Hi Pascal and friends!
Long version for Pascal. I won’t ask anyone else to suffer through it. Sorry, Pascal. 🙂
Thank you for your last post, Wrestling With Russell’s Reasons – – 1. I have deep respect for the steps you’ve taken to listen to and understand the skeptical point of view about the trustworthiness of the Bible. The lengths that you’ve gone to do validate what I wrote of you in Why I Respect Pascal. Seriously. Thank you.
Thank you for providing a rough sketch of where we are on this issue. As I recall, the bulk of the posts on “biblical trust” occurred in May and there was a comment you were going to consider before responding. However, your last post doesn’t pick up from that comment so I wanted to bring it back up. For context, here’s my outline on where we’ve been.
What we’ve discussed regarding the trustworthiness of the Bible
- In How Trustworthy Is The Bible (a question, not an answer) I tried to ask whether you think the Bible is trustworthy, why you believe your answer, how certain you are in your belief, and what (if anything) you wish were different about how the Bible was formed. I may have worded it poorly (I probably shouldn’t have mentioned inerrancy or infallibility since it tends to bring up a different conversation), but I was really interested in why you trust the Bible and where that trust comes from. I’m not asking because I want to challenge your position. I’m asking because I want to believe but I don’t know how without first finding a path to trust in the Bible.
- In your post called Inerrancy you responded by saying that you support the view of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy and you agree with John Piper’s conclusions that the Bible is inerrant, which he discusses in What Is Inerrancy? In that post you said “The [Chicago] statement made sense to me and helped me to reconcile my love of science with my love of scripture. It helped me to attain the cognitive resonance that you desire.” You also said you are open to different evidence and changing your position on this issue. I admire that humility. Thank you, again, for the references.
- After listening to Piper’s audio and reading the full Chicago Statement you linked to, I responded with a post called Inerrancy? It was long but I felt it was crucial in explaining why I distrust the Bible. The Chicago Statement contains many logical problems, and to me, isn’t supportable. It demonstrates the type of reasoning I see being used when many believers (my previous-self included) try to justify their support for the authority of scripture – which only makes me more skeptical. Piper explains (in the clip you linked) that he believes the Bible is true in the authors’ (including God’s) original intent, if only we could properly understand it. In the Inerrancy? post, I also responded to his claims and the issues that prevented me from accepting his conclusions. Piper’s reasons, like those of the authors of the Chicago Statement, seem fatally flawed. At that point I was looking for some other way to justify trust in the Bible that didn’t suffer from what I viewed as obvious biases and logical fallacies.
- In When to give, Where to stand you wrote a response to my concerns over Piper’s view and The Chicago Statement. You offered that Piper’s arguments are circular and may not be as convincing to a skeptic. Then you pointed to N.T. Wright as one who may be more helpful. You quoted Wright discussing a sentiment that I’ve seen quite often. It’s something like this. “When we focus on examining the Bible for accuracy we are being distracted from its meaning.” Examples that follow usually include phrases like strong rationalism, fundamentalism, post-modernism, Epicureanism, Protestantism, the Enlightenment, naturalism, literalism, science and the imagined limitations of science, or some other label that we like to place on a cultural worldview. After that the reader is usually led to imagine the worst aspects of those world-views and then encouraged to believe that these bad ideas are what led to either an unnecessary and unreasonable skepticism of scripture or an “insistence” on infallibility or inerrancy. I see this approach of “blaming bad philosophy X for the insistence on being critical of the Bible or overly trusting it” as a distraction, and every time I hear it I feel sad. It is definitely useful to consider history, philosophy and context, but there is a danger of missing the underlying question. It’s easier to knock down the straw men on the edges than to clear up the muddy waters in the middle of an issue. Your Wright quote concludes with, “Such debates, in my view, distract attention from the real point of what the Bible is there for.” From where I stand, the question of the authority of scripture is the primary issue. Debates about the cause for the questions are the distraction. Later you said Wright’s quote represents your heart more fully than the Chicago Statement. This is an example of the ambiguity I’m noticing. I understand some of the reasons you don’t want to commit, but please commit as far as you feel comfortable here for clarity. Are there parts of the Chicago Statement that you disagree with? You said you want to pretend that Romans is true. What does that mean? How confident are you that it is true? In the end, you asked me to “start by listing my objections to Romans 1… and if scripture is unreliable, perhaps it will be self evident.” I provided several posts that followed from Romans 1:1-7. I believe the result after discussing these issues was that you trust the Bible for the same reason you believe in Jesus – because you’re in love, the same way you’re in love with your wife. CC and I responded to this. I respect it. It just doesn’t help me. I can’t love my way into a belief that my mind thinks is more likely to be make-believe. I mean no offense by that. I say it in envy, not in mockery.
- At the bottom of When to give, Where to stand I wrote this comment. That’s where we left things when you said you were going to think it over and get back to me.
- Your last post was largely a restatement of the position you mentioned in When to give, Where to stand, and was not a response to that comment. Here are a few points from my comment that are equally relevant to your last post.
N.T. Wright seems to be saying that if we start discussing why the Bible can be trusted, we’re missing the point of scripture. That is not a satisfactory answer. We must each make up our mind. Is the Bible without error, or might it have some error (in the intent of the original writings)? We must acknowledge the problems listed in the Inerrancy? post. It is not a distracting topic that misses the point. It is the foundation of trust for the whole Bible.
So what are you giving? Where are you standing? Is the Bible inerrant or not? If so, how are you getting past the objections raised in the Inerrancy? post? Are you willing to take a closer look at those claims and justify your own position? That really would help me. Even if you don’t support the Chicago Statement fully, the objections in my post still apply. Until you attempt to confront those objections it sounds like your answer is something like, “Inerrancy doesn’t really matter, let’s move on.” I don’t think that’s what you believe…
…If inerrancy doesn’t resonate with you, what about concepts like “reliable, trustworthy, truthful?” It all seems to end up in the same place to me. I want to be able to trust the Bible, but I find I only really could when I thought the whole thing was inspired and trustworthy. Maybe there’s a way to trust it and acknowledge errors. I think some have done this. Maybe there isn’t but full biblical reliability is [still] somehow justifiable, even in the supernatural claims. I just don’t see how. Please teach me. Show me where my questions are misguided or my answers are unjustified. Show me the right way to consider this topic, but please back it up with reasons that are objectively meaningful. I appreciate your time and willingness to confront these very difficult topics.
Ultimately, it’s not about labels like “inerrancy,” “infallibility,” “biblical literalism,” “post-modernist rhetoric,” etc. It’s about trust. As I mentioned in The Real Reason I am not a Christian:
The real reason I am not a Christian is that the Bible has errors. Therefore, the Bible is either not divine or the divinity behind the Bible is deceptive. In either case, I do not find it possible to trust the Bible’s description of God or Jesus. It is not a choice. I’ve tried trusting it after becoming aware of these issues. Despite my best efforts and desire, I simply cannot believe something I don’t believe. With the cracks I found in the Bible, the faith that would have been required to overcome doubt became diminished to the point that it is now insufficient to push me from doubt to belief.
In your last post you said that after hearing my reply in Inerrancy? and reading more more, you reconsidered. You seemed to indicate that you changed your mind. However, this is where your position seems ambiguous again, and where I’d like clarification. You quoted 2 Timothy 3:16-17 as your new stance, but I’m pretty sure that was also your old stance. It’s confusing because it is the primary verse that the church uses to support inerrancy, infallibility, Biblical trustworthiness, truth, etc., insert your term. Right away, it sounds like a difference without a difference. I’m not sure what you believe now that you didn’t believe before, or vice versa. Then you said:
I was answering the wrong question, but it was the question posed by the fundamental American Christianity that Russell and I knew so well.
I’m trying to see this another way, but I honestly feel that, like Wright’s comments, it’s more of a red herring than anything else. Where the question came from isn’t as relevant, and my deeper question, “Why should we trust the Bible on supernatural claims,” is not limited to American fundamentalism. You mentioned that you’ve taken a stand on a different hill, but I’m not sure your feet ever moved. It looks more like you erased the name, “Inerrancy/Infallibility Hill” and wrote “2 Timothy 3:16-17” in it’s place (which is what is claimed to justify inerrancy/infallibility/trust/etc.). Read your definition of infallibility from your last post and then read 2 Timothy 3:16-17. You also said:
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.
I agree. It’s also less fun. 😦 It’s not about inerrancy or infallibility, though, and I apologize for letting us get onto that train. Those terms are justifications for believing that the Bible is ultimately trustworthy, and the fact that it is without error or that it is wholly true are sufficient reasons to trust it. As we know, when we’re talking to skeptics, biblical trust must be established before the assumed authority of divine edicts can be meaningfully applied to how we love our neighbors. I don’t see it as “arguing inerrancy or infallibility” but as “justifying why we doubters should believe what this book says.” It looks to me, right now, as though one can’t get there unless they start there. If we’re not brought up in Islam, or if we come to it already aware of logical fallacies and the tricks our mind plays on us, we’re unlikely to believe that what the Quran might say about its own perfection is true, just because it says it. The same goes for the Bible. These texts need to demonstrate they are free from error by actually being free from error. If they are not, we lose the safety net at step #3 that I’ve described in Same Verses, Different Conclusions. Essentially, despite its claim, I see no quality that the Bible possesses which would justify my desire to take its word on seemingly contradictory or very unlikely claims.
Later you said,
So, what am I saying? I’m not going to marry myself to the terms inerrant or infallible.
I am inspired by your change of heart. However, I’m not sure where, exactly, you changed. What does it mean to say you’re not “married to the terms?” Is that just another way of saying, as Wright does, that you don’t think the Bible is not inerrant, but you do think that talking about inerrancy misses the point? You said:
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 read it. In short, Wright was very dodgy on the issue. Rather than answer why he doesn’t think the Bible is free from errors, he takes the common approach of saying that he’s not not an inerrantist, and the question of inerrancy came out of this and that motivation which has these problems. None of that addresses the fundamental questions with which I began this enterprise in How trustworthy is the Bible? According to Wright, he never claimed that he’s not an inerrantist and he appreciates what people who claim that label are trying to do. He just doesn’t engage in that debate because he thinks it’s ill-formed. So where does that put you? Do you believe that the Bible is error-free in any sense? If so, in what sense, and why do you believe that? How can I believe it? How, specifically, has your stance changed?
Inerrant, infallible, authority, trustworthy, it doesn’t matter. Insert your word. It’s easy to get caught up in the words – words which seem to have such heavy baggage that the bags get more attention than the question. Let’s leave the labels aside for a moment because I really think they’re confusing the issue.
Why does inerrancy and infallibility matter?
When I wrote that the Bible is neither inerrant nor infallible as my first reason, what I meant was, “Since the Bible obviously contains some errors (which decreases my confidence in the Bible), how can I trust it enough to believe it is accurate when discussing the supernatural?” And I do want to trust it.
If the answer is that one of the early follower’s claimed that everything he considered scripture was “breathed out by God…,” that just isn’t enough evidence to justify trust in supernatural claims, especially given the apparent errors or misleading concepts in the Bible that seem to discredit his claim.
The assumption of implicit trust in the Bible colors everything, and it is fundamentally why we disagree. I outlined this in Same Bible Verses, Different Conclusions. What you’re claiming is that the Bible is trustworthy. I’m asking you, or anyone else, to help me see it. If someone can justify why we should trust the Bible, and trust it enough to believe that we can accept what it says about supernatural, one time, non-repeatable events in ancient history – I will give my life back to the Christian God in that moment. Until that happens, for me, an exegesis of Romans is barely relevant. I do want to talk about how to live without a God-belief, if I must, while trying to carve out some meaning in life – but I’d much rather return to the simple answers to those questions which I once firmly held.
If the Bible was without error, that would be astonishing. It’s such a vast and complex book full of so many claims. The odds that none of the ones we could test would be false is very low. If we could find no issues, that would indeed be strong evidence for what is claimed – that some guiding hand was behind it. That would give us higher confidence that we could trust it, perhaps even in supernatural claims. If it does have errors, is there any way to avoid losing some confidence in the other claims of the Bible and sliding into deep uncertainty?
- If you believe the Bible is without error in any sense (the meaning or letter of the original authors’ intentions, etc.), do you have a reason that doesn’t depend on the Bible’s claims about itself? How certain are you in your belief and can you justify your level of certainty in the face of The Problem and what other believers say about their sacred texts?
If you believe the Bible has errors, how do you have confidence in which parts are true? Why trust it in claims regarding the supernatural?
Pascal, I know that you care and you really want to help me (and other’s here) find the way back to belief (if they’re interested). I think it would be more helpful to focus on the challenge of helping us justify trust rather than focusing on distancing yourself from the baggage driving the inerrancy doctrine. If you can find a way to explain a) why it’s reasonable to assume that the Bible is ultimately trustworthy, and b) how to logically maintain that belief in the face of apparent errors (and copied themes), I will join you in faith. Since you know that biblical trust is the main stumbling block for me and some of the skeptics here, I wonder if you’d consider revisiting Inerrancy? and this comment, then clarifying your position on biblical trust?
See you soon! 🙂
Gentleness and respect,