Biblical Inspiration and Randal Rauser

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Randal Rauser, who is undoubtedly one of the greatest Evangelical theologian, philosopher and defender of the faith recently (and a man full of love) recently interviewed pastor and theologian Tyler Williams about the gap between the results of historical-critical scholarship and the way pastors preach to their flock.

I decided to blog about this because I was confronted with this very issue two days ago.

I attended to an Evangelical Bible study about the Gospel of John and I pointed out that many sayings of Jesus cannot be historical because there are so great discrepancies with the way he expresses himself within the synoptic gospels.

Most folks there were unwilling to discuss about that and just said they want to assume the historicity of the passages and build up their faith on them.

This is certainly consistent with Tyler (and Randal at other places) reporting that many people never express their doubts in the Church because they fear to get excluded.

To my mind this is kind of irresponsible for it certainly matters if Jesus said those things or if they spring out of the theology of John (who might have created them from scratch or modified and spiritualized things the historical Jesus really stated).

They mention the case of Barth Ehrmann who after having been a fundamentalist had a strong deconversion experience and now call into question the entire Christian faith.

They rightly emphasize the fact that a rigid belief system can lead many intelligent people to throw out the baby with the bathwater and become atheists or at the very least agnostics.

Afterwards Randal and Tyler tried to salvage the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy by extending the concept as meaning that God intended the whole Bible to be viewed as a sacred Canon.

They are right that it is compatible with non-historical and mythological tales included within the Bible because they teach us spiritual truth.

The concept that God would include pseudo-graphical writings within the Canon is more difficult to swallow but it is not that implausible provided the authors had profound spiritual and moral insights.

However the presence of “terror texts” within the Canon, whereby God is described as a genocidal monster, is a strong defeater for a belief in inerrancy. Randal takes the view that God intended them to be within the Bible to teach us to be honest to God and also to show us the wickedness of our own heart which we all too easily project onto Him. But this is very problematic.

On the one hand it is certainly true that very early on, believers like the Church father Origen and Gregory strongly disagreed with the theology expressed within the terror texts. Actually, as Thom Stark and many others have pointed out, even Biblical writers like Hezechiel and Jonah had in this respect a very different theology than the writers of the book of Joshua and Samuel.

On the other hand, it cannot be denied that the terror texts have had a very bad influence on quite a few people whereas many used them as an excuse to justify their own hatred.

This is why I strongly doubt that God wanted them to be included within a supernatural Canon.

Actually, I reject the idea that the Bible should be our foundation for learning how God is and believe we should base our theology on the concept that God has to be perfect in order for Him to be God.

This should be our starting point.

We can then look at the different religious texts as the “human faces of God” (to use Thom Stark’s wonderful expression), that is as being inspired in the same way books outside the Canon (such as those from the Church fathers, Aquinas, Luther, Wesley, C.S. Lewis and last but not least Randal Rauser) are.

And I’m convinced that non-Christian authors can experience many aspects of God and get things right about Him. As I’m going to argue in a future post, we have good grounds for believing this is how the apostle Paul considered some Pagan authors during his speech in Athens.

 

 

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8 thoughts on “Biblical Inspiration and Randal Rauser

  1. Lothars good day,

    It is nice to engage a believer that has a more rational outlook, which I gather from your blog here on this page, and some of your comments on “Debunking Christianity.”

    If you recall a few days ago, I am the “turbopro10” that upbraided you for your use of the word atheist inappropriately–in my humble opinion at least.

    Your comment “Actually, I reject the idea that the Bible should be our foundation for learning how God is and believe we should base our theology on the concept that God has to be perfect in order for Him to be God[,]” is interesting.

    Now, before I parse that sentence, I must understand what you mean by those very abstruse and somewhat loaded words: ‘perfect,’ and ‘God.’

    What does it mean to be perfect?
    What is a God?

    Also, I see that you favour Randal Rauser, and I should like to discuss one of his books, “Faith Lacking Understanding,” which I promised to read a month ago. As an agnostic atheist–I am not too enthusiastic about labelling myself–it’s hard sometimes to read an apologist engaged in mental gymnastics as s/he tries to get around an obvious contradiction or discrepancy.

    For instance, the Trinity, which Mr Rauser takes up firstly in the above mentioned text. How do we make sense of 1 is 3, and 3 is 1? Well, as he pointed out in the introduction, as a rational mind, one plausible means is to retreat to mystery.

    When we retreat to mystery, then almost anything may be possible.

    Danke

      • Great. I look forward to trying to understanding your perspspectives.

        My background: I was born just over 51 years ago in Trinidad & Tobago, the son of not poor, but by no means economically well-off parents. My mother was very Catholic, and from what I know of my father, he could care less–like me.

        My mother made me Catholic, and, bless her, she tried hard to get me to believe. Alas, at the tender age of maybe four/five, I asked, why does it thunder, and rain? The answers I got (given that the knowledge about meteorology, physics, chemistry and such were unknown to my mom) were religious based: thunder roared because God was angry with humans, and it rained because Mary was crying because of our sins and suffering.

        I had many other questions about the natural world about me: why is the sky blue? how do airplanes fly? how do they get the women and men in the radio to talk and sing to us? … In nearly every case, I got a religious answer. And, at that age, with my “tabula rasa” brain, none of it made sense. In spite of most folks around confirming that “God did it,” I was skeptical.

        But also, in spite of my skepticism, I fell in line like everyone else and believed. I believed there was a god up there looking out over the world, administering justice, answering prayers, taking care of us, and, well, being a good god.

        Then, at the age of about seven or eight, I read the New Testament (NT). It was given to me at school. The school I attended was a Catholic Boys’ school, and, at that time, the church printed a gazillion copies of the NT and distributed them widely. Reading the NT did not help my skepticism. Even at that age I recognised the contradictions between the gospels. Mark was different from Luke, and these two were different from Matthew, as were these three different from John. How could the word of god be different? Why were there different stories? Something’s not quite right here, I mused.

        Then I went to High School–Catholic also–and I read the Old Testament (The Hebrew Bible, if you will)! I could not believe what I read!!!!

        (based on the general Christian understanding of god, and with some vague idea of what omni[characteristic] means)

        How could an omnibenevolent god do these questionably immoral things to the creatures he created?!?!

        How could an omnipotent god be challenged by one of his creations

        How could an omniscient god be calling out and looking for something/someone?

        Why would an omnipotent god harden a lowly human’s heart to prove his point?

        How does a god have emotions, and fly off into temper tantrums?

        I could go on for a long time, but I think you get my point.

        Then I read the church fathers, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, et al, and it appeared/appears that they were/are trying too hard to find answers that are just not there.

        In the end, as a very good friend from school, who is now a priest, told me when we were twelve: “You have to have faith; you just have to believe…”

        Well, I wish I could, but, it just does not make sense.

        IMHO: whether there is or there is not a god is moot.

        If I had to have any god/goddess, it would be reason anthropomorphised. But, from my limited reasoning faculties, I neither have a god, nor do I need one. So reason remains that thing that we do in order that we make sense of the world about us.

        Forgive my sermonising.

        cheers

  2. Well there is a way to interpret the “terror texts” away. I don’t have a bible to hand so you can check this but this is what I was struck by when I read Exodus. Prior to the golden calf incident God never said “kill them all” he said to drive the Canaanites out. Unlikely to be achieved without violence, but not genocide. Only after Israel had de facto rejected the commandments did God say kill them all. And in Ezekiel 20:25 he says he gave commands that weren’t good in order to terrify people. So one could say he commanded genocide to prevent it. That is he knew Israel were set on genocide but also that they were rebellious so he told them to do what they alreay planned knowing they would rebel. History and the subsequent biblical record agree that genocide was never accomplished. True he reproved Saul for leaving one Amalekite alive but that may be because he killed all the innocents and spared the guilty king. You point about the use of the text is good and a solid reason for saying God wouldn’t put them in his Bible, but it kind of presumes the fundamentalist paradigm that God gives us the Bible so we don’t have to think for ourselves.

  3. However the presence of “terror texts” within the Canon, whereby God is described as a genocidal monster, is a strong defeater for a belief in inerrancy.

    I suggest looking at the idea that the OT was focused on culture-destruction, not people-destruction. I did not think this idea, which I discovered via Glenn Miller (see link), was particularly well-supported until recently. Now, with blog posts like Jonathan Pearce’s Can religion be destroyed?, I realize that some atheists and skeptics are advocating culture-destruction. Furthermore, I discovered (see first link) that there is more reason to support the culture-destruction hypothesis than I first thought.

    Now, the above is only a model; it could be wrong. Fortunately, some wrong models lead us to less-wrong models. Perhaps the above is one of them. I think it is indisputable that some skeptics and atheists want to obliterate religion from the face of the earth, as if it were the Amalekites. Would it be that surprising if YHWH had given us important ideas on the issue? The idea of destroying a culture is not new; the Babylonians and Assyrians were experts at it: deport a people, scatter them about, and their national identity would be broken and eventually disintegrate. Example: Ten Lost Tribes.

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