Prior to Charles Darwin's 1859 publication, On the Origin of Species, there was never a need to "defend the faith" the way that there is today. In the 150 years since that monumental release, there has been a slow burn of anti-Bible sentiment -- ripples of the bitter stone hurled into the lake of religious worldview. Since the snowball began, the modern scientific community has grown up refining the evolutionary theory, and their collective doubt has led other schools of thought to similarly challenge the authority of the Bible. A&E specials on the Gnostic Gospels, The Bible, Dan Brown thrillers, and even 80's rock operas have all called into question the legitimacy of the Scriptures by presenting alternate interpretations and "disregarded" information.
All of these factors combined have contributed to the cloud of "reasonable doubt" which sneers in the face of Christianity. The agnostic-flavored question, "How do you know that the version of the Bible you have is the correct one?" is perhaps one of the most common objection to any discussion of the divine authority of Scriptures. In fact, most people aren't opposed to the idea of a Bible handed down from on high, but they are concerned with getting the right one -- the one that's fair, reasonable, and cutting-edge culturally speaking.
Unfortunately, there are structural problems from within the Christian faith as well. This article appeared today on the Red Letter Movement website: a post by Zack Hunt, a student of Yale Divinity. Sardonically establishing himself as a martyr for his claims, Hunt dives into his argument concerning the imperfections of the Bible, how they are self-proclaimed, and how the incompleteness of the Scriptures is the foundation for faith. His concluding statement is the most painful section of all to read -- not because it is convicting as intended, but because it is so grossly mistaken:
When we affirm inerrancy, we create an idol fashioned out of the same need for certainty and control that drove Adam and Eve to snatch divinity away from God. Simply put, Biblical inerrancy isn’t Biblical. Now, I’m not naive enough to think that someone who believes in BIblical inerrancy will read this post and suddenly "see the light." Our fear and ingrained need for control are not overcome that easily. So, if you are reading this post and you do affirm Biblical inerrancy, please know that not only are you breaking away from Church tradition, you are also rejecting the imperfection the Bible claims for itself, the very imperfection that is necessary for faith.
Great. So, by esteeming the Bible as the inspired, infallible Word of God, I've made it an idol? Might as well put my ESV study Bible on a pedestal and start wringing birds' necks in front of it.
Unfair, perhaps, but the punishment fits the crime.
The biggest problem with Hunt's assertions lies in his misconceptions. First of all, he is writing under the assumption that it is okay to question the Bible in terms of literal interpretation. Halfway through his article, he questions the logical reasoning behind the story of Noah's ark and how childish it is to believe in a literal interpretation of the account as an educated adult. In so doing, he opens the door for all kinds of literal/metaphoric interpretation problems:
"So if Noah's story is dubious, then what about Jonah in the belly of the whale? It's certainly improbable, so let's say that one's a kid's tale also, simply included in the Biblical texts to remind us not to disobey God's will. Well, what about Peter pulling a coin out of a fish's mouth at Jesus' command? Nothing more than an allegory about God's provision, nothing more. How about Jesus on the cross? What about His resurrection? Is the Holy Spirit even a real thing/entity/being?"
Honestly, where does the line of questioning stop? By questioning the authenticity of one account, you absolutely question the authenticity of the rest. That's the way trustworthiness works. That's the way our judicial system works. One lie invalidates a testimony.
Dangerous footholds aside, Hunt further invalidates his own argument through the following non sequitur. Because, he claims, our mothers gave us good instructions but aren't perfect, we can therefore conclude that the Bible (somehow equated with motherhood?) -- since it also gives good advice -- likewise can't be regarded as infallible. I understand that he's establishing a metaphor to make a point, but it's a faulty one at best. Motherly instruction may teach a lesson about faith, but we're talking about the Scriptures, not parenting style.
Hunt's second misconception arises partly from a misunderstanding of the word "perfect" and partly from a shallow understanding of the way God interacts with man. Operating under the premise that there are only two things "God-breathed" in Scripture -- Scripture itself (2 Tim 3.16) and man (Gen 2.7) -- Hunt argues that a). because God is perfect, He b). couldn't create anything else that is perfect (because it would therefore be the same as Him), so c). Scripture (God-breathed like man) must therefore also be imperfect the same way man is imperfect. The presumption of this part of his argument is that, in order for God to create something "perfect," He would have to duplicate Himself. However, the fact of the matter is that God didn't create another God. He created a human - an entirely different class, unlike anything He had yet created.
Apples and oranges.
Furthermore, as Hunt testifies, the Bible records that all of creation was "good" -- unfallen, unsullied, untainted. MacArthur defines the usage of the word as "sufficient for the purposes it was intended to serve" -- which, by the way, is virtually synonymous with "perfect." Something doesn't have to possess divine quality to be flawless. Of course, there is no longer anything flawless in our world today, but in the beginning, God created our world itself in a state of absolute perfection - to His own specifications and standards. To doubt that God, in all His power and wisdom, could create a perfect human being (simply because the Spirit moved Moses to use the word "good" instead of "perfect") is to doubt His sovereignty and omnipotence.
Furthermore, despite the fact that man, now broken by the sin he chose, became once again the vessel for God to breathe life into, does not mean that the Word came out imperfect as a result. In fact, Scripture proclaims that God chose to use "earthen vessels" so that His glory might be revealed by contrast (2 Cor 4.7; 1 Cor 1.18-31). How could we be so arrogant as to presume that we could mess up God's Word? How could man possibly distort the will of God, because it was clearly God's will to share His gospel with us? How could the Word that became flesh, the perfect Son of God, misrepresent himself in His own autobiography? Furthermore, as Peter records, the prophetic Word of God is "more fully confirmed" than even His own presence here on earth. That doesn't lend itself to a fallible interpretation of Scripture. The bottom line is that God, because of His nature as God, simply would not give an imperfect, incomplete, man-stained picture of Himself. As our Shepherd, He would not mislead us. As our Heavenly Father, He would not give evil gifts to His children (Luke 11.13; Jas 1.17).
Mr. Hunt, we don't need faith to believe that the Bible - despite its "inadequacies" -- is God's Word, because there are no inadequacies. On the contrary, a biblical definition of faith is not synonymous with "hope" in the sense that it invokes an element of uncertainty. Biblical faith is necessary to believe in things expected and unseen, not things that are uncertain (Heb 11.1-3). Mr. Tillich is correct in his claim that faith "requires an element of doubt," but it's not because we don't have confidence, but because we a). cannot prove by logical standards the claims that we uphold, and b). because we -- as fallen human beings -- can't fully understand the perfect wisdom of Almighty God. Paul wrote that we only "see in part" now because we are limited, not because the Word of God is (1 Cor 13.12) We need faith not because God didn't communicate His Word perfectly, but because our understanding is so limited, shackled by our own damning pride and intrinsic fallibility.
Contrary to what you may think, biblical faith leaves no room for doubt. Biblical faith is absolute confidence -- "conviction" as the writer of Hebrews termed it - derived from the absolute perfect Word of God alone.
Faith in anything less than that isn't much faith at all.