Before you read this post, let me make state a few things up front. First, this blog is not meant to be a discrediting of Christianity. I have been open and public about my burnout, but that is not an indictment against Christians. Many of those I am close to are lovely Bible believing conservative or liberal Christians. As I have been writing about my burnout and my doubt, it is just that- my story. Others are surely permitted to have a different story. Second, I realize I am bias. We all are. The person who believes in inerrancy is biased, as is the one who rejects it. I have tried to do my best in this post to explain why I began to doubt and where that doubt lead, but also provide resources, via links, to the opposing position. More than this, I have tried to choose resources from both sides, but even more from of the camp I left, that are not jokes. What I mean is that the men who I link to that hold to inerrancy are some of the better theologians in their camp- at least with readily available internet content. I welcome feedback on this blog. I always have. Your comment has to be approved by me, not to quell dissent and present a one sided argument, but to prevent spam. I hope some of you reading will have better resources than the ones I listed and will direct both myself and my readers to them. So long as you are respectful, your comment will be published the next time I log onto this account. That being said, here is how I began to become an agnostic.
A few weeks about I posted about given up some doctrines and beginning to indulge my doubts. In that post you will find links to the doctrine of inerrancy, and some links that refute it. Simply put, the doctrine of inerrancy held to by conservative denominations and churches, like the Southern Baptists, PCA, and Pentecostals, among others, states the Bible is wholly without error or contradiction. As I began to study more in-depth, though, I began to find more and more contradictions in Scripture. The doctrine simply did not stand up to its own assertions anymore. To be fair, there are others who say it does. I understand their arguments and some of the ways they try to make contradictory texts compliment each other, I simply do not believe this case anymore. It is too hard a pill for me to swallow.
As I blogged about this, I have been told by many Christians that 1. inerrancy doesn’t matter, 2. it doesn’t mean what the doctrine actually says, and that 3. I should focus on Jesus instead of doctrine, indeed, some denominations and theologians love Jesus but reject inerrancy, NT Wright probably the best known of the former category. I don’t know if I have space to reply everything I wish in this post, but I have come to disagree with all three positions. First, words have a meaning. Inerrancy has a meaning. It is well defined. If we chose to not hold a definition because we don’t like it, we do no service to theology or even general communication, for that matter. The SBC makes you agree to the doctrine of inerrancy to plant a church with them. They hold it dear. That is their prerogative. However, since I could not sign that paper anymore, I could not in good faith plant with them.
Some have said they see the clear contradictions in some details of the Bible, but that does not violate inerrancy. God inerrantly chose to communicate everything he sought to, even if humans erred in their memory of an event. The contradictory stories of the resurrection (I will get to them in a moment, since they were the catalyst for my journey) only vary in degree, not kind, they say. In fact, it has been said that since they contradict it makes a stronger case for their validity, since humans have faulty memories. Four witnesses of an accident would not remember all the details exactly the same. Since four gospels have four different accounts, but agree on the main event, they are to be believed all the more. This is Wright’s position. He believes this indicates the gospel story it was not a conspiracy, nor did the writers consult each other and “fix” their divergent accounts.
Ok, but that begs the question, if their memories were faulty on the account of Easter, the most important date in Christianity, and a date we would assume they all remembered more vividly than any other, how can we trust their memories of anything else? I hope I would remember the day my friend and teacher who I saw murdered all of a sudden appear before me resurrected. I will return to this in a moment. The retort I have gotten is that God made sure all the important things were recorded accurately. None of the contradictions in the resurrection story affect doctrine. They are minor details about many angels were at the tomb, who entered the tomb first, why they went to the tomb, when the rock was rolled away, who told the disciples Jesus was resurrected, who Jesus appeared to first, why he appeared to them, how many times he appeared, and his commands to the disciples about where they should go and what they should do. Matthew says the disciples were to go to Galilee where he would meet them and Luke tells us Jesus said not to leave the city. Not a minor difference in the least. Did the disciples misremember where they stayed for forty days? How can I trust them when they tell me Jesus said thus and thus? The claim that the contradictions do not effect doctrine leaves out that they incredibly effect the doctrine of inerrancy. All of these discrepancies only deal with the resurrection. The problems get bigger when we look at the crucifixion, and then the gospels as a whole, not to mention the Bible. (Admittedly that last link has an agenda- as do we all,and some of the contradictions are poetic rather than natural. I do not buy all the websites arguments. Some are wrong. I link to it because it is the most exhaustive list I have found, and we can make up our own mind on each piece of evidence presented therein. For a fairer take on inerrancy and contractions, see here)
Ok, so there are some differences. Lots of them. Not one gospel agrees to the details of the resurrection. But, as I have been told, if we all saw a fire and reported what we saw, we would all have differing accounts. None would be right, but there would be truth in our stories nonetheless. The fire still would have happened. Without delving into that argument here, I would add, though, that “God is not like man, that he should lie,” the Holy Spirit was writing these books, albeit through fallible men, and would God really allow the story of his resurrection to get so muddled that what his final commands where do not agree in differing accounts? That seems like a big mistake. Go and make disciples while returning to Galilee or stay in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes upon you? It cannot be both. If the Holy Spirit could not ensure than Jesus final command was passed down accurately, how can we trust he could ensure anything else could be passed down accurately. More than all of this, John tells us the point of his writing is that we would believe, but having so many discrepancies does not help the case of belief, at least in my case, it hurt it.
Like I said there are arguments for inerrency that try to weave a cohesive narrative together from these divergent accounts. I simply cannot believe them. Besides, loads of Christians don’t believe in inerrancy. CS Lewis, Tolkien and even Augustine could not sign the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy. Maybe I should simply run to Jesus and forget about the doctrine? That is what I did for the first two months since my crisis of faith, it was advice I was more than happy to follow. Let’s stick to Jesus, admit that people remembered some minute details incorrectly, and progress forward as a more liberal Christian. Lewis was a superior intellect and he had no use for the doctrine, so why should I? (This is a logical fallacy, by the way, and the same arguments can be made to believe any religion, or lack there of. There are men and women of every religion, Christianity, Islam, Bahai, Buddhism, Atheism, etc that have a superior intellect. That doesn’t mean they are right. Appeal to authority doesn’t prove anything but the authority believed.) I have already highlighted the problem here, though. If there are mis-remembered details, both large and small, in the resurrection, how can I trust there are not misremember details other places? How can we be sure the other memories bear any resemblance to what Jesus actually said or did? Indeed, to trust Jesus one has to trust the texts about him. If they are errant one place we should assume they are errant others, should we not? Is it reasonable to believe that even though Matthew places Jesus birth around 6 BCE under the reign of Herod the Great, and Luke around 6 CE when Quirinius was governor of Syria, a difference of twelve years, they correctly recorded all his teachings? I cannot see how.
Again, we are told the Holy Spirit made sure all we need for faith and practice was recorded correctly. But he did not make sure that Jesus’s birth or death was recorded accurately. Why assume he made sure Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount was? It is not something I can at present do.
The I left more progressive Christianity when I began reading Carl Sagan’s book, “Demon Haunted World.” In Chapter 8, On True and False Visions, while discussing the merits of repressed memories and hypnosis (he’s against them) he writes”
“The University of Washington psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has found that unhypnotized subjects can easily be made to believe they saw something they didn’t. In a typical experiment, subjects will view a film of a car accident. In the course of being questioned about what they saw, they’re casually given false information. For example, a stop sign is off-handedly referred to, although there wasn’t one in the film. Many subjects then dutifully recall seeing a stop sign. When the deception is revealed, some vehemently protest, stressing how vividly they remember the sign. The greater the time lag between viewing the film and being given the false information, the more people allow their memories to be tampered with. Loftus argues that “memories of an event more closely resemble a story undergoing constant revision than a packet of pristine information.” There are many other examples, some— a spurious memory of being lost as a child in a shopping mall, for instance— of greater emotional impact. Once the key idea is suggested, the patient often plausibly fleshes out the supporting details. Lucid but wholly false recollections can easily be induced by a few cues and questions, especially in the therapeutic setting. Memory can be contaminated. False memories can be implanted even in minds that do not consider themselves vulnerable and uncritical.
Sagan, Carl (2011-07-06). Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (Kindle Locations 2223-2247). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.”
Of course I cannot copy the entire chapter, but in it he list experiment after controlled experiment where people remember wrong- either through direct manipulation or a desire to make the questioner happy, or a myriad of other reasons. If that is true about people remembering a video shortly after watching it, how can it not be more true about people recalling events decades after they occurred. I now fully appreciate why Tim Challies, Al Mohler, and John Piper, arguably some of the most influential evangelical leaders today, insist upon inerrancy. Nothing can be guaranteed without it.
Reluctantly, and with great mourning, I gave up the idea that Jesus can be known in an historical sense. What is true and what is error is impossible to dissect. Of course, as I have tried to show, others looked at the same evidence and came to different conclusions. As I delved deeper and deeper, I found more errors, misquotes, failed prophecies, and other difficulties- each with its own individual explanation- I came to believe that the single explanation, that the Bible was written by men and not God was more plausible. I can to this conclusion kicking and screaming, begging God that it were not so, but the evidence hit a tipping point, and here I am. CS Lewis says he was nagged by the Hounds of Heaven until he believed. I have just the opposite story. I longed for them to nip at my heel, but found only shadows.