Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Faith and Evidence

I find it quite interesting that it is not enough for we as Christian believers to simply deal with those who do not believe in our faith and seek to articulate and defend our positions to them.  No.  For some reason, we also must deal with one another and oftentimes to seek to articulate and defend our positions to one another.  Oftentimes, when we engage in such debates, non-believers can simply sit on the sidelines and watch us go at one another all the while laughing at our inter-squad rivalries.

It would be nice if we did not have to have such inter-squad arguments.  It would be nice if we could have an agreed upon methodology of interpreting Scripture, formulating doctrine, and defining practice.  But, alas, Pandora's Box has been opened, and we cannot stuff all the entities back into it.  And so we must wade through the varying theologies and methodologies to seek the Truth and hopefully be grasped by it at some point.

One of the great struggles in the Christian faith has been the interpretation of Scripture and how we view the documents called the Old and New Testaments.  Much ink has been spilled in how to view these documents throughout the ages from the earliest decades of Christianity to the present, and, in some cases, the arguments of how to handle these documents has gotten rather heated.

In our own cultural situation (North America, U.S.A.) perhaps the most heated debates on how to deal with the biblical canon are between those holding to biblical inerrancy and those who embrace the historical/critical methods of interpreting scripture.

I am of the opinion that each side takes its particular position too far in its effort to prove its credibility oftentimes ending up with the following exchange:

"You historical/critical folks do not take the Bible seriously enough and you try to manipulate it to say what you want to say."

"Well, we believe and worship the God of the Bible and not the Bible itself!"

The accusations on both sides are flawed.  Each side takes the Bible very seriously--there is no doubt about that.  Yet, each side fails to recognize some very basic truth as well.  I believe some of these differences can be reconciled if we view the Bible in a particular manner--as evidence.

Professor John Lennox in one of his lectures found on Youtube said the following:

We have a job to do to explain what John does in his Gospel so brilliantly.  That faith is not something that just happens to people.  It’s a response to evidence–these things are order that you might believe.  Here is the basis, and faith is based on evidence.  Otherwise, by definition, you wouldn’t need the New Testament.  If faith is believing where there is no evidence, then the greatest faith is shown by those people who never read the New Testament.  Because it is evidence, I am sorry to say, but I am not sorry to say. 

This is a very important statement in my estimation.  And as I have thought about it, it makes a lot of sense to me.  Here is why:

Evidence demands interpretation, and it does not tell the full story.  Those who hold to the inerrancy of scripture would do well to remember this.

Consider the analogy with dinosaur bones.  (I am sorry.  I cannot help but use this example as my son is a huge dinosaur fan.)  The bones tell us an awful lot about anatomy.  They give us a great glimpse of what the skeletal features of these creatures looked like.  But, we also know these are the basics.  There are much more to dinosaurs than just bones.  In a very real way, we have to fill in some blanks.  There is interpretation which must be done especially in regards to behavior.  How did the dinosaurs act?  Hunt?  Move in their environment?  How fast could they move?  Were they warm blooded or cold blooded or did different species have different blood types?  We can make some very good guesses based upon the bones, but the full truth actually escapes us.  There is no way to fully verify.

The God of the Bible can be viewed similarly (please allow that I realize no analogy is complete).  Scripture gives us the bones in a very real way.  We see God revealed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We see God revealed in how He acted in the Old and New Testament.  We see God revealed in the flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, fully divine and fully human.  However, there is much which begs interpretation.  There is much which begs to be filled in.  There is much to God which we still do not know.  Given the tremendous advances in technology, how indeed does God view genetic engineering?  The use of fossil fuels?  The role sporting events now play in our nation?  The rise of science?  The fact that we interact so much over our computers and phones?

If we are true to ourselves, we will answer that we truly do not know for sure.  We can get a pretty good idea, but the full Truth is just beyond our grasp, and the best we can hope for is to be grabbed by it.

And just like a paleontologist has to put together a skeleton based upon his or her knowledge of anatomy, we too have to put together the pieces of God as revealed as the Trinity.  We know the fullest revelation of God is in the person of Jesus, and so we must look to Him as the example as we move forth in our talk about God.  So, as we look at Jesus, does the "bone" regarding the stoning of disobedient children in Deuteronomy 21 fit?  Obviously not.  Furthermore, Jesus Himself told us that some bones are not to be dealt with any longer (dietary laws).  Based upon the evidence of Jesus, we have a great guide to wade through some of the issues regarding inerrancy in the Bible.

However, there are a couple of things that we are not allowed to do.  We are simply not allowed to rearrange the skeleton in whatever fashion we desire.  I mean, when a paleontologist puts together a mess of dinosaur bones, he/she does not take a bone away just because it doesn't seem to fit his/her own imagination of what a dinosaur looked like.  If a full skeleton of a dinosaur is found, and the bones are arranged in a certain way in the ground, the paleontologist does his or her best to deal with the skeleton as it is and tries to work with the bones as they are presented.  One cannot manipulate the pieces and rearrange them to fit one's preconceived notions.

There are more than a few who involve themselves in the historical/critical methodology who do just this.  They take the evidence presented in the Bible and arrange it to fit their own ideas of what God is like.  They are more than comfortable saying, "Well, this bone/saying of Jesus doesn't fit what I think God/Jesus is really like, so this must be made up by a particular community; it must be legend; it must be an invention in the mind of a particular scribe who is trying to push his own agenda."

Evidence demands to be interpreted--not thrown out because one does not like it.  And too many scholars enjoy trampling on pieces of scripture because they do not like it and it does not fit their own ideas of what God/Jesus is/should be like.  Indeed, this is tampering with the evidence instead of truly wrestling with it.

And so, what do we have if we view the Bible as evidence?  Where do we arrive if we assume this book is God's people writing down how God has revealed Himself throughout history?

We have something we must take very seriously--but realize there are limitations.  We have something concrete and unchanging: beyond manipulation--but some blanks that beg to be filled in.  We have guidance in wresting with the tough issues of our day without having to come across as completely dogmatic and thinking we have it all figured out.  We also have the ability to invite other eyes to come and view the evidence--to see if they can uncover things as well.

It seems to me, that viewing scripture as evidence of God and His work gives us a path forward to navigate in the rough seas generated by two particular views of Christianity which are highly incompatible 

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