31 May 2013

RE: Zack Hunt -- Biblical Inerrancy and Why It's Important

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 4.71 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.

15 May 2013

Sown Amongst Thorns

If it weren't for the fact that everyone and their mother is apparently watching Dr. Who, I'd apologize for the nerdy discussion to follow, but the show could almost be considered mainstream now.  At any rate, there are are two characters in the universe of the Doctor that I want to talk about - older characters, as neither has reappeared since the third season.  They are juxtaposed perhaps obviously, as they appear in two separate episodes together, both times as opposing forces offering definitive counterpoints.

This may come across as silly, but bear with me - there's an application buried in here somewhere.  I promise.


We first encounter Lady Cassandra O'Brien Δ17  in the second episode of the Dr. Who relaunch ("The End of the World").  Without beating around the bush, she is the epitome of vanity and all the shallowness that comes with delusions of bloated self-worth.  She is also termed "the last human," a decidedly questionable status which she nevertheless flaunts, boasting that she is the last pure human to be born.  In a word, she embodies ambition, and also fear, because it is her terror of age that has led to her altered physical state, and her terror of death that has led her to sacrifice her body in order to obtain immortality - or the nearest thing to it.  Ultimately, as Rose scathingly remarks, any truly human qualities Cassandra might have once possessed were "chucked in the bin" during her 708 plastic surgeries, and nothing remains but "skin and lipstick."  In "The End of the World," Cassandra and several other prestigious individuals have gathered on Space Platform 1 in the year 5 billion to watch the earth burn.

The Face of Boe

The Face of Boe's first appearance is in the same episode, but the full weight of his character is only gradually revealed as the show progresses.  He comes to represent wisdom, silence, longevity, and - ultimately - self-sacrifice.  His solemnity is undergirded by the Doctor's respect for him, not to mention the role he will play later in the series (as River Song would term it, "Spoilers!").  He is synonymous with the weariness of the universe, with watchfulness, with responsibility.  His past is a mystery (some hints are scattered in later episodes, but nothing explicit is given) it is clear that he has seen and experienced much - both joy and suffering - and while he, like Cassandra, has surrendered his body to unfathomable age, Boe carries his status less as a trophy than as a duty with which he has been entrusted.

The point I want to make is this.  At the end of the world - the real end of the world - there will likewise be two types of people represented.  The sheep and the goats, if you will.  There will be those who bear a sense of privilege, entitlement, and they will be ultimately humiliated by the worst rejection they will ever experience - and will continue to experience for all of eternity. And then there will be the other type: the people who labored through life intentionally, with a goal and a purpose that was external to themselves.  Perhaps Russel Davies had something like this in mind when he wrote the episode.  Regardless, the end of the world is a considerable enigma on the human radar: we all recognize that our earth and our linear existence must come to an inevitable conclusion, and we therefore must choose what we do with our lives in order to make that end matter.

Unfortunately, in the here and now, I often find myself behaving more like Cassandra than I'd like to admit.  I'm concerned with what other people think.  I'm concerned with success.  I'm concerned with meeting my own needs, not necessarily the needs of others.  That's self-preservation, and it's antithetical to the message Jesus came to preach.  In fact, in the parable of the sower, the Savior warned that the Word can easily be choked out of the believer by the "cares of the world" and the "deceitfulness of riches."  It's an all-or-nothing, either-or type of message.  It's an absolute, and maybe that rubs us the wrong way because we want to have our cake and eat it too, but the bottom line is that we cannot serve two masters.  Even on a practical level, if I want to become proficient in a given skill, then I have to abandon the other skills I'm pursuing in order to devote time and effort to the one I want to really develop.  Faith works the same way in our life.  If we care more about reputation and success, then our relationship with Christ will suffer as a result.  James was the one who pointed out that we are led astray by our own desires.  In order to grow into strong, faithful believers, we've got to weed the garden of our heart of anything that might hinder us from pursuing Christ.

What I desire is to conduct myself with grace and poise - not so that the world can see and applaud, but so that I can present myself as a good and faithful steward at the end of my life.  I've said it before on Häxprocess that my goal is to proclaim as did Job that my heart does not reproach me for any of my days (Job 27.6).  In that regard, I want to be more like Jesus.  I want to be patient and devoted, safeguarding an ancient truth like the Face of Boe.  Albeit, preferably with more legs and less tentacles.