When Fear and Arrogance Never Meet

Peter Enns has been running a terrific series of guest posts by Carlos Bovell, author of the forthcoming Rehabilitating Inerrancy in a Culture of Fear.

In his first post, Bovell talks about a question he had as he was struggling with his own beliefs on the topic of biblical inerrancy:

Why do believers have to wait for people like [Bart] Ehrman to publish books before we find out about all these problems with scripture, problems that scholars have known about all along?

This has been one of my complaints, as well. Growing up, I heard nothing about the disputed authorship of the Pauline epistles, or the probability of 2 Isaiah, or the paucity of historical, scientific or archaeological evidence in support of pretty much any event described in the Bible before the reign of King David.

In fact, I was taught quite the opposite.

I’m not saying my Sunday school classes should have been a lesson in historical-critical scholarship, but if the curriculum at my Christian high school could take the time to argue apologetically for the historical accuracy of, say, the Genesis flood account, certainly it could have taken the time to present at least the other side of the story.

Continue reading When Fear and Arrogance Never Meet

Can Faith and Learning Coexist?

NPR’s “Fresh Air” last week aired an interview with Elaine Pagels, author of The Gnostic Gospels who has written a new book, Revelations: Visions, Prophecy & Politics in the Book of Revelation.

Setting aside my inability to get over having the same word twice in one book title, the interview is fascinating and well worth a listen. Growing up with a belief in “Left Behind” eschatology, I find the idea that this particular interpretation is wrong both intriguing and compelling, but I haven’t done my own research into the subject. So I basically store whatever information I glean from interviews such as the one with Pagels for whenever I have the time to really dive into Revelation on my own (or, even better, as part of a class).

One thing that struck me, however, was Pagels’ response when asked near the end of the interview about her own faith.

Pagels discussed how she first read Revelation as a teenage member of an evangelical church. From a family of nominal Christians, Pagel said she became an evangelical at age 14 because of “the intensity of the emotional power – of the  music, of the preaching, of the group identity.” She left a year later, however, because she couldn’t stomach the theology of a Jewish friend being condemned to hell.

I just suddenly said, “Wait a minute. That’s not what drew me into this group. That’s not what I loved about the messages I heard here. That is not anything to do with the power of Christianity, as I understood it.” It’s ridiculous because Jesus and all of his followers were Jewish, to say nothing of anything else.

So I had to leave that group, and becoming a scholar of religion is an interesting path because later I had to think, “What is it about Christianity that was so compelling and powerful?” I think it is about the religious imagination and a sense of a spiritual dimension in life. But I also had to think about why did I have to leave that group, and I think it’s that insular sense of being in a righteous, homogenous, good group against a sort of a faceless mass of people who are Satan’s people. That is a very dangerous way of looking at the world in the 21st century, particularly.

So far, this makes complete sense. I fully believe narrow views of us versus them (with “them” inevitably defined with increasing narrowness) are a large part of why churches are bleeding followers these days.

Continue reading Can Faith and Learning Coexist?

Letting Faith Be Faith

Another thing Rachel Held Evans and I have in common is we both came of age at the height of the Christian apologetics movement, that two- or three-decade push for Christians to be able to “be able to give an answer” to critics of the faith.

As Evans writes on Page 78 of Evolving in Monkey Town:

To experience the knowledge of Jesus Christ, we didn’t need to be born again; we simply needed to be born. Our parents, our teachers and our favorite theologians took it from there, providing us with all the answers before we ever had time to really wrestle with the questions.

Emphasis mine. I was attracted to the idea of a rational faith, one that could be defended on evidential grounds, as if this was a court case. And, of course, apologetics was all about court cases: Evidence That Demands a Verdict. The Case for Christ. Etc.

Here’s the problem with court cases though: Once the verdict is in, you stop thinking about the arguments.

What I mean is that, at least in my life, when I reduced faith to a series of evidentiary statements, I stopped, well, having faith.

This is where Evans and I differ. In her story, the tools she had been given with which to critically analyze and, to put it bluntly, pick apart other faiths she eventually used to do the same to her own, and she found the answers increasingly wanting.

In mine, once I had solved the crime and won the verdict, if you will, I was done. I had reduced faith to a logical series of facts, and as such, it withered and died inside me. There was no mystery, no excitement, no reality. Faith was another argument to which I had the right answers, no different than my faith in supply-side economics or the Christian beliefs of America’s founding fathers.

There was no room anymore for faith to be faith.

In the end, God had to perform miracles in my life to reawaken my dormant faith. I had to reform my view of God from one of “Jesus loves me / This I know / For the Bible tells me so” to “You ask me how I know he lives / He lives within my heart.”

Because ultimately faith is nothing if it is not living inside you. That doesn’t mean you stop worrying about the contradictions or ignore the questions raised by skeptics. I am going to grad school, after all. But it means recognizing that sometimes it’s OK not to have all the answers.

I’m not very good at that. I’ve always been the smartest kid in the class. I won most, if not all, of our school’s spelling bees and geography bees. I love to debate, but most of all I love being right. I love having The Answers.

But it’s time to realize that although I know God exists and loves me and died for me and wants me to spend the rest of eternity with him, the only proof I have of that is anecdotal — what God has done in radically reshaping my life. And as I’m fond of saying, anecdotal evidence isn’t really evidence at all.

And that’s what faith is, isn’t it? It’s about relying on God, even when you aren’t sure he’s going to catch you. It’s about believing a story as preposterous as the perfect, omnipotent Creator allowing himself to be squeezed through a birth canal so he could ultimately be subjected to the worst torture his own creation could devise — all because he wanted to live forever with those very same people.

It’s about believing the answers, even if you can’t prove them.