Archive for November, 2009
I am thankful for many things this Thanksgiving, but would like to take a moment here to thank every single person who has posted a comment on this blog. I am grateful for the support, challenges, care, and friendships I have experienced through your contributions. Also to those who read and do not comment, I am thankful you find something worth visiting for and that you take the time to do so. You are AMAZING, the godless, the God full, and everyone in between.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
One of my best friends had a gig a number of years ago working on an island in the Caribbean for a time. It was a pretty sweet deal; the job entailed monitoring a portable sludge dewatering belt press which did not need a lot of monitoring. Which meant making periodic adjustments to the equipment which was on the beach in between sessions of snorkeling. Adding to the sweetness, the visa he worked under only allowed for him to be in the country for two weeks at a time, with two weeks off required before he could return. So he “worked” two, eighty hour weeks at a time, accruing vast amounts of overtime pay, and then had two weeks off back home in the States, where he was working to start up his own business. Real nice.
At some point the bliss of the assignment was temporarily broken by the visitation of a hurricane to the island. Fortunately for him the housing his company had obtained for him was a concrete block structure. My friend and his co-worker took refuge in a very small broom closet during the storm and spent I think most of a day and night there together. The door was loose and would loudly slam back and forth as gusts of wind hit, accompanied by deafeningly loud wind noises. He felt quite certain they would not survive.
At some point he was feeling understandably desperate and considered praying to God for help. But at that point he reminded himself he did not believe in God and so it would be hypocritical to pray. He consiously went against instinct to resist praying, feeling the need to maintain some form of intellectual integrity even in the midst of a potentially life threatening circumstance.
I was a committed Christian when he told me the story and I am sure he told me about his lack of prayer in order to explain to me his own spiritual beliefs, or lack thereof. Some would attribute his desire to pray on an inward awareness of the reality of God that had been created within him, Romans 1:19: “…because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them…” (NASB). Of course it would also be easy to explain his thoughts in terms of a person needing help where no human help would be forthcoming.
He did obviously survive to tell the tale. While most of the residences in the area were flattened his concrete block house survived intact. A testimony to God’s intervention? Or perhaps safety due to the sturdier construction available to Americans on the island? I do not remember feeling inclined to favor either interpretation at the time. I think that is the point of this post, that faith should be something people can hold on to as a personal choice, but that it is valid as well to interpret evidence as it is presented to us, as what seems most likely. It has been said that there are no atheists in foxholes, which is a cliche has been amply disproven. It would appear that atheists reside in broom closets at times as well.
I have been muddling through the issue of biblical inerrancy recently, reading some articles and listening to some lectures. I do not find it surprising that people believe in the inerrancy of the bible, people hold beliefs like that at many different levels, and I held to some form of that belief myself at one time. But I am intrigued by the systems of biblical inerrancy contrived by theologians and they way they hold to these systems as essential elements of their faith. The more I study the issue of biblical inerrancy and the different ways people of faith read the bible, the more these systems of biblical inerrancy seem contrived and untenable. I want to better understand why highly intelligent and well educated theologians hold to these theories.
While the thelogians provide support for their theories and go to great lengths to harmonize “appearant contradictions” and defend their reading of the bible, at the end they typically include a profession that ultimately they believe the Holy Spirit provides them with an “inner witness” attesting to the inerrancy of the bible. Which is well and good perhaps, but then why the desire to create and defend a comprehensive doctrine of biblical inerrancy?
The justification for the belief seems to come down not so much to the evidence they find for it but to a need they feel for it to exist, a need to believe that God must communicate clearly with people, hence the inerrant bible. Of course there needs to be a correlary assumption that the bible indeed speaks clearly, and also that we need the bible to speak clearly about God in the first place. I suspect that perceived need is related in a large degree to the belief that we will go to Hell if we don’t believe the right things. If God will send us to Hell for believing things incorrectly, then it goes to reason he would choose to communicate that clearly. But of course the belief that we will go to Hell for believing the wrong things comes from the bible itself in the first place… It becomes such a hopelessly circular set of arguments, spirals within spirals within spirals.
As is often the case, arguments that exist to defend something hoped for rather than something evidenced tend to fall short logically and factually. I have heard it asked, “Wouldn’t you want to be confident the contents of the bible are inerrant?” My answer is certainly yes, but unfortunately wishing for something does not make it demonstrably true. As with so many things in life, the reality is often more complicated and messier than we would desire. Black and white perspectives may be more comfortable, but that doesn’t always make them more truthful. If anything, wishing for something hard enough has the result of clouding our ability to see things clearly and rationally.
Reading some of these theologian’s arguments sounds to me at times like reading the writings of a Lord of the Rings afficionado arguing a point about the role of Hobbits in the history of Middle Earth, or something like that. In a way the theologian and the Tolkein afficionado are in similar positions, arguing for the reality of something only evidenced by human writings. Sure you can argue for logical consistency within the created system of doctrines, but that is not an indication of whether or not the created system is real or imaginary. And the further the theologian goes to support their doctrine, the more they sound as though they are defending something imaginary. Even if the imagined things were true there would not be an indication they were. And unfortunately belief in biblical inerrancy requires not only faith in the supernatural, but also a rejection of evidence from the material world we live in. At that point the belief is at best unevidenced, and at worst imaginary.
A few sources:
The Inerrancy of Scripture, Wayne Grudem (audio lecture)
Fundamentalism and the Word of God, J.I. Packer (book)
The Authority of Scripture, Mark Dever (brief transcript of talk)
The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?”, F.F. Bruce (book)