Monday, July 25, 2011

Bible Problems--A Few Reasons I Don't Believe in Biblical Inerrancy

Hello, fellow revolutionaries!

It is late, and I can't sleep; so I'm passing along some thoughts that have been going through my brain lately on the subject of biblical inerrancy--the belief that the scriptures are free of error/contradiction.

Most of this stemmed from a conversation I've had with some folks over at the iMonk monastery, where they thankfully have a very open and congenial forum for discussing issues like this in a civil manner. Here goes.

I don't believe--and haven't for quite some time--that the Bible is completely inerrant. And while I am a seminary student, a person of faith, a lover of God and of people, and a passionate follower of Jesus, I think that to believe the scriptures are free from all error is asinine; it's the proverbial ostrich putting its proverbial head in the proverbial sand. I present the following instances to support my understanding of the scriptures as writings that are just as flawed as the human men (and women?) who wrote them. It is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few things to get you thinking.

1) In Genesis 1, the author claims that all of life was created in a calculated order, with humanity being the pinnacle of Elohim's Creation. However, in Genesis 2, humanity is pretty much the first thing created, with all of the animals being created last for the purpose of giving Adam a chance to name them. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are two completely different creation accounts, with different orders and even different understandings of God--the former describes a vast, cosmic, transcendent deity, while the latter describes the kind of God who walks and talks with Adam and Eve in the garden.

2) The narrative of Joshua claims that the conquering of Canaan was swift and complete, in an idealized and miraculous show of military might. However, in the very next book (Judges), the claim is made that the conquering of Canaan was slow and incomplete.

3) In 1 Samuel, we find the old familiar story of David facing down the giant, and we are told that David son of Jesse killed Goliath son of Gath by using a slingshot to hit the dude between the eyes (and then a sword to cut off his head). However, in 2 Samuel, the claim is made that Elhanan son of Jaare-oregim killed Goliath son of Gath.

4) The prophets Isaiah and Micah both describe a time when people will "beat their swords into plowshares," while the prophet Joel explicitly calls his readers to "beat your plowshares into swords." (Admittedly, this could be explained away by the fact that Isaiah and Micah are speaking about a future kingdom, while Joel is giving a command for the present. However, this still serves as an example of how biblical authors used other sources and texts, and even used disagreement and contradiction as literary devices.)

5) Even the gospels have their little eccentricities--for example, Jesus saying both "Whoever is not for me is against me," and "Whoever is not against us is for us," is logically inconsistent. Rather than try to explain away how Jesus means both statements to be equally true, it is simpler (think: Occam's Razor) and more likely to believe that perhaps someone may have copied it down incorrectly. It is not a stretch to think that somewhere in that long game of telephone that eventually gave us the scriptures, someone innocently and accidentally wrote down the wrong thing--the two phrases are certainly easy enough to confuse.

Unless we are to use some extreme linguistic and exegetical gymnastics (or simply read something into the Bible that just isn't there--recently someone tried to explain to me that David and Elhanan could have been the same person), the fact remains that the Bible is full of little errors and contradictions. The difficulty with much of modern apologetics is that apologists often attempt to make the Bible jump through their hoops, rather than letting it speak for itself.
via ASBO Jesus

HOWEVER. When we view the scriptures as monolithic--some call it bibliolatry--we fail to recognize that the Bible was written over centuries--millennia, even--by dozens, if not hundreds, of authors and editors (read: "people liable to screwing up") who disagreed with one another, and had differing ideas of the nature and character of God. But to me, the true narrative of God shines through the scriptures--beautifully, mysteriously, divinely--despite the frailty of the Bible's very human writers.

It all just seems like people try too hard to force the Bible to fit together perfectly, when in reality, it does not. It's complicated--just like life and history are complicated. And I would argue that that's the beauty of it all. It's simply a fallacy to believe that just because the Genesis accounts contradict one another, or the fact that Esther, Job, and Jonah are very likely fictional accounts, means that God doesn't love us, that Jesus didn't have something to teach us, and that there is an ultimate plan for this whole ball of wax we call earth. The scriptures include letters, fiction, history, hagiography, poetry, songs, fables, melodramas, and allegories, and it is the most expansive collection of writings available to us that deal with the subject of who God is. We can't afford to take it too seriously.

To recognize that the scriptures are not infallible is to recognize their frailty, and make both the Bible and ourselves vulnerable. But vulnerability is exactly what Jesus was about--relying on God and on each other rather than our own understanding. And as a wise man once said, All instruction is but a finger pointing to the moon; Now, dear student, do not confuse the finger with the moon.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Review of "Divine Rebels," by Deena Guzder

This is a review I wrote on "Divine Rebels," by Deena Guzder, for the Englewood Review of Books. You can read the original post here.


There’s a famous scene in Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee’s 1970 play,The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail, in which Henry David Thoreau—a noted author, environmentalist, transcendentalist, and anarchist—sits alone in a moonlit prison, listening to the cry of a loon outside his window. Thoreau, imprisoned for a night in Concord, Massachusetts, in July of 1846, refused to pay taxes for fear of the money being used to subsidize the Mexican-American War. In the play, upon hearing of Thoreau’s incarceration, his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson rushes to the prison in the night. Peering in through the bars from outside the jail, he asks, “Henry, what are you doing in there?” to which a composed Thoreau replies, “Waldo, what are you doing out there?”
Like Thoreau, the activists Deena Guzder describes in Divine Rebels have had enough of the established paradigm, opting instead to stand in the way of injustice, placing their reputations, financial well-being, and even their lives on the line for the sake of their Christian morals. Though Divine Rebels is nonfiction, it flows with an interwoven narrative, connecting the individual stories of “holy mischief-makers,” highlighting Guzder’s superior skills as both a journalist and a story-teller.
Though the book focuses primarily on Christian social activists of the last fifty years (and, regrettably, mostly male figures—what happened to Dorothy Day?), the subjects of Divine Rebels run the gamut of passionate causes—from proponents of racial equality and anti-nuclear-proliferation movements to war tax resisters and ecojustice advocates.
These peaceful revolutionaries are my heroes; As a child, I grew up idolizing folk heroes like Paul Bunyan and Joe Magarac—larger-than-life figures whose roots reach deep into the American psyche of rugged individualism and determination. Later I drew inspiration from historical figures of great power and influence—Harry Truman and J.F.K. Now, I find that the people I admire most are those committed to living lives committed to their strong Christian ethics of hospitality (such as Jim Corbett, the “accidental” advocate of illegal immigrants and the founder of the Sanctuary Movement), peacemaking (like Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll Roman Catholic priest and crusader for the closing of the School of the Americas at Fort Benning) and compassion for the poor (author, activist, and member of the new monastic movement, Shane Claiborne). These spiritual giants are living, breathing proof that Christians with social consciences still exist, and are courageous enough to stand up to the law—at times even willingly breaking it.
Guzder’s book reminds us that we—our churches, our culture—need people like Robin Harper, Daniel Berrigan, and Jim Zweig. It clears away some of the dust that has settled on our mild-mannered, middle-class American Christianity, and recalls the radical core of our faith—women and men who take Christ’s call to love and serve the world quite literally, and at great personal expense.
There are, however, occasional glaring holes in Guzder’s support of these activists. For instance, much is made of Quaker peacemaker Robin Harper’s transference of war tax dollars to nonprofit organizations that promote peacemaking programs, but a defense of his actions in light of Jesus’ teachings is conspicuously absent. What of his critics, who claim that Jesus specifically commanded his followers to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21)? In fact, Guzder frequently avoids any discussion of scriptural reasoning for the actions of her subjects, which some may feel detracts from the validity of their cause. In addition, Divine Rebels sports a liberal bias that even the most free-thinking might find off-putting, often attributing the motives of her subjects to commitment to progressive values or leftist pride and politics.
Divine Rebels resounds loudly and pervasively with the activist’s maxim, If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention. Guzder’s essays describe women and men who radically napalmed draft records, snuck onto military bases to play Oscar Romero speeches over loudspeakers, camped out in redwood trees, and even smeared their own blood over weapons of mass destruction in a symbolic act of peaceful resistance. However, it might be beneficial to us to remember that Thoreau also once said, “A man can beat so loudly on the eardrums that nobody hears what he is trying to say.” Though we need radical saints and activists to remind us that we must press forward beyond injustice and oppression, there are times when the medium drowns the message. And while I wait expectantly for the day I have the opportunity to be arrested for my own convictions as a Christian, it is fairly safe to say that I will not be splashing my blood over fighter jets or hammering on nuclear warhead nosecones any time soon.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Sunday, July 3, 2011

In a Pickle

Okay, well not really in a pickle. Today I spent the Sabbath with my friends, the Tankersleys, pickling some cucumbers, jalapenos, and serrano peppers in their kitchen (sorry about the vinegar smell, friends!). I was going to put up some corn, tomatoes, and peaches, but I ran out of jars.
I've been fascinated by "the old way" of living since I was a kid, watching my grandparents put up vegetables and homemade stew in the pantry, my grandma hand-quilting blankets, and my grandpa hammering away in the blacksmith forge. I'm a pretty lucky guy, to have been raised around such influences and to have been given such remarkable learning opportunities throughout my life. I am interested in preserving food because my grandparents sparked that interest in me years ago. How many kids have that experience?

After the great canning adventure was over, I had a little brine and a few jalapenos left, so I "half-pickled" them and stuck 'em in the fridge to cool. Tried a couple a few minutes ago, and they set my mouth on fire. Whew!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The City Market: Getting Food Together

Today, Alyssa, Caleb, and I went to The City Market along the river in KC. It was probably my first real experience bumming around the city, and there were so many people there! After we picked up some fresh veggies (everything in the photos below was less than $20), we hit up The Farmhouse for some locally grown brunch--french toast served with local fruit and molasses whipped cream, and the best hominy grits I've ever had in my life. I'm glad we made it back home early, though. By this afternoon it was pushing over 100°! Here's a look at our success:

Altogether, we ended up with a few pounds of cucumbers, couple garlic bulbs, a half-dozen ears of sweetcorn, 5 or 6 peaches, a bunch of fresh dill, some freshly ground black pepper (the spice market was my favorite--ooh, the smells!), some fresh-baked pita from a local bakery, and about a pound of jalapenos and serranos. 

As we were leaving, I remarked to Caleb that there is a popular stereotype of the farmer's market shopper's image, and that--while there were indeed lots of hippies and yuppies--I was amazed at the eclectic crowd that had gathered together this morning for the universal act of acquiring food. There is something communal about shopping at an open-air market like this that you don't get in an air-conditioned, fluorescent-lit superstore.

Honestly, as Christians, Alyssa and I are simply trying to have the least impact on the environment as we can manage. And if you consider the scriptural edict that humanity sweat and toil for our sustenance, it seems wrong that a majority of our food comes from mass-production farms that either require little else than pushing buttons and running machinery, or--worse--take advantage of migrant laborers.

Does this mean that we'll never go back to a big chain supermarket again? Of course not. Frankly, sometimes it's just easier to make a quick Target run (for a late-night ice cream craving, for instance). But I feel that we shouldn't let that govern the majority of our actions. Christians should be a little more conscientious about these things; we should be asking more questions about  how we can lead sustainable, ethical lives--particularly when it comes to what we eat and where we choose to shop, whether it means doing your weekly shopping at a local farmer's market, or this: 

And that's all I have to say about that.

On a side note, it's been a while since I've canned/pickled anything, and I'm really looking forward to pickling these cucumbers, which are now soaking overnight. I'll post some more photos as I begin the pickling process tomorrow. Looking forward to canning corn for the first time with our new pressure canner, as well!

Peace be with you.