Dear Russell and Friends,
This reply has been hard to write just as this week’s breakfast was hard to digest. I’m afraid that my response to our words in person was similar to my response to the gentle words that you wrote in the last post: anger. Instead of replying, I decided to say nothing for a while. Isn’t it better to stay silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt? Anger. Not my favorite emotion, but there it was. What business have I trafficking in anger to gentle, respectful, and reasonable words? Perhaps with very different styles we both do better in writing. There is time to check and recheck: the eraser, backspace or even rubbish bin if it doesn’t read back right. In person we are there, welcomed into a circle of fellowship and contention. I do remember what we argued about. I thanked you for posting on Tuesday but confessed that I had not read it yet. You warned me that some of the words could come off as if you were angry, but assured me that you were not. We talked about ways to live and why I thought the ten commandments provided a good start, acknowledging that the anchor of authority was the Hebrew God. You said there were two incompatible versions of the ten commandments. I blanched. I don’t regularly read the Hebrew scriptures besides Psalms and Proverbs. I usually read the New Testament once in a year. This year, and perhaps five others in adult life, I endeavored to read the entire Bible. On the morning of our breakfast I was in Deuteronomy (the second giving of the law) and had very recently read the second giving of the ten commandments in Deuteronomy 5. I thought that I knew Exodus 20 fairly well when it was given the first time. In a booth, in a moment, I cried foul. Show me. I could pretend to be noble and say that I was thinking, “come let us reason together.” No – – I was much less noble. I was thinking, “bullshit.”
[insert parenthetical] Why talk, write, argue in public? I am so flawed and this is so messy. Friendship is messy. Love is messy. These discussions
can should happen with friends. But friendship usually involves then survives injury. I would rather tell the truth than spin myself to death in vertigo. [parenthetical done]
I asked who had taught you how to study the Bible. I truthfully admitted that I had not been taught and suggested that the same might be true for you. And then we left. I’ve been thinking about it since. Allow two reflections on my anger? To me this topic and you are important. If either were not I could answer, or not answer, with apathy. The Bible has an interesting take on anger: be angry and sin not. Much easier commanded than actualized. As much as possible, I want to spend little time in anger because I usually can’t follow the imperative to divorce it from sin. Over five hundred words without me mentioning the trustworthiness of the Bible. Me evasive? Never. This is the
first second time I’ve used profanity on the blog. The first? My response to your comment on When to give, Where to stand. Dammit Russell.
Back to work.
“The questions then press thick and fast, as they did for both Jews and Christians in the pagan diaspora: What counts as loyalty and disloyalty? What counts as dangerous compromise, and what as wise flexibility? When do you resist, when do you run away, when do you stay and try to improve things from within?” Surprised by Scripture, N.T. Wright, p. 184
The brief N.T. Wright interview that I read and linked to in my first WWRR post introduced a topic, but begged for context. Madalyn said much the same and offered that I could, perhaps should, go deeper. She was right so I ordered the book and completed it yesterday. The second chapter is titled, “Do We Need a Historical Adam?” From the faith perspective that I grew up in, even the question is disrespectful. To doubt a literal Genesis and a young earth was to doubt Jesus, the resurrection and everything else precious.
This is part of the dichotomy that I now see as false. If Genesis is not literal, can scripture still be inerrant, infallible, God-breathed (inspired) and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness? I can approach this from a few angles:
1) The scripture was useful to me in recognizing, but not acting upon my anger in sin. I was able to find solace in 1 Corinthians 13, reminding me that love is patient and kind. If I dwelled in anger, that would work against the call to love.
2) The scripture was useful to me in correcting my errant path. I turned back (repented).
3) The scripture was useful to me for training in righteousness. Training implies a perpetual preparation. I am hopeful that I’ll become more like Christ with age, maturity, and constant use. Scripture will be my measure.
4) I don’t believe in a literal Adam or a six day creation. That is not surprising for my skeptical colleagues, but what about for the loved sisters and brothers with whom I’m about to fellowship? It would be very surprising, perhaps threatening, for some. Like our Taco Tuesday, it could provoke anger. I should be careful.
5) I think in metaphorical language. If Genesis is the story of transition from prehominid woman to humans in recorded civilization then what value does it have? Is there still a creation? Yes. Is there still a creator? Yes. Does the creator communicate with his creations? Yes. Can these creations worship themselves as in Romans 1? Yes. Is there a Problem deeper than a generalized misunderstanding of logical fallacy? Yes. Much deeper.
6) You know that I love studying science and even practice it in an applied manner. The m-verse doesn’t solve a problem for me. The m-verse doesn’t expand the denominator of time to infinity where anything can happen. The m-verse can not redefine nothing. Quantum fluctuation is not nothing. I find it intellectually coherent to say that our observable universe began with low entropy because God created it with order. I still find it compelling that a beginning begs a beginner. Ex nihilo nihil fit
7) So my view of scripture has changed. It no longer bothers me to consider that the creation story in Genesis was a myth (story to teach truth: not a fiction).
You emphasized the following in your 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.
I disagree with you. I’m not angry and I don’t plan to revisit that place often. That said, I’m lying if I say all goes according to plan. I feel that you have been counting threads and missing the tapestry. The metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration is useful to my understanding of the world and in the imperative of how to live. Does that make me a pragmatist like William James? Maybe so. I live in a pragmatic world.
Could other worldviews work? Allow me to address my favorite: Buddhism. There is so much in Buddhism that endears itself to me. Compassion. I do think that is the answer. I just don’t think that attachment or even suffering is the problem. Because Buddhism offers the right answer, even to the wrong question in my opinion, it largely works. I could live like a Buddhist and follow Christ well. Or I could follow Christ and have the same answer to a better question. In the scientific method, the question matters.
Your two questions were:
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?
My non-biblical reason is pragmatic. With scripture I have the tools to criticize my own heart, to overcome my own biases and to change. I have the tools to turn (repent) when I’m wrong and the instruction to pursue humility and patience – – difficult character traits. I don’t elevate the problem you reference above to The Problem. On that we fundamentally disagree. I must recognize my own cognitive fallacies rather than focusing on others – – on that we fundamentally agree. How do I compare my beliefs to those of others? Is the question right? Is the answer right? What do I do with both?
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?
My core belief that God created is supernatural, isn’t it? That is why it is not my chief cornerstone of faith but is a cornerstone nonetheless. In this edifice, all corners bear load. If I believe God created, and have no dissonance in accepting mechanisms of a bang, abiogenesis, and evolution writ large, then cognitive resonance and coherence results.
I know that we’re still friends. I know that because I know your character which is naturally more gentle and respectful than my own. I’m beginning to understand my character. I hope to more as life progresses. My character also allows for disagreement with friends, perhaps even yearns for it. I look forward to our next time in person – – Détente number 3.
photo credit: Resurrection of Christ tapestry, the Vatican