Good question.

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James McGrath asks this question:

Why, for some Christians, is affirming that the Bible is inerrant more important than taking seriously what it actually says?
Good question. Indeed, taking the Bible seriously means fully accepting its warts, flaws, and inconsistencies without trying to hide them under the rug or otherwise explain them away. Inerrancy is the direct opposite of taking the Bible seriously.

The question of why people cling to inerrancy is an interesting question. Does this address some inherent need? Or is it simply a product of brainwashing by fundamentalist churches that insist that the whole integrity of the faith depends on it? There is a part of me that would like to believe that at some point in future, inerrancy will be consigned to the dustbin of theological history, and Christians of the future will en masse look back at our own time with bemusement as they puzzle over how anyone could possibly believe such a thing. But if there is some psychological need for theological certainty that leads some people to believe in inerrancy, then this would be a vain hope.

7 comments:

Chris said...

>>some psychological need for theological certainty

I think this is exactly the problem. Trust comes easily, for most people. Skepticism, on the other hand, has to be learned. We are deeply, innately averse to cognitive dissonance. Having studied Christian history, I can tell you that many of the famous Christian thinkers have been driven by a need for certainty and/or a fear of uncertainty. Why do you think so many people hate postmodernism so very much?

Quixie said...

I'm reminded of a recent lecture by Richard Dawkins in which he attributes evolutionary value to human trust and credulity, particularly in the infancy stage. Skeptical children would wind up dead quicker than you could say "don't go to the water's edge, it has large hungry reptiles floating in wait there".

peace

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Frank said...

Taking it a step further, there is no reason to think that the "inconsistencies" in the Bible are a bad thing. Just to label an inconsistency as a trouble-spot reflects a false assumtion that the Bible should be consistent.

The Bible is the record of living people in dialogue with a living God and a living faith tradition with each author living in a unique historical context. It is not a problem when there are differences among the books. There have to be differences (which is my take on what Ratzinger was getting at in his book Eschatolgy).

Mystical Seeker said...

Chris and Quixie,

Sadly, you both may be right that it is just human nature going on here. But if people have a natural aversion to uncertainty or ambiguity, how is it that some Christians are able to move beyond that?

Frank,

I agree with you that differences are inevitable. I would go further and suggest that not only differences, but also mistakes and historical inaccuracies are also inevitable. After all, it was humans who wrote the Bible. The question then becomes, why do so many people demand and expect consistency from the Bible?

Frank said...

Yes, when I said "inconsistencies" I meant all kinds--historical errors, theological differences, you name it.

The early church knew this when they chose 4 different gospels and included them all in the canon. That is because the historical accuracy and theological consistency wasn't the point. They clearly knew about these differences, its not like they were hidden from us until modern methods of biblical study unpacked them suddenly. The church resisted efforts to resolve these differences (Ratzinger again)

To me, anyone is lying who doesn't realize how profoundly frightening it is to find out how little is truly known by religious traditions and theologians. Gives new meaning--or perhaps reclaims the original meaning--of the word "faith". It is a scary world out there and people lock into absolutes in order to appease their fears.

This is why the "be not afraid" is such a requirement for a proper spiritual path. You can't explore the mystery of faith if you are clinging to absolutes.

SocietyVs said...

"Why, for some Christians, is affirming that the Bible is inerrant more important than taking seriously what it actually says?" (JM)

My sentiments exactly - when I refer to what aspects of 'belief' are important. It is sad to have debates with other Christians and all they are worried about is 'having the orthodox beliefs in order' (first and foremost) - then they dig into the scriptures for what they mean (secondary committment). This literally is the difference between most orthodox people and those a little less orthodox (or liberal).

Gary said...

As chris suggested, the whole question in accuracy seems to be a modernist one to me, in fact so are any assumptions of inerrancy. I really love living in a time where there is a paradigm shift happening on a broad scale due to our exposure to other cultural expressions, and I think the more pervasive this groundswell becomes, the less certainty will be a fundamental issue.