Allowing it all at the table

Ever since I first heard John Lennox speak at a conference, I’ve been learning how to defend the Christian faith and learning more about the intellectual side of it. Reading the likes of John Lennox, William Lane Craig and Alister McGrath have helped to prepare me to answer questions and objections from atheists. The recent Unbelievable conference was on the theme of C.S. Lewis and I learned a lot about how to present my answers more creatively, particularly online. However, by the end of the conference I felt God was calling me to do something else with my faith, something else that is currently requiring me to work 50 miles from home.

In his recent blog post [1], Peter Enns asked 3 devastating questions that really stopped me in my tracks;

  • What are your one or two biggest obstacles to staying Christian?
  • What are those road blocks you keep running into?
  • What are those issues that won’t go away and make you wonder why you keep going at all?

As I thought about these questions, I realized that I find myself increasingly having to defend the Christian faith from other Christians, not atheists. This could be because I spend more time in Christian circles than in others, but even when I look elsewhere, the posts I comment on are the ones where Christians are launching attacks on others and using the Bible to do it. Most of the places I have these discussions are on the internet, which is not known for its decorum. But Christians don’t get a free pass just because they can’t be seen. Virtually all the discussions between Christians are to do with interpretations of scripture and this is how I came to find Peter Enns work. I’ve found his book Inspiration and Incarnation particularly useful in understanding the nature of scripture. He has his fair share of critics but every author does.

Many Christians struggle with the Bible and especially with questions on suffering. The works of Richard Dawkins have obscured these topics somewhat. People are trying to provide answers to these as well as challenge the spread of what is seen as very damaging theology. Rachel Held Evans challenges a lot of the theology of evangelicalism, particularly the abuses of it. How people approach such attempts will differ from person to person. As one commenter on Peter Enns blog puts it;

…..Peter’s blog has done more to expose the problems of the Bible and a Christian worldview than any atheist has ever hoped to. Peter has caused me to doubt the historical accuracy of the Bible, and exposed the intractable problem of an angry God that seems more the product of a peoples’ imagination. Realizing Genesis is wrong, Paul is wrong, and that the Bible are just stories written by people in captivity in 600BC, causes me do doubt inspiration as well. I’m sure Peter never intended for his blog to cause people to lose their faith, but in my case he has provided the strongest case against the Christian faith than any atheist.

It’s comments like this that cause people to “attack” the likes of Peter Enns and Rachel Held Evans, they are seen to be leading people away from Christ, not to him. Many of the responses to Peter Enns questions have been to do with how we approach the Bible and the theology that has been espoused from it. Looking at the intellectual reasons for the Christian faith, it has shown me that it can stand up to scrutiny, but it does cast a light on what peoples faith is actually based on. We are happy to listen to experts when we agree with them, but not so much when they challenge our pr-suppositions. To me, to be consistent with an intellectual application you have to apply the same rigor to scripture itself. If that means challenging traditional views then so be it – traditional views have been challenged and changed throughout the course of history. Sometimes you have to stop defending the indefensible, for nothing undermines a stance more than by doing that.

Apologetics has become focused on defending the Bible; indeed the quote about Peters work contains the assumption that the Christian faith is based on the Bible, but the Christian faith did not come out of the Bible. As Dr Michael Licona put it;

If Jesus rose from the dead then Christianity is true, even it it were to turn out that there were some things in the Bible that aren’t true. The truth of Christianity is not based on the divine inspiration or inerrancy of the Bible, its contingent on whether Jesus rose from the dead and if Jesus rose game, set, match! [2]

Having an understanding of the evidence for the Christian faith is important; my faith has become stronger having evidence to focus on. However, I accept that there are very valid criticisms for the Christian faith, what the Bible contains and how Christians use scripture to treat others. The latter is probably the most powerful factor that is turning people away from the Church. The Bible is all that matters to some people now, we’ve dug a hypocritical hole for ourselves. We ask for our views to be allowed at the table in society, yet we shout other Christians down. We need to be consistent with how we treat arguments and how we allow criticisms to be made. We also need to remember who it is that we follow; not a book but a person, not verse but knowledge. A society can only be deemed free when it allows equal and fair dissent, discussion and difference to be expressed on an open playing field. Jesus has set us free, so why are we as Christians so reluctant to extend that freedom to others?

References:

[1] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/05/why-do-i-keep-believing-the-biggest-obstacles-to-staying-christian/

[2] http://www.evidence2hope.com/apps/podcast/podcast/304881

First published May 27th 2013

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