Wow. Forgive my delay, but as we communicated offline: the post on your challenge to inerrancy required me to chew, swallow, and digest. In truth, I’m still doing so. I read it slowly several times, and thought over the course of several trail runs. And yes – – I prayed. I still do that. Any agnostic, skeptic, or atheist should value your post. It is of higher quality than so many I have read. Maybe that is not strictly true. But it is of more value to a Christian because you speak the language as a native. Any Christ follower should carefully consider your post. It was not written out of hate or ridicule. It is an honest presentation of serious doubt and as such it, like you, deserves respect.
Where to even start? I ordered David Fitzgerald’s book Nailed. As you know, I’m willing to listen to adversaries, perhaps even enemies. Be careful. I assert before reading the book that your reasons are better than his. Why? You get to the heart of many issues. Is biblical inerrancy a biblical teaching? That deserves an answer. Fitzgerald asks, “did Jesus exist at all, or is he like Zeus?” Wow – – in a very different way. You asked if writing is a valid way to communicate truth (I’m paraphrasing). Your writing is. I’ll read Fitzgerald and try to be objective. Neither you nor I claim to be experts in biblical scholarship. But – -both of us must realize that this man is on the fringe. More after reading. Maybe not. As of now, your arguments are better.
I read (am reading) a book that was waiting for me. N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian. I realize that we should not argue from authority alone. You probably wouldn’t put up David Fitzgerald or Bart Ehrman. I probably wouldn’t put up John Piper. He is so thoroughly convinced that he less to say to those who do not acknowledge Christ. His arguments would seem circular, and in the truest sense of the word – – they are. As a Christ follower, Piper has been so helpful to me in growing deeper in faith. As an apologist who cares about skeptical friends, I need a different teacher. I might choose Tim Keller. He lives and preaches in Manhattan. He defies the (un)truism that all Christians are conservative Fox News pundits. I like him as a person and I read him with ease. I like Piper too, but it is like reading Jonathan Edwards: rewarding, but difficult. Both Piper and Keller defer to biblical scholars for scholastic arguments beyond the scope of their popular works. That is where N.T. [Tom] Wright’s name kept coming up.
So, how can he help me reply to a sincere skeptical friend? First, he offers a correction:
“The twenty-seven books of the New Testament were all written within two generations of the time of Jesus–in other words, by the end of the first century at the latest–though most scholars would put most of them earlier than that. The letters of Paul are from the late forties and the fifties, and though disputes continue as to whether he wrote all the letters that bear his name, they are the first written testimony to the explosive events of Jesus himself and the very early church.”
I like this quote because it comes from one who has studied his field as much as I have studied mine. I respect study and expertise, but again – – arguing from authority can be a logical fallacy. I like this quote because it does not dismiss Ehrman’s claims that the authorship of several New Testament books are disputed.
What else helped? This is an extended quotation from chapter thirteen (all emphases those of the author), but helped me to frame my thinking.
“It helps, in all this, to remind ourselves constantly what the Bible is given to us for. One of the most famous statements of “inspiration” in the Bible itself puts it like this: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Equipped for every good work; there’s the point. The Bible is breathed out by God (the word for “inspired” in this case is theopneustos–literally, “God-breathed”) so that it can fashion and form God’s people to do his work in the world.”
In other words, the Bible isn’t there simply to be an accurate reference point for people who want to look things up and be sure the’ve got them right. It is there to equip God’s people to carry forward his purposes of new covenant and new creation. It is there to enable people to work for justice, to sustain their spirituality as they do so, to create and enhance relationships at every level, and to produce that new creation which will have about it something of the beauty of God himself. The Bible isn’t like an accurate description of how a car is made. It’s more like the mechanic who helps you fix it, the garage attendant who refuels it, and the guide who tells you how to get where you’re going. And where you’re going is to make God’s new creation happen in his world, not simply to find your own way unscathed through the old creation.
That is why, although I’m not unhappy with what people are trying to affirm when they use words like “infallible” (the idea that the Bible won’t deceive us) and “inerrant” (the stronger idea, that the Bible can’t get things wrong), I normally resist using those words myself. Ironically, in my experience, debates about words like these have often led people away from the Bible itself and into all kinds of theories which do no justice to scripture as a whole–its great story, its larger purposes, its sustained climax, its haunting sense of an unfinished novel beckoning us to become, in our own right, characters in its closing episodes. Instead, the insistence on an “infallible” or “inerrant” Bible has grown up within a complex cultural matrix (that, in particular, of modern North American Protestantism) where the Bible has been seen as the bastion of orthodoxy against Roman Catholicism on the one hand and liberal modernism on the other. Unfortunately, the assumptions of both those worlds have conditioned the debate. It is no accident that this Protestant insistence on biblical infallibility arose at the same time that Rome was insisting on papal infallibility, or that the rationalism of the Enlightenment infected even those who were battling against it.
Such debates, in my view, distract attention from the real point of what the Bible is there for.”
So, where does that leave me in my reply? I haven’t answered one of your key questions – – does 2 Timothy 3:16-17 refer to the New Testament, which by the admission of my scholar of choice had not yet been codified?
Let’s go back to our current presuppositions and hold them in an open hand. I presuppose that there is a supernatural, a creator of and purpose for creation. I don’t argue against the mechanism of Big Bang cosmology, age of the earth, or mechanism of biologic natural selection of salutary mutations. But I do, in my supernatural beliefs, hold that there is a Holy Spirit who can and does give wisdom to imperfect men.
Are we at an impasse? We both acknowledge our presuppositions and the possibility that we are wrong. We are both in circles, but I believe that our circles can and will intersect in common ground. Perhaps we can reconstruct Gould’s non-overlapping majesteria for our benefit and for the benefit of our readers. More likely we’ll make something new – – an area of intersection. That’s what this blog is about – – that intersection.
The extended quote above represents my heart more fully than the Chicago Statement. Why? Because I want to pretend that Romans is true. Why? Because I think the Christian approach to gay people, skeptics, agnostics and atheists is wrong. Why do I think this? I think this on the basis of scripture and that is basis on which I’ll argue to my tribe.
Are you willing to start in the center of the bullseye before working outward? Show me your objections to Romans 1 and the interpretation that I’ve offered. Start there. If scripture is unreliable, perhaps it will be self evident. If we respect gay people for different reasons, then lets explore that common ground.
Your friendship remains a blessing to me – – pushing me to understand, grow and care.