This series and this post are by RJS; and we are glad Scot is back ? because the challenges confronting us in this chapter are up his alley not mine.
Come on, many ask us today, you can’t really take the Bible literally—Can you? This is the important question addressed in Chapter 7 of Tim Keller’s book The Reason for Godalthough this is not really the question answered in the chapter. A better formulation and a more important question is: You can’t take the Bible seriously—Can you?
Consider the Bible, especially the New Testament: How can we trust this two thousand year old book? Isn’t it a politically motivated collection of early texts designed to enhance the power and prestige of the Roman emperor and the Church hierarchy? Isn’t it full of error and uncertainty ? so that we cannot even know what Jesus said or taught with any confidence?
After all, we are told, there are more textual variants than words in the text…the early church suppressed the true diversity of early Christianity for its own benefit…The Gospel of Judas provides important new insight into the early church understanding of the crucifixion…Jesus was married and we have the tomb and ossuaries to prove it…Matthew didn’t really write Matthew…John didn’t really write John…Peter didn’t really write Peter…Paul didn’t really write half of the letters attributed to him…many of the documents were written 100 or more years after the fact…we can reconstruct a Q gospel and a gospel of the cross providing better insight into the early church and historical events before mythology and legend took over…the New Testament is culturally bound, repressive, and not a valid guide for the 21st century…women are oppressed…slavery is supported — you name it. We see the news, watch the documentaries, read the books.
The answer, of course, is that it perfectly reasonable to take the Bible seriously. One need not check one’s brains at the door to do so. Keller has some of the usual discussion and good list of resources. I am not going to address more specific questions about why we can take the Bible seriously here – but with Scot back in town I am sure he will be willing to discuss any questions folks might have.
I have a personal reflection though — this has been a question that I have pondered and studied extensively. One of the biggest issues for me was a doctrine of scripture that seemed to pit faith and reason in mortal combat. But this need not be. We must be able to take the Bible seriously – but quite honestly faith does not really demand any more than that. When it comes right down to it I believe the Bible is inspired and authoritative because I am a Christian – I am not a Christian because I believe the Bible is inspired and authoritative. Even more importantly I have come to the realization that we must let the Bible be the book it is and let the book we have, preserved by God, for us, through the work of the Spirit in the church, define what it means for the Bible to be inspired and authoritative. We get into big trouble when we first define what the Bible must be and then try to make it fit our mold, our mode thinking. This, I think, has been a major problem in much of Protestant, especially evangelical, Christianity.
Off that soap box and on to another issue. In his book Keller also suggests that nonchristians considering the gospel should not worry about the hard texts (like 1 Tim 2:11-15 for example) and the intramural squabbles of the church. Christians disagree over these texts, so nonchristians should ignore them and look at the whole message – the core doctrine. Is the Gospel of Jesus attractive and viable? If so worry about the details later. In particular he sidesteps the issues of the role of women or oppression of women in this fashion.
Ok – I have a few of questions here:
What is your understanding of the nature of scripture?
How important is our theology or doctrine of scripture to the Christian faith?
Is it right to brush the hard questions under the rug initially — or will this only lead to problems later on?