Friday, April 17, 2009

This is your brain on biblical inerrancy

I want to be like Father Matthew when I grow up. He decided that this internet thing, and especially YouTube, might catch on someday and has turned his videos "Father Matthew Presents" into a terrific ministry. His latest video is on Biblical Inerrancy.



His video is timely because there is another new book about Jesus, the early church, and the variety of scriptural voices that is out there but a Biblical scholar named Bart Ehrman. Here is goes for a second round on the Colbert Report.

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Previously, Ehrman wrote a fine little book a few years back that describes how Biblical texts went from their original writers to today. Called "Misquoting Jesus: The Story Begind Who Changed the Bible and Why" he provides a very accessible discussion of textual criticism and textual transmission.

But the most poingnant part of the book is not found in his discussion but in his story. He writes how he was raised in an Episcopal Church and that he had a "born again" experience as a high school sopomore. This tracks pretty closely with my own story: I was "born again" as a high school freshman.

He came to hold the view, as I did, that the Bible was completely without error in the original texts. He even attended Moody Bible Institute, later Wheaton, and then went to Princeton Theological Seminary. (I wanted to go to either Wheaton or Gordon-Conwell, but my parents would not pay for me to go to those schools, so I went to Drew instead.) Eventually, the challenges of the text itself showed the glaring weaknesses of an inerrant approach and, as in Father Matthew's video, Ehrman's faith came tumbling down.

The problem as I read Ehrman's work, is that with the loss of inerrancy went the loss of his Christian faith (or at least a significant chunk of it). He came to his most dynamic religious expression as a teenager and young adult in what he calls the "robust" world of born-again evangelical Christianity. And that robustness of faith depended on a doctrine that can't stand up to the storm. He disagrees with his mentor Bruce Metzger, in that the textual variants he finds challenge the basic understandings of basic Christian doctrines. For him, Luke's perspective on the crucifixion and John's are different, therefore they disagree and therefore any theological musing that works on the tension between the two (and may find a synthesis) are invalid because they are "later" additions.

The more he looks at the scriptural texts, the more he finds the human side of the equation and with it error, and if there is error then the whole house of cards falls. What I find poignant is that he can't shake his inner fundamentalist: if the doctrine or theology cannot be supported by a uniform witness of scripture then the whole things falls away, and since there is no uniform witness of scripture because the manuscripts (both in their original form and in their transmission) is shot through with error, there is nothing to believe.

What Ehrman, and many others (both fundamentalists and even some Biblical scholars) forget is that what is inspired is the community of believers who witness to God at work and that it is the community (not the Bible) that makes the claim about who Jesus is and what God is up to through and in him. The Bible's authority and witness emanates from the Church not the other way round.

As I said, I identify with portions of Dr. Ehrman's story. I used to think that what made for a robust faith was a robust view of the Bible. Nope. As Father Matthew says, that makes the Bible into an idol and idols always fail us. What makes for a robust faith is Christ manifested in a dynamic gathering of Christ's people doing and learning the work of Jesus.

Two hat tips to Episcopal Cafe: Episcopal Cafe video and The Lead.

1 comment:

Good Shepherd Weekly said...

Of course Fr. Matthew seems not to know much about the concept he caricatures...but hey why let rank ignorance of a subject stop you from commenting on it?
http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago1.html
It would be nice if those who "do not leave their brains at the door" would actually apply them to topics they consider.

Matt Kennedy