Archive for May, 2009
I am currently reading Kenton Sparks’ book, God’s Word in Human Words. The book was recommended to me recently by several people, knowing what I have been working through in reading the bible.
The basic tenet of the book is that the traditional understanding of what “biblical inerrancy” means is not supportable today in light of modern scholarly study of the bible, but also that it is not necessary for belief in an inspired and “inerrant” bible. It was God’s decision to write his word through fallible humans, but it is still inspired, still what he intended for people to know who he is. Sparks is very honest and thorough in his writing. I would recommend this book to anyone, whether they were looking to reject or defend the concept of biblical inerrancy.
Reading it is a bit emotionally trying for me because it makes more clear how wide the chasm is between this type of faith and what most of my Christian friends believe (what I used to believe). I realize more clearly that I have decisions to make about where clean breaks are needed.
At the same time, I find Sparks’ honesty refreshing, and the book provides a framework for discussing problems with the bible without coming across as though I oppose everything or everyone Christian or spiritual (I don’t!). Christians who believe some form of traditional inerrancy need to wrestle with these issues. To quote Sabio (who has commented before on this blog):
“In my world, even among wrong views, there are some more wrong than others. Thus I prefer the post-modern liberal view of scripture, of course, even though my view is much more radical. Thus I encourage any believer to move further away from unhealthy views within their own faith while still remaining in their faith. And I don’t mind if they attempt the same with me. That is the best we can ask for honest, helpful human dialogue, I think! Especially since I am sure that ALL our views are incorrect! (smile)”
I would like to go into more detail about the specifics of the book later. For now, I’ll end with the product description from Amazon:
“The conclusions of critical biblical scholarship often pose a disconcerting challenge to traditional Christian faith. Between the two poles of uncritical embrace and outright rejection of these conclusions, is there a third way? Can evangelical believers incorporate the insights of biblical criticism while at the same time maintaining a high view of Scripture and a vital faith? In this provocative book, Kenton Sparks argues that the insights from historical and biblical criticism can indeed be valuable to evangelicals and may even yield solutions to difficult issues in biblical studies while avoiding pat answers. This constructive response to biblical criticism includes taking seriously both the divine and the human aspects of the Bible and acknowledging the diversity that exists in the biblical texts.”
Here’s another piece of my jrnl.txt file last year. Again, things are not so hard now, October 2008 seems like a long time ago, mercifully. I am still unclear where my life is heading relationally, what moving on from relationships in the church means. I’m quite a social person, not too happy drifting through a solitary life. The solitary period has been helpful in allowing a needed measure of introspection and re-evaluation. But at the same time my thinking gets pretty convoluted and confused working through things on my own.
Loneliness has probably been my biggest struggle since deconverting. I am sure losing trust in a divine and omnipresent friend has something to do with that, but I really don’t think that is the case much. Because I haven’t really had that trust for a long time, I don’t know how much I ever did, and never felt lonely in the way I do now.
The sudden and recent loss has been in regard to human friendships. My friendships have turned from mutual care and respect to helping me. And not just helping me, but helping to *fix* me, to return me to someone who I am not. That has been a real loss to me.
Why does that affect me so much during the day, when I wouldn’t see or talk to friends anyway? Maybe in feelings about friendships, anticipating getting together, or remembering recent times together. That’s a surprise to me, that friends not present have such an impact on my emotional well being. Not their physical presence, but thoughts about them. I have a lot of work to do, either getting comfortable being alone (not my preference), or rebuilding friendships if possible. Making new ones of course too, but that prospect never heartens me, such a hard thing to do. I want to get a weblog going some time soon.
This is one of those posts on blog search terms, how people found this site. One come up a few days ago that caught my eye. If you are the person who did a search for “where can you rend a conservative person“, I am curious as to what you were looking for. And are you talking about geography or anatomy?
the funny side of evangelism
hit over the head with a textbook
various – freedom in a vacuum
christian secret admirer -shirt -biograp
jesus savior proof
what does rend mean in the bible
hitting someone over the head
where can you rend a conservative person
what doe a time to rend mean?
rare photos of 3 stooges
more of jesus sermon
Sat on my back porch this evening and smoked a briar pipe full of black cherry tobacco (Paladin, “It only tastes expensive”), watching the cloudy sky turn to dusk. Gentle breeze, nicely cool, perfect. Partly the nicotine at work, I haven’t felt so happy in months, probably the whole messed up year gone by. Don’t remember feeling really happy period. Topped it off with a small glass of fine whiskey.
I looked up at the sky and tried to imagine I believed in God, let go of the caution I feel regarding belief, realized I wasn’t worried a bit. I could imagine feeling God over all, but I could imagine just as easily the sense of awe at the beauty and power of it all, with no God there. All the arguments for and against the God of the bible melted away — as long as my mind wasn’t engaged it made no difference and I really couldn’t care. What I care about is what is real, and damn if those trees and that sky weren’t real, nobody’s arguments were going to change that. The sky was beautiful, the thunder rolled in the distance, and I was at peace.
The pros and cons of theism, the arguments of the bible, of the philosophers, all that does matter. Matters because people talk in those terms, relate to one another in those terms, and unfortunately, feel others must hold to the same beliefs in the same terms they themselves do. And if you don’t care about the arguments, people will try to walk all over you, or over others you care about, take advantage of the world you live in. But I don’t see how one’s eternal destiny can hinge on all the debate. The world is as it is, I’m not going to change the heavens and the earth.
Psalm 19, sans theism:
Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
Their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their utterances to the end of the world…
My 10 year old asked me tonight about how the earth was formed. My next oldest enthusiastically bounded into the room with, “God made it with a big bang!” I thought that was a reasonable syntheses of beliefs for our household. Probably most of their young friends are taught some form of “6,000 years ago” anyway, so a theistic form of 4.5 billion years ago doesn’t sound so bad to me for now.
I googled up a kid’s intranets site on the formation of the earth. A few minutes later I was being asked about what the site meant about evolution. I said, “I think that’s pretty much what happened.” “But Dad, the bible didn’t say Adam and Eve were monkeys.” I explained the bible didn’t necessarily say anything about evolution, maybe Adam and Eve were the first humans, but they evolved that way (I want to take that one back, going to push for a symbolic interpretation to that story). “But Dad, you don’t know that is what happened.” “That’s true son, but…”
Anyway, my point. In conservative Christian circles it is hard for Christians to come out of the closet and say they believe in an old earth. Why? To a large extent, Answers in Genesis (AIG) and their like have been successful in painting their opponents as atheistic, God-hating scientists. Now as a conservative Christian, who are you going to side with, a bunch of god-hating atheists, even if they seem to be speaking good science, or a bunch of maybe pseudo-scientists, but who “love the Lord”? And look, a lot of Christians believed the atheist scientists and fell away from the (conservative) faith…
Picking the lesser of two evils, many at best hedge their bets and say, “Well, we can’t really know what happened. Those are just theories out there. Or they just feel compelled or coerced to believe those godly people who are studying the issues.
I know this is what happens, because I was thinking about this after talking with my kids, and then my wife asked me about what we had been talking about. I told her and, even though she mostly believes in an “old earth”, she proceeded to tell me, “We can’t know who is right, you shouldn’t say you know that.” Funny, that sounded familiar…
I talked a bit about scientists, and statistics in their fields, and peer-reviewed publications, and… and predictably I was politely cut off a few minutes later for making the conversation too intense. “But you brought it up!” Yeah, that didn’t get me anywhere. :^)
Good times! While we won’t have the big and comprehensive conversations I may want, each one is an opportunity to lay a little bit of information out there. Like fitting together puzzle pieces, the picture doesn’t look like much in the beginning, but over time it begins to take shape and starts to look like…something. And there should be a compelling picture over time. We’ll see.
For a while almost a year ago, when I became an active skeptic, or began struggling with my faith, or whatever one might call it, I started reading compulsively. I was not sleeping, anxious, which afforded me many “bonus” hours for reading. Looking back, I see a sense of looking for something to prove Christianity false, something I could rest on to justify my disbelief in the faith I was leaving. A silver bullet that would by itself, once and for all, prove that Christianity is not true.
Ever look for one of those? Guess what, I still haven’t found one. Because for every evidence something in the bible is not true, there is an apologetic argument showing a logical possibility as to how it could be true. Not necessarily showing it likely to be true, just showing a logical possibility that it could be true. If only one wants badly enough to believe. Christianity has had literally thousands of years to work on them. Just learning that took me an inordinate amount of time and was extremely frustrating.
Over time, the shear number of these explanations for difficulties with the conservative Christian faith, and the intricate, convoluted arguments apologists weave to justify their beliefs, provided me with evidence to my satisfaction. The preponderance of evidence got me to the point where I became comfortable with what I did and did not believe. That’s about where I am today.
I recently realized that at some point during that process something odd happened. I stopped looking for a silver bullet to prove Christianity false and I started searching for a silver bullet to prove Christianity true. I know I won’t find it, it doesn’t exist either. And the Christianity I read about now is much more amorphous, less defined, messy. It doesn’t need the same kind of proof to exist. So what am I looking for?
I realized I am still trying to prove myself to the Christians in my life, to demonstrate faithfulness, that I have fought the good fight, turned over every stone, left myself open to what they believe, even if I still don’t believe it. Mostly that is craziness, I still want to justify my moving on. But I think partly it is a desire to maintain relationships with people, when it is my set of beliefs that changed, not their’s. Maybe that’s the price I feel I have to pay.
I also want to be able to provide some direction for my family, not ceding that area to religion that would work to drive us apart. And I want to have knowledge and language to articulate the Christian faith better than others who would hint to me at other ways of viewing Christianity. I want to have been there already, done my homework, understood the arguments ahead of time, done due diligence.
While this new quest for the second kind of silver bullet has not been as frantic as the first one, I do recognize some of the same obsession in the search. I reassure myself that this time won’t last forever. I am still growing into my new beliefs, and I am still enjoying reading and learning in ways I have not in a long time. But I yearn for a freedom from this searching. It feels oppressive at times. Life is so hard to get through as a husband, father, employee, apart from worrying what other people think and about other people’s faith. I’m looking forward to just being myself.
I grew up in an agnostic atheist, secular, intellectual home, and converted to Christianity at around age 20. The college ministry I was converted into, so to speak, was fairly diverse, but certainly orthodox in holding to a high view of the bible. I eventually selected for myself a socially liberal church with a high view of scripture, but eventually ended up in a more conservative church through my future wife. I think that happens a lot, people end up committing to a church based on a girlfriend/boyfriend or future spouse.
Over the years the church we were in slowly moved to the right, more conservative in doctrine, probably more conservative socially. And until recently I moved along with it, though I wasn’t all there, and I was often grasping at branches on the bank, trying to avoid being carried along with the current of the stream.
Now that I have left, I look back and say, “How did I get there?” With a real sense of shock, like I don’t know what happened to me. Reminds me of a song that was once one of my favorites, lyrics below…
Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime
And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself – well…how did I get here?
Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime/water flowing underground.
And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!
And you may ask yourself
Where is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? …am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
My god!…what have I done?