The Persuasive Language of Bible Critics

Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World This is one outstanding book: Truth Matters by A. Kostenberger, D. Bock, and J. Chatraw.  It is basically an explanation of the current attacks on Scripture (by professors and authors such as Bart Ehrman) and a reasonable, biblical answer to these attacks.  While it is aimed at college students, I’m sure all Christians can benefit from this book.

Speaking of the current attacks on Scripture, in Truth Matters the authors point out some ways that the critics – like some professors in religious departments – often gain an ear and open the door for skepticism of Scripture.  Here are a few ways critics throw doubt on the validity and canonicity of Scripture:

“First, they speak your language.  Ehrman, for example, comes at you with a story – very compelling – of how he gravitated toward Christian belief as a needy teenager, not far distant  from the age and life experience of his college students.  …What the church had done temporarily to satisfy his adolescent insecurities, he eventually found satisfied by academia and intellectual pursuits, until suddenly – finally – life began to make a lot more sense.  Of course the Bible is a man-made document, he reasoned.  Of course God can’t be who the Bible claims him to be.  Of course a man can’t come back from the dead….  [Ehrman gives a] moving, personal story line, and the whole mood of the room changes.  Guards and defenses come down.  Now people are listening.  Sympathizing.  Laughing.  …[However, we must remember] an appealing narrative does not negate the role of truth as being the ultimate arbiter between competing lines of thought.”

“Second, they know you’ve probably never contemplated these ideas before.  The average person hasn’t invested a lot of time dwelling on the Bible’s origins or scouring the history pages of Christianity.  They only (or mainly) know what their personal experiences with God have been like…. [The agnostic professor] becomes the witty tour guide, showing the students around some fields of subject matter loaded with new sights and sounds and far more fascinating on the inside than they typically appear from the outside.  The problem is that the tour guide… is in the enviable position of being able to choose the places you visit and what he wants to highlight about each one.  As a result his rhetoric and interpretations of religious material all too often conceal a lot more than they reveal.  And few if any in the classroom know enough to know the difference.  For example, one of the things you really notice in Ehrman’s writings – if you’re looking carefully – is that he rarely acknowledges counterarguments to his own positions.  His treatments of issues are usually far more one-sided than the real discussion that’s taking place out here in the broader arena of religious scholarship.”

“Third, they comfort and confirm an air of disbelief.  We live in an age when about the only belief you’ll be frowned upon for having is one that doesn’t allow for complete diversity, in which everyone’s chosen ways lead to ultimate truth.  Their truth. …[Today,] tolerance swallows up truth.  So when your professor injects his or her brand of skeptical sarcasm into the discussion, they are speaking to a friendly court.  They sound reasonable, especially now that you’re out on your own, out from under your parents’ eye and expectations.  [These professors] will want you to know that it is OK to doubt your faith, and they’ll say things like “everybody agrees with this view that I’m teaching.”  The fact is, plenty of credible scholars have looked at the same arguments your professor may be making and arrived at far different conclusions. You are not as alone as some would have you think.”

“Finally, they reinforce the view that faith is at odds with reason.  Much of their appeal depends on the common misunderstanding of what faith means – a mere personal preference, neither expecting nor requiring it to be grounded in reason, logic, and historical realities.  Faith [they say] is just something you accept.  It doesn’t need to be burdened with making rational sense.  It just…is, because I believe it to be.  Real faith, however, does not need to be blind.  Believing in Christ and accepting the Bible as his true Word is not automatic anti-intellectualism.  The Bible doesn’t ask us to adopt a BLIND faith but a REASONED faith – a faith that can honestly ask the hard questions and then go out in search of real, measurable, credible answers.”

Those are helpful points!  Sometimes skeptics can really be convincing when they try to make the case that the Bible is unreliable and full of contradictions.  But their arguments aren’t perfect; in fact, quite often they are very poor arguments.  I highly recommend this book for those of you wrestling with these things: Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World.

(Note: the above paragraphs were edited versions of a longer discussion found in chapter 1 of Truth Matters.)

shane lems

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