and not yours. God provided me with a healthy child, and God will provide you with the grace to endure your sorrows.
I am not ungrateful to God, it is a matter of belief in his existence, not a matter of ungratefulness. If God were to show himself to me to be real, I would have no reluctance to give him thanks. Be thankful for the health of your child, be thankful to God if you choose, or find solace in him in times of sorrow. But do we have to believe it demonstrates the reality of God’s existence?
Yesterday I was blessed, so to speak, by a couple of honest conversations with christians, one with new friends and the other with an old friend. Really enjoyable, as they are people on a journey away from a conservative christianity they once held to and into something with a lot more mystery and more open to questioning as a way of practicing their faith. So I can relate with them, even if they have a faith which I do not. Very fulfilling conversations to me. The second conversation was the result of a chance encounter in a supermarket. I found out that since I had last spoken with him he has been following a similar path in his faith, shifting leftwards, or whatever you might call it. Even more unlikely, his mentor in seminary is the author of a book which had just been recommended to me earlier in the day.
I used to see these seeming coincidences as “fingerprints of God.” And honestly, these events did seem beyond the likelihood of random occurrences. It would be especially easy to attribute them to God because they were conversations about religion. Now I know something I didn’t know about when I first became a christian; confirmation bias can lead us to see coincidences as divine miracles because they confirm what we already believe or want to believe. But we then don’t attribute similar weight to other information which is presented to us each day. Like when we pray to find our car keys and thank God for the miracle of answered prayer if we immediately find them, but we don’t see it as chance occurrence the other 10 times we don’t find them right away. Statistics vs faith?
I’m not saying no coincidence could ever be a miracle. Miracles are certainly a logical possibility if God exists. Being married to a believer, I don’t find it necessary to clash on this issue, to the extent that I am not required to believe coincidences are miracles. Because at the end of the day, I can’t prove they are not miracles, I can only believe what I believe.
I consider it unlikely I will ever believe in God again because of seemingly un-random coincidences. I’ll be thankful for blessings provided by chance circumstances when they arise, like meeting an old friend at the supermarket. But I consider it unlikely they will “prove God” to me. Christians seem to want to believe that about the random things in life. But if God wants to reveal himself, it doesn’t have to be in the way of a secret admirer, who doesn’t want his real identity to be known. Or in the way of a secret admirer who wants to make a person feel more loved because of the intrigue of not knowing the secret admirer’s identity.
Sure, there’s nothing wrong with little love notes, but a relationship is based on knowing someone is real, not in mustering up a confidence they are real, and not in finding confidence in what we can really only guess about that person. If we fall in love with a secret admirer, we don’t really know who we are falling in love with, do we? Else their identity would be known to us, and they would no longer be a secret admirer. Some christians will say that we can know God this way. But I say that we can’t know God this way, we can only guess at God this way. If that is what faith is, guessing who God is, that’s fine, but let’s call it that. We can know for certain there is a strong possibility we delude ourselves this way, by believing something we want to be true.
Just like the secret admirer. Sometimes he is a future lover, sometimes only a flirt, and sometimes a cruel hoax. But all the time, he is only an image of someone, the substance having been more made up than who he really is.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul, says, ”Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” That can be a nice way of looking at God (although that is not what Paul is actually referring to there). But again, how dimly do we see? Is it faith in someone real, or in someone we make up? Nobody can be required to firmly believe in something because of something only dimly seen.
Paul in the next verse says faith hope, and love remain, but the greatest of these is love. I’ll stick with love, I know that is real, the faith part isn’t so clear to me.
How would we answer the question, “What do you think about God?” in the seconds after recovering from a concussion? That would be enlightening, to hit someone over the head and ask them that as soon as they came to. Or the idea of using an effective truth serum. Or what would we become if our faith were stripped away?
For me, when my faith was stripped away from me, I just became who I was before I became a christian. Give or take, hopefully a bit more mature after almost two decades of aging. For some, when confronted with dissonance in their conservative faith, they struggle with what to believe about the faith, or the church, or the bible, but they don’t ever give up their belief in God through the process. Not me. I didn’t have that default position. When my faith was stripped away I completely called into question God’s existence. I admit that is my bias, but I can’t change that.
I am regularly amazed to see people who deconvert from conservative christianity who grew up in the faith and tradition. For me, it is very natural to return to who I was. I also have the secular family I was born into, who embraced me as a christian, but who I fit in with so much better now. I have experienced some separation from the faith community and church I was part of, and feel a real loss there. But I am so impressed by those to whom deconverting means leaving a whole lot more behind. Leaving religion can be hard on so many levels.
Skipping church small group tonight, again. Wife is too busy preparing for work tomorrow, though she would like to go. So that gives me a convenient excuse, because though I like the people, I don’t really care to go, I have no interest in going, other than to support my relationship with my wife. So why should I go?
Heavy stuff, because I have to put up with getting “the look.” The one that says, “we have to talk,” even though we don’t have to talk because we both know what the other is thinking already. The same look as when I picked up Asimov instead of the bible last night. Because it isn’t enough to read about the bible, why wouldn’t I want to read the bible? So it’s the damned if you do, damned if you don’t, part of deconversion. That you just have to live with, because you can either live a lie, or be honest. But being honest doesn’t really make everyone happy? And sometimes what you believe is more important to people than who you are.
lauradee24 recently posted on James Dobson, and how she was thankful for his teaching which ironically led her to atheism. He was a factor in my deconversion as well, in that he provided a disconnect between what I believed and what the christian community around me believed. I knew that there were other worlds of christians out there, but being removed from them pushed me to question my own faith more and to search for reasons why I disagreed. I have no doubt that had I been in a more liberal church setting I would have been less prone to question my beliefs. So in a way that is a tragedy of the conservative and fundamentalist church, but at the same time I am happy to be intellectually free from both.
I think Ken Hamm would be my patron saint of deconversion. I never believed his young earth creation/Answers in Genesis (YEC/AIG), uh, stuff, in all my years of being a christian, having come into christianity with firm beliefs in scientific reasoning, an old earth, and evolution. But when confronted by christians with AIG material, it was difficult to comprehend and articulate why I didn’t believe in it, even though I felt so very opposed.
Any other patron saints out there?
[previous rest of post split into new, future post — I think I put too much together],