Sunday, January 22, 2012

Notes on "Contending for the Truth" (Pt. 11)

[Series explanation and index here.]

The Authority of Scripture
a talk by Albert Mohler

"[I]n postmodern times there is the operational denial that there can be any kind of propositional revelation. There is the operational, explicit denial that there could be any kind of shared information at a cognitive level from the divine to the human in what we would call 'the Bible.'"
Mohler evidently believes that the rejection of the Bible as genuine divine revelation is largely due to a pervasive postmodernist rejection of the possibility of knowing truth. He says, "If we are left in the trap of this epistemological crisis, then we will never really know the truth." I think this is a misdiagnosis. The real problem is that the Bible is indistinguishable from a man-made collection of writings which has become revered through human tradition.

Revelation on Revelation
"Christianity is the only belief system that offers a complete account of revelation. Other belief systems and worldviews may claim a revelation, but none of them offers a comprehensive understanding of revelation beginning with the origin of this revelation, the necessity of this revelation, the authority of this revelation, and the reception and effect of this revelation. The Christian doctrine of holy Scripture sets the Christian claim of revelation apart from all others."
The idea here is that the Christian revelation explains itself better than other revelations explain themselves (with the implication that this is something to be expected of a true revelation). Mohler then curiously undermines his own point by quoting relevant passages from the Bible, the Quran, and the Book of Mormon:

1 Timothy 2:3 "[F]rom childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."

Surah 10:37-38 "And it was not possible for this Qur'an to be produced by other than Allah, but it is a confirmation of what was before it and a detailed explanation of the former Scripture, about which there is no doubt, from the Lord of the worlds. Or do they say about the Prophet, 'He invented it?' Say, 'Then bring forth a surah like it and call upon for assistance whomever you can besides Allah, if you should be truthful.'"

2 Nephi 33:10 "And now, my beloved brethren, and also Jew, and all ye ends of the earth, hearken unto these words and believe in Christ; and if ye believe not in these words believe in Christ. And if ye shall believe in Christ ye will believe in these words, for they are the words of Christ, and he hath given them unto me; and they teach all men that they should do good."

Mohler goes on to say the Bible it is set apart from the Qur'an and the Book of Mormon because it came through multiple authors, over several centuries, in different contexts and styles, during the living memory of events described, and yet with a coherency and consistency throughout. I would characterize this as an argument from both diversity and unity. Further, I will grant that unity is harder to achieve in a collection of books across centuries than in one book set down by one man. On the other hand, why must revelation come as a collection? There is a danger of taking one's own scriptures as the model of what divine revelation ought to look like, then observing the ways other scriptures fail to fit the model.

Since I don't believe any scriptures are really divinely inspired, the whole exercise of comparing the Bible to other scriptures is beside the point. It could simply be the most impressive among human religious writings.

A Book of History
"The Bible deals with historic claims that were known to those who were alive at the times the claims were made."
Since we lack contemporary rebuttals of Biblical history, can't we safely conclude Biblical history is correct? No, because the vast majority of ancient writings have been lost. For all we know there may have been such rebuttals, but no one interested enough to preserve them through the centuries. Or there may not have been any written rebuttals, because refuting the claims of Biblical writers may not have seemed important; our perspective is skewed by our knowledge of how important these texts have become to global culture.

One reason Genesis is such a point of contention is that the creation story, the flood, and the Tower of Babel are events we can investigate today without relying on ancient interests or the preservation of particular texts. All three events fail such testing in spectacular fashion.

The Witness of Archaeology
"Archeological discoveries continue to affirm the truthfulness of the Bible."
What archaeological discoveries have shown is that the Bible really is composed of ancient texts; it's not a tenth century fabrication or something. Suppose we have a nuclear war that wipes out modern civilization. In the year 3012, archaeologists discover a readable collection of James Bond novels. Further archaeological investigation confirms many incidental details of geography and culture. Clearly this would speak to the value of James Bond novels as far as their historical setting is concerned, but not to the truth of their foreground stories.

Divine Foreknowledge
"Does the text disclose facts and information that at the time of the writing could only have been known to God, but at a later date were demonstrated to be true?"
Scientific foreknowledge was covered in a previous talk, so Mohler focuses on predictive prophecy. Even better: he focuses on the claims of fulfilled predictive prophecy in Matthew's nativity account.

Matthew's opening chapters were the very point where I began to question what I was taught about the Bible. You see, Matthew does quote the Old Testament as if it had predicted early events in the life of Jesus...but how many Christians are familiar with the context of these quotes? You can do this study on your own, or — for a quick start — I recommend these videos:

Messianic Prophecies and Matthew's Dishonesty Part 1
Messianic Prophecies and Matthew's Dishonesty Part 2

In short, the first few pages of the New Testament are some of the best reasons to positively reject Christianity. It is a religion which relies on earlier Jewish Scriptures and misuses those same scriptures. The only reason the Old Testament may seem to confirm Christianity, is that Christians have been trained to read it that way.

"In the Reformation, the principle of sola scriptura was so important because the Reformation was made necessary by the fact that scriptura was not sola. The church claimed the authority to define the authority of scripture. [...] The church claimed the authority to interpret scripture by tradition rather than to judge the tradition by scripture."
I don't want to become too involved with this in-house debate, but I must point out two things:

First, the policy of "scripture alone" has led to an ever greater fracturing of Christian doctrines into just about every conceivable combination with each sect, and sub-sect, and sub-sub-sect claiming the others are not following the Bible. I grew up in a tiny sect that claims, in effect, that all other so-called Christians are going to Hell because of incorrect baptism doctrine...and maybe for using pianos in worship service.

Second, the Bible does not include its own table of contents. The Biblical canon — as it's called — was defined by fourth century Catholics. The same men who finally settled on the 27 book New Testament canon affirmed a larger Old Testament canon than modern Protestants accept. So it's not a matter of following tradition vs. following the Bible; one must follow some tradition about the Bible, before approaching the Bible.

If "God is not the author of confusion" (1 Cor 14:33), then I hardly see how Christianity with its schisms or the Bible with its internal misreadings could be products of the divine.

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