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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Modern Christian Sophistry

A sophistry is something that looks good, feels good, and sounds really good...so good that it becomes an absolute truth for long periods of time, deeply impacting culture, before people realize that it's just wrong and they have to let the idea go. A sophistry stops all progress until it is exposed. One example in our own history in the U.S. is that black people are not fully human, so it's OK to buy and sell them on the open market. One of the biggest sophistries in the world today is promoted by the global Christian church. It is the evangelical belief that the Bible is inerrant, that there is no error in the Scripture, that all ideas expressed are those of God Himself.

The belief that there can be no human content or cultural bias in the writing of the Bible is just wrong. To continually aver that the Bible is perfect, inerrant, and always reflects God's current view of the world sounds so good, so pious, so holy, so heroic...and is always rewarded with amens and "well said" from all the brethren with whom we want to stay connected and by whom we want to be admired. But if Jesus is the way, the TRUTH, and the life, how can clinging to a pious sophistry further the life of the soul? What it really does is make the church irrelevant in our day and age. It makes God look retroactive and unappealing. It overlooks the dynamic for growth and change that is embedded into the Scriptures that allows the message, like a new wine skin, to change shape over diverse times and cultures. Divesting ourselves of the doctrine of inerrancy does mean that we have to think about our theology a little more. It means that we can't default to former cultures, even those depicted in the Bible, to express God's message to our world. We do not need to treat our wives, daughters, and women like the leaders of the first century church did. We do not have to love our wives as Abraham loved Sarah. We have to gain the mind of Christ, define how His love plays out in our era, and model a love that speaks to our decade.

One of the first things that would change is how the church defines women in leadership and in the home. We would have to reconsider whether a woman needs the 'covering' of a man in order to stay spiritually strong and acceptable to God. Such a doctrine does disservice to the blood and redemption work of Jesus Christ. It is also unnecessarily demeaning to women, as if they are intrinsically defective in some way. Historically, there are too many examples of strong Christian women who supported their families in prayer, putting that female intercessor in the place of "high priest." The fact is, evangelicals are proud of proclaiming the fact that Jesus is our High Priest and none other. Paul proclaimed the man as the head of the woman in an era in which a woman had no rights or public presence. Because of such pronouncements, it wasn't until 1920 that women could vote. The women fighting publicly for the right to vote were beaten, ridiculed, and persecuted. I'm sure many a good preacher vilified them from the pulpit, using Scripture to back their claim that those women are out of proper order.

If we acknowledge that God speaks through His messengers in a voice and at a level of knowledge which is appropriate for the era of the message, we could also reconsider how literally we should read Genesis 1. The difference in tone between Gen. 1 and 2 would be more recognizable, as would the progression of creation events, which vary in the two documents. The name of God changes three times in the early chapters of Genesis. Psalm 104 would be added to the creation epic. All would be recognized for what they are, theological poetry. If we could step back and appreciate the exalted language and the simplification of concepts, the debate between religion and science would be greatly diminished.

I personally do believe that the Bible is perfect. It is a perfect reconstruction of mankind grappling with new revelations and old traditions. Haggai's name, which means "my wrestling," is a good alternate moniker for the entire biblical message. Men and women continually have to wrestle with God and with each other and with the enemy of our souls to properly interpret and re-communicate God's message to the contemporary world.