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.
I find myself at times just wishing I could “go with the flow”, but I know in the end that’s not what is in my best interest. And God ALWAYS has my best interest at heart. He put the Ten Commandments in there for a reason! It’s not that I don’t agree with them, or that they offend me; I just know that in my humanness, I break them, and at times wish I didn’t feel guilty about it!
I agree. We aren’t supposed to be like everyone else and it’s hard. It’s hard to watch my kids struggle with that.
Have felt that way before, too!
Was recently listening to a sermon and the pastor was saying how ‘the world’ is going with the current — as Christians we have to swim UPstream, against the current. It is hard, it is work and we have to keep our eyes on the shore! When we ‘go with the flow’ we will certainly go the wrong way…
just experienced this. it is tough!
I feel the same way too.
In a way, I have not ever wished for a “Stepford God,” because then He would be robot-like, and treat us all the same, no matter our personality and circumstances. Now, I know that He loves us all the same and sacrificed His only begotten Son for all of us. But, do you know what I mean? If he was a “Stepford God,” then how He deals with Jane Doe would have to be the same as how He deals with me. There could be no individualization, if that makes sense.
On the other hand, I have sometimes wished for a “Stepford God.” Has any part of the Bible offended me? Oh, yeah. Particularly the part in Matthew 7:3–“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” I am a believer. I don’t like to think that I have “issues.” But BOY, do I!! I sometimes wish God would just let me keep the beam in my eye and just deal with those who have motes. Alas, that is NOT how God operates. THANKFULLY!
I am so in need of His love, mercy, and forgiveness on a daily basis, and I am SOOOOO glad that He’s not a “Stepford God.” He meets me right where I am, and He loves me there too. Then He gently leads me a step or two further down the path He has chosen for me, and only me.
Thank you, Jesus, for being my PERSONAL Lord and Savior!
Amen! It’s astounding how He loves us wherever we are, as we are, and in the perfect way to draw us closer to Him. When I am reminded of His patient love I can’t help but stand amazed at how GOOD He is!
“He meets me right where I am, and He loves me there too.” – needed this reminder today…thanks!
Before I answer, can I just ask, did anyone else want to say anywhere that question away but part of our faith is that the Bible is inspired and divinely written? I think we are walking away from that too much. We can say it was man’s interpretation anytime we don’t like what it says. Maybe it’s just the mood I was in today but I found that part of this chapter a bit disappointing. I did love what he said about jumping in the deep end, and worry about it too. Anyone?
I don’t think I have ever wanted a Stepford God but I do sometimes want to say, “Can I get a clarification here please?” I’m too easily confused and perhaps gullible when I really just need to dig into the word instead of listening to everyone else. Then, to never forget that after I’ve read and studied to go and do.
I agree. We need to be in the word for ourselves. It’s great to listen to pastors and authors who love the Lord but we have to have our OWN faith and that requires a face-to-face with His WORD. Regularly.
i second stefanie’s statement. proverbs 10:19 says When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
i have noticed that blog writers and pastors and Bible study teachers can indeed start skewing the truth when, in good motive, they try to explain God’s Word in human terms…as they give examples and stories and such, it can be easy to veer from solid doctrine.
I am so terribly guilty of listening to the views of others since I have a hard time truly comprehending what I read most of the time, but then I am left questioning the teaching of others since there is often so much contradiction. Spending time in God’s Word is essential and yet every time I set out to simply read my Bible and no other books I find I fall back into reading other books and not so much my Bible. Sometimes I think I want to learn it all now that I find it hard to simply stay with a few passages and meditate on those few words until I understand them, but I think that is what I need to do.
I had the same problem for so long too. Now I listen to the Daily Audio Bible. It’s a podcast that breaks up the Bible into one of the Bible in a year paths and reads it every day. At the end there’s a little interpretation on some of the passages which allows me to think through things further. For awhile (a few years) I would listen while doing my hair, doing dishes, etc. and I’m just starting to actually sit down and listen and read along. It helped me actually get into God’s Word.
I totally agree Londa! Some friends and I were jokingly saying one day, “What would Francis Chan do?” After reading some of this, the joke is on us. It’s so easy to listen to someone else and say “Well Said!” I find that even after growing up in the church, I need commentary.You’ve given me something to pray about!
Lisa Murphy says
As for the Stepford God question…Through my experiences, I totally believe that God puts adversity and hardships in our lives to stretch and strengthen us and bring us closer to him. It is those painful experiences that, strangely enough, I have felt the most blessed to have, because they’ve strengthened my faith so much.. So…a Stepford God…definitely not. something I’d wish for or want, or I certainly wouldn’t be the believer that I am today.
In regards to the second question, I’m ashamed of not digging into His word at all. So, honestly…I can’t say the Bible has offended me. I really need to address this…
Oh girl, get yo’self a Bible reading plan 🙂 I am doing “One Year Bible” with my boys and we are all enjoying it. Some OT, some NT and some Psalms and Proverbs daily. Good stuff!
And LOTS of great plans out there, even some free online.
I have often said that God’s bravest decision was to make man, to love man and then to give man free will. To do so, meant certain rejection, certain grief, certain sacrifice. In doing so, God declared–in a single stroke of courage–what type of relationship He wanted: personal, real and authentic.
This matters to me in this question and in this chapter for this reason: I’ve never wanted a Stepford God. Not for a moment. Because to do so would mean giving up a personal, real and authentic relationship in favor of one that was pretend, plastic and unbelievably unsatisfying. No doubt, I have wanted an easier path to understanding, but–for me–that has never been about changing the character of God.
It’s not to say, however, that there haven’t been parts of the Bible with which I have struggled… and still struggle. I find it very difficult to sit and “try out several different perspectives on the issues that trouble them,” as Keller puts. I often don’t want to do the work. I don’t want to spend the mental energy. I don’t want to have to deconstruct and reconstruct belief.
But, slowly, on this path back to the heart of God, I have had to do that on a variety of topics. Some I understand anew. Some, I am not sure I ever will. At any given point on any given day, I could probably name the “issue du jour” that I’m not sure I understand. There was a point where I questioned whether the Bible could be a collection of stories or myths. There was a point where I questioned whether Jesus was–indeed–just a good man.
But, thankfully, my brave and pursuant God doesn’t fear when I start to crack. He doesn’t think, “Dang, I wish she were more like a robot” or “Dang, I wish I hadn’t given that one free will.” Rather, He rejoices all the more when I come back, ready now–more than ever–for that real, authentic and personal relationship.
Love this: “I often don’t want to do the work. I don’t want to spend the mental energy. I don’t want to have to deconstruct and reconstruct belief. But, slowly, on this path back to the heart of God, I have had to do that on a variety of topics.”
Such an essential part of a relationship with God, finding OUR OWN faith based upon real work and shared experiences.
yes! to both of you!!!
Ruby Hughes says
I think that i wished for a “stepford god” because I wanted all my prayers answered, but it was all the struggles in my life that brought me closer to God and made me the person that I am today. I never found the Bible offensive. I never questioned it. I am thinking more deeply about it through this discussion.
isn’t it great to read through the answers and think about them? i thank God for this study and for all who share so openly!
Yep, guilty here too. I think that having my thinking changed from “Stepford god” to a Biblical picture of God has been the biggest change and growth I have experienced in my spiritual walk to date. I would like to say that this change happened because I began to see the truth of God through careful Bible study. But in fact, it came because some things happened in my life that just stopped me cold. It really made me see that I had been living my life in a certain way in order to get what I wanted from God – someone called this a bubble-gum machine view of God, you put something in and you get something you want out. Now I read scripture with a different point of view. I definitely still struggle, though with some passages.
Sorry for my delay…I’m traveling and without consistent Internet access. I think I have wanted a stepford god up until The last year or so when God gave me the desire to treasure Him above all. Before I expected an easy, comfortable life and, if things were difficult, I felt God was mad at me…didn’t care about me…was punishing me. But that was because I did not know His character and His purposes. As I read His Word and see His goodness and faithfulness I’ve come to embrace the truth that whatever He allows in my life is absolutely perfect and for the greatest purpose of His glory, which now — by His grace– I’m beginning to love and want more than my ease and comfort. All of this we see in His Word if we take the time to look.
I was wondering how everyone deals with the gender role issue. Keller talked about slavery and how it was different in the times of the Bible verses in the 1700/1800’s. But he failed to talk about how the role of women have changed. What exactly does the Bible mean when we as women are suppose to be submissive to our husbands?
God designed things with order and that includes women submitting to the authority of their husbands as leaders of the family (and as responsible to God for that leadership!!) just as Christ submitted to the authority of the Father. Obviously this is easiest when the husband is submitted to God and loving his wife as Christ loves the church. This issue can be difficult for many women if they think it means giving up their “rights” or if their husbands are not living respectful lives, but both of these issues are addressed in scripture (Phl 2:5-8, 1 Cr 7 and Eph 5). In my family, I know it is a blessing that my husband fully values and listens to my ideas and input but, ultimately, I also know that he is responsible to GOd for the leadership of our family…so I share with him and I pray for him. For example, if up to me, I would probably be moving forward on another adoption…but my husband does not feel the same. SO I shared with him my thoughts, he listened, we discussed…and he has not led us to move forward. I trust that he prayed about it, is submitted to God’s will, and that God will guide if we are to have more children…so I can be joyfully submitted to him in this.
I don’t really pick and choose what to believe in the Bible, but I don’t always understand it. In the past when I didn’t understand I would just move on, but now I question and seek more understanding and this draws me closer to God.
I take it all as real. For me it is either black or white. There isn’t any gray. I have to believe it all or not believe any of it. If I start choosing what to believe I am just making it fit me and this will certainly draw me away from God. This is His word not my word and the way I want it to be. Just like Stephanie was saying, when there are parts I don’t understand I just look to who He is and trust in Him and His love for me and know He knows what is best.
I don’t feel that I have ever been offended by anything I have read in God’s Word, however there is much I simply do not understand and although I do my best to seek out His truths I question whether I am going about it the right way, because I feel I have grown so little in my understanding of God. If anything, the more I read the more confused I am. Sometimes I wish He would make things a little clearer or give me the ability to see more clearly. I had recently read something to the effect of, ” if we can’t see the hand of God we need to trust the heart of God. That is pretty much where I am at in my walk of faith, trusting in who God says He is, because so often what I understand in His Word doesn’t line up with what I see in my life or the world.
I’m finally replying. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to write my response earlier and wanted to real in my response. I have to say I am very guilty of wanting God to do what I want and when I want it. It took me a long time to realize that because I am so much go with the flow in terms of what we eat, what attraction we go to, etc. I realized that by saying it doesn’t matter to me, it was me choosing to let others choose so I always got my way. That’s been something I’ve spent the last few weeks really focusing on, putting God in control and seeking His will first. It’s been hard, but I’ve definitely seen such growth in my faith and my relationship with Him. I still slip up a lot, but I’m getting better at acknowledging what I am doing and turning the focus back to Him.
Amy G says
While I don’t understand everything or like everything I read in the bible I am thankful that accepting it as truth has never been an issue for me. I cannot begin to wrap my mind around the absolute sovereignty of God, so I have just accepted that He is God and I am not and He knows better than I. I know it sounds simplistic but it works for me. There are some things in the bible I can’t understand. After doing research and reading the views of some great pastors like, R.C Sproul, John Piper, John MacArthur and David Jeremiah among others. If they don’t agree who am I to say what is right? (I know I am being vague but I didn’t want to start a whole other conversation on a rather controversial doctrine.) It all goes back to deep end, shallow end illustration that Keller used. If we agree on the deep issue the shallow end doesn’t matter. Don’t misunderstand me. I study my bible a lot. I am reading the Chronological Bible in a year right now and I highly recommend it. My point is we should study and research things we don’t understand or have trouble accepting but be ready to say, “okay God, I’m not really sure what is right,( i.e. calvinism or arminianism) but You have a plan and a purpose and it doesn’t really matter what I think anyway. I trust that You know what is right and good.” That mind set keeps me humble and always looking for more wisdom in His word.