On Biblical inerrancy and the priorities of fundamentalists

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It is a widespread opinion in the Western world that the degree of kindness and humanity displayed by a Christian is inversely proportional to the intensity with which he or she takes the Bible seriously.

The more one believes in the Bible, the more arrogant, callous, dogmatic and even cruel one becomes.

I see two problems with this principle.

The Bible hasn’t a consistent ethic

One first major flaw of this theory is that it assumes that we call the Bible is entirely coherent in terms of its (apparently horrendous) moral doctrines. This is, of course, completely false. The Bible is a collection of books often widely differing in terms of their ethical and theological conceptions and  strongly conditioned by the cultural and historical context in which they were written. If it is silly to mock ancient Greeks because of their false scientific beliefs, it is also extremely problematic to judge people from the past as totally wicked according to our own advanced and enlightened modern moral standards.

Conservative Evangelicals and fundamentalists can only uphold their belief in Biblical inerrancy by utterly distorting the genuine historical meaning of countless passages: in order to maintain the illusion of “the unity of Scripture“, they constantly have to resort to extraordinarily ad-hoc and implausible hypotheses for fitting conflicting passages to each others.

I’ve argued that even if Jesus shared many assumptions of other Jews of His days, he traced back every moral rule to the demands of Love and rejected the existence of arbitrary commands stemming from the Father.

Fundamentalists constantly ignore important principles found in the Bible

One of the clearest examples concerns homosexuality. Compare the proportion of passages dealing with this sexual orientation with that of those addressing problems of social justice (broadly defined as any endeavor aiming at alleviating the burden and pain of the weakest members of one’s society). What’s the ratio between both quantities? 0.004?

If the goal of fundamentalists is really to perfectly follow their Scripture, why are their own priorities so incredibly out of touch with those of the Biblical writers?

There is another problem here. Many of their favorite proof texts either don’t teach what they believe or do it in a way which would oblige them to reject important doctrines from the New Testament.

Let us consider the famous case of Sodom and Gomorrah. For very influential Biblical writers, homosexuality was NOT the main cause of their destruction.

  •  Isaiah 1:10, 17: Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! … Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
  • Ezekiel 16:48-50 — Regarding Jerusalem: As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did these abominable things before me; therefore I removed them when I saw it.
  • Zephaniah 2:9-10: Therefore, as I live, says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Moab shall become like Sodom and the Ammonites like Gomorrah, a land possessed by nettles and salt pits, and a waste forever. The remnant of my people shall plunder them, and the survivors of my nation shall possess them. This shall be their lot in return for their pride, because they scoffed and boasted against the people of the LORD of hosts.
  • Book of Wisdom 19:13-18 (found in the Roman Catholic Bible) — Regarding Sodom and Gomorrah: On the sinners, punishment rained down not without violent thunder as early warning; and deservedly they suffered for their crimes, since they evinced such bitter hatred for strangers.

Conservative Evangelical like quoting again and again the book of Deuteronomy:

Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood [shall be] upon them.

cherry picking christians

But they’re wholly oblivious to the fact that for the ancient author, the following practices were also abominable for the Almighty:
Leviticus 11:10-19 – (6) “But anything in the seas or the rivers that has not fins and scales, of the swarming creatures in the waters and of the living creatures that are in the waters, is an abomination to you. They shall remain an abomination to you; of their flesh you shall not eat, and their carcasses you shall have in abomination. Everything in the waters that has not fins and scales is an abomination to you.”

In Continental Europe, there are many Conservative Evangelicals who are aware of this all and consequently find fighting poverty and injustices much more urgent and important than combating homosexuality.

Given that, it’s still kind of a puzzle to me that Conservative Christians in America devote such an extravagantly disproportionate amount of their God-given time to the confrontation with the “sin” of queer people while trying to uphold crying inequalities between the healthcare of poor and rich children.

If I were allowed to get a bit cynical at my lost hours, I’d surmise it’s a lot easier to harass a minority one is not a part of than to deal with other sins which have a real grip on one’s own heart.

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Creationism and Tim Chastain’s spiritual crisis

Tim Chastain is a great progressive Christian writer.

He told us his spiritual crisis which led him to reject fundamentalism and even losing his faith in God altogether before finding back his hope in Jesus.

His testimony is relatively long but it is truly worth being read.

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Sometimes a crisis moment occurs that changes something about us forever. Today, I will share such a moment from my life—how I experienced the loss of God.

I was a creationist. Growing up a fundamentalist, and later being an evangelical, I had no qualms about creationism and the global flood, and I accepted that the Bible taught both in Genesis. I also believed in ‘defending the faith’ and I was good at it. However, I did not like sloppy and inadequate materials that did not address the real issues of evolution, so when the creation-science movement came to prominence in the 1970s, I was ecstatic.

Creation-science teaches that God created separate species (kinds) that do not change except within their created limits; one species does not evolve into other species. All species were represented at the creation event. Therefore, man did not evolve from earlier species but was specially created by God, and man lived together with all species, including dinosaurs, in early earth.

The flood of Noah is understood to be a world-wide (global) flood in which all people and all non-aquatic animals were killed except for the representatives on the ark. This flood accounts for the geographical strata we find throughout the earth today.

I was excited by these new books, particularly The Genesis Flood by Henry M. Morris and John C. Whitcomb, and they inspired me to develop a novel about the global flood; I still think my story was quite creative! One thing that bothered me, though, was the insistence of these authors on a young earth—an earth created no earlier than about 10,000 years ago; I thought insistence on literal 24-hour days of creation was unnecessary since a ‘day’ might have represented any length of time.

Over the next many years, I consumed these books but began to have doubts. My doubt resulted not from evolutionary proofs but from the creation-science books, themselves. As I continued to read, I began to ask, ‘Is this all we have? Are these our best arguments?’

I also wondered how the Genesis writer knew such detail about what happened at the beginning of time. Could the stories have been passed down from Adam generation-by-generation? I spent many sleepless nights with this problem until I concluded it was impossible for such stories to remain intact for the time required between Adam and Moses, and I thought it unlikely that God would dictate the stories directly to Moses so he could include them in Genesis.

I still had no inclination to accept evolution, though it was a reasonable and consistent system, because there were gaps in the theory. But I began to wonder what the Genesis creation and flood stories could mean if they were not what I had understood them to be.

Then in 1993, I read a commentary that demonstrated that the stories were written to counter similar Mesopotamian stories in which, for example, warfare among the gods resulted in the earth being created from the corpse of the vanquished. The Genesis stories, instead, depicted the creator as an orderly and thoughtful God rather than a chaotic group of super-beings.

This seemed very reasonable to me: the Genesis stories should not be read as history but as a different genre—a corrective tract against crude Mesopotamian mythology. This change in my perspective was not difficult. Though I accepted the authority of ‘scripture’, I already understood the importance of reading texts in their proper genre; I had previously abandoned dispensationalism in part due to my respect for apocalyptic genre.

However, I soon experienced the greatest crisis of my spiritual life. Leaving creationism led to an unexpected development in which I underwent more than a year of deep depression and agony as I grieved the loss of God. It was my darkest period.

Noah’s ark, pseudoscience, Genesis flood

Discarding my belief in creationism led to more than a year (1994) of deep grief over the loss of God.

Authority of Scripture, Chicago statement of inerrancy

As an evangelical, I believed in the inerrancy of the Bible. My understanding was not as extreme as those who believe every passage should be read literally and is inerrant to each word and detail. I understood that not all passages are literal or historical writings. Some are poetry and should be read as such. Others are stories or parables to make a point. Apocalyptic passages, such as Revelation, are written to comfort those in crisis and are not intended to be prophecies of the future.

Perhaps some would say I was more committed to the authority of the Bible than to what some evangelicals consider inerrancy.

In 1993, I accepted that the early chapters of Genesis were not meant to be read historically, but rather as a corrective tract against crude Mesopotamian mythology. This re-opened for me the entire question of creationism and evolution. It did not cause me stress but simply meant that I needed to completely re-evaluate the issue in light of my new discovery about Genesis.

However, in the process of assimilating the new understanding of Genesis, a related issue surfaced that almost destroyed my faith entirely. It concerned Paul and the fifth chapter of Romans. Within a lengthy argument about Jesus’ work of justification, Paul stated:

Just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.

As is clear from the preceding development of the argument, the trespass condemning all people was the trespass of Adam in the Garden of Eden. The problem to me was that Paul seems to understand Adam as an historical person and the Genesis story of the Garden of Eden as an historical description.

One might contend that Paul’s comment was simply referring to a familiar fictional story like ‘Just as Rip Van Winkle slept through the revolution, you are in danger of missing the significant event of our time!’ However, Paul seems to historicise Adam earlier in the chapter,

Death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam.

The fact seemed clear: Paul thought Adam and the Garden of Eden were historical. Paul was WRONG! He was NOT inerrant! And this did not concern a mere cultural opinion like long hair; this involved a major doctrinal issue.

Inerrancy, fundamentalism, Bible, Evangelical

While accepting that the Genesis creation and flood stories were not historical did not affect my faith at all, this revelation that Paul is not infallible and authoritative soon sent me into depths of despair. My faith in the authority of the Bible was shaken to its core. And if the Bible was not authoritative, then on what basis could I believe in God? How could I hold to any religious belief?

This spiritual crisis led to more than a year of despondency, depression, and a grieving over the loss of God. Toward the end, I read a book called God and the Philosophers that helped a little in accepting the possibility of God, but it did not really resolve anything. I had lost my confidence in the Bible and in the existence of God. My spiritual journey was over and my religious beliefs were in ashes.

And the ashes were cold.

Unexpectedly, I began to realize a different perspective. It restored my spiritual foundation in a way that inerrancy of the Bible never could. In fact, had my trust in inerrancy not collapsed into ashes, I probably would not have discovered this new perspective.

Against an increasingly solid scientific case for evolution, creationists defend an historical view of the story of Adam beyond all reasonability. This appears a bit odd since the Bible rarely refers to Adam after the first chapters of Genesis. He appears in a few genealogical lists, but the only other writer to mention Adam is Paul.

In 1 Timothy chapter two, Paul uses Adam and Eve as an argument against women having authority over men. Corinthians chapter 15 mentions the historical Adam in Paul’s argument for the resurrection of believers. The most crucial passage, though, is Romans chapter 5. Here Paul argues for faith in Jesus’ work of justification rather than trust in our own personal good works. Paul seems to consider Adam an historical figure.

While accepting that the Genesis stories are not meant as historical accounts is not necessarily a big issue, this conclusion leads directly to the inerrancy of Paul. Not only does Paul consider Adam as historical, but Adam figures significantly in Paul’s theology—especially in regard to his teaching of original sin in Romans chapter 5. The failure of this theological plank has a tremendous impact on the rest of evangelical theology. If Adam is not significant in himself, Paul makes him very significant. Paul’s fallibility on this important matter would lead many fundamentalists and evangelicals to the pit of confusion and despair.

It certainly had that effect on me, but out of the darkness of my despair came a glimmer of something new. As I read the stories of Jesus from the memories of his earliest followers, I found him to be compelling. I was drawn to him. Though I could no longer depend on the authority of an inerrant Bible to accept what his followers wrote to be true; yet I was drawn to him.

Now, I have been impressed by other people of whom I have read. Gandhi is an example. Others include Socrates, C. S. Lewis, and Gautama. But the Jesus I met in the writings of his followers was intensely compelling in a way different from the others. Here was a person I could trust. He is accepting, supportive, inviting. He is concerned with me and my welfare and he claims he can do something about it.

How people fare in their biographies has a lot to do with their biographers, but though I have only met Jesus through the memories of his earliest followers—I trust him. I trust him when he tells of the Father; I trust him when he offers peace, reconciliation, and rest; I trust him when he promises eternal life.

If I trust Jesus, the question arises, ‘On what basis do I trust him?’ Authority of the Bible is not the basis, because I have come to understand that this is an unrealistic approach to the Bible. The absolute reliability of his followers is an inadequate basis because they are human. Their memories could be faulty; they could have misinterpreted Jesus’ words and actions; and they certainly wrote in response to issues of their day, so their writings have a measure of agenda.

That being said, their writings do not seem to have the marks of invention, lies, or fraud. The person of Jesus stands out. The earliest followers were transformed by him and their reports about him transformed others. They transform me. But, in all of this, I know that they could be mistaken or that I am mistaken.

What other basis do I have to trust Jesus? The answer is—none. In the end, I accept the Jesus I find in the writings of his followers by faith. As it turns out, I trust Jesus by faith alone. This sounds very fundamentalist-evangelical, but it is not; often they do not really trust Jesus by faith alone—they trust the Bible by faith alone. I have no safety net, but, for me, trusting this Jesus without a safety net is more than satisfactory.

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He finally asked:

How does my journey compare to, or help with, your spiritual journey?

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Naked Calvinism: the secret will of God

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All Calvinists who try to be consistent face a  formidable challenge.

On the one hand, they believe that God forbids us to commit sins such as adultery, thief, murder, homosexual lifestyle and so on and so forth.
On the other hand, they also believe that God predetermined and ultimately caused people to carry out all these wicked sins.

To alleviate this tension, they resort to the notion of the secret will of God.

A Calvinist website gives us a nice illustration of how this plays out in practice:

Jan-Massys-Bathsheba-Observed-by-King-David

“Think of David on the roof of his palace looking down and seeing beautiful Bathsheba washing. What was he to do? What was God’s will for him? Surely the Bible makes it plain. The Seventh Commandment states clearly: “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. God’s revealed will tells him what God wants him to do. God hates sin and desires His people to obey His commandments. But is there not another will in God? What about predestination and the decrees of God? God foreordains whatsoever comes to pass. His plan includes everything and nothing is left to chance. God “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph.1 :11). He is not the author of sin and yet, since everything is included in His decrees, sin must be there too. This means that in a certain sense it was God’s will that David commit adultery. Nothing can happen but what God wills and David did commit adultery. The implication of this is that there are two “wills” in God…

…Surely it is impossible to have two “wills” in one individual. From the case of David we see that the two “wills” in God appear to be contradictory. The secret will determines that David should sin while the revealed will tells him that he must not sin. Of course there is no conflict in the mind of God. We find it impossible to understand how God can will that an individual sin and yet not be the author of that sin. What we often forget is that God’s mind is infinitely great. We are grasshoppers in comparison to the One who sits on the circle of the earth. We cannot comprehend God fully and even after an eternity of studying Him He will still be mysterious to us.”

Following my methodology, I won’t really go into the favorite prooftexts that Calvanists use to defend this blasphemous non-sense profound truth, since if I can only show that only one text is hugely at odds with reformed theology, I would have refuted the whole system since it cannot exist without an inerrant Bible.

That said, I cannot help but notice that divine determinism is not the only plausible interpretation of most of the texts they use. It is worth noting that the text explicitely speaking of two wills, namely Leviticus 29.29

 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law”

does not say that these secret things contradict the revealed will of God and it is a stretch to think this is what the author of Leviticus thought.

There are other Biblical texts which make clear that God cannot lie (according to the authors):

Titus 1:2: “[I]n hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began.”

Hebrews 6:18: “[I]t is impossible for God to lie.”

Calvinists are obliged to considerably water down the meaning of the texts and pretend they just mean that God cannot directly lie but can order men not to rape while predetermining them to commit this very sin.

Jeremiah 32:35 is extremely embarassing for all divine determinists holding fast to Biblical inerrancy.

35 They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commandednor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.”

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I think it is already very hard to reconcile the non-deceptive character of God with the blue text due to the same reasons I mentioned about David and Bathsheba. But the red text seems to be a fatal blow to all kinds of Calvinist claims.
Reformed apologists do the only thing they can and try to argue that the red phrase has to be considered as an allegory or hyperbole, or that “mind” could be translated as “heart”.
But try a moment to think about what that means.
God predetermined the Israelites to commit these very atrocities. He could have given them other desires but He decided they would sacrifice their children, He is the ultimate cause of their horrible behavior.

And then, while speaking to them, he told them that He never wanted them to commit these horrendous acts, without giving them any indication this was just a figure of speech.

If Calvinism is true and God really spoke at that time, I see only two possibilities: this was either an odious and detestable act of deception or God suffered under a split-brain or multiple personality disorder back then.

Now I know what many Calvinists are going to quote:

““For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  (Isaiah 55.8)

But there is a big irony here. Reading the verse in its immediate context shows it is all about reconciliation, that God invites all evildoers to give up their wicked ways and come back to Him. This verse seems rather to indicate that God is much more loving, much more forgiving than any man can be and even than any man could ever imagine to be.
For reformed theologians, this verse means than God is probably more vicious than the worst criminal who has ever lived.