Apologetics vs. Bible-based faith

I’ve been browsing through some of the articles at the Tekton Apologetics Ministry site, and found this article by James Patrick Holding on “Why Bible Critics Do Not Deserve the Benefit of the Doubt.” He begins by advocating that skeptics be treated with skepticism.

Whenever you run across any person who criticizes the Bible, claims findings of contradiction or error — they do not deserve the benefit of the doubt. They have to earn it from you.

That’s actually some pretty good advice. Skepticism, after all, means having the mental self-discipline to insist on evidentiary support instead of just taking people’s word for things. What Holding is doing here is urging Christians to become skeptics themselves. That’s a good start. But you’ll never believe what justification he offers for why Christians should be skeptical of the skeptics.

Here’s why.

It doesn’t take very long to realize that a thorough understanding of the Bible — and this would actually apply to any complex work from any culture — requires specialized knowledge, and a broad range of specialized knowledge in a variety of fields. Obviously the vast majority of believers spend their entire lives doing little more than reading the Bible in English (or whatever native tongue) and importing into its words whatever ideas they derive from their own experiences. This process is very often one of “decontextualizing” — what I have here called “reading it like it was written yesterday and for you personally.” Of course if the church as a whole is locked into this mentality, you may well suspect that critics (whether Skeptics or other) and those in alternate faiths are no better off.

Wow. Did you catch that? The reason Christians should be skeptical of what skeptics say about the Bible is that not even Christians really understand it, not “thoroughly” anyway. Believers, and people in general, simply don’t have the specialized knowledge, training, and linguistics, that are required, and consequently, they “decontextualize” it (or rather, recontextualize it) and in the process they “import” whatever ideas seem right in their own eyes into the words of the text. And if that’s what Christians do to their own sacred Scriptures, then how can you expect those outside the faith to fare any better?

Naturally, this approach overlooks the case of people such as myself who became critical of the Bible because of exposure to the specialized knowledge and training he says are needed to understand it thoroughly. Indeed, it’s fairly typical that much of the scholarly criticism of the Bible has come from those who, unlike the Church or the public in general, do indeed have the academic background needed to approach the Bible knowledgeably and analytically.

But I’m more impressed by Holding’s assessment of where the “Body of Christ” stands in relation to the Scriptures, as a matter of actual practice. In theory, Protestant Christians (at least) are supposed to hold the Bible as the sole source of authority for Christian faith and practice. In theory, the individual Christian is supposed to be able to read the Bible and say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” In theory, the individual Christian is not supposed to need a specialized (priestly?) class of men to read the Bible for him and to declare to him what it “really means.”

The actual practice, however, utterly fails to live up to this theory. Christians aren’t being informed by the Scriptures, they’re merely importing their own opinions into what they see as the meaning of the texts, and thus investing their opinions with the weight of divine authority (so-called). And we know this, not just because James Patrick Holding (a Christian apologist) admits that it is true, but also because we can see the inevitable, real-world consequences of this problem, in the form of the splintering of the church into endless schisms, denominations, and mutually contradictory doctrinal fads and traditions.

Holding, unfortunately, misses the point of his own observation.

Let’s anticipate and toss off the obvious objection: “Why did God make the Bible so hard to understand, then?” It isn’t — none of this keeps a person from grasping the message of the Bible to the extent required to be saved; where the line is to be drawn is upon those who gratuitously assume that such base knowledge allows them to be competent critics of the text, and make that assumption in absolute ignorance of their own lack of knowledge — what I have elsewhere spoken of in terms of being “unskilled and unaware of it.”

So after telling us that we can’t just take skeptics’ word for it that the Bible has problems, Holding wants us to just take his word for it that nothing he is saying implies any problem with “a person…grasping the message of the Bible to the extent required to be saved”–even though Christians have been disagreeing for 2,000 years over what the requirements of salvation might actually be. After observing the problem and acknowledging the problem, Holding simply denies that it’s a problem. For Christians anyway. He still wants it to be a problem for critics of Christianity.

To drive home his point, Holding lists a number of areas (linguistics, literature, archeology, psychology, etc.) sufficiently deep and diverse that no one scholar could reasonably be expected to master it all. He then asserts that since no one can master all of the requirements, no one can realistically claim to speak authoritatively about the true significance of the Bible. But again, strangely, he seems to think that this is a problem only for those who criticize the Bible, and not for Bible scholarship as a whole.

That’s quite a list, but there’s one more note to add — the holistic ability to put all of it together. How serious is this? Very. A carefully crafted argument about a text being an interpolation can be undermined by a single point from Greco-Roman rhetoric. A claim having to do with psychology can be destroyed by a simple observation from the social sciences. Not even most scholars in the field can master every aspect — what then of the non-specialist critic who puts together a website in his spare time titled 1001 Irrifutible Bible Contradictions? Do these persons deserves our attention? Should they be recognized as authorities? No, they deserve calculated contempt for their efforts.

Logically, the same argument would also apply to anyone putting together a website titled, oh, I dunno, “Tekton Apologetics Ministry” or something. After all, it takes no less study to say you’ve determined, academically, that the Bible is correct than to say that you’ve found errors. In fact, it takes a good deal more study to justify the conclusion that the Bible has no errors, because the counter-proof requires finding only one genuine mistake in the Bible, whereas the inerrantist must analyze and refute all possible errors, and then tackle the more difficult matter of proving that no further errors are possible.

In fact, Holding is quite plainly wrong in asserting that critics of the Bible need to acquire some impossibly difficult list of academic credentials in order to falsify Scripture’s claims to divine infallibility. You do not need a post-PhD mastery of the mathematics of quantum physics to know that the equation “2+2=17″ does not add up. Nor do you need advanced degrees in linguistics, psychology, archeology, philosophy, and wood shop, to know that there are problems with a story that contradicts both itself and the real world.

The Gospel is about a God who loves us enough to die for us so that we could be together forever. That’s what Christians claim, and if that’s not what the Bible teaches, then the Bible is simply irrelevant to Christianity. God, however, does not show up in the real world. If He did, Christian doctrine would be based on God, instead of being based on what men wrote about God 2,000+ years ago. If He did show up, Holding would not be trying to refute critics of the Bible by demanding that they meet some impossibly high standard of academic achievement–he’d just point out that the Bible (if we even needed to have one) could be confirmed by simply asking God.

So the story is about a God who ought to be showing up to participate in the relationship He did so much to make possible. But the reality is that God does not show up. It doesn’t even need a high-school education to tell the difference between the story and the reality. Never mind the appeals to the wisdom of men. Simple common sense–and the ability to distinguish between reality and wishful thinking–is all that is required.

5 Responses to “Apologetics vs. Bible-based faith”

  1. Greg Says:

    I don’t expect you to change your opinion, but I just would like to voice mine. I am a “skeptical” Christian, and following your advice, I would like to know what exactly is the “specialized knowledge and training” and “exposure” you have had?

    “he’d just point out that the Bible (if we even needed to have one) could be confirmed by simply asking God.” Before Adam sinned, he spoke to God daily, the very thing you are requiring of Holding to produce. This is now infact impossible, because God doesn’t talk to people that way since sin separates us, as you already know from your specialized training and exposure.

    As a skeptic, you stink. Your basic logic is not even logic, it is completely skewed.

    “In fact, Holding is quite plainly wrong in asserting that critics of the Bible need to acquire some impossibly difficult list of academic credentials in order to falsify Scripture’s claims to divine infallibility.”

    This is exactly what you skeptics expect of Christians. Nice double standard, how “hypocritical” something you skeptics often accuse Christians of. BTW, I have never claimed to be perfect, just forgiven. :)

    More of your supremely flawed logic: “You do not need a post-PhD mastery of the mathematics of quantum physics to know that the equation “2+2=17″ does not add up.”

    This is a classic straw man. You have achieved nothing here other than exhibiting your own ignorance of basic logic. I don’t mean to say this in a harsh or demeaning way, I truly don’t, but you could seriously use some more training and exposure to basic logic before you tackle the monster of Biblical Inerrancy.

  2. » Comment Rescue: Greg on “stinking skeptics” Evangelical Realism Says:

    [...] another recent comment on the old wordpress.com version of Evangelical Realism. Commenting on Apologetics vs Bible-based faith, “Greg” writes: I don’t expect you to change your opinion, but I just would like to [...]

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I’d like to know if this person who says its all nonsense has ever picked up the Bible and read it for hours at a time? I have only been saved since 11-6-2011 and have found much comfort in God’s word. BUT I have known about the teaching since age 8. Basicly 42 yrs. I thought it wise and teaching many profittable things and tried to believe them based on my human brain. Wrong. 1st all unbelief in any part is sin. 2nd any disobedience to any part is sin. 3rd get rid of these problems and the seperation the man above talks about is healed / fixed. God puts his devine nature inside you and his spirit tells our newly made creature THIS WORD YOU READ IS FROM MY OWN MOUTH. So read it from Genesis to Revelation with a seeking heart. An open heart. I want to know my creator personally attitude. With humility. Pride and arrogance keeps in the dark and blind and incapable to know the truth. Infact we do not want to know it. It goes against our humanity and nature to accept God. Every true believer is a product of God’s miraculous love. When life stinks enough and you hate it enough to be in desprite need of devine help to cry out HELP! I want love assurance and peace. To die to all that you are and want and turn to God and ask him for a personal relationship. A one on one knowing him. Then and only then will the Bible make sense. It takes absolute humilty and the death of pride. REPENTANCE, acceptance of his love and cleansing to be a Christian. MANY many and I say mnay people know about the bible just like I did for 42 yrs with out just trusting in its obvious message of love and forgiveness. Focus on those things. Not the things you can not understand. Like how God spoke all the universe into exsistance in 6 days. Skip that and all the miricles for a bit and look at the teaches of love, fairness, and justice. Trust that. Ask God to reveal himself. Seek him. God healed me of a life time of feeling lonely. He is my friend. You condem what you do not know. I think we condem God because it helps quiet the voice of condemnation inside us. We don’t like the idea of God purely because of pride. Why should I obey anyone. How about because he is HOLY and PERFECT and JUST. His word shows that from page 1 to the end. Lastly is it worth an eternity in hell if your wrong because of arrogance and pride? Dear Heaven Father I pray for this individual, would you call them to yourself even though they think you are a joke. I know you loved us first and draw all men to you. I ask in Jesus name for his glory and honor that you would soften their heart, weaken their pride and create a hunger to know you in them. Bring them to a humble state of true repentance and save them. Surround them with witnesses to tell them the truth of your word. Convict them mightly by the POWER in your word. Go with your spirit and show them who you are, what you did for them and why. Bring about their salvation. May your purpose be full filled and Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and you my Father be glorified in a new child of God stolen from darkness, denial, and from satan’s grasp. Let this verse start the salavtion conversion process. John 3 :16 (KJV) 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In Jesus name amen. I know you think my faith is a joke and thats ok. I statrted out the same way. But God saved me when I was trying to become an atheist and deny all I knew about him. I love you. Read the Bible, open your heart and you might discover why its the most publish book ever written. Why people die with Joy instead of denying its truth. God changes lives for the better. Religion fails. Know God.

    • Deacon Duncan Says:

      Hello Anonymous, welcome to the blog. Yes, I have read the Bible for hours at a time. I was raised in a Christian family (more or less), and gave my life to Jesus when I was 16. For more than three decades I devoted myself to Bible study, prayer, church, and above all seeking the surrender that would let Jesus fill my life with his love and wisdom and guidance. It always puzzled me why so many of my fellow Christians, no matter how faithful and/or Spirit-filled, seemed to maintain a separation between “true” as in “true Christian doctrine” and “true” as in the real world. For me there was no difference. I lived and acted as though Jesus really was part of the real world.

      The problem was that Jesus never actually showed up in real life. Sure, I could pray for things, and give him credit for it whenever they happened to work out the way I wanted. But that’s just it: I had to give him the credit because he never showed up to take it. And I could listen to the feelings in my heart, and call them Jesus. But that turned out to be a problem too, and led me to make more than a few rather major mistakes. (Even the Bible warns us that “the heart is deceitful above all things,” so I should have known better even as a believer.)

      And yet, what else is there? If Jesus does not show up in real life, I don’t even have any chance to put my faith in him. The closest I can come is if I put my faith in the men who tell me about Jesus. But that’s faith in men, not faith in God. And the things men say about God (even in the Bible) are flawed things. They contradict each other and they’re inconsistent with the real world. To put my faith in the teachings of men, when they’re not consistent with each other or with reality, would be worse than blind faith, it would be downright gullibility. Yet by not showing up in real life, God gives us no other alternative.

      So a few years ago I decided to stop putting my faith in the contradictory things men say about God, even when they’re sincere, as you are. The Gospels claim that God loves us enough to die for us so that He and we can be united together in a real, personal, face-to-face fellowship for all eternity. The first few thousand years of eternity have already passed, and according to the Gospels Christ’s death on the cross removed the last barrier that was separating man from God. Since there’s no longer any reason for God not to show up and participate in the fellowship He wanted badly enough to literally die for, I’m using that as a way to tell whether or not men are telling the truth about God. If the Gospels are true, Jesus should be here now, in person, in real life. If he isn’t—well, the Bible warns us not to put our faith in men.

      Cheers.

  4. Janney Says:

    Anonymous,

    I like this part best, because you go directly from the part about God being just to the part about eternity in hell:

    We don’t like the idea of God purely because of pride. Why should I obey anyone. How about because he is HOLY and PERFECT and JUST. His word shows that from page 1 to the end. Lastly is it worth an eternity in hell if your wrong because of arrogance and pride?

    So…do you obey God because of His good qualities? Or because He’s threatening to have you tortured forever if you don’t? If the latter, you have an interesting way of using the word “friend.” If the former, do you realize that your “friend” has disobedient people tortured forever? Do you really realize it?

    Dear Heaven Father I pray for this individual, would you call them to yourself even though they think you are a joke.

    Nobody thinks He’s a joke. Jokes are funny. The God of the Gospels is spooky and horrifying and insane.


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