Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Virgin Birth, Prophecy, the Resurrection: Talking Past Each Other

We've had lively debates here at Locusts & Honey on the doctrine of the Virgin Birth and the meaning of prophecy. And now there's a new one at the MethoBlog right now about whether or not the Resurrection of Jesus happened, and does it matter if it didn't happen. If you've been reading me for a while, you can probably guess that I answer 'yes' to both issues.

In these debates, there seems to be an overall pattern. We talk past each other because we disagree on one fundamental presupposition: the inspiration of Scripture. I assume that the Bible is an accurate account of God's Word and my debating opponents assume it to be essentially a human work of no particular authority.

The prophecy debate was over whether a person, lacking mystical experiences of revelation by God, could claim to be a prophet. I looked at the Biblical portrait of the office of prophet and said 'no'. The general argument of my opponents was (my summary) "Well, I feel that I can be a prophet if I search the Scriptures and learn Biblical principles and apply them to today. It's not like the prophets actually had mystical experiences. That was only added later by mythologizing Biblical writers."

The Virgin Birth debate was of course about whether or not Mary was a virgin when she became pregnant with Jesus. I looked at what the Bible had to say on the matter and concluded 'yes'. Again, my opponents saw these passages as irrelevant attempts to mythologize the normal conception of Jesus by a human biological father.

Now over at The MethoBlog, I argue that the Resurrection of Jesus really did happen, again by showing Biblical passages about the life of Jesus which of course depict Jesus rising from the grave and appearing before his disciples --- even eating in front of them. Responses include notions that Jesus later died instead of ascending, or that the bones left his body when he was Resurrected and only his flesh moved about, or that he simply appeared in the minds of his disciples. All of these responses ignore the quite straight-forward Biblical narratives and the direct teachings of the Apostolic writers.

Essentially, we're talking past each other. To support my positions, I'm appealing to Scripture, presupposing that it is truthful document. My opponents are immune to such arguments because they lack that presupposition. I might as well be appealing to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy or The New York Times.

And that's where the argument breaks down and progress stops. And again, I'm left quite perplexed.

UPDATE: I would like to highlight two excellent comments by Tim. Tim correctly points out something that I've wondered about. If one believes in (1) God, (2) the Bible, and (3) the supernatual, then why would anyone doubt the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, or the various miracle stories of the Bible? What possible reason is there. Well, Tim, the reason why they don't believe in these events is...no, I'd better not say it.

Other bloggers have picked up this subject, including Art Ruch, Allan Bevere, Willie Deuel, and Theresa Coleman. There may be some others, but that's all that I can find right now.



75 comments:

Brett said...

You are dead on. However, even if one feels that scripture is not inspired (I do), it still says what it says. It CLEARLY speaks of the virgin birth and the resurrection. I have more respect for those that say the Bible is not inspired and not relevant than for those that try to twist what is clearly written to fit their own personal agenda.

Craig Moore said...

John
That is why I quit debating liberals on these blogs. I have written some on the inspiration, inerrancy and sufficiency of scripture and been labeled a fundametalist etc. from my more enlightened brothers. If you do not accept the authority of an inspired and inerrant Bible, then mistakes are everywhere, supernatural events are myths and one's opinion becomes the final authority for truth. Arguing such things as the virgin birth, resurrection and miracles of Jesus with someone who views the Bible as full of errors, out of date and written by primitive unenlightened individuals I don't think is a good use of time.

Stephen said...

Ouch John is so mad he brought his argument back over to his blog. That's not good.

So let this good so called liberal offer some concessions:
"I assume that the Bible is an accurate account of God's Word and my debating opponents assume it to be essentially a human work of no particular authority."

I do not believe that this was ever said, at least I hope not by me because this is not the way I view scripture. I do not assume it is to be an essentially a human work of no particular authority, so I apologize if my comments reflected this.

Please don't be too mad...
you can still burn me and beat me if you want to.

Pax,
Stephen

Anonymous said...

John, I think you're forgetting one additional possible explanation for the Resurrection . . . [wait for it]




Zombies!

Will Deuel said...

John, Craig,

Christians will continue to talk past one another so long as you cling to a caricature of a more "liberal" position rather than genuinely listening to what others have to say. Just as Christians will continue to talk past one another so long as some cling to caricatures of what more "conservative" folks have to say.

John B said...

I wonder how those who don't believe in a bodily resurrection can speak the creeds with any level of integrity? Don't we profess at baptisms, confirmation, when receiving new members and other times, "I believe in the resurrection of the body." Maybe they cross their fingers when they say that part.

John said...

I'm not mad at all, Stephen.

I do find it strange that you habitually make academic arguments personal.

If the Bible is a divine work, then there is no reasonable Christian objection to the virgin birth and the resurrection.

John said...

Christians will continue to talk past one another so long as you cling to a caricature of a more "liberal" position rather than genuinely listening to what others have to say.

As long as liberals insist on rejecting the doctrine of the virgin birth, we will continue to think that they reject the doctrine of the virgin birth. As long as liberals insist on rejecting the resurrection, we will continue to think that they reject the resurrection. As long as liberals insist on rejecting the infallibility of Scripture, we will continue to think that they reject the infallibility of Scripture. As long as liberals insist on rejecting the authenticity of miracles, we will continue to think that they reject the authenticity of miracles.

Stephen said...

"I do find it strange that you habitually make academic arguments personal."

Please tell me how I do that?

bob said...

John, You raise an interesting point if we can't agree on some givens it's hard to reach any conclusions.

Another question I would ask is are you even Christian if you don't believe in the resurrection.After all Jesus says several times that he will rise from the dead if he didn't he would be a liar. This makes for pretty weak Chritianity in my book.

John Meunier said...

I agree, John, we are talking past each other. I think you overstate the non-literalist position regarding authority, but your gist is right. We start from different places.

But getting back to the bones in the box, I do not understand how that is crippling to even a literal reading of Scripture.

Does the Bible say anywhere that God did not create a set of Jesus bones (with Jesus DNA) and bury them in Jerusalem after the ascension? Would saying He did that contradict anything explictly written in Scripture?

I believe the young Earth creationists have a similar explanation for how all the dinosaur bones wound up in the ground. God put them there to test the faith of the weak. Maybe He did the same with Jesus' bones.

Craig Moore said...

If we start from two different perspectives of Biblical authority, how will we arrive at a conclusion that we both agree on. I guess we can agree to disagree. I agree with J Greham Machen, Liberalism and Orthodoxy are two different religions. Maybe post-modernism will solve this problem in the next generations.

Anonymous said...

It's inevitable that people of different faiths will talk past each other if they talk about God. It's only a problem if they think they are practicing the same religion.

Anonymous said...

Just believe what God says. He's the only one who's got the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth! Pray for the scoffers.

Will Deuel said...

As long as liberals insist on rejecting the doctrine of the virgin birth, we will continue to think that they reject the doctrine of the virgin birth. As long as liberals insist on rejecting the resurrection, we will continue to think that they reject the resurrection. As long as liberals insist on rejecting the infallibility of Scripture, we will continue to think that they reject the infallibility of Scripture. As long as liberals insist on rejecting the authenticity of miracles, we will continue to think that they reject the authenticity of miracles.

Thus proving my point quite eloquently and succinctly, because that is exactly what all liberals do. Riiiiiight.

Anonymous said...

Bravo John and Craig! I need to follow Craig's lead and not enter inot such "debates".

Respectfully,
Joseph

John Meunier said...

Here is why I changed over to Wordpress.

I just had this comment "die" for the third time while trying to post it. (Always use the cntrl + c) button before posting.

If we start from two different perspectives of Biblical authority, how will we arrive at a conclusion that we both agree on. I guess we can agree to disagree.

Why does it matter to God if we agree or disagree?

If we proclaim Christ as Lord, follow him, pray and worship in his name, and seek to grow in discipleship, does it matter to God if any two of us agree about history?

Did Jesus ask the apostles what they believed before he asked them to drop their fishing nets? Did he ask Paul?

Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Romans 14:4

Will Deuel said...

Why does it matter to God if we agree or disagree?
Excellent point, Mr. Meunier.

I don't think God gives a rip whether we agree or not. I do, however think God cares how we treat one another when we disagree.

If I were to mischaracterize and misrepresent your opinion so that I could dismiss you and anyone else who disagrees with me, I don't expect that would make God too happy.

Allan R. Bevere said...

John:

I have enjoyed reading the discussion. I posted my own thoughts on my blog. I was simply going to comment on the Methoblog, but it got too long.

Andy B. said...

It is difficult to paint with any nuance when using a broad brush.

I believe the Bible is much too sacred to be read at merely the surface level of an English translation. I have to go deep, dwell in it, wrestle with it, pray about it, read the commentaries, read the original language, etc. And even yet, having done so, I find myself with what would be considered a pretty liberal theology. I hope my perspective is not being dismissed with the assumption that I must not love the Bible enough, or I would be a conservative.

'Cause that's kind of what it sounds like some folks are saying.

David said...

Can someone please define what they mean by "God"?

Is God a disembodied mind? How can you have a disembodied mind?

Second, how do people "sense" God or obtain information about God.

I can see three possible sources of information about the world:

1. Information we observe through our senses

2. Information we deduce through logical inference from number 1.

3. Information from our imagination

The third category is unreliable, but it appears to be from where people gain knowledge of God.

Saying that the Bible gives us information about God is not satisfactory as it begs the question of how the original authors gained their knowledge of God.

I think the above needs to be clarified before the particular doctrines of a particular religion can be accepted.

Craig Moore said...

Andy

I guess the question I have for you is, after reading this sacred book so carefully, do you believe what it says?

Dan Trabue said...

Wow. So much to respond to, so little time.

Mr. Moore said:

"If you do not accept the authority of an inspired and inerrant Bible, then mistakes are everywhere, supernatural events are myths and one's opinion becomes the final authority for truth."

We all acknowledge that the Bible needs to be interpreted, right? We can't take it word for word literally, nor should we. If we did, we'd be killing men who lay with men and disrespectful children, we'd be gouging out our eyes and believing that the earth was created in six 24 hour periods.

We don't follow the Jubilee Laws (although I wish we would, at least in spirit) nor do we pay much attention to biblical commands to overcome evil with good. We wear polyester and all manner of things that the Bible says is wrong.

We ALL agree that the Bible is not to be taken word-for-word literally. We must use our God-given reason to sort out what is analogy, what is time- and place-specific, what is historical but not appropriate for us, what is parable, what is applicable to our lives and what is useful for our instruction.

Am I right?

So, most of us in the church - so-called liberal and so-called conservative - believe God is the ultimate authority, no one is disagreeing there.

The problem is that we - you and I - are entirely fallible. God's Word may be perfect, but we are not.

To be blunt, sometimes we are just plain wrong. It would be arrogant and unbiblical to suggest otherwise.

So, for many of you, it is an obvious and necessary thing to believe that the bible obviously teaches the virgin birth as a reality and as a fundamental of the faith.

But for many of us who believe in the same God and believe God is the ultimate authority, look at that same bible and DO NOT agree with you on this point.

It doesn't mean that we are not christians, nor that you should not talk to us as if we were lepers, or to treat us as enemies of the faith. We just disagree and that's okay.

Now, sometimes we may disagree about some serious matters and may even "break fellowship" over it. The difference (or at least one difference) between those of us that are often called "liberal" and those who self-identify as "conservative" is that our list of issues over which we'd break fellowship is relatively small and tend to be related directly to the words of Jesus (ie, believing Christians can and should participate in hating our enemies, believing that God endorses unfettered capitalism...?) whereas the list for conservatives can be quite large and are more related to church tradition (virgin mary, have to accept an "inerrant" bible, have to believe that homoosexuality is wrong, have to believe that drinking is a sin, smoking, too in some circles, playing cards? gambling? on and on the list goes.)

Or so it seems to me.

tim said...

What I've found perplexing is the tendency by some to assume a priori that certain things the Bible says directly are untrue, and then to "prove" that conclusion by digging deep for indirect evidence from the same Bible. This assumes the implicit reliability of the Bible while arguing that it is explicitly unreliable.

I believe the Bible is divinely inspired, but I'm comfortable with the notion that, being filtered through the memories and minds of fallible men, it has a few factual mistakes of one kind or another. But the Truths of Christianity will be accurately recorded there.

So I accept what the Bible tells me, unless I have a very good reason to believe otherwise. If there's a apparent factual contradiction between two passages, then I can check to see if I've misread or misinterpreted it. If it still seems to be there, then OK, the two writers remember this detail differently.

But I hope I wouldn't read the Bible saying explicitly that Jesus rose from the dead and tell myself, "well, that's obviously false," based only on my preconceptions.

Some scholars seem to place more trust in the subtle offhand comments and barely-remarked-upon actions mentioned in the Bible, than they do on what the Bible says explicitly and clearly. Very odd.

tim said...

One thing on Dan Traube's comment—

Maybe it's not central to your point, but you're mixing up the meaning of "literal."

That we modern or gentile Christians do not stone offenders of this or that part of the Law is not a matter of debating the "literal" interpretation. We're not debating literally stoning someone vs. figuratively stoning someone. (OK, there's an obvious joke waiting to be made, but I'm not going to!)

The issue there, among others, is whether the Mosaic Law applies to gentiles, and if it does, which parts, and even then, does its criminal punishment need to be applied by us, or was it meant for Israel as a nation?

A debate over literalism would be, for instance, whether a "day" in Genesis 1 refers to 24 hours or not. As you correctly cited.

Yes, there's still interpretation whenever you're reading, and there are different levels of figurative speech. For instance, a Fundamentalist (I don't use this term as a criticism) might believe Genesis 1 describes six 24-hour periods of Creation, but he would certainly take Jesus saying "this is my body" as a metaphor.


To everybody in general—

What I find strange about arguments against the virgin birth or the Resurrection is that our most detailed accounts of Jesus come from the Bible. And the Bible very explicitly (and with a lot of detail) says that he was born of a virgin and was resurrected. So if you want to deny these things, why would you accept whatever else the Bible says about Him? Does the Bible contradict itself on these very big matters? Does Luke claim it happened, but Matthew say, "that's hogwash"?

Unless you've got a predisposition to believe that God simply doesn't do miracles. But why would you believe that?

I haven't read the other thread on prophecy, but it seems like the same argument would be at work there. Why would anyone claim that the prophets' divine inspiration was simply made up by later writers? What evidence is there that this happened? If your knowledge of the event is purely from a later writer's account, then you're pretty out of luck for finding contradictory evidence, aren't you?

Keith Taylor said...

I have read this whole thread of comments both here and at the Methoblog.

The first thing that came to my mind after all of this was the following from the Bible in St. Paul's second letter to Timothy.

1: I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;
2: Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
3: For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
4: And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

tim said...

David—

Regarding your three sources of information. Why do you trust what your senses tell you? Do you have another way of gaining information about the physical world that doesn't have to go through your senses?

MethoDeist said...

If it is any consolation, arguments over doctrine and theology are going on in every religion right now including Deism.

However, I think that it is far more important to focus on how we live than what we believe.

As a Deist, I do not believe in the supernatural aspects of Jesus so I focus on how he lived and how he wanted us to live. I do the same with Buddhism and utilize the Eight-Fold Path. Yet, I am not a Christian nor a Buddhist but I can find wisdom and guidance from both.

In neither case am I accepting the theology that has been layed out before me. I have met people that are spirit-filled in every religious group and met those that are not in every religious group. This has lead me to believe that it is far more important to follow the teachings of these great men and women rather than the theology that has come to surrond them.

I know that this means little coming from someone outside of Christianity. I also know that certain doctrinal and theological precepts are vital to many. However, I suggest finding those areas where agreement can be reached and focus on that. Also, most people form groups around those that are like-minded and that is what I have seen among many Christians in regards to these issues.

Finally, I suggest that all add a little dharma in their lives and come to accept that you will rarely change peoples differing opinions simply by discussion and debate. This only brings about dissatisfaction on oneself caused by ones actions and cravings to bring about such change because you so badly want your faith, beliefs and interpretations as being true over theirs.

Instead, accept that they have different views on these issues and keep an open mind and ears so that communication is always there. You will not change them and neither will they change you. However, you can find common ground and work from there.

Accept that you believe based not on evidence but on faith and that they do the same. Respect this and ask for respect in return. I know that many see this as an issue of eternity but one must come to accept that this is ultimately based on faith as well and each must come to their own conclusions on such matters.

Finally, focus on your beliefs and your relationship with Jesus and God as that is what is most important along with loving and forgiving others (part of those two great commandments as I recall).

MethoDeist

Will Deuel said...

An equally fair question for the inerrantists among us:

Have you sold everything you have and given the money to the poor?

Craig Moore said...

Will
I think you need to go back to that verse and study the context it is in. The rich man had just asked Jesus how he could make it to heaven, Jesus replied that he had to obey the commandments. The rich guy said he had. Jesus added an extra one, one that he knew the man had not done. He told him to go and sell all that he had and give it to the poor. The rich guy walked away because he was not willing to do it. The point Jesus was making is this, you will not make it to heaven by following the law, you need something else. This is not a command for all Christians to give away everything they have to the poor.

Belief in the virgin birth and resurrection of Christ is a far different matter.

MethoDeist said...

In true dialogue, both sides are willing to change.

~Thich Nhat Hanh

MethoDeist

Will Deuel said...

Craig,

Did you miss the disclaimer where I pointed out that the question is not fair?

Liberals and conservatives (sorry about the labels, but folks do self-identify that way) are both far too busy building straw-man arguments against each other because that is far easier than actual dialogue and conversation. Especially on blogs and message boards.

Now repeat after me ... not all liberals agree with Spong.

Say that a few times.

Then say this one ... not all conservatives are unreasonable fundamentalists.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Again, I believe God cares less whether we believe the apparently unbelievable than how we treat one another when we disagree and discuss.

When I see a straw-man presented (like John's earlier comment) I will call it out. Then I will repent to God for my own arrogance - which can be abundant and plentiful.

How about we truly believe the unbelievable - that God loves us whether we like it or not, whether we know it or not, whether we deserve it or not.

Dan Trabue said...

"I think you need to go back to that verse and study the context it is in. The rich man had just asked Jesus how he could make it to heaven,"

actually, there are two places in the NT where Jesus says, "sell your belongings and give to the poor."

One is the passage in Matthew referenced here by our brother above. But there's a second time in Luke 12 where Jesus is talking to all his followers:

"Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides.

Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.

Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy."


The point being that we need to take the TRUTHS of the Bible seriously, not the words, literally.

What did Jesus mean when he commanded all of us to sell our belongings? Look at the context. Look at the early church. We need to look at the Bible as a whole and then reason it out prayerfully asking for wisdom.

No one here has a direct phone line to call in which God dictates exact meaning of each passage. We pray for wisdom and sort it out the best we can.

But for some, that makes us feel uncomfortable, the notion that we might have it wrong. It plays against our whole black/white way of wanting to look at things.

Nonetheless, it is reality.

John B said...

The question I think that must be answered in the whole debate is, are there essential beliefs as well as essential actions which anyone who claims to be a Christ-follower must whole to be true? Some writing here have talked about the essential action of loving one's neighbor, pursuing justice and mercy. I don't know any conservatives who would say that Christian shouldn't have to do those things.

However, there are plenty of liberals who say that there are not essential beliefs. And there in lies the problem.

I can as a conservative freely admit that I need to learn from my liberal sisters and brothers a deeper understanding of what it means to pursue justice and mercy. However, the liberals seem unwilling to learn from we conservatives concerning essential beliefs. It's this arrogance that makes dialogue impossible.

Will Deuel said...

John B said: However, there are plenty of liberals who say that there are not essential beliefs. And there in lies the problem.

Where? Who in this debate said anything even remotely resembling that?

John said...

Willie wrote:

Thus proving my point quite eloquently and succinctly, because that is exactly what all liberals do. Riiiiiight.

Willie, if you have a problem with the terms 'liberal' and 'conservative', why did you bring up the subject? I didn't mention those terms in my post at all.

But in awareness that there are differences between these two vague groupings (e.g. Jay Voorhees believes in the Resurrection) and out of respect to Andy Bryan, I'll refrain from using them for this thread.

But if a person says that he denies the Resurrection, can I say that he denies the Resurrection? If a person says that he denies the Virgin Birth, can I say that he denies the Virgin Birth? If a person denies the infallibility of Scripture, can I say that he denies the infallibility of Scripture?

Or would that too somehow be unfair?

John said...

Willie wrote:

Where? Who in this debate said anything even remotely resembling that?

See the comments in the previous discussions on the Virgin Birth (linked at the top of my post) for many, many examples.

John said...

Stephen wrote:

Please tell me how I do that?

From the level of snark in some of your comments, I've long wondered if you had some sort of personal hostility to me -- in a way that I haven't sensed from other Methobloggers. But briefly glancing through your comments in my e-mail copies, I wonder what led me to that conclusion. So I retract the remark.

John said...

Although referring to me as 'mad' comes to mind. Not really accurate. I can advance a theological position without getting emotional about it.

John said...

Does the Bible say anywhere that God did not create a set of Jesus bones (with Jesus DNA) and bury them in Jerusalem after the ascension? Would saying He did that contradict anything explictly written in Scripture?

No, the Bible does not say that God did not create copies of Jesus bones to hide away until millenia could pass for a Hollywood producer to discover them. The Bible also does not say that if I Craig Moore and I dance around in pink tutus to dixieland jazz music that gold dabloons will not pour our of our mouths. He doesn't need to say either for us to know that it's preposterous.

John said...

Why does it matter to God if we agree or disagree?

If we proclaim Christ as Lord, follow him, pray and worship in his name, and seek to grow in discipleship, does it matter to God if any two of us agree about history?

Did Jesus ask the apostles what they believed before he asked them to drop their fishing nets? Did he ask Paul?

Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Romans 14:4


There are so many errors in this statement that I'm not sure where to begin.

It clearly mattered to the epistolary writers, who wrote at length that right belief and right living went hand in hand. They blasted all heresies that served to corrupt the Church.

Were they wrong, John? Were Paul, John, Peter, and Jude wrong to critique false belief? I'd like a direct answer to this question if you would be so kind.

It didn't matter to Paul? Well, as I cited 1 Corinthians in my post, it clearly did matter to Paul: if there was no Resurrection of Jesus, then his followers have no hope.

By the way -- why are you quoting the Bible to support your position if you don't belief in the infallibility of Scripture?

You can't have it both ways, John. If you reject the Bible as God's Word, then you can't cite it as an authoritative text.

Likewise, for other readers: if the Gospels are wrong about a major historical event like the Jesus rising from the dead, then you have no reason to believe that the teachings on justice, mercy, and peace are even remotely, accurately, Jesus'. If there really was a Jesus.

John said...

David wrote:

Can someone please define what they mean by "God"?

Is God a disembodied mind? How can you have a disembodied mind?

Second, how do people "sense" God or obtain information about God.

I can see three possible sources of information about the world:

1. Information we observe through our senses

2. Information we deduce through logical inference from number 1.

3. Information from our imagination

The third category is unreliable, but it appears to be from where people gain knowledge of God.

Saying that the Bible gives us information about God is not satisfactory as it begs the question of how the original authors gained their knowledge of God.

I think the above needs to be clarified before the particular doctrines of a particular religion can be accepted.


Very good questions and points, David. We've gone round and round about this before, and my conclusion is this: belief in God is irrational short of personal empirical experience.

Now for the details of faith, like who is God and what is sin, etc. -- that requires faith in the accuracy of a text, such as the Bible. So our source of information is that text.

Faith, by the way, is an irrational means of the acquisition of information. Nonetheless, one of the presuppositions of the Christian faith is that the Christian Bible is the infallible transmission of God's intended, revealed information in the original texts. This can be kind of fuzzy, because there are many textual variants, words that we don't understand, and different lists of what constitutes the books of the Bible. But acceptance of the Bible on faith is a presupposition of the Christian faith.

David said...

Tim: We trust information through our senses when we have functionally consistent experiences and results. It's a learned response, but very strong evidence that we can trust our sense information. I know that there are optical illusions and other sensory "tricks" that demonstrate some forms of unreliability, but these are nowhere sufficiently of concern to believe that madness is the norm.

I know of no other means to experience the outside world, other than by our sense organs.

I conclude that humans everywhere and for many generations - including back when the bible was written - have the same set of sensory and logical capacity.

We don't see, hear, feel, smell or in any physical way sense God today, nor can we deduce her existence on any rationally acceptable basis.

Why do we think that our ancestors had some special sense of God?

Once again, could the believers here please state how people experience God on a consistent basis. And I don't mean sitting around in a prayer meeting agreeing with the alpha-male evangelical leader.

JD said...

I found a few of the comments interesting about us getting along and isn't it ok to believe diffently but profess Christ. I really find those comments rather troublesome. Of course it is important, as members of the Christian faithN to prefess the same thing. If we do not, then we are not all Christians. There have been a few Church Councils trying to straighten this mess out over the centuries, soecifically the Council of Nicea from which we get the Niciean Creed which most, if not all, at some time or another, have professed in church. If you profess the Niciean Creed, but do not believe the main premises of the virgin birth and resurrection, you either are not Christian, in a sense of the bigger Christian church, or you are a hypocrite. Neither term is a nice one there, I know, but there is a common thread, a set of defining characteristics and history other than Christ that link us together.

That was a pretty tough statement there, but needed to be said to really get to the bigger issue in a lot of this, church tradition and moral relativism. As Christians, we are called to challenge that which is not of God, we are not called to be politically correct. Jesus wasn't.
Besides, just as God is God whether you believe in Him or not, so is the Truth the Truth whether you believe it or not. Sorry to be so caustic, but some of this was really getting under my skin.
PAX
JD

John said...

We don't see, hear, feel, smell or in any physical way sense God today, nor can we deduce her existence on any rationally acceptable basis.

Why do we think that our ancestors had some special sense of God?

Once again, could the believers here please state how people experience God on a consistent basis. And I don't mean sitting around in a prayer meeting agreeing with the alpha-male evangelical leader.


Having moved from atheism to Christianity at 26, I know what you're talking about. It is something like a sensory perception of the divine, but not really expressible in sensory terms, although Christians may use 'saw', 'felt', 'heard' among other more complex terms in Christianese, such as "the moving of the Spirit".

It is a sense that I did not know that was lacking until it was opened.

the reverend mommy said...

Willie,

I think I like the way you think.
My personal view on Scripture would be more like Richard Hays than any other -- the "norming norm" which implies a strong sense of the authority of scripture.

I often get befuddled at these types of discussions, because I feel the real messages of the issues at hand get lost in the rhetoric.

Creation -- literal 6 days? Not? We can argue for hours and lose the message that GOD IS IN CONTROL and CREATION IS GOOD (God said so.)

Virgin Birth -- literal? Not? I don't know! for me the important message is the complete obedience of Mary and her utter willingness to serve. (Would I be so obedient?)

Resurrection (OK, I'm getting tired of the "Well maybe he left his bones behind.") It happened. Period. I don't care what a bunch of goo-goo brained scientists say because the message is that GOD WINS and SIN LOSES.

John, my comment about "Would your faith crumble?" was a rhetorical remark, meant to prod people into thought.

John Meunier said...

You can't have it both ways, John. If you reject the Bible as God's Word, then you can't cite it as an authoritative text.

I don't reject the Bible. I just think that when the couple dozen or more codexes we have that our Bible is based on were written (after decades of oral tradition), preserved, lost, turned into a cannon, and translated in various languages, all those things were done by people who are just as falliable as you and I. None of the apostles were either infalliable or immune from self-contradiction.

And I didn't cite it as authoritative. I just cite it as the words and tradition of the church. If you take Paul's injunction in Romans 14 as ending all debate on the matter - that is your choice.

I'm happy to be told that just because Paul said it doesn't mean it settles all argument on the issue. I still find it useful to think about what he said and why he said it.

My Bible does not come with a contract on the front that says you may not use it unless you accpet its inerrancy. Maybe I missed that part of the preface.

Were the epistolery writers wrong to attack "false" belief?

Of course not. Were they correct about what beliefs were/are false? That is open to interpretation and debate. I for one don't find it offensive that women speak in church. How about you? I think Wilberforce and Wesley were right to oppose slavery. I think it was okay that our Founding Fathers opposed the authorities.

I don't think St. Paul was infalliable when he lived. Apparently neither did Peter or Silas.

I believe in the risen Christ. I pray in his name every day. I do not see why there is any need to have an inerrant view of the Bible to do so.

I am perfectly content to accept that the Biblical authors (editors, translators, collectors, etc.) were simple humans just like me. They have given me a great and powerful testimony of God's actions and God's presence among the community of believers. For centuries Christians (and Jews) have found these texts to be rich and true in the only sense of the word that matters.

I feel sometimes that people who insist that there only two categories - everything in the Bible is absolutely true or it is without any value to faith - are saying faith cannot exist unless it can point to something "true" at its base. It is almost as if faith requires empirical proof to be worth having.

If anyone were to tell me that because I do not find the Bible inerrant then I can't believe in Christ, I would ask, why not?

John Meunier said...

If you profess the Niciean Creed, but do not believe the main premises of the virgin birth and resurrection, you either are not Christian, in a sense of the bigger Christian church, or you are a hypocrite. Neither term is a nice one there, I know, but there is a common thread, a set of defining characteristics and history other than Christ that link us together.

I missed when the UMC became a creedal church.

I missed when anyone but Christ got to say whether I am his servant and follower.

It is interesting that in the above statement its is phrased as "other than Christ." It makes it sounds as if tradition and history are more important than Christ.

I'm pretty sure that is what the Pope told Luther.

And just for clarity here, I'm not arguing against resurrection. I just reject the argument that 1) the Bible is inerrant and/or 2) certain people have an exclusive grasp on the true interpretation of the Bible.

JD said...

John wrote:

"I missed when the UMC became a creedal church."

The United Methodist congregation that I attend recites the creed regularly as a profession of faith. The creed came about for many of the same reasons as these discussions: people not believing in the human and divine nature of Christ, the need for multiple baptisms, etc.

"It is interesting that in the above statement its is phrased as 'other than Christ.' It makes it sounds as if tradition and history are more important than Christ."

Christianity started at creation. Everything that happened to the Jewish people in the OT, all the trials and tribulations that climaxed with God sending His only Son as a final sacrifice for our sins since, no matter what covenant God shared with His people and the promises that He made, we could never get it right is a history that still exists. We are called in the First Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 to continue to follow those obligations as set forth by our forefathers, but not to follow those that our forefathers could not even follow. Thus a restatement of the fact that the law was a guide form God for man to understand His expectations, but should never become an idol as it started to do in the evangelization of the early church.

Tradition and history also bind us together as Christians and just because the world is accepting of the skepticism of the virgin birth or the resurrection, does not mean that we as Christians change history and truth that has been taught in the church for over 2,000 years. A Christian giving in to moral relativism, to me, is even more dangerous than any of these debates that we have.

Lastly:
"I'm pretty sure that is what the Pope told Luther."

It is my understanding in my reading of Luther's life, that, until the day he died, even though he disagreed with the Catholic church on a few things, he was still a practicing Catholic. Luther was a reformer that was also a traditionalist. If I am wrong, I will apologize, but I remember reading that somewhere at one time.

PAX
JD

John said...

John, Romans 14:4 does not support your point of view. It discusses differences over trivialities, not the central event of the New Testament. Paul does not include the Resurrection in this category, as clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 15:12-14. There's simply nothing in the NT to support any claim that Jesus did not rise from the dead, and clear evidence that his Resurrection is critical and central to the Christian faith.

John said...

I missed when the UMC became a creedal church.

Apparently so. Consult The Book of Discipline and examine the documents "The Articles of Religion" and "The Confession of Faith".

Dan Trabue said...

You asked in your addendum:

"If one believes in (1) God, (2) the Bible, and (3) the supernatual, then why would anyone doubt the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, or the various miracle stories of the Bible?"

For at least some of us, it's not a question of whether we believe in these or not, but whether or not belief in them literally is necessary for salvation. To which, at least to me, the correct answer is NO, because there is no biblical reason saying that this is the case.

That is, Jesus never said, "And if you believe my mommy's a virgin, then thou shalt be saved," or, "And, if you believe that Jonah was swallowed by a literal whale - or great fish, I'm not sure which - thou shalt be saved."

The point some of us would make is that some want to pile on rule upon rule - hoops to jump through so that "You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to."

We are saved by God's grace through Jesus and we ought to try to understand who Jesus is so that we're not trusting in a false Jesus. But the way to do that is to read Jesus' words, not rely solely upon religious tradition. After all, Jesus saved his harshest criticism for those in a strongly religious tradition, for those for whom rules mattered over relationship.

the reverend mommy said...

"I reject your reality and substitute my own!" -- Adam from Mythbusters.

I'm leaving this to you guys because OBVIOUSLY we really are going to solve all this here, in the comments section.

I think I'll go do my Bible study, meditate for a while, pray for a while, and think about how I can put into practice the words I'm going to read today. It's the Matthew 16 text "on this rock I will build my church" and all that. I'm going to contemplate how beautiful Christian unity is.

I'm tempted to just lock the lot of you in a room with a bunch of sharp objects.

John said...

John Meunier wrote:

Were the epistolery writers wrong to attack "false" belief?

Of course not. Were they correct about what beliefs were/are false? That is open to interpretation and debate. I for one don't find it offensive that women speak in church. How about you? I think Wilberforce and Wesley were right to oppose slavery. I think it was okay that our Founding Fathers opposed the authorities.


You are conflating Biblical literalism and Biblical infallibility. We may look at Paul's instructions regarding women and judge them culturally or situationally-bound, but we may not deny that he made them. Likewise, we cannot look at the NT and conclude that Jesus did not rise from the dead.

John said...

Dan,

As I've written previously in the context of the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, disbelief in the Resurrection is not causative of a rejection of Christ, but is symptomatic of it. If one believes in God, that the Bible is true, and that supernatural is real, then there is no reason to reject the Resurrection.

A wholesale rejection of the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, and the countless miracle stories of Jesus is essentially agnosticism wearing a fig leaf.

Dan Trabue said...

But that's not true at all in the real world, John. Myself, I don't have a problem with the virgin birth, but it is a non-issue for me. When I read Jonah and the whale, I'm not at all impressed by its reality, but because of its Truths. The greatest miracles to me in Jesus' story, are the miracles of compassion, of seeking justice, of nonviolently and bravely confronting an oppressive system - these are the more essential parts of the story.

A chimpanzee could believe Jesus walked on water and what would that prove?

The supernatural events are absolutely NOT essential for my salvation. Trust in Jesus is. The Jesus of the Bible.

And I am not an agnostic - a person who holds that the existence of the ultimate cause, as God, and the essential nature of things are unknown and unknowable - I believe selfless Love speaks to the reality of God. Seeking Justice for the oppressed - joining in solidarity with the oppressed - speaks to the reality of God. ALL of creation speaks to the reality of God.

I am not an agnostic. Unless you have some other meaning for the word besides what's in the dictionary.

And it's not that I'm opposed to defining essentials of the faith and saying unequivocally that THIS is not of God.

For instance, we know that God is Love. We have been commanded by Jesus to love our enemies, to overcome evil with good.

THIS is an essential of the faith in Christ. Why? Because Jesus said so. Because John and Paul reiterate it. And so, anyone who claims it's okay to hate your enemy or to overcome evil with corresponding evil IS stepping beyond the bounds of Christianity.

On the other hand, no one in the Bible defines accepting miracles as always literal or the virgin birth as essential to the faith. These are added on.

Which is not to say that I don't believe in them, just that their veracity is a non-issue to salvation biblically speaking.

John said...

For instance, we know that God is Love. We have been commanded by Jesus to love our enemies, to overcome evil with good.

Dan, if the writers of the NT couldn't get the Resurrection right, how do we know that Jesus really commanded this?

JD said...

Dan wrote:

"For at least some of us, it's not a question of whether we believe in these or not, but whether or not belief in them literally is necessary for salvation. To which, at least to me, the correct answer is NO, because there is no biblical reason saying that this is the case.
"


I can agree with this statement this way: the belief in these things is not essential to salvation, BUT lack of belief in them puts Jesus into the same category as Buddha, Confucius, or Gandhi...great men with great messages but no means to salvation through grace for our deprived and sinful nature.

Its that old if A=B and B=C then A=C addage that many do not want to look at or give credence to.

PAX
JD

Dan Trabue said...

"how do we know that Jesus really commanded this?"

We don't, do we?

It's all a matter of faith and a bit of reason. We have no objectively factual way of knowing that Interpretation A of a passage or position is "God's Will" and that Interpretation B of that passage or interpretation is Evil.

We have to use our God-given reason to sort things out, prayerfully and in community with our brothers and sisters. There are no certainties that I know of and I don't know how else you could imagine it.

I DO know that one issue with many conservatives is that they LOVE black and white answers. God is Truth and the Way and I think all of creation and history testifies to this, but on any particular point, we have to rely upon a bit of faith.

I mean, your point could be made to even traditional interpretations: "IF Jesus was right when he said we could eat anything, then the OT was wrong and if that's the case, then how do we know ANY part of the Bible is True?"

Or, if science matters to you, the argument can (and has) been made, "IF the world WASN'T created in six literal days, then how do we know anything in the bible is true?"

We don't. We rely upon our reason and faith to work it out the best we can and even then, we ARE going to be wrong sometimes.

What else?

Will Deuel said...

Did Saul's traveling companions hear the voice of Jesus on the Damascus Road?

(Hint: Acts 9, Acts 22)

John said...

Dan, how can a person say that the Gospel writers (1) told wild, fantastic lies about Jesus rising from the dead, healing people supernaturally, walking on water, etc. and at simultaneously accept on faith that (2) Jesus advocated a life of peace, mercy, and compassion?

John said...

Did Saul's traveling companions hear the voice of Jesus on the Damascus Road?

No. And your point is?

Dan Trabue said...

"Dan, how can a person say that the Gospel writers (1) told wild, fantastic lies about Jesus rising from the dead, healing people supernaturally, walking on water, etc. and at simultaneously accept on faith that (2) Jesus advocated a life of peace, mercy, and compassion?"

1. I didn't say they told wild, fantastic lies.

2. It is entirely conceivable that they used story-telling license to get Truth across with less concern for facts because Truth is more important than facts (are the Truths found within Jesus' parables any less valid because they are within parables - ie, fiction?).

3. I accept on faith the words of Jesus that I find within the Bible because they make sense. Because, as I pray for wisdom, they are the Truth that God speaks to me.

Is it possible I'm mistaken? Always, always, always it is possible for any of us to be mistaken. Never take a bet on anyone's infallibility.

But that's true for one who believes that the story of Jonah and the Great Fish is literally true as it is for one who believes that the Truths therein are True, is it not?

My point remains that we all have to interpret the Bible, there is no student guide to tell you which line is a simile, which is a parable, which is historic, which was told with poetic license. We ALL have to interpret the Bible, it seems to me.

Where am I getting that part wrong?

John said...

So you're saying that the original recipients of the Gospels and Acts would have understood the stories about miracles to be parabolic literature, and not actual, historical events?

MethoDeist said...

I personally believe that what is going on here is having a direct bearing on why Generation X is only moderately involved in church and Generation Y is leaving in droves.

These generations are less concerned with theology and more concerned with methodology (practice) and the spiritual experience.

These discussions and debates are interesting but damaging to the church as a whole. Gen X and Y are not really concerned with a virgin birth or physical resurrection.

It seems to me that Conservatives are trying to take the approach that there is only one way these doctrines can be looked at and Liberals are saying that these can be thrown away.

Gen X and Y don't like either approach.

They feel that these doctrines are important so the anything goes approach does not wow them and they want to investigate and develop their own views on these doctrines so the one way or highway approach does not wow them either.

Even worse, many feel that the church is failing on many fronts. Here is an article from Christianity Today that discusses this very issue:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/outreach/articles/ilikejesus.html

Please take a look.

MethoDeist

John Meunier said...

Likewise, we cannot look at the NT and conclude that Jesus did not rise from the dead.

John, can you please show me where I denied the resurrection? I think you are confusing me with other people.

My only points have been about the inerrancy of Scripture. I entered the conversation because assertions were being made that we can't share a religion if we don't share an understanding of the Bible.

I see I have mistated your opinions. You, I take it, see infalliability as a less all-encompassing term.

I have always understood the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy to say that that infalliblity requires inerrancy.

the reverend mommy said...

Preach it Methodeist! Preach it, brother! Amen!

Dan Trabue said...

"Gen X and Y don't like either approach."

Reminds me of a conversation I had with a GenXer who was complaining about how awful churches are because they refuse to accept gays for who they are.

"Not all churches," says I. "My church does not believe that the Bible condemns committed gay relationships."

"How horrible!" she replied. "churches ought to stand for something!"

...?

Dan Trabue said...

"So you're saying that the original recipients of the Gospels and Acts would have understood the stories about miracles to be parabolic literature, and not actual, historical events?"

I'm saying that I, for one, don't know how the original recipients would have understood the miracles. I'm further guessing that they wouldn't have known what to make of the suggestion that belief in a Virgin Mary was part and parcel of Christianity.

"What does that have to do with Christ's teachings?" I imagine them asking.

Dan Trabue said...

Just wondering:

Would it be fair to say that for many more progressive Christians their central tenets tend to float around Jesus' teachings (Love your enemies, beware of materialism and mammon, love your neighbor, do unto the least of these) while for many traditionalist Christians, their central tenets tend to float around suppositions about Jesus and God (virgin birth, Triune nature of God, Jesus' miracles, Jesus' resurrection)?

I think it fair to say that, for the anabaptist tradition that I claim, we believe the latter generally but are more interested in the former.

John said...

I'm saying that I, for one, don't know how the original recipients would have understood the miracles.

Then you can't separate parabolic literature from literal, and therefore can pass no judgments on the meaning or implications of Scripture at all. Right?

I'm further guessing that they wouldn't have known what to make of the suggestion that belief in a Virgin Mary was part and parcel of Christianity.

And how would they have responded to claims that Jesus was not divine, but just a really wise man and overall nice guy who had good things to teach?

John said...

The old canard of "We focus too much on doctrine! But Christianity is about how we live our lives!" This, in my experience, is trotted out now when doctrine is emphasized too much, but whenever it is even mentioned at all.

How we live our lives is important, but doctrine is not wholly unimportant. In fact, doctrine preceeds practice. Who is God? Who is humanity? Salvation, damnation, forgiveness, sin? What are these things? We will have no idea how to act in the world unless we can first know these things.

For example, I recently wrote a post about welcoming convicted sex offenders into the Church. My suggestion that we should do so is rooted in Total Depravity -- that all are sinners saved only by grace, and therefore suburbanite churchgoer is in as desperate need of forgiveness as the sex offender. That Christ died for the forgiveness of all is a presupposition of welcoming sex offenders into church. And that Christ's death has meaning has significance beyond just some random guy getting nailed to a cross is based on Christ being the Son of God -- not only human, but divine as well. And what signs are there of his divinity? His miraculous works, including his birth to a virgin -- clearly a sign of supernatural origin.

But what hope do we have for the future after our bodies decay? We have hope only in that Christ rose from the dead, as Paul stated directly and in very plain language. Our life afterwards is not earned, but a free gift of grace unmerited. And since we all receive it for free and no one can boast of works, all can and should be welcomed in the house of God, including sex offenders.

So orthodoxy preceeds orthopraxis.

Christianity does not end with doctrine, but without doctrine there is no Christianity.

the reverend mommy said...

It's more lex orandi: lex credendi. They go hand in hand. Truly, without orthodoxy, there can be no orthopraxis and with no orthopraxis, there is no orthodoxy.

Will Deuel said...

Saul and his companions - same story told twice.

Acts 9:7 - "The men who were with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one." (NRSV)

Acts 22:9 - "Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me." (NRSV)

Dan Trabue said...

Dan spake:

I'm saying that I, for one, don't know how the original recipients would have understood the miracles.

And John responded:

Then you can't separate parabolic literature from literal, and therefore can pass no judgments on the meaning or implications of Scripture at all. Right?

Um, wrong, I think. Why can I not reason out prayerfully what is sound teaching and what is not?

"But," some will argue, "How will you know what is true and what isn't, without some objective source of truth?!"

The same way anyone knows which passages to treat as similes, parables, applicable, not applicable: Prayerfully with our God-given reason.

I still don't understand what alternative there is to interpreting scripture with our God-given reason (with prayer and the communion of saints)? Has someone answered that and I missed it?

You want to know how to deal with the Jubilee Laws? How do you determine that? You look at the whole of the Bible, pray, reason it through and make your best guess.

You want to know how to love your enemies when those enemies will kill you? How do you know what to do? Should we embrace an eye for an eye teaching or should we turn the other cheek?

You look at the whole and reason it through. What alternative is there?