Sunday, June 28, 2009

Defending the authority of the Word

As I grew up in a homeschool family, educated by faithful, conservative Christian parents, my learning included a lot of education in Creation science. Teaching in this vein is enthusiastically received by many who have been and are being equipped to respond to the intellectual challenges of our post-Darwin world. When scientists with degrees put together observations to craft sound arguments for a worldview that falls in line with the Genesis account, we find new courage to face an establishment of scientific scholars and professional educators who adamantly insist that evolutionary theory answers the question of human origins and treat anyone who dares to bring up other options as ignorant obscurantists. I am grateful for those who have worked hard to show that the Bible and science are not irreconcilable.
At the peak of the modernist assault on Christianity, fundamentalists had to respond to the great assertion that "science has proven the Bible wrong."(And even those of us who cringe at that term and quickly substitute terms like "evangelical" that have less negative stereotypes attached would have been proud to call ourselves fundamentalists in that day.)Marshaling the scientific evidence for a created world rather than an evolved world to show that it's not quite so ridiculous as scientific scholars and scholars of higher criticism would have you think. I heard enough good lectures during my formation as a thinker that it's pretty natural to my mind to take Genesis 1 at face value and accept the days as literal days. I'm glad we can have confidence that in accepting the Bible we are not throwing all intelligence out the window. I prefer reasoned faith to blind faith. (Sorry, Kierkegaard)I hope that we have come far enough that we can now hear sermons from texts about the glory of God's creation that focus on the text and what it conveys about God's power and majesty. The text of Genesis is not meant to be a springboard into a lecture on creation science, and the figurative language of poetry about nature is meant to paint pictures on the canvas of your mind, not describe scientific realities.
Even as many struggle to break the stalemate in the battle to allow teachers in public education (at any level) to question evolutionary theory, new challenges to the authority of scripture come up. The most popular objection in my experience has been that the Bible we have "isn't really what was written. How do we know what's been changed from the original?" So wonderful...just when Christian (and non-Christian) thinkers are putting together some really good arguments against evolution so that I can hold to inerrancy and not be viewed as complete ignoramus because I accept the Creation account, the objection changes to something that does a complete end-run around that issue. My neatly-wrapped package of ideas - the original documents of Scripture were inerrant, and plenty of credible scientists are fine with its account - has been unwrapped and the contents tossed aside as unconvincing and uninteresting. In this case, why does it matter that the autographs were innerant? Nobody has any idea what they actually said, because surely the text was corrupted and changed and selectively edited since then.
The generational thinking that caused the questions to change is fascinating to watch. Modernity said, "Progress, new ideas, and new research have the answers." So when Darwin's new research came out, this gave a clear basis for rejecting the Biblical account. The truly intelligent people went with the new, scientific answers. The Bible simply wasn't new enough to keep up with intellectualism.
When perspectivalism shook up some of the tenets of modernism, along with it came a craving for that which is authentic, pure, and back to the original. Now the Bible isn't quite old enough to be accepted. A.D. 367? Athanasius, you're a cool guy, but you lived a little too long after Jesus, Peter and Paul to really be able to say what their teachings were like. Then you get hundreds of years of medievial catholicism holding responsibility to preserve the text. What could have happened then? If I don't eat all that processed food because it's full of preservatives, covered with high fructose corn syrup, and touched up with synthetic dye instead of locally-grown, organic real food, why would I take anything less than the very parchment on which Luke scrawled his historical accounts as real, authentic, from-the-source revelation? Tell me about autographs being inerrant all you want...blah blah do you know all the other gospels written weren't the actual authentic ones?
Okay, I've written enough to raise this question. More thoughts to come...


kwihee said...

oooh, this will be interesting. i look forward to reading your next post.

Austin said...

You may say this later, but I will lend my two cents.
When talking to others about the accuracy of the Bible text (i.e. textual criticism), I have to concede that we don't have the original manuscripts. Our oldest manuscripts are decades to centuries from the original. This may fuel the suspicions of some, but that is the truth. The best argument I have for the preservation of the text of God's message is a theological one: If humans need revelation from God and God has given it, then wouldn't God ensure that the text is preserved and that humans are able to apprehend it and transmit it to others? It really does come down to faith, assurance and conviction. Those who are already outside of faith may not be convinced because we lack the originals, but we who believe trust in God to communicate.
Anyway, I realize that you may be taking this thought in another direction (since you are relating this to our current fanfare for that which is authentic and original), but perhaps you will go in this direction on your next post.
By the way, you must check out before writing your next post: you can view the entire Codex in detail, page by page! A nerd's dream come true!