This is the seventh post in a 15-week study. More information and resources can be found here.
A quick note to those of y’all who are not participants:
– Please read along as we go through the study chapter by chapter, and contemplate the questions we’ll be tackling. This is good stuff!
– We will be utilizing the comment section as a forum for discussion for the participants only. I respectfully ask – if you are not participating – that you refrain from commenting on the Reason for God posts, simply to help keep things well… simple.
– We have an incredible group of women representing various ages, faith backgrounds and life experiences – I hope you’ll check out all they have to say.
It is my prayer that the participants, as well as those of y’all who will be reading along, will contemplate your own faith and understanding of God in a new, and more purposeful way. If you have any questions about the study, or about God in general, feel free to email me from the link in the right sidebar.
The arguments Keller presents as to why the Bible is a good story but not truth are the age-old ones that probably have been heard by all Christians and uttered by most secularists.
“…the Bible’s teaching as historically inaccurate… We can’t be sure the Bible’s account of events is what really happened, says Charles” quotes Keller. “My biggest problem with the Bible is that it is culturally obsolete, answered Jaclyn.” (p.100)
We are introduced to Keller’s college experience and the historical scholarship of the day that taught (and still teaches) the arguments against the Bible as truth. “My professors taught that the New Testament gospels originated as the oral traditions of various church communities…” (p.100) “… the real, ‘historical Jesus’ was a charismatic teacher of justice and wisdom who provoked opposition and was executed.” (p.101) The argument follows that Jesus was believed to be either “…divine and risen from the dead…” (p.101) or “…a human teacher who lived spiritually in the hearts of his disciples,” (p. 101) and the winner was the divine camp who halted all other teachings.
The argument continues that as more recent alternative views are ‘discovered,’ it reveals there were more diverse doctrinal beliefs in early Christianity. Following this line of thinking would “…radically change our understanding of the content and meaning of Christianity itself” (p.101) and would mean that:
a) “…no one really could know what Jesus said and did” (p.101)
b) “…the Bible could not be the authoritative norm over our life and beliefs” (p.101)
c) “…most of the classic Christian teachings…are mistaken and based on legends.” (p.101)
Keller did his own research and found out the scholarship behind the belief is limited and the “…skeptical view of the Bible has been crumbling steadily for the past thirty years.” (p.102) Anne Rice, the novelist, backs up Keller’s claim by stating, “…I discovered in this field [atheism] some of the worst and most biased scholarship I ever read.” (p.102)
Keller says, “The Christian faith requires belief in the Bible,” (p.102) and is “…a big stumbling block for many.” (p.102) The three hesitations Keller hears most against a literal Bible are: (1) it’s scientifically impossible, (2) it’s culturally regressive or, (3) it’s historically unreliable. (p.103)
We Can’t Trust the Bible Historically
“It is widely believed that the Bible is a historically unreliable collection of legends,” per Keller. (p.103)
Keller then proceeds to explain how the canonical Gospels should be considered reliable. The Gospels were written at most 40-60 years after Jesus’ death and the eyewitnesses to the accounts were still alive and could have easily refuted the accounts. In fact, Paul asked for readers to question the witnesses to what he had written. So rather than anonymous, historically inaccurate accounts, the Bible is actually “…oral histories taken down from the mouths of the living eyewitnesses who preserved the words and deeds of Jesus in great detail,” (p.105) which could have been refuted by the very witnesses quoted. “The New Testament documents could not say Jesus was crucified when thousands of people were still alive who knew whether he was of not,” says Keller. (p.106) The argument against the Gnostic gospels is an argument for the canonical Gospels. The best date for The Gnostic gospel of Thomas is 175 AD (140+ years after Christ), per Keller, but the canonical Gospels were considered authoritative almost immediately. (p.106)
Keller says another theory about the errors of the Bible is “…the gospels were written by the leaders of the early church to promote their policies, consolidate their power, and build their movement.” (p.107) However, this theory doesn’t hold water and the examples presented are numerous, to include: circumcision — Jesus was never quoted about this topic that nearly tore the church in two and it would have been easy to put words into his mouth after the decision had been made; crucifixion — why choose a punishment reserved for the worst criminals for the hero of your story; women — their testimony was not even allowed in court, but they were the first ones to discover the empty tomb. “The only plausible reason that all of these incidents would be included in these accounts is that they actually happened,” argues Keller. (p.109)
The Gnostic gospels tend to do exactly what you would expect a “legend” series to do. They create miracles that display Jesus as a superhero. They match up to the societal beliefs of the dominant cultural, political and spiritual beliefs of the ruling powers. In fact, “The canonical gospels not only give us a far more historically credible picture of what the original Jesus was really like, but they boldly challenge the worldview of their Greek and Roman readers,” says Keller. (p.109)
No lesser an authority than C.S. Lewis commented on the authenticity: “Of this [gospel] text there are only two views. Either this is the reportage…or else, some unknown [ancient] writer…without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern novelistic, realistic narrative…” (p.110). Keller states the realism of the details in the gospels, does not lend itself to a work of fiction from period. He then includes examples of Jesus sleeping on a cushion, drawing in the sand, and 153 fish caught by the disciples following Jesus’ appearance at the shore. Some argue that many believe the oral tradition would have enabled embellishment but a study of oral tradition in Africa by Jan Vansina demonstrates that “…fictional legends and historical accounts are clearly distinguished from each other and much greater care is taken to preserve historical accounts accurately.” (p.112). The other factor that Keller reminds us is, “All the revisionist histories completely ignore the growing body of careful scholarship that shows there were a very large number of eyewitnesses to Jesus’s life who lived on for years.” (p.112)
Keller then pursues the argument that the Bible is regressive and outdated. He says he uses the technique of telling people who have issues with what the Bible purportedly says to consider that the passage which bothers them is not teaching what they think it is or they need examine their “…belief in the superiority of their historical moment over all others.” (p.115). He then uses the example of slavery in the 1st Century versus chattel slavery and the narrow belief that “to reject the Bible as regressive is to assume that you have now arrived at the ultimate historic moment, from which all that is regressive and progressive can be discerned.” (p.115) Because we see ourselves as so modern, we assume we have the right answer but Keller says, “…someday others will think of us and our culture’s dominant views as primitive.” (p.116)
Keller argues that the it would be tragic to miss the Good News of the Gospel — Jesus dying on the cross and rising again for our sins — because of a disagreement over cultural issues. “We should make sure we distinguish between the major themes and message of the Bible and it’s less primary teachings,” Keller says. (p. 116) He continues, “It is therefore important to consider the Bible’s core claims about who Jesus is and whether he rose from the dead before you reject it for its less central and more controversial teachings…If he is not who he says he is, why should we care what the Bible says about anything else?” (p.117)
A Trustworthy Bible or a Stepford God?
Arguing against a God that only gives you what you want and never challenges you, Keller says, is not conducive to a real intimate relationship with God. In healthy interpersonal relationships, the other person has to be able to contradict and confront you. Otherwise, the other person is simply a robot. (p.118). Keller says, “Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage!) will you know that you have gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination. So an authoritative Bible is not the enemy of a personal relationship with God. It is the precondition for it.” (p.118)
Question: Have you been guilty of wanting a “Stepford God”? Has any part of the Bible offended you in such a way that you either ignored it or wished it away? How has this chapter challenged that inconsistency in your relationship with Him?
My response: Guilty. In fact, there have been more than a few parts of the Bible that I have found difficult to swallow… and so, instead of digging in and studying it, I simply ignored it. I was a baby Christian when I first read through the Bible and looking back I recognize now that in spite of – or possibly because of – what ‘the world’ had taught me about God, I simply didn’t understand Him. At all. I never expected to be so confused, so challenged and so very, very humbled by my time in the Word. But it was the most important thing I committed to do after accepting Jesus as my Savior.
Thankfully, by God’s grace, I have come to trust all of God’s Word as Truth… and Truth of unsurpassed value. Truth that I very much need in my life. I have found that reading the Bible daily gives me an overall understanding of His character, an insight into the very essence of who He is. And then, when parts of the Bible are difficult for me, I can lean on what He has taught me about who He is and press on to study and learn what He has to teach me. Even if I might not understand fully, I know I can – because He is my Father and I am His beloved daughter – trust that He IS good. He IS just. He IS perfect. This I know.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. — 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Here is the button for the participants who will be linking up to the study. Grab the code, paste it into your Reason for God post and link up below.