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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