Wrestling With Russell’s Reasons – – 1

512px-Rembrandt_-_Jacob_Wrestling_with_the_Angel_-_Google_Art_Project

 

Dear Russell & Friends,

Today begins an attempt to reply to Russell’s reasons for not following Christ.  The icon above is a Rembrandt circa 1659 entitled Jacob Wrestling with the Angel.  It depicts the biblical story from Genesis 32.  That story about Jacob’s life has always had meaning for me.  God allows us to, even encourages us to wrestle with him.  He did not create automatons and your intellect does matter.  I have wrestled with many things in faith.  Sometimes I win the match.  Sometimes I lose.  I always come out better for the struggle, and like Jacob, I still limp.  Russell and I talked yesterday and agreed on a general format for going forward.  I’ll try to reply to one reason each week.  As the reasons unfold you’ll see that we could spend a year on each one or even an academic career.  That is neither feasible nor desirable for our purposes.  There are, however, scholars on both sides of the argument who have spent substantial time and effort in producing works for the interested and the curious.  Whenever possible, lets lead each other to those works.  Without further ado:

Reason 1:  The Bible is neither inerrant nor infallible.

That was a great place to start.  As I’ve mentioned before, I have four cornerstones for belief that are also stumbling blocks for the skeptic:  supernatural, scripture, saints, and saviour.  Russell started with scripture and began with the specific language of the churches that he and I grew up in.

Inerrancy is the doctrine that the Bible is without error or fault in all its teaching.

Infallibility is the belief that what the Bible says regarding matters of faith and Christian practice is wholly useful and true.

Some equate the two terms and some don’t  There are subtle differences that the equators find irrelevant.  One point of agreement, however, is that the belief in inerrancy and infallibility is not the same as the belief in biblical literalism.

What was Russell arguing and why was this a good place to start?  He responded to a common American fundamentalist evangelical teaching – – something that we both grew up with.  I wrestled with his first reason in several ways (and continue to do so):

  1. I studied inerrancy by reading a small book on my shelf then posted the reflections here.  This document would certainly be representative of the church to which I’m going this morning and in fact of all the churches that I’ve attended since childhood.
  2. Russell replied with a detailed analysis of my thoughts and of the statement.
  3. I started reading again, primarily Bart Ehrman and N.T. Wright.  Both are accomplished New Testament scholars who come to completely different conclusions.  I’ve only read one Ehrman book, but I must read more.  It is difficult for me because his attempts to constrain sarcasm sometimes seem half-hearted.
  4. I began to realize that my reading had in fact been narrow.  What about the context of scripture in the landscape of sacred texts and world history?  That’s when Russell introduced me to Audible books and I turned off NPR during the commute.  The bookshelf page is an attempt to chronicle my reading with Russell and before him.
  5. I continued to run and think and sleep, realizing that so much happens in my subconscious before I have the thought accessible in the frontal lobe and available to write here.
  6. I realized that I might be fighting on the wrong hill.  What exactly does scripture mean to me?  Should I defend the terms inerrant or infallible?  That’s what Russell was trying to get at with his very patient reply to me.  I accepted the terms initially and was prepared to defend them.  I had grown up with them. As I studied more, it appears that American protestants for the last two hundred years had grown up with them.
  7. I reconsidered.  My experiment in defending the terms inerrant and infallible yielded a negative result.  It did not increase my love for Christ or my love for others.  It was not a sure and sufficient reason for my skeptical friend.  The scientific method cherishes negative experiments.  They teach you as much as the positive ones.  However, there is a publication bias that over-represents the experiments which validate the initial hypothesis.
  8. Where do I stand now?  Here is the best description of my regard for scripture:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete,equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

I was answering the wrong question, but it was the question posed by the fundamental American Christianity that Russell and I knew so well.  What are the consequences of taking my stand on a different hill?  I suppose that you could view this as a retreat.  But, if I’m arguing the wrong thing in the wrong spirit, then I should retreat.  This represents a healthier way of representing what scripture actually means in my life.  That is why I’m going slowly through Romans.  What is the consequence of arguing inerrancy or infallibility?  Romans 1 can be about debating genealogies instead of about how Christ followers should treat gay people.  I find the former approach less helpful and the latter more relevant and profitable.

So, what am I saying?  I’m not going to marry myself to the terms inerrant or infallible.  After a year of reflection I believe that I was wrong to do so.  For the interested I’ll present a link to an interview with N.T. Wright in which he addresses his beliefs on Biblical inerrancy.  I confess to being swayed by his scholarship and opinions.  I confess that my confirmation bias kicks in much stronger when I read him as opposed to Ehrman.  However, this is a change of mind for me and a difference in how I’ll approach the crucial subject of scripture.

The brief interview is here.  In the comments section below the interview we learn by negative example what tone to avoid in our own dialogue.  Your conversation is welcome here as Russell and I continue to wrestle with reasons.

Pascal – – 1:16

 

photo credit:  Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

61 comments

  1. I can only tiptoe into this discussion as I am nowhere near so well read as you on these 2 topics. That said, I think your choice of quote from Timothy was spot on because it’s applicable to daily life.

    One important aspect of The Bible is that it teaches us how to live well. For an example (and there are many more that could be cited) The Ten Commandments sets out a way of living that avoids emotional pain and increases happiness – and of course it provides a moral framework. Forgive me if you think that I’ve missed or dodged the point of your post 🙂 but in the real, day-to-day life this is more ‘useful’, isn’t it? And then in The NT, the way that Jesus lived and what He taught is a heroic, challenging example to us of what life could be and who God is.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm…
    I read the interview. I understand your viewpoint and his, but I am not satisfied with it. Not necessarily because I disagree, but because it is a half answer. Maybe not even half. Sometimes all we have are partial answers, frustrating as they are. It is a conversation stopper, not starter.

    I look forward to the new format and I hope there are more starters than stoppers in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading it Madalyn. The truth is that this viewpoint is new for me. I don’t exactly understand it myself, although I’m willing to work it out. I certainly do not want to stop a conversation. But, I did feel that my viewpoint of defending inerrant and infallible as commonly understood terms was in trouble. The main thing that has changed in my thinking is an expanding understanding of the differences between modern American Christianity and the historic Christian faith. That understanding is very new, but it does fascinate me.

      Much of the new format is going to require a give and take in the commentary just like this. It is completely okay for you (or me) to not be satisfied with each other’s reasons. Then we ask more questions and try to listen well. It is likely to be an iterative process. I would trust the validity of the results more if it were.

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  3. Reblogged this on realbobbi and commented:

    I am really attracted to the Questioning Christian. Maybe at some point in my life I will be able to listen to the Blind Faith Christian, but for now, it makes me feel good that others have questions or doubts and are seeking the answers. Like this person.

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  4. My friend, thanks for the long and thoughtful post. However, I’m left with a certain level of uncertainty (and maybe that’s the point).

    Your stand now, you say, is best encapsulated in the words of 2 Tim. 3:16-17, and you say you no longer “marry yourself” to the terms inerrant or infallible. But you leave us there. That passage means a whole lot of different things to a whole lot of different people. Telling us that’s your stand is kind of like telling us you embrace the “Jerusalem church” model of ecclesiology. It asks more questions than it answers. I’m curious to know exactly how you unpack the idea of “God-breathing”: if it is indeed “breathed by God,” and if it can be referred to in any way as “God’s word,” how does one remove either concept without bringing down the whole structure? If it is neither inerrant nor infallible, then how is it uniquely authoritative, as Christians claim? If it is only partially authoritative, then which parts, and who decides? At the end of the day, how do we reconcile the fact that our “canon” was chosen by a bunch of human beings at a council in 325, with the idea of “closed-ness” or completeness? How is the hill you’re standing on now different from the one you stood on before?

    It is possible that the many links you included in the post would answer all these questions, but the train of your and Russell’s thoughts might be easier to follow if the specifics were summarized in the post itself. Please don’t misunderstand: I appreciate your efforts to engage the skeptical among us in meaningful conversation. I just feel that, in a way, you’re dismissing the question rather than engaging it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello Vance,

      Don’t worry about me misunderstanding you. That becomes harder to do as we spend more time communicating. There’s some truth to your concern that I’m dismissing the question, but I don’t think I could have dismissed it without engaging it. After I replied to Russell a year ago with the classic modern text on Biblical inerrancy I reflected further – – had I answered the right question?

      Have I substituted one nomenclature for another? Probably. But the benefit of standing on scripture is that I can try to evaluate my stance with a little more distance than the post-Enlightenment Western Christian perspective allows. That’s a really difficult thing to do, because I’m a post-Enlightenment Western Christian. It’s like a fish evaluating water.

      Why divorce the term? I just finished Karen Armstrong’s Field’s of Blood. It was a hardcover pen-in-hand read that took me twice as long as it should. I kept re-reading and taking notes. I will likely read most everything she has written. She doesn’t seem to share my view of Christ and that’s okay. She writes fluently and researches scrupulously. It was a pleasure to read.

      Stick with me Vance. You’ll know I’m demented when I forget to close the loop. I like Armstrong because she is teaching me something outside of my confirmation bias. Consider this article where she was commissioned by the Wall Street Journal to debate Richard Dawkins. Feedback from that article had pushback from William Lane Craig. I don’t particularly like WLC. I was rooting for Sean Carroll in the debate between them. WLC and the strident proponents of inerrancy reinforce my confirmation bias – – a dangerous place. So, what does Karen Armstrong say about inerrancy?

      I can not find the primary citation as the wikipedia link from the article on Biblical literalism is broken. With that caveat, I’ll offer the quote as it is consistent with the tone and content of what I just read:

      ‘Before the modern period, Jews, Christians and Muslims all relished highly allegorical interpretations of scripture. The word of God was infinite and could not be tied down to a single interpretation. Preoccupation with literal truth is a product of the scientific revolution, when reason achieved such spectacular results that mythology was no longer regarded as a valid path to knowledge.

      So what am I left with by standing on 2 Timothy 3:16-17. First, I’m on shaky ground with the skeptic. Scripture to justify scripture is inescapably circular. Second, I’m on solid ground with the Christ-follower. I’m writing from that perspective and as much to that perspective as I am to new skeptical friends. If I’m going to take a stance that could get me kicked out of Sunday school, then I need to stand on that ground. Honestly, it is more comfortable ground for me. I’m willing to go out on limbs and lava flows, but I don’t prefer it.

      What do I mean by “God-breathed”. In Greek it is rendered theopneustos. Here more interesting questions begin. Madalyn did not want to see the issue dismissed or the conversation stopped. I agree. I believe that God inspires (breathes into) humans. Does that look like temporal lobe activity or seizure as some have said? Interestingly, Karen Armstrong apparently has and advocates for temporal lobe epilepsy.

      Does it mean that God is willing to inspire limited humans and allow them to work within what they know? Does it mean that an ancient text can have modern context? All are questions that I’m willing to explore myself and with you. I don’t have a word counter on the comments. I just copied the whole thing to Word to check. 604. If my comment length ever exceeds the post length you will know I am Russell in disguise!

      I’d like to keep meditating on your questions and what they mean to my thinking. If I represented a final answer, then I miscommunicated. Thanks for your friendship and for challenging me.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank YOU for taking the time to respond to a quite convoluted bunch of questions. They are all difficult, and I learned a long time ago that legitimate questions often lead to legitimate, and diametrically opposed, conclusions. I am truly glad to have met a group of people so willing to respond to importunities like mine (and they are many).

        One thought that I’m having as I read your response: I myself was never a huge fan of the “divine dictaphone” approach to biblical inspiration, and tended to see things more along the lines you describe above: God provided the big picture, humans the phraseology. I don’t think belief in divine inspiration prescribes a belief in inerrancy or infallibility. However, as I have moved through this metamorphosis of mine (moth or butterfly, up to you), I’ve begun to wonder: if it is the case that God does inspire, but allows humans to interpret and communicate that inspiration in their own ways, is it not perfectly feasible to suggest that therein lies the root of all religion, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, etc.? Furthermore, is inspiration perhaps another example of the confirmation bias of which you speak? Might we not have been inspired, by a thunderstorm, say, or a rainbow, and in doing so, created a God (or gods)? To me, all of these considerations call into question the place of the Bible on the pedestal of “uniqueness” on which we tend to place it. They don’t prove anything in and of themselves, of course, but to me they at least raise a reasonable doubt.

        (I realize that neither of these questions is exactly pertinent to your post, my previous comment, or even your response, really, but such are the workings of my mind…) :0)

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        1. I do think your doubts are reasonable, and I actually like the workings of your mind. Armstrong writes another book on the commonality of faith that I’m sure I’ll enjoy. Even if I don’t, I’ll learn.

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      2. By the way, far be it from me not to correct myself: I referenced the Council of Nicaea as the body that selected and approved the biblical canon. This is not correct. Thank you for not beating me about the virtual head and face with that one.

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    2. Hi Toad

      Your response sums up very well my thoughts on the matter. If one ditches inerrancy then what is one to do with the Bible? What is an alternative model that one can apply?

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      1. Peter, as far as alternative models go, I like to call mine the “everybody into the sandbox” approach. I don’t contest that there are truths to be learned from the Bible; many of the truths on which I was raised have served me well (ethically speaking), and I see no need to deny them simply because they’re from a book about whose provenance I have altered my opinion. I will still love Shakespeare even if someone finally manages to prove it was written by Christopher Marlowe. But I also have to recognize the fact that some of those ethical truths are not only echoed in other sources, but in some cases pre-date the Bible, which means that truth is truth, and is to be honored wherever it is found. So, rather than simply tossing out the Bible as useless, I’ve come to accept other sources as useful. And since I can’t know whether a source is useful until I’ve engaged it, then nothing is off-limits, religious, not religious, Christian, atheist, whatever. To me, there is as much truth to be gleaned from Allen Ginsberg as from anything the Apostle Paul wrote.

        As CC suggested below, a book doesn’t have to be of divine origin (let alone either inerrant or infallible) to be meaningful. The real danger, I think, is in assuming that assigning a book a divine origin makes everything and anything it says harmless…

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        1. Thanks Toad.

          The issue I am facing up to is that if I accept the Bible in not inerrant is it viable to maintain a Christian faith. I have noticed that some people on these blogs appear able to do so. I am struggling to find such a model that makes sense to me.

          Whilst one can look back on Christian experience, even that starts to fall away when considered from an alternative perspective. How much of what seemed to be God might just be coincidence and physiological?

          I was reading an article from a 17th century puritan Thomas Watson, who when commenting upon the Bible said:

          “We may know the Scripture to be the Word of God by its miraculous preservation in all ages. The holy Scriptures are the richest jewel that Christ has left us; and the church of God has so kept these public records of heaven, that they have not been lost. The Word of God has never wanted enemies to oppose, and, if possible, to extirpate it. They have given out a law concerning Scripture, as Pharaoh did the midwives, concerning the Hebrew women’s children, to strangle it in the birth; but God has preserved this blessed Book inviolable to this day. The devil and his agents have been blowing at Scripture light, but could never blow it out; a clear sign that it was lighted from heaven. Nor has the church of God, in all revolutions and changes, kept the Scripture that it should not be lost only, but that it should not be depraved. The letter of Scripture has been preserved, without any corruption, in the original tongue. The Scriptures were not corrupted before Christ’s time, for then Christ would not have sent the Jews to them. He said, ‘Search the Scriptures.’ He knew these sacred springs were not muddied with human fancies.”

          I doubt that any modern scholar would support Watson’s observation regarding the preservation of Scripture. Even 300 years ago scholars were aware of 30,000 textual variations between the available Greek Manuscripts. So to suggest that God has miraculously preserved the Bible from corruption does not stand up to any sort of objective scrutiny.

          The puritans of times past had the advantage of ignorance to allow them to maintain their confidence in the Bible. If one assumes that God as revealed in the Bible is the supreme creator then he has allowed many different versions of his ‘word’ to exist. It might be this is a deliberate plan and a holy mystery mere humans don’t understand. But at some point one has to ask, ‘how much is too much’?

          I think the key point for me is that if inerrancy is discarded then the Bible just becomes another book of human tradition. Obviously an influential book. But just another human book.

          If one adopts the approach that the Bible is a human book. Then my response would be ‘I know that book quite well enough now, it is probably time I read something else’.

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          1. “Then my response would be ‘I know that book quite well enough now, it is probably time I read something else’.”

            Peter, that has been my response exactly over the last several years. I was a Baptist minister for almost a decade, so it was my job to pore over the Bible, cover to cover, day in and day out. I know it, well. And it proved not to be enough. So, I’m ready to know other things.

            As to maintaining a Christian faith given the humanness of scripture, I think the only person who can decide that is you. Too many people are far too eager to assign content to Christianity: in order to be Christian, then you must believe dot-dot-dot. I wonder how many Christians have been driven to ditch the label because of this. I know I was, in part. Personally, I think it’s quite legitimate to give up even belief in God and still call oneself a Christian (although I am definitely in the minority there, I expect). You be who you are. If a Christian, then a Christian, no matter what people say. If not, then equally so…

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          2. Peter,

            I’m so glad that you’re here. I don’t mean to interfere in your conversation with Vance (Toad), but with your permission I’ll join. Since I’ll be out of pocket for a few days as the boys start spring break, may I assume a yes?

            There are several modern scholars who do present a high view of scripture without endorsing the rigid Chicago statement on inerrancy. The one who means the most to me and writes the best in my opinion is N.T. (Tom) Wright. Madalyn was not satisfied with this post and she felt that I had avoided rather than engaged the topic. Her opinion matters to me, so I ordered the book that Wright mentioned in his interview: Surprised by Scripture. I’m only on chapter 3 (it is competing with David Eagleman’s Incognito), but it does present a natural balance to the biblical scholarship of Ehrman.

            I can’t read Greek, Hebrew, or Aramaic. I’ve also read the scriptures since childhood like Vance and maybe you. But, I need help. The American evangelical hermeneutic requiring only a Bible, a clear day, and a sharp pen dishonors the scholarship of those who love God with all of their minds as well as their hearts. Ehrman does not love God according to my understanding of his words. His studies led him to atheism. Wright, however, does.

            His interpretations may be too liberal for a Baptist pastor, even a Baptist deacon. But they are resonating with me. I don’t want this blog to devolve into a book recommendation. I’m reading it because I clearly need to understand my own change of heart better. I also saw ignorance in many of my own assertions and desired to learn more.

            Welcome again – –
            Pascal

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            1. Hi Pascal

              You are more than welcome to contribute to the conversation. I have been listening recently to quite a few talks by both NT Wright and Bart Ehrman. I find them both compelling and persuasive. However they cannot both be correct.

              I am still involved in Christian leadership so it is important for me to sort these issues out to my own satisfaction. In the past I, and people I know, have had experiences that we had attributed to God. However as I mentioned above I am now re-evaluating such experiences, could there be another explanation? I was convinced that God had spoken directly to me on a number of occasions, but now I am wondering whether it was all in my mind.

              As someone who is interested in science I had for a long time not been able to accept the story of Adam and Eve as literal. I suppose I had developed my own interpretation of Genesis 1-11 that sort of worked for me:
              – The creation accounts were high level summaries, not meant to be literal science, i.e. telling us more why than how;
              – Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel explaining in a mythological way why there is sin in the world;
              – Noah (well I am not sure what to do with Noah – there might have been large floods in history, but even a cursory consideration of the logistics makes it clear that it would have been impossible to have two of every kind of animal (even if juvenile));
              – Tower of Babel: I can’t accept this as the real explanation for divergent languages, perhaps it is better seen as the final extent of the fall of humanity prior to the redemption plan that starts with the call of Abram.

              So I could explain away chapters 1-11 as mythical. Even though Jesus and Paul both imply that they were historical.

              I was aware from some study that I had undertaken previously that there was little (most experts would say no) evidence of the Exodus or the sojourn in Egypt. I was aware that in regard to the conquest of Canaan things were more fluid. But I had assumed that the period from David and Solomon was historical.

              However I understand that none of the experts in the field now consider the Exodus to have happened as detailed in the Bible. Most likely there was the migration of a small number of ‘Levites’ into an existing population of Israelites in Canaan. Further there is little evidence of the grand kingdoms of David and Solomon. It is agreed that they were real people but likely David was a minor king and Judah and Israel were always separate. After the conquest of Israel by the Assyrians refuges from Israel flooded into Judah and their historical traditions were merged and the Biblical history was developed.

              The last paragraph above is certainly not ‘accepted’ history. But the Exodus is a key factor upon which, in my opinion, the reliability of the Bible rests. One can never prove a negative. But it would be helpful if there was at least a small amount of supporting evidence.

              I have started to reconsider the Biblical stories, especially Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges and Samuel from a more circumspect perspective. Suddenly I am getting a whole new perspective on them. When I come to a book like Daniel, the evidence that it is a 2nd century BC fabrication is overwhelming (in my opinion).

              I have also been re-reading Christian history. This had previously been, to me, a more troubling issue than the reliability of the Bible. Diarmaid MacCulloch’s ‘A History of Christianity’ is written by a person who is ‘friendly to the church’ but at virtually every turn, if God’s hand is at work it is very well hidden and simple human explanations fit the actual events far better.

              I should stop now as this response is getting out of hand. I know God works in mysterious ways, but why is he making it so hard for me to believe?

              Liked by 1 person

              1. How many times have I asked your last question? I’m just now getting caught up on these comments—but Peter, I’m so glad that you’re here.

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                1. No I don’t blog. I have only recently become involved in these forums. My first comment was on 13 February in response to entry on another blog:

                  https://aspiretofindtruth.wordpress.com/2015/02/08/what-started-my-questioning/#more-181

                  on the ‘aspiretofindthetruth’ blog by a deconverted Christian. I could emphasise with his journey, as with many other similar people.

                  I had been asked to provide a bit more detail of my reasons after that initial post and my response had been. I repeat that comment here becasue it provides a broader list of my ‘issues’:

                  “I have recently been appointed as an assistant pastor.

                  In the last couple of weeks it is as though a veil has been removed from my eyes and issues that had troubled me, which I had suppressed, I have been looking at from a more objective perspective. I will list just some of them:
                  – the Archaeological evidence casts extreme doubt on the Exodus;
                  – the reformed doctrine of an eternal hell combined with God’s election troubled me for years, if it is God who chooses people for salvation it implies God then elects some for eternal punishment. I could accept temporary punishment, but not eternal punishment. Many Christians argue that young children who die go to heaven regardless of faith. My logic said in that case it would be better for everyone to die as a child, so Christians should support abortion;
                  – the spread of Christianity is best explained by social factors (an example in South Korea the Bible became a way of keeping the Korean language alive in Japanese occupation – it then became part of their renewed national identity);
                  – Stories like the flood do not stand up to logical consideration [but I had previously excused that using Calvin’s argument that the first 11 chapters of the Bible are God’s baby talk, not to be treated as literally true;
                  – the Christians I know seem no happier or better adjusted than the non-Christians – this experience flies in the face of what we should expect based on epistles like Philippians;
                  – I have seen people healed, but it seems to me it more likely psychological (like a placebo effect). A friend of mine seemed to be healed but over a period of months all the symptoms returned;
                  – I have come across prophetic words in churches that have proved to be wrong with the passage of time;
                  – church communities seemed to be filled with so many personal tensions and issues, hard to see much impact of new life there, but human failings are very obvious;
                  – the sheer amount of unanswered prayer in church’s;
                  – In the West we tend not to focus on the loss of whole Christian communities in church history. Just one example the killing of all the Japanese Christians by the Samurai, why did God permit a whole Christian community to be eradicated?;
                  – The sheer amount of argument over Christian doctrine and the unsavory manner in which those debates occurred, The political intrigue in the period from the council of Nicene in 325 to Chalcedon in 451 is quite distasteful);
                  – the lethal persecution of the more radical reformers (anabpatists) by the major reformers like Luther and Calvin in the sixteenth century is disturbing;
                  – the use of music and other techniques in church services to create a physiological feeling that people interpret as the Spirit of God;
                  – the sheer amount of hucksters who have used religion to enrich themselves;
                  – the pastors who push people to the ground to imply they fell under the power of the Spirit;
                  – the amount of Christians who seem to want to vilify other Christians. As an example, I am appalled by the number of people who have turned on Billy Graham.
                  – the amount of people who are hurt by churches and a critical judgmental spirit;
                  – the contorted logic necessary to explain away some of the difficulties in the Bible;
                  – the lack of supernatural insight in Christians I meet, they clearly don’t see what is going on in my head;

                  What really struck me was when I started to read on the web stories people who had been really committed to Christ but walked away. They were not fly by night people, they had what seemed real conversion experiences. But over time started to question. As I read their story it was like I was reading what was going on in my own head. I could match their experience almost exactly. The story of Charles Templeton is especially interesting, his experience was way beyond mine, he had been a great evangelist, he had healed people, yet in the end he walked away from his faith.

                  There are many more issues, but that will give you a flavor of some of the issues I have been considering.

                  Some of the revivals in the eighteenth, nineteenth and early 20th century seem harder to explain by sociological factors. It is the 5% I can’t explain away that is currently keeping me open on the matter.

                  I don’t want to be a hypocrite so I just pray that God if you are really there make it clear to me.”

                  In the month since I wrote this post I especially looked into the Bible issues at some length and find inerrancy no longer tenable. So I am working through what that means.

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              2. Peter,

                I don’t think your response is out of hand. I hope that this can be a safe place for you to wrestle. Both Ehrman and Wright are NT scholars of high caliber. Wright is honest about the provenance of scripture and he does not accept a literal Adam or a literal reading of Genesis 1-11. When Ehrman and Wright directly contradict, they cannot both be right. The biggest contradiction between Wright and Ehrman is that Wright loves Jesus, and Ehrman does not.

                Ehrman’s story is interesting. I think that believers discount the sincerity of a deconverted person’s former faith to great peril. It is possible to believe and grow cold, to believe and walk away. Yes, I believe so. What happens next? I don’t know. In the short term, that is why I’m here. In the long term I trust a God who promised to redeem humanity and creation through Christ.

                Also in the longer term, when I doubt God’s justice I remember that my belief says the moral law imprinted in my heart is a clue to his mercy. If you love Jesus and love the church and see error, then address it. Some thoughtful skeptical friends here (CC, Russell, Madalyn, Howie) realize that for me to retreat on the Chicago statement was a big step. I was wrong.

                I have not retreated on a high view of scripture or a deep love for Jesus Christ. I hope that I never will. You need to be honest, yet realistic. We are broken. If Luther or Calvin, great heroes of the faith, sinned – – call it what it was. Grace is there for them too. If the Southern Baptist Convention failed in the American Civil Rights Movement – – say so. If you love the church, then don’t be afraid to criticize it. Should you pastor right now? I don’t know. What do you hope for those in your flock? If you love Jesus and wrestle with honest questions – – yes. If your love has grown cold, probably not.

                Any attempt to reply in five paragraphs to a stranger risks, perhaps guarantees, a dangerous simplification. It will take time and patience to add depth. You are always welcome here, amongst skeptics, believers, and those on the jagged border.

                Pascal

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                1. Hi Pascal

                  I was reading Numbers 31 this morning. My Bible inserts a heading for convenience ‘Vengeance on the Midianites’. That is a very good summary of events. The Bible makes clear this is God’s direct command. Then after the battle the soldiers are reprimanded because they let the women and young boys live. They are then commanded to kill the boys and all the women except those who have ‘never slept with a man’.

                  As I read this story I could not but think of the recent tragedy of the ISIS attacks on the Yazidi people. This might sound shocking but it seemed to me that the direction of God against the Midianites was more shocking than what ISIS inflicted upon the Yazidi’s.

                  What should we make of such stories?

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. Peter,

                    I think we may have the same Bible reading plan. I was able to balance Numbers with Psalms, Matthew and Romans. I wrote questions in my Bible margin after reading Numbers 31 a few days ago: What do I think of the U.S. slaughter of over a hundred thousand people in Hiroshima? What did the nationalism of the third reich or the communist state do? What do I think of the enlightened Platonists exposing female infants preferentially? What do I think of Voltaire’s reign of terror?

                    In fairness, I only wrote the first question and thought the other ones (until now). I asked myself a further question that I haven’t quite answered. If I were an Athenian commander fighting Sparta, where the boys begin martial training at the age of 7, would I order the boys of 10 to be spared?

                    Karen Armstrong’s book on violence and religion helped me. Violence is a part of who we are as human animals – – part of how we evolved. Did the progressive revelation of God through scripture change from old to new covenant? I think so. You can trace a difference from the warring Hebrews to the people of the book. A further difference should be traced to followers of Christ. Yet how often we fail. War and violence are honest descriptions of who we are as a race. Jesus changed that. Yet we still fail.

                    I think Numbers is honest in its description of total warfare. You are right to be horrified. It is awful in the same sense as ISIS, in the same sense as U.S. southern lynchings. But it was and it is the reality of a fallen world and a fallen humanity, both groaning for redemption. I find that redemptive hope in Christ.

                    Pascal

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. Pascal I hesitate to comment on this because it is a serious problem for me when it comes to the bible and the analogies to Hiroshima and other non-theistic horrors have never resonated with me. The genocidal passages of the bible are clearly written as if the god they believed in ordered them. There are several passages which declare that “everything that breathes” be destroyed, and it is so very clear especially in 1 Samuel 15:3 – please note that infants are mentioned in that verse and that it is written as if it is a direct command from the god they believed in. This is not just about 7 or 10 year olds capable of war. It’s about wiping out every living thing because they were a different tribe.

                      So what I get from a lot of apologists online (and yes it irritates me quite a bit) is that because I am an atheist I am unable to claim the high ground against these verses since atheists can’t claim objective morality. Well, first I don’t believe that is logically or ontologically the case. And that’s besides the point anyway, because if the goal is to evaluate whether or not I can return to Christianity or Judaism then I would be assuming that I would retake the viewpoint of objective morality. But then I am faced with the dilemma of these very scary passages which go so strongly against my moral senses.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    2. Hi Peter and Pascal,

                      I haven’t been following this thread yet. I will soon. I’m about to post on this topic tonight or schedule it for the morning, then I’ll catch up on the comments. I did see these last two come through, though, and I wanted to chime in.

                      Peter, excellent question and welcome. I love what you’ve added so far (that I’ve seen).

                      Pascal, I loved your response in some ways. It was brilliant and showed your clear understanding of history, philosophies, and the challenges and tradeoffs made when most ethics are implemented at the large scale. In another sense, though, it felt empty of an actual answer to what I sense as one of the deep questions here. It would help me understand your position if you could answer this question:

                      How confident are you that the creator of the universe actually communicated with a person named Moses and told him, “Take vengeance on the Midianites…” as is recorded in Numbers 31:1 (as opposed to any other explanation, such as the Israelites claiming it was by God’s command, etc.)?

                      That may lead to a follow-up. Thanks!

                      Gentleness and respect,
                      –Russell

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                    3. Augustine, a deep thinker, and someone with a forgiving heart, contemplated these issues at length. Quoting here from Christian Hoefreiter “Augustine points out that death is not so terrible a punishment for beings who are already death bound. In other words, the Canaanites would have died in any event. While their life span was shortened, their destiny was not fundamentally altered.”

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            2. P.S. I currently reading through Stephen L. Young’s paper “‘Protective Strategies and the Prestige of the ‘Academic'”.

              In this paper he looks at the practice and theory of Evangelical Inerrant Scholarship. I am only up to page 9 of 35, but it is clear that there are different models of how inerrancy works. So there is not an agreed the approach. The Chicago statement is not supported by most of the scholars. They in essence try to develop models that support the truthfulness of the text but explain various errors and inconsistencies.

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  5. I need to think more before I comment beyond this, but Pascal—can we go beyond a week before you move on to the next item on the list? To me (and Russell, according to his post “The Real Reason I am not a Christian, April 6, 2014), this is the most important issue. None of the others matter if I can’t trust scripture. The conversation can’t end with 2 Timothy 3 right out of the book in question.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Of course we can. I recognize the cul-de-sac of my argument. Russell’s reasons mean a lot to me and several of them are interconnected. I know that a building can survive without a cornerstone, but not with structural integrity. That said, I did not mean that I could or would answer Russell’s 43 reasons in 43 weeks – – only that I would interact and wrestle with them. I’ve been doing it for two years now. This is just an attempt to articulate the journey.

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      1. Thank you for your attempt to eff the ineffable (still not in the Oxford English Dictionary in that context, but it should be). I know you’ve been wrestling with this alongside us for over 27 months now (wow…what a friend). It helps me when you put the struggle in words as you have here. I know it’s not easy to do. I know that you owe us nothing. I hope you know how thankful I am to you that the conversation is still happening at all after all this time and that you’ve brought it to a place where others can join.

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  6. I am also hesitant to respond. At the risk of sounding foolish, I will. Clearly, Russel, and Pascal, you are well read. It is also clear that you are both very intelligent. Perhaps what I propose, you have already thought about, but I propose. The Bible is unique in that it records the good and bad characteristics of people. Abraham is recognized for his faith, but deceives Pharaoh. Moses committed murder, but later leads the people of Israel. David was a man after God’s own heart, yet there is also the record of Bathsheba, Peter denies Christ three times, but Christ entrusts him to care for the people. A once timid and fearful man demonstrates great courage in Acts 4.20. I am unable to intelligently discuss inerrancy, and infallibility. Trying to understand everything can become quite frustrating, but I try. I allude to the voices in my head, the consequences of studying theology. To my point, don’t you think that the Bible demonstrates honesty by recording details that are in no way flattering to the people that we read about? This reality, is it meaningful?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t think you sound foolish at all. I agree that much of the Bible is meaningful—I hold it in my hands and long to know it and understand it better. But right now, I (and many others here) have good reasons to question its trustworthiness and its value as an authoritative text “breathed” into existence by a deity. The characters are dynamic and their stories meaningful, even valuable. But I could say the same of good fiction. Character development doesn’t make it true. Even if it’s authors thought they wrote truth, they are human and could have been wrong.

      I think many of us would agree with you that it could be meaningful. I think some of us would disagree if you claimed that this pointed to it being true.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I’m glad that you overcame your hesitation. Welcome. I do indeed believe that the portrayal of human nature is honest and convincing to me. I once heard a quote that I have written in the cover of my Bible,

      “I have understood many books. This book understands me.”

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Hi Pascal,

    I think you are right to move away from inerrancy. One only has to look to more well thought evangelicals themselves to see this – “Inspiration and Incarnation” by Peter Enns, “God’s Word in Human Words” by Kenton Sparks, and “The Human Faces of God” by Thom Stark are all books that claim that inerrancy is a mistake – Sparks even says that it is intellectually disastrous for evangelicals to claim that the bible is without error. I’ve read Thom Stark’s book, and he sticks to mainstream scholarship to show some of the errors in the bible. I’ve seen long drawn out debates on issues of errancy and it begins to look like major gymnastics are needed to maintain inerrancy. But I’m convinced if the same level of gymnastic attempts are used on the books of scripture from other religions then we could claim inerrancy for those as well. After reading Stark’s book I cannot see how the bible is a trustworthy book, and it looks very much like it is simply a book inspired by faulty humans. And Stark’s book only covered a small set of the troubling issues of the bible.

    Yet all three of those authors still hold on to some level of belief that the bible is a book somehow inspired by God (although not perfectly). I’m in no way opposed to more moderate or liberal thinking on the issue of an errant bible that somehow includes inspiration from God. I’ve considered them myself (especially in that year I attended the Unitarian Universalist church), but I’m always left thinking that there is a significant difficulty with this approach: once we admit there are errors, then we are unfortunately left wondering what parts are actually correct. Sure one can claim that the bible gets the important issues correct, but what is the foundational reason for believing that, if we know the book is in error in things which are actually verifiable? Again, other religions can make the same claim for their own books – when the skeptic doubts those we see no judgment from Christians, but when we doubt the bible for the same reasons, unfortunately all of a sudden we see many (not you) Christians start claiming we have ulterior motives for our doubts. This is disconcerting.

    Another issue is which books are considered scripture? Catholics have their own opinion and Martin Luther felt Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation were not scriptural. And when you think about it, 2 Timothy was a letter to a church, so when 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says “All Scripture”, we don’t really know what books he was talking about (was he including his own?).

    If we can’t sense gods with any of our empirical senses, have conflicting “revelation” from all different groups of people who believe they are inspired by god, and don’t have anything written that can be claimed to be trustworthy then to me a world without gods begins to look like the more likely hypothesis. Add to that my own experience in searching for gods and it becomes very difficult for me to return to theism.

    I’m interested in hearing any opposing thoughts you have on what I’ve written here.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Oh Howie,

      I’m going to have a hard time opposing your thoughts. They are reasonable, well thought and in some ways reminiscent of my own. I’m also going to have a hard time convincing myself of what I hope is the truth. My primary purpose here is not to convince. Do I really mean that? I think so, but the assertion must be validated with time – – perhaps another quarter of a century. If anyone is convinced to follow Christ because of me it will not be words or eloquence, but time and living life with them. That said, words and eloquence are the gifts that I have to work with and I feel a certain sense of stewardship for them.

      Martin Luther. One thing his life teaches me? History and people are more complicated and messy than I ever thought. How could a Christian hero be an anti-semite? Yet he was. How could the champion of sola scriptura call James the epistle of straw? Yet he did. I love James. It was my favorite book as a child and in my opinion resonates well with the weightier issues of the law: justice, mercy & faithfulness. I love James so much that I taught a Bible study comparing and contrasting James and Galatians. In my opinion then and now, the books are complementary rather than contradictory. Despite Luther’s faults and his desire to exclude James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation from the canon – -there they remain. What about the Catholic deuterocanon (Protestant apocrypha)? I don’t know much about it other than us having one Bible with it included when I was growing up. The New Testament books were the same. The Hebrew scriptures had other books, such as Bel and the Dragon and Maccabees. I’d be curious to know your thoughts or those of one our Catholic readers.

      Did 2 Timothy 2 3:16-17 refer to the Septuagint (Paul’s Bible)? Yes. Did it also refer to Paul’s letters and to those ascribed to Peter and the Johannine authors? I don’t know. If Paul felt that the encouragements and exhortations were breathed out by God (inspired) then it was possible.

      What about the canonization of scripture and the books that didn’t make it into the Christian New Testament? There is a different flavor to the gnostic works and the philosophy behind them. I have only read excerpts, but more about the philosophy of gnosticism. It doesn’t make sense to me. In contrast, other sacred works do make sense to me and of the human condition. So your question about allowing skepticism for the scriptures of others but not your own is well taken. We continue the strong cult of the other, don’t we?

      As you can tell, these are just early morning musings. I clearly do not have all of the answers. I’m glad that Martin Luther didn’t get his way. James is precious to me – – “true religion and undefiled is this: to take care of widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” I’m sad, beyond sad, that Martin Luther’s virulent anti-semitism created a current of thought in German theology that would later be tapped by Nazis.

      When revelations are conflicting then reason can and should be part of the mediation. Why am I not a Buddhist? It isn’t because of the open nature of the Buddhist canon (I didn’t even know that before Russell and I listened to the Great Courses on Sacred Texts). It is because I disagree with the central analysis of life’s problem.

      Perhaps it would be hard to start with points of agreement without establishing authority, but it is pragmatic. The U.S. Constitution is actually included in the work on sacred texts. At first that surprised me, but on further reflection – – the state in America has been revered – – perhaps to her peril. How closely do we look at the signers of that Constitution before realizing that flawed men can produce venerable ideas?

      I’d like to keep talking. Your journey from Judaism, to Christianity, to skepticism is fascinating to me. And you are a good conversational partner.

      Your friend,
      Pascal

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have enjoyed reading your all post and comments but have not been brave enough to join in the conversation, partially because I have not felt that I have had anything to add to the conversation that was not already being said. I can comment on the Apocrypha or Deutrocanonical books. The canon or scripture was not merely voted upon as which were favorites in the 400s. Instead there were very strict requirement agreed upon as to which books would be considered canon. The Apocrypha or Deutrocanonical books were agreed to be relevant to Christianity but were not meet the requirements for canon; thus the actual name Deutrocanonical which means secondary to scripture. These books in early Christianity were to some extent kind of considered the most relevant and up to date Christian inspirational writings much like C. S. Lewis or Tozer today. The church agreed upon this stance towards these books until the Reformation when the Protestants desiring to show that they were different from Catholics not only changed much of what a church service might look like but also decided that the way they would distinguish their bible was through a removal of the Apocrypha from within the book of the bible. Most had included them up to that point merely for inconvenience of reading. However, the Catholic church and the Protestant church both have many counsels throughout the Reformation years and during those counsels is when the Protestants decided to exclude the Apocrypha and the Catholic church in response decided to give them more prominence.

        Thanks so much for the discussion. I benefit greatly from it.

        Seth

        Liked by 1 person

        1. As do we. Thank you for teaching us and for joining in. Are you Catholic? It is amazing how little exposure I had to this faith tradition growing up. Some friends in our neighborhood are Catholic and live an authentic, attractive faith.

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          1. Hey Pascal,

            No I am not Catholic though I suppose at the same time I see Catholicism purely as a denomination of the Christian faith. I am a member at an Evangelical Presbyterian Church and self-identify as simply Christian. My theology has changed much over the past year and while I see some value in denominations I feel that scripture calls Christians to the greater ‘body of Christ’ first and foremost, and our local church is merely how we love and serve one another and the surrounding community. I was partially nervous to comment because of my faith and while I feel I am fairly well learned I am not sure I have done the extensive research of many of your readers.

            I looked up more information that I have learned to brush up on the Apocrypha as well as what I have learned about the origins of Christian scripture/canon. I am happy to share what I know though it may be lengthy. I am a “well indoctrinated” Christian who got one of my undergrad degrees from a Christian college and a masters degree from a seminary. 😜 I enjoy sharing what I have learned so am happy to state such if desired. I think most of the information I have learned has been from Christian authors.

            I grew up in a family that also did not teach much in regards to the ‘Great Tradition of Christianity.’ I agree that it is sad that so little of The Great Tradition is known to American Christian Churches. We have a rich history that teaches much.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Seth,

              I’m so very glad that you’re here. Russell and are just happy to find engaged people who seem to care about each other. Academic credentials and capabilities are not the point at all. The origin of this blog was that one of my bright students approached me with a concern that following Christ was starting to feel like intellectual suicide to her. That student was Russell’s wife. He had begun separating from his childhood faith early in their marriage and it was causing stress. Russell and I began meeting for breakfast and we are becoming friends (I have fewer, deeper friendships in life so I use the word sparingly). It is my first authentic friendship with an honest skeptic raised in a very similar background. I’ve certainly had skeptical colleagues and acquaintances but I didn’t honor them as friends or listen well.

              That’s really all that we’re about. This post in particular has challenged me to articulate my view of scripture. As a believer, I’m charged with being ready to give a reason to anyone who asks me for a reason for the hope that is in me – – and to do so with gentleness and respect. Russell and several newer friends here have respectfully asked for those reasons. I think that codifying them and wrestling with them helps me, and perhaps other Christ followers, more than it helps the skeptic.

              I too have evolved in theology and agree with your identification as a simple Christ follower. Thank you for joining us! We can learn together.

              Pascal

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      2. Hey Pascal,

        Thank you very much for your kind reply. Interesting that you touched on 2 things in your comment which I struggled with as a Christian… but I’ll leave that for another time.

        It’s ok for you to make an attempt to convince – while I personally have had no need/desire for theism or non-theism (I could be content with either) for many years now, perhaps there are some who would still prefer to be convinced. I encourage you to attempt it. You have the ability to do it without judging those who disagree which is a very rare quality. And all of us here including myself would certainly want to be convinced if your beliefs are actually correct.

        As far as the Hebrew scriptures, I may not be the best authority on that. In fact my wife and I were recently joking with Russell and CC that I was a 2 holiday (actually more like 4 or 5 since Judaism is rich in holidays) Jew after my Bar Mitzvah. But I can tell you what I remember from my Rabbis and my father. The Apocrypha which includes those books you mentioned are not viewed as inspired, but may have been important to some ancient Jewish sects. The works considered inspired in Orthodox Judaism are these: The Tanakh (which is equivalent to the Old Testament in your bible) which includes, in order of importance, the Torah (first 5 books of bible), Prophets, and Writings. Also, the Talmud to an even lesser degree is considered inspired.

        So back to inerrancy and or inspiration. I can see a couple of options for you (and I’m sure there are more):
        1) What looks like mental gymnastics to me are actually reasonable methods to resolve the difficulties in the bible, and perhaps it can be demonstrated that the only way to resolve the difficulties in scriptures of other religions is to use methods which go beyond the point of reasonable.
        2) It is more reasonable to admit errors are in the bible, and for reasons we can only guess at, the God you believe in allowed them in there. And perhaps it can be demonstrated that the number and degree of errors in the bible are significantly less that the ones in the scriptures of other religions.

        Are either of those positions appealing to you?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Howie,

          You are a humble man and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate and want to imitate that. Particularly I mean that you offer two options with the frank acknowledgement that there may be more. You don’t paint me or yourself into a corner. Thank you for that. The reason that I retreated on defense of the term inerrancy is that I did feel I had painted myself into a corner. I think that many in the American evangelical community have done the same. An enemy will not let you retreat. An adversary will. You, Russell, many others like you are clearly not enemies.

          I mentioned that some equate the terms inerrant and infallible. Words and definitions have always been important for me, so I’ve done a little more digging. Infallible means that the scripture doesn’t fail in its purpose. Like all good definitions and answers, many more questions are generated. What is that purpose? How do you evaluated success or failure?

          If I am to compare religions or philosophies, which allows me to best understand the way that things are and helps me to aspire to a more noble way of life? Even Nietzsche said the measure of a good life would one that you would be eager to live again in the law of eternal recurrence. Sean Carroll, in his exposition of the m-verse and the reason why entropy was low at the Big Bang mentions much the same. In this regard, scripture has not failed me. I have a lifetime of joyful work to meditate on and live: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

          I wish that I could encapsulate this better for you and our other readers. It should be evident by now that I’m going through a process too and don’t have all the answers. Stay with me?

          Pascal

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          1. Pascal, I cannot thank you enough for your kind words. The 2 options I offered was my feeble attempt at helping you or others brainstorm so you could find your own way. It’s hard for me given that my views are very different, but I gave it my best shot. You’ve gotten a glimpse in the past few months of my style. I have no need to have people agree with me, but I do want to at least contribute my own humble views in the hopes that it helps us all reach a correct view of reality. If you get the chance read this old comment of mine to get an even better view of my approach. I would never dream of painting you into a corner. My stomach churns just thinking of it.

            I think I may get it – you see the bible as never failing in it’s purpose (infallible) and it has never failed you which is confirmation of that. As you know from my post that you so kindly re-blogged I don’t argue with life experience. I consider it “sacred” – our life experiences go a long way in the shaping of our worldviews and of who we are. As you know I am a “possibilian” and I never deny the possibility that your experience can actually be a connection to an unseen realm that truly exists. For me I see 3 things though – (1) my own experience was confusion and turmoil in trying to make sense of the bible, and perhaps this was partially due to the fact that while I was a Christian I had met several sincere people who had very conflicting biblical interpretations. (2) I know for a fact there are people in several other religions that would say the same about their own faith and/or scriptures. (3) I see some biblical passages as atrocious and nauseating.

            As I mentioned before in our brief discussion on morality, my own sense of purpose, meaning and noble way of life is grounded in possibilities as well as those things which are commonly considered across cultures to be inspirational and beautiful (music, nature, the entire list of noble traits you just listed, and most importantly close, deep and meaningful relationships with family and friends). I know and respect that this is not enough for most people, but it is enough for me.

            Will you point me to Sean Carroll’s exposition which you mentioned?

            Stay with me?

            Absolutely – for as long as you are willing to talk Pascal you have my ears. Perhaps we’ll be discussing this when we’re in our 90’s, maybe on a blog or maybe in rocking chairs in a retirement community. 🙂

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    2. Hi Howie

      I have read a lot of Enns’ work and he makes a very good case against inerrancy. But he really does not seem to come up with a viable alternative model (at least as far as I have observed).

      I used to rubbish Bishop Spong and his cherry picking of the Bible. The parts he personally disagreed with he said they were not of God. However to be fair to Spong I think his approach shows where one logically end’s up if you try to maintain Christian faith whilst concluding that the Bible is no longer inerrant. In essence we make ourselves God.

      In the past people have relied on ‘the Spirit’ to guide them. But the great divergence of interpretation and doctrine that resulted from such an approach suggests it does not provide an alternative model. If people were truly hearing from the same spirit surely they would here the same message.

      So if God is all powerful we need to ask why God would allow errors into the Bible. Is it to cause the more inquisitive and questioning person not to believe? Does it seem fair that those who take Bible study seriously are placed at a disadvantage to those who only study the Bible in a cursory manner and thus tend not to find the inconsistencies?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Peter,

        Yes, you’ve delineated several issues that I agree with related to the bible. I’d go even further and say that those who hold to inerrancy also end up with a large amount of divergence of interpretation and doctrine (although possibly less so). Even the extreme literalist runs into issues they need to resolve with some kind of human reasoning. Did Jesus really mean that we should leave our families and get rid of all our possessions? What does “did not come to abolish the law” really mean and why does it seem contradictory to the epistles and Acts? And related to that – have you ever noticed that a lot of believers will hold the 10 (actually 9 if you think about it) commandments as important but seem to want to ignore the other 603 commandments based on Pauline doctrine? Sure all of these things can somehow be resolved but not without human reasoning. Humans cannot be divorced from the process of interpretation of the bible, no matter what their hermeneutic.

        And then what about the very doctrine of inerrancy itself? Humans came up with it. And who wrote the books of the bible? Humans. All of these things have human hands in it, so could we say all of those involved in the process made themselves God? I guess it depends on what we mean by that. God inspired them is the answer given. But then in a similar way can’t Bishop Spong say that he used his God given moral sense and reasoning to conclude what parts of the bible are correct? A non-theistic worldview makes more sense of all of that, but unfortunately leaves some dissatisfied.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Howie thanks for your insightful comments. I have recently changed my reading of the Bible. I am now examining it with a more ‘open’ mind. I have decided only in the last month that I could no longer support inerrancy. What has staggered me that in just a month I have come up so many problems and issues (it would be no exaggeration to say hundreds of issues).

          The challenge is to find scholars who address these issues in a balanced way to assist one me in looking at how to interpret these challenging texts. So many scholars seem to have an ‘axe to grind’ so to speak (coming from both sides of the argument). I have found the Raymond E. Brown and Walter Brueggemann to be two scholars who seem open to alternative explanations.

          Having said that I have been reading through James Tabor work and he makes quite compelling cases for many non conventional (and non theistic) interpretations. Tabor argues that Paul essentially was the founder of Christianity.

          Suddenly the non theistic explanations for the Bible stories seem to me the most plausible explanations. But having been on both sides of the debate I can see that it is a big step for a person of faith to even be prepared to seriously consider the non theistic alternative. Because ones whole world view is invested in the theistic interpretation psychologically one has to find a way to suppress or explain away contrary arguments. When desperate to do this one is prepared to accept the most tenuous implausible arguments.

          What had really started me questioning my preconceived views was not so much the Bible but rather the history of the Church and my observation of fellow Christians who as a whole seemed a very troubled group. The way to explain away church history is to argue that many of the people were not true Christians, But that seems to me a cop out and I despaired at the the number of Christian groups that argued they were the only true Christians. This and the lack of charity towards Christians who had differing interpretation of doctrine.

          I found it ironic that my church tradition might argue that most Catholics were not real Christians without realizing that other christian groups argued exactly the same about my church tradition. I was startled when I read the testimonies of some people who had been dedicated church members for years and then deconverted. It was as though I was reading my own story. The issues they struggled with were my own. This caused me to consider the possibility of a human explanation for the Bible and that just opened the flood gates.

          I am presently working through the Book of Numbers in depth. It is a most bizzare book when one looks at it objectively. I have just finished reading the Balaam narrative, even conservative scholars scratch their head at much of that story.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Once again Peter you’ve touched on several issues that I also had a hard time dealing with when I was a Christian. This in particular hit me:

            it is a big step for a person of faith to even be prepared to seriously consider the non theistic alternative. Because ones whole world view is invested in the theistic interpretation psychologically one has to find a way to suppress or explain away contrary arguments. When desperate to do this one is prepared to accept the most tenuous implausible arguments.

            Yeah, our worldviews can be very powerful. And you are going through all this only in the last month or so! It’s not an easy road – I hope your road is easier than mine was.

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  8. i have been in the shadows enjoying your blog for the past year. I laughed when I read gentleness and respect. It looks like the tone of the blog does match the title. Good for both of you. It took me 25 years to wrestle alone with my doubts. The biggest thing I had to do was accept the fallibility of the scriptures. Once I allowed the concept of error into one part of the scripture, the whole thing slowly began to crumble. Keep up the great discussions.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks so much for being here and for commenting now. Anyone is welcome to read or write. My personality requires reading before writing too. I don’t blame you for laughing at the tagline. First, it is scripture (offered by the atheist). Second, it doesn’t appear to be common. Finally, it is more natural for Russell than for me. He really is a gentle and respectful person.

      I thought of writing that I was sorry you wrestled alone for a quarter of a century. I’m not sorry that you wrestled. It’s been 25 years since the conclusion of my love letter. I did regret the loneliness and perhaps the sense of isolation that went with it. That is one of the reasons that we’re here – – for each other. If there is a difference between inerrancy and infallibility, I am more comfortable with the definition and implications of the latter. I’ll try to expand as I think further.

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      1. Hi Pascal

        Is your tag name based on the famous French Mathematician? He was someone who sought a deeper experience of God: The following is reported of his experience by Christianity Today:

        ‘On November 23, 1654, Pascal experienced a “definitive conversion” during a vision of the crucifixion:

        “From about half-past ten in the evening until about half-past twelve … FIRE … God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, and not of the philosophers and savants. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.”

        He recorded the experience (called the “Mé;morial”) on a piece of parchment, which he carried with him the rest of his life, sewed inside his coat.’

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        1. Greetings Peter,

          Indeed it is. It is an ironic choice because I don’t speak math beyond arithmetic, but the story of someone who loved God and science resonated with me. I was aware of his second conversion as well and had a similar experience when I was 18 years old. I detailed it in a very longlove letter. Alas, I have not sewed it inside my coat! The rebuilding from that nadir is a story for another day.

          I’ve enjoyed your replies to Howie. You’ll bring a thoughtful balance to our conversations. I’m reading Numbers now too – – it is bizarre. Welcome.

          Pascal

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  9. Hi Pascal,

    Thank you for this post. I’ll save my immediate responses for a post. I’m aiming for this weekend, but CC’s parents will be staying with us then. Believe it or not, I’m actually not constantly on my phone during non-work hours. However, anytime they’re around I like to make an extra effort to be socially present in appearances and in reality – which means being completely free from electronics. Maybe I’ll have some time to publish a post response before Friday. I know I’m overdue for one. Thanks for carrying the load. 🙂

    Thank you to all the comments that have come in so far. They are excellent and the dialogue has help relieve some of my pressure to post during this busy time. I’ll refer to some of these comments when I post my response.

    Gentleness and respect,
    –Russell

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Russell,

      I’m more comfortable with much of our content occurring in the comments. We asked for that advice and I see the wisdom in it. I’m more concerned with our longevity in friendship and conversation than I am with frequency of posting. You realize that I wrote that last sentence to convince myself too! I have so many OCD traits to put away.

      Please stay away from the blog this weekend. I’ll be camping with the Boy Scouts on a complete tech blackout. I really don’t like sleeping on the ground in a tent, but I really love dedicated time with my sons. I also like s’mores.

      Write when you can. Build bridges with CC’s family. You’ll need them no matter what.

      Pascal

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  10. Pascal,
    This comment isn’t so much on topic as it is my reaction to your openness to wrestle with the issues you do on your blog. I admire your ability to take on the difficult questions and not only challenge yourself to find what you believe on a particular topic, but to share it publicly. I am a Christian and I try to give attention to any areas of closemindedness I may have, or where I have taken something at face value and haven’t really developed my own opinions on it. I am not good at articulating my thoughts when I am put on the spot in a conversation (something I am working on). I will be following your blog to continue to be challenged and grow in this area of my life and faith. Thank you for sharing your struggles in the open, it inspires me.

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  11. Pascal I hesitate to comment on this because it is a serious problem for me when it comes to the bible and the analogies to Hiroshima and other non-theistic horrors have never resonated with me. The genocidal passages of the bible are clearly written as if the god they believed in ordered them.

    Howie,

    Just as you hesitated to comment, I hesitated to reply. You most certainly can take the high ground. I’d like to stand there with you. My point is that we have progressed little. Whether the biblical authors felt God had instructed them to total war or an American president invokes God to fight evil in a Pakistan drone attack that kills an innocent family – – the result is the same and the scale has only increased.

    So we have a problem. I believe that your moral recoil is part of the image of God that you were created to bear. Then why would scriptures depict the YHWH of wrath and total war? And when and why did things change biblically? Karen Armstrong’s point is that they did change and represented an expansion from the cult of the other and a growing emphasis on the neighbor as deserving God’s mercy.

    So yes – – this is a sincere problem and I mean not to dismiss it – – only to point out that in 3500 years, things have not gotten better. We’ve had modern Enlightenment philosophy for two hundred years and Epicurean philosophy for two thousand. It is still a problem.

    Pascal

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pascal – looks like this thread moved to your new post, but I’d like to leave a few things here before commenting there. I wasn’t totally clear on your point in your previous comment of this thread and I should have given you the benefit of the doubt before assuming what your argument meant, especially since you had said before that your viewpoints are still a work in progress. I’m sorry for that.

      I will most certainly stand with you against genocide, and while it doesn’t always look that way, it could very well be that you and I are on the same side of many fences.

      It may also surprise you that I am not at all opposed to the idea that my moral recoil comes from a god. If it is then I hope that god truly represents what is commonly considered as good, and that god is more than welcome in my heart (whatever that means) and may very well actually be there already. That said, you know that my mind seems more convinced that gods do not exist, but not to a very high level of certainty.

      As far as whether things are better/worse/the same I’m not well read enough to comment, and that topic interests me less than many others.

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  12. So apparently I somehow got logged out of my account, so my comments are lost somewhere waiting for moderation. For the third time: Pascal, are you suggesting that some of the murderous acts in the Bible reportedly performed by believers were falsely attributed to the will of God?

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