Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The final authority about faith and conduct

My own understanding of the inspiration of scripture is pretty muddled. I haven't, as a practical matter, had to think about it a great deal. But I agree with Rob Schwarzwalder here much more than Thomas Whitely. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to begin by lazily refusing to work through an apparent contradiction just so you can affirm what you want to believe anyway. Schwarzwalder:
In the Associated Baptist Press, Thomas Whitely argues that all professing Christians “cherry-pick” the Bible to find texts that suit them and rationalize or simply disregard those they find discomfiting.

"Everyone cherry-picks the Bible, (including) those who claim to be ‘staunch believers in the Bible’ claiming its inerrancy and infallibility along with those who view it as a historical and all-too-human text,” he writes. “No one – conservative Christian, liberal Christian, Jew or atheist – reads all of the Bible the same way because the nature of this anthology of texts precludes this possibility.”

Mr. Whitely is candid about his views and, in tone, quite respectful of those he indicts. However, he wrongly conflates hermeneutical difficulties with selective application. In other words, some passages of the Bible are hard to interpret, let alone accept or apply. This makes them no less inspired than other passages whose meaning is more clear and appealing.

.... We do not have the luxury of coming to Scripture as if children lying on our backs looking at the clouds – “I see a horsie,” says one, while the other says, “I see a pirate ship.” There are consistent rules of interpretation for all of us; that we don’t like where they might take us is an indictment of our hearts toward God, not intellectual integrity about the meaning of any given passage.


For example, Mr. Whitely notes that most Evangelicals will turn to biblical passages on human sexuality to make the case against homosexual behavior (and any other kind of non-heterosexual, non-marital sexual intimacy) and “while ignoring other parts such as the command to kill a rebellious child.”

Well, no. A serious student of Scripture will look at the text closely, read exegetical and expositional commentators about it, study the historical context.... He will not come up with some strange and hitherto unknown interpretation but will take the text for what it says, even if what it says makes him irritated. Meaning is not determined by personal preference but by the intent of the author and the words he uses.

In the case of stoning a persistently and perniciously “rebellious” child (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), it is noteworthy that the Talmud states there was never a single such instance in which this penalty was exercised (“there never was and never will be [one who fits the definition of] a wayward and defiant son”). More importantly, there is never a single instance in Scripture describing the implementation of this command. ....

The meaning of all but a handful of biblical texts is, with careful study, pretty obvious. That I might not like what they say simply means that I am not God; not being deity caused Eve to eat a certain piece of fruit, which should encourage all of us against elevating our own judgments ahead of those given us by our Creator.

Mr. Whitley also claims, “The way 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus talk about women does not govern how I view women and their potential for leadership. The unquestioning acceptance of slavery and the treatment of women as property does not govern how I live my life. Yet other passages do.”

To use an arcane theological term, bunk: (a) Paul’s teaching on women is consistent; you might not like it, but it is what it is; (b) “unquestioning acceptance of slavery,” really? Is that why Paul tells Philemon of Onesimus to treat the latter “no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 16)? ....

And where does Mr. Whitely get his “women as property” trope? Acts 16 tells us Paul interacted directly with a merchant of expensive fabrics named Lydia, who after her conversion hosted Paul in her home. Paul also affirmed the equality of women and men (Galatians 3:28) even as he taught that they possess different roles. This is patriarchal oppression?

Mr. Whitely has given himself the luxury of accepting those parts of the Bible he likes and jettisoning those he does not. He thus creates an imaginary faith based not on objective truth but those sentiments he finds most reassuring. .... [more]