God’s Word…

May 28, 2009 at 3:50 pm 28 comments

GWIHWI 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.”


Entry filed under: books, faith.

loneliness conversations

28 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sabio  |  May 28, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Hey ATTR,
    Thanks for quoting me– and accurately at that ! So rare these days ! (smile) I will have to read this book eventually too.
    BTW, I wrote a little post telling about how hard it is to give up labels we call ourselves (you hint at this on your “about” page). In the above case, it is hard to give up on the word “inerrant” because, I think, intuitively Christians know this will be a very uncomfortable unraveling to them. Thus they keep some modified, caveate crowded version of the word “inerrant” to make themselves feel good. Transitions can be tough, we should be kind to each other if we can at those times.

    See my post if you are interested — I also did a little graphic to try and capture it.

  • 2. Sabio  |  May 28, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    PS – you have to wonder why an all-powerful god would want a book written– perhaps to be known. But heck, doing recordable miracles now would be much easier. And choosing humans to write the book seems like the age old ploy that the god makes it hard for us so we can have faith. Kind of like he kept human and dinosaur bones separate in the rock layers just to test our faith.
    Sometimes it is just fruitless to hang on to some things.

    But I will read the book, maybe he does better than that, though I doubt it.

  • 3. atimetorend  |  May 28, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Sabio, I mainly agree on both your comments, good points. Maybe cling to the word “inerrant” to retain some form of “evangelical” and the credibility that goes with it? At that point though, a Christian has already stepped somewhat into the mystery of faith. Perhaps not a complete unraveling as you suggest.

    The faith falls apart for me too at that point, as far as the nature of the God-written book. I align closely with Sparks critique of the bible and admire that he tries to work out his faith that way instead of clinging to traditional inerrantist dogma. The strangeness of the bible as you mentioned, the horrors of genocide, etc, are hard to reconcile with an “inerrant” book in either or whatever sense of the word. Won’t jibe for me with Numbers 5 (test of the wife for the jealous husband).

  • 4. Mike aka MonolithTMA  |  May 28, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Sounds like a good read. Added to my ever growing Amazon wish list.

  • 5. atimetorend  |  May 28, 2009 at 8:19 pm

    For anyone interested in reading, a similar but somewhat easier (and thinner) read is Peter Enn’s “Inspiration and Incarnation.” I like the Sparks book better so far though.

  • 6. wowy  |  May 30, 2009 at 4:15 am

    ah, I’d like to read that book, too!
    Couldn’t I take off from work and just at least go through half the books on my list, *sigh*

    I read a review of the book here: http://peterennsonline.com/book-reviews/review-gods-word-in-human-words-by-kent-sparks/
    and I’d be particularly curious to know about the accommodation thing

  • 7. wowy  |  May 30, 2009 at 4:18 am

    By the way, here’s a detail that happens to me, too: You refer to the position “what most of my Christian friends believe (what I used to believe)”.
    I find my self using that double-referrer, too. It’s so strange to think it’s both: what my friend AND my former self believe.

    (And: How could it be that I’ve distanced myself so much from it if I’ve believed it so much for so long?)

  • 8. atimetorend  |  May 30, 2009 at 10:04 am

    re: “accommodation” — I haven’t gotten far enough in the Sparks book to read about that. As far as Enn’s “incarnational” approach, I can understand what he is saying, and understand that that makes faith in God through the bible possible for him. I have my own problems with the bible separate from that, but I still appreciate these author’s honestly with the way they treat the bible.

    re: “It’s so strange to think it’s both: what my friend AND my former self believe. …how could it be that I’ve distanced myself so much from it if I’ve believed it so much for so long?

    Yes, I find it strange too. But it is a normal part of growing up and maturing, a normal part of life. Generally people mature, sometimes they regress. One can grow in bad ways (say, racism), so it can’t be a blanket statement that change is good. But we need to be concerned with who defines what change is good or bad and how we do so.

  • 9. Janus Grayden  |  June 1, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    One of the largest roadblocks in leaving my faith was that I was being told about the inerrancy of the Bible from the apologetic point of view.

    From what I’ve read from the comments on the Amazon page and from your selections, it seems like the exact kind of honesty I needed in order to actually decide what was right for me.

  • 10. mmmarty  |  June 1, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Flip, I need to read this book. This is exactly what Im struggling with.
    I’m so sick of people telling me that “you’ll get all the answers when you die and get to Heaven” ie shut up, stand up, and stop questioning. Praisethelordhalleloooooia!

  • 11. atimetorend  |  June 1, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Janus, one of the largest roadblocks for me trying to stay in the faith was reading books about inerrancy — their claims of inerrancy seemed completely impossible, and particularly, the way they claimed you needed to “think” seemed like mind control. Is that what you were saying, or did you mean the opposite?

    Janus and Marty, I almost posted a skeptical approach to the Enn’s and Sparks’ books over the weekend! In short, for me, while these authors find the traditional meaning of “inerrancy” to be untenable, the case they seem to make still requires faith that the bible is the inspired by God book. To me, at the point that we can acknowledge it looks like the work of fallible men, it seems indistinguishable from other works of fallible humans.

    But either way, these books are excellent resources for understanding what the bible is, and isn’t, and seem to provide a path for faith through the bible if that is what one is seeking.

  • 12. atimetorend  |  June 1, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    I’m so sick of people telling me that “you’ll get all the answers when you die and get to Heaven” ie shut up, stand up, and stop questioning.”

    Yeah, that’s a cop out. There is a validity in saying we can never expect to understand everything, but the “mystery of God” argument is pulled out whenever a person’s understanding of Christianity is challenged. We can’t start to understand what something really is if we cannot question it. And if we question something knowing the answers ahead of time, or limiting the kind of answers we can find, we aren’t asking honest questions, we are using a rhetorical device to believe what we already want to believe.

  • 13. Janus Grayden  |  June 1, 2009 at 3:53 pm


    I’m saying that I just needed a truthful look at the Bible.

    Being lied to when I was looking for answers only delayed the inevitable and made me bitter when I realized I was being lied to.

    I’m not saying that the Bible is a terrible book, just that there are portions of it that simply are not true. Being told that Ezekiel’s prophecy of the destruction of Tyre was accurate to the very detail as a proof that the Bible was the Word of God was a lynch pin holding a lot of my conflicted faith together.

    When I later found out that it wasn’t right and that the explanation forcing it all together was contrived and blatantly false, it made me incredibly angry. It made me angry at everything that I was told that turned out to be false. I found it impossible to discern what was a bald-face lie or simply ignorance and that burned in me for quite some time.

    This made my transition much more difficult than it needed to be and really just gave me further problems that I had to deal with on my own. I really had no problem with religion or Christianity or anything, I still don’t, but I’d be lying if I said I still didn’t have a twinge of resentment over being blatantly and repeatedly lied to.

  • 14. mmmarty  |  June 1, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    ATTR: Agreed! Just five minutes ago my “discipler” texted me and asked me when I wanna meet up so we can catch up. I am actually going to have to tell her I really don’t feel like a Christian at the moment.
    If she pulls the “we are not meant to understand, you think too much” vibe, I think I may just get up and go. Hopefully she won’t though :P
    The frustrating thing is that even when Christians do agree to “talk through” my issues with me, we still can’t come to an answer!! They still don’t know why or how, they can’t justify pretty much anything! But we’re all supposed to believe anyway because sweet baby jesus don’t tell no lies and he ain’t got nuthin’ but good ole goodness inside.
    Yeah, sure. And complete faith in his father’s decision that most people will end up in hell forever for not believing him.

  • 15. atimetorend  |  June 1, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Keep thinking for yourself Marty, you’re doing a good job of it. It’s better to retain that and not have all the answers than it is to stress about not having things right.

  • 16. Janus Grayden  |  June 1, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    If I may, I honestly find it more liberating to think of the unknown as just that: something we simply don’t know yet. We may never know everything, but why should we? Further, why does this need to lead to any conclusions?

    What this further allows me to do is to freely learn about all there is without having to first prove what it isn’t. If I don’t first acknowledge a supernatural presupposition, then I am free to experiment and question without restriction. There’s no need to disprove something before I set about learning something new.

    I enjoy not having all the answers and I enjoy not having a quick answer for everything I don’t know. It’s like the universe is full of untapped mystery.

  • 17. Sabio  |  June 1, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    I am an ex-theist also. I find the inerrancy issue fascinating too — I even did a little post on it.

    BUT come one folks, it was only AFTER I left Christianity that I explored inerrancy — it was just icing on the cake. There are far simpler things that got me out of Christianity:

    1) I seriously never saw any miracles (certainly not like occurred in the Bible and we were promised could happen).

    2) I was dirt honest with myself and admitted I was squinting and praying to an imaginary friend who I never heard replies from. And yet there I am condemning other faiths for squinting and talking to their own imaginary friends who they never heard from either. Boy, talking about insane !!

    3) The God of the Bible was bizarre in wanting burnt offerings and killing of people to quench his desire for praise and his ability to forgive.

    4) The God of the Bible damned all kinds of good people for simply not believing the same stories as me.

    Golly, it wasn’t hard to realize the joke without doing all the hard Biblical Scholarship stuff. Mind you, I love textual analysis and all, but you don’t need it to decide that the dogma was messed up !

    Now, that is dogma. But the friends, the meetings, the outings and all that stuff was very cool.

    The reason all your Christian friends want you to suspend belief and trust it will be all answered in Heaven is because they want you to stay in the club. Remember, if you leave the club, that makes their imaginary group talk times seem that more ridiculous, no?

    Hang in there folks ! Joy and Love live in us and can be nurtured without gods.

  • 18. mmmarty  |  June 2, 2009 at 3:56 am

    Janus: I really do agree with you that it’s liberating and inspiring to see so much of the world full of mysteries etc. I love discovering new and often confusing things, whether they are cultural practices or scientific facts. After all, this is the postmodern age, things sometimes have plural answers, and some just don’t have any answers, at all.

    But when it comes to God, who i am apparently supposed to lay down my life for, give my heart to, be a living sacrifice for, etc etc etc, i find it very hard to do any of this if I don’t understand him.

    It’s hard cos I don’t know how we are supposed to live. Parts of the bible disdain those who doubt – that would be people like ATTR and me – but apparently God still loves us, and there are scriptures that say “return to the father and he will return to you.” But how can I just hop back to a God who is so unclear and contradictory?? And not have doubts or questions??
    It’s like God wants us to just blindfold ourselves and surrender to the fact that we can’t understand, but we’re still supposed to believe everything the Bible spouts (like that event you mentioned in another comment of yours). Like sheep. Meh..

  • 19. Janus Grayden  |  June 2, 2009 at 8:04 am

    Questioning and doubts are important. How can we ever be sure that we actually believe something if we never ask ourselves why?

    In fact, the Psalms are all about King David questioning God and putting Him to the test. Even in 1 Kings, Elijah ran a scientific study to prove that God was real and that Baal was false.

    Some people, after a time of questioning, return to the faith with renewed fervor and some, like me, find that their questions are never answered and the doubts are never reconciled.

    I don’t think it’s even really a choice, at least, it never was for me. You know what path you’re going down in your gut. The last thing you want to be is dishonest with yourself with where your questions are leading you.

    It might be that they lead you back to God, to a different belief, or even disbelief, but that’s for you to figure out.

  • 20. atimetorend  |  June 2, 2009 at 9:01 am

    Sabio said, “The reason all your Christian friends want you to suspend belief and trust it will be all answered in Heaven is because they want you to stay in the club. Remember, if you leave the club, that makes their imaginary group talk times seem that more ridiculous, no?”

    Sabio, I agree with you, that is perhaps the primary motivation for many, social pressure is a powerful force. Also privately, Christians have fears of losing their faith, fears of confronting things they know may be real, and feel a need to have their faith bolstered or validated by others believing the same thing. Those two things are entangled with each other in reality though. So maybe that’s another way of saying the same thing you were saying, or tagging on to it.

    I often wonder what made me start questioning in the first place. I think the items on your list may have been the subconscious reasons. At some point, I read something of historical criticism and realized I knew it was valid, at the very least could not be glibly dismissed as entirely false. I didn’t really need to read through all the arguments to believe that, just to be able to articulate it to myself and to others, and to gain confidence that I was not crazy or making a bad choice in my beliefs.

    Here’s an eloquent articulation of your item #2: http://mexc.blogspot.com/2006/02/one-way-mirror.html

  • 21. atimetorend  |  June 2, 2009 at 9:09 am

    “It’s like God wants us to just blindfold ourselves and surrender to the fact that we can’t understand, but we’re still supposed to believe everything the Bible spouts (like that event you mentioned in another comment of yours). Like sheep. Meh..”

    The “faith like a child” thing, meaning you have to trust God, not what you think, assumes the bible is all true, so if you don’t believe in it, it must be a matter of trust. And it implies, “Don’t question this.” That simply is not true. And a person can throw out the biblical “faith like a child” and still be thrilled with the mysteries found in life, not be consigned to a life of bitter and nasty cynicism.

  • 22. freestyleroadtrip  |  June 2, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    Sounds like just the book I am needing. I will add it to the stack beside my bed. Thanks for the review.

  • 23. mmmarty  |  June 3, 2009 at 4:06 am

    attr: you know, I had a knee-jerk reaction when I read “faith like a child” and “cynicism”. somehow in my brain the two are binary opposites, with no middle ground. And that’s definitely the church’s effect on my thinking. Damnit. I think most of our problems with the church stem from its central black-or-white attitude. So it’s either you never doubt/faith like a child…or you doubt and are an evil cynical heathen. You’re either 100% heterosexual, or 100% disgusting and worthy of hell. You’re either completely blindfolded…or you’re on your way out the back door screaming your face off :P

  • 24. Sabio  |  June 3, 2009 at 5:16 am

    Has anyone really seen a nature-defying miracle?
    Has anyone of you ever come close to watching a prayer move a mountain?

  • 25. mmmarty  |  June 3, 2009 at 6:44 am

    Sabio: Nope, I’ve never seen one with my own eyes. But for years I went to school and church with a girl who said she had had scoliosis as a teenager (which is possible) and said after coming to God (i don’t know after how much time) her spine had been healed. She went to doctors and said her spine had moved into the natural position it should be in.

    That’s what she said, but I honestly have no proof of it, no pictures, no x-rays, no doctors, no medical knowledge.

    But if she wasn’t lying, then yeah maybe that’s a miracle. I dunno, and I don’t want to be so close-minded as to say it definitely was, or it definitely was not.

    What’s your take on this?

  • 26. Sabio  |  June 3, 2009 at 7:03 am

    Ah, there is that charge of “You are being close-minded!” It is a common ploy. It is a phrase that we need to think carefully about least it fool us.

    If I tell you that gremlins are what caused me to get over a very bad case of pneumonia, would you suspend disbelief because you don’t want to be close minded?

    “Close Minded” is what believers in all sort of wacky theories charge others with. I think we have to be careful of buying into the charge. Instead we need to discuss what qualifies as a measure of confirmation. If we have all kinds of natural ways to explain why a girl’s spine is straight after it was claimed to be crooked, we don’t need to run to invisible, all-powerful spirits. That is not being “open minded” unless you call a non-discriminating brain an “open minded” brain. Seems like an insult to me.

    “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.”
    1 Corinthians 13:11

    Smile — have a great day !

  • 27. isnessie  |  June 4, 2009 at 2:13 am

    I agree with Sabio. I think open-mindedness is not about accepting, but testing and questioning what we hear against the information we have. We can afford to listen to anything, to consider it and weigh it, but to not accept it on hearsay and little or no measurable evidence doesn’t make a person close-minded. It makes them a critical and rational thinker, and that’s what we need to break through mysticism and find truth.

  • 28. critiquing evangelicalism « a time to rend  |  September 1, 2010 at 11:26 am

    […] God’s Word in Human Words, Kenton Sparks […]

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