This article originally was published on Theologues.com
Taking the Absolutes
I’ve struggled a lot with doubt in recent years. I grew up in a fairly conservative Christian home. I was homeschooled and almost all of my life revolved around church and family. So, when I started to question many things about my faith, including how true the scriptures are, I began to have a crisis of faith. Many times, we grow up in a world where we assume the absolutes. As we grow up or gain new information, we make decisions about how to enfold this information in our lives. Taking the scriptures as unequivocally, 100% true is something that is considered the backbone of belief for many Christians. To discard it is to utterly abandon the faith itself. I’ve come to my own conclusions on this subject and I think neither the materialist nor the fundamentalist are correct. Awhile ago, Michael Gungor, a prominent worship leader and musical artist stated in an interview that he had “lost his metaphysic” and then in a later blog post, Gungor responded to an article stating that he had “drifted from Biblical Orthodoxy”. In the blog post, he said:
Do I believe God exists? Yes. Do I believe Jesus is the Son of God? Yes. Do I believe that Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness? Yes. Do I believe that God literally drowned every living creature 5,000 years ago in a global flood except the ones who were living in a big boat? No, I don’t. Why don’t I? Because of science and rational thought.
He then goes on to explain how he can believe in the miracles of Christ without having to believe all supernatural events in the Bible. And I would agree. The Bible is a collection of books and every word is inspired by God, but that doesn’t mean every single word is held with the same regard in terms of literal criticism. We don’t take Christ’s words to “cut off your hand if it causes you to stumble” literally and we don’t take the virgin birth as figurative -at least, I don’t. For his position, Gungor was skewered by many Christian bloggers.
The Great Divide
It can get tricky, but I think there’s more to this debate than just a theological divide. There’s also a philosophical one as well. While one man looks at the past and says, “Things weren’t that great and their knowledge is incomparable to ours”, another man looks at the past and says, “Things were better back then and we underestimate the knowledge of the ancients.” My argument is that both men could be right and both men could be wrong, depending on the specific case. Taking the story of Noah as an example; Gungor does make a valid point in his blog post and it is that based on the scientific knowledge we now have of the earth, most aspects of the flood and the ark are not only improbable, but they’re insanely improbable. The diversification of the races and populations alone is not traceable to the event of the flood through genomic research. With all that being said, nothing is impossible with God. I don’t rule out the possibility that God could have flooded the earth and repopulated it with Noah’s family, or that maybe the story itself is referencing a regional flood but the truth is I don’t really have the capacity to know fully what happened. I can say that I still trust in the Bible as truth because the story of Noah is not useless if it’s not true. Rather, the story is about faith and obeying the voice of God. As G.K. Chesterton notes in Orthodoxy:
Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.
One does not need to disregard physical reality to have faith, but we need to realize that faith is not constrained by physical reality. The idea that faith is constrained by physical reality is a product of the enlightenment and the rise of humanism. We tend to no longer look at our forbearers with any degree of faith in their wisdom, but rather we look to the present scholars and academics to guide us in our relation to our faith. In a way, I understand this mentality. With the dawn of the Reformation, the gates had been opened for the religious to no longer be ruled by dictatorial mandates on what or how to believe. The flip-side of this, however, is that many began to abandon the entire foundation for the Christian faith and in doing so, decided to construct the Christian God in an image more suiting to their fancy. The Reformation brought freedom in many areas, but this freedom was abused and maimed to heighten man and his intuitions of the Holy Spirit to be above any ecclesiastical body.
The Fundamentalist Cometh
Then, we saw the backlash to the enlightenment with fundamentalism. In essence, fundamentalism had noble goals. To bring men and women back to entrusting sacred tradition, but in the scriptures. Fundamentalists put sola scriptura on steroids. The Roman magisterium had long been dethroned in the minds of the fundamentalists, but after seeing the liberals cut out all the supernatural and miraculous from the Christian faith, they decided to return back to making the world conform to the scriptures instead. The fundamentalists decided to break through the prevailing culture’s theological abrogations and determined to shape culture for God themselves. As Presbyterian minister and a father of the fundamentalist movement, J. Gresham Machen once said:
To bring back truth, on a practical level, the church must encourage Christians to be not merely consumers of culture but makers of culture. The church needs to cultivate Christian artists, musicians, novelists, filmmakers, journalists, attorneys, teachers, scientists, business executives, and the like, teaching its laypeople the sense in which every secular vocation-including, above all, the callings of husband, wife, and parent–is a sphere of Christian ministry, a way of serving God and neighbor that is grounded in God’s truth. Christian laypeople must be encouraged to be leaders in their fields, rather than eager-to-please followers, working from the assumptions of their biblical worldview, not the vapid clichés of pop culture.
The problems that began to arise with this view is that it still presupposes that through rigorous study, man can find the invariable truth of God and all areas of culture, including science, must conform to “God’s truth” (i.e. The Bible). Furthermore, this creates a dichotomy which need not exist. Christians do not need to be in opposition to science and although Ken Ham might tell you differently, the Bible is not a science or historical textbook. It’s God’s way of communicating the truth of Jesus Christ, the Living Word, to us. The scriptures are as St. John Chrysostom would say “God’s baby talk”. We can no further reason out the historical accuracy of scripture than a baby can measure the dimensions of a painting they’re staring in awe of. Inerrancy is essentially a unicorn when it comes to the human understanding of scripture. One can argue that the Holy Spirit illuminates people to it’s true meaning and I would agree…but only in the right context and only in certain things, not a Matrix-like download gnosis of the way the universe works. That’s only for God. Which, leads me to my next point.
Living in Paradox
The church fathers looked at the apostolic tradition and the knowledge that came with it as part of a winding mystery. I covered much of this in my article “A Phrase More Christians Need to Say“. The bread and wine are a centerpiece to this mystery. That’s what “sacrament” means. Partaking in the Christian life is not about filling our heads with unending reason, but it’s about filling out hearts with the mystery of our faith. The “unknown known” (as Donald Rumsfeld would say) is the Gospel. It’s that Christ was crucified, buried and rose again. We put our confidence in the Gospel and in how it has been relayed to us through the deposit of Tradition. There is latitude for me to put less confidence in an earth that is 10,000 years old because neither the scriptures or Tradition ask that of me. Rather, they ask me to put confidence in a God who is bigger than reality itself and His son, Jesus Christ. My conclusion is that we must retain the mystery of our faith if we are to ever align our minds to God. We belong to a religion based on paradox. A being came to earth who is both fully God and fully man. We worship three persons in one God. Impossible, right? Welcome to being a Christian. Let’s humble ourselves and take to believing that maybe paradoxically we can believe that Noah built an ark while also not necessarily holding it to be a verifiable, undeniable truth. We are the “errant” ones. Not God.
This article originally was published on Theologues.com