faith is not believing what we know to be false.

May 25, 2013

Following are some thoughts I posted on a discussion board at Gordon-Conwell for a course I’m taking:  Theology of the Pentateuch with Dr. Gordon Hugenberger.

The initial question was as follows:

Kersey Graves is a 19th century religious critic who had particular penchant for lambasting Christianity (and religions in general). His book, The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors, depicts Christ as a non-historical, mythical figure, and has a conspiracy theory approach to interpreting Christian text. In essence, self-styled scholars like Kersey Graves suggest that either the bible is a complete fabrication, or that it’s major themes and concepts have been plagiarized from more ancient religions. 

Here is an excerpt from The World’s Sixteen Crucified Saviors: 
” ‘And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed. It shall bruise thy head, and thou shall bruise his heel.’ (Genesis 3:15)

 This text is often cited by Christan writers and controversialists as prefiguring the mission of the Christian Savior… Some of the saviors or demigods of Egypt, India, Greece, Persia, Mexico and Etruria are represented as performing the same drama with the serpent or devil… Again, it is related by more than one oriental writer that Chrishna of India is represented on some very ancient sculptures and stone monuments with his heel on the head of a serpent…”

How do we respond to the dissenters that contend that the Old Testament plagiarized myths from the ANE (i.e. Creation account, Flood of Noah, Messianic prophecies, Ten commandments etc…)? 

My response:

I love this question because it points out a theme that keeps recurring in my studies… namely, that different people can be looking at the same information, the same “evidence,” and come to completely different conclusions.  How is this?

In some sense, people are going to see what they ‘want’ to see and believe what they ‘want’ to believe.  If we come to that information with our minds already made up, whatever our conclusion may be, then we’ve simply allowed the information to serve as a support to our presuppositions.  My first response to these “dissenters” is to probe into what is in it for them to hold this view.  Usually in my experience it has nothing to do with being convinced of the formal reasoning and research of a Kersey Graves or a Bart Ehrman.  The “dissenters” I’ve conversed with are usually looking for a reason NOT to trust the Scripture.  If in fact that is the case then it hardly matters how I respond to their views on whether or not the Scripture plagiarized ANE literature.  Usually this simply means they’re looking for an argument to get in so that they can feel more at ease ensconced in their own position.

This seems to be the approach that Robert Puckett is taking:

Gilgamesh hardly wants deconstructing because he does not tell you “Don’t sleep with your girlfriend or boyfriend.” Unlike Noah Gilgamesh is not a preacher of righteousness who makes demands on your life. He does not say, “God’s going to destroy the whole world with a flood because of your sinfulness.”  Since regarding the Bible so much is at stake, we have to be aware of our bias, that we have a benefit in deciding against it, of charging it with being a false authority.

Do the Scriptures say “not to sleep with your boyfriend or girlfriend?”  I digress.  The issue is the same in that will we allow ourselves the liberty of coming under the authority and guidance of sacred Scripture or will we simply be enslaved to our own devices.  That is not a fun mirror for us to look into at times and we shouldn’t be shocked when others choose to look somewhere a little more palatable.

This is not to say that people can’t in good faith question and explore these issues.  Indeed they should.  Faith is not believing what we know to be false.  Rather it is a gift to see what is real.

While I like the place that Robert English lands I don’t care an awful lot for how he arrived:

“In the end what they say is more reasonable. But no matter how convincing their reason, I still believe. I think it comes down to which tree’s fruit tastes better to you. If you have a taste for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil reason is the way to go. You can be like God and come up with your own explanations. If you like the Tree of Life, you get to believe what God says and trust that he is right.”

This seems to be a little too reliant on personal preference.  Not that it’s wrong per se but I don’t agree that what the “scholars say is more reasonable.”  Which scholars?  Some are.  Some aren’t.  Some have convincing theories on certain subjects and then lose their rationality on others.  If we simply boil it down to a choice between two trees then we have no rationale to say that one is “better” or “healthier” than the other.  This only lends itself to the above position that I’m going to see and believe what I want to in the end.

Another approach might be to actually listen in the moment to what the human behind the dissenting is really saying.  Could we as “Evangelical Christians” (a term that has really outlived its usefulness) actually humble ourselves enough to trust that the power of the Risen King is actively engaged in our conversation and in our listening.  Do we really hear people?  Do we see them and feel their pain?  Can we model for them what the suffering Savior has done to reconcile them to himself?

 

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