Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Plenty to Lose

The Huffington Post is not exactly the best source for Biblical scholarship, and a recent item by David Lose giving four reasons to not "take the Bible literally" is illustrative of why. From the beginning, Lose makes the same error as many of those he criticizes for taking the Bible literally -- namely, he treats "the Bible" as a unified composition.

When Lose speaks of taking "the Bible" literally, he falls for the idea that each of the Bible's 66 books is of a single genre and purpose. To that extent, it is not even an operative question to ask, "Should be take the Bible literally?" Rather it should be asked, first, what parts are meant to be taken literally? Then we may ask whether those parts that are meant to be taken literally should be. Lose apparently has no idea about this necessary step.

In that light, Lose's four reasons for not reading the Bible literally are already misplaced. But let's have a look at them anyway.

1) Nowhere does the Bible claim to be inerrant. -- To a fair extent this is correct, and Lose does well to note that not even 2 Tim. 3:16 is that strong a passage for the inerrancy doctrine. However, he fails when he says, "one can confess that Scripture is inspired by God without resorting to claims that it contains no factual errors." Although I agree with him that "inspiration" was something closer to what we mean wen we say a work of art is inspired, it is difficult to maintain (unless we are open theists) that God was the inspiration source and yet error was part of that process.

In that respect, Lose is no better than the literalists he is criticizing: He sees the matter in black and white, without respect for a mediating position.

2) Reading the Bible literally distorts its witness. -- Meaning what? Lose hauls in a couple of the standard canards (the cleansing of the Temple and the date of Jesus' crucifixion -- issues we have resolved before) and from there proceeds to suggest that there was not an intention to record history, but theology.

Now in one sense this is correct, as we have noted in recent replies concerning Norman Geisler: if indeed the intent was not to record history, then it is absurd to demand that a text accord with history. That said, Lose is as uncritical as his literalist counterparts in being too ready and willing to accept that a text isn't meant to record history; or that a text can report theology mutually exclusive of reporting history.

As it is, Lose merely pays lip service to such solutions as we propose, claiming that "such an effort distorts their distinct confession of faith by rendering an account of Jesus' life that none of the canonical accounts offers." But that is a contrivance, for two reasons. First, as noted there is no exclusivity between providing a confession of faith and reporting real history. Second, since the Gospels are indeed mere windows onto a much larger and extended history that is not recorded, it is absurd to object that such resolutions produce a history not found in any of the gospels.

And so it is, once again, that Lose is no better than the literalists he criticizes, sticking by his guns for his preferred reading of the text while producing lame contrivances as an avoidance tactic to prevent considerations of more sophisticated readings of the text.

3) Most Christians across history have not read the Bible literally. -- This is where Lose's treatment of "the Bible" as a monolith becomes most obviously problematic. He gives examples not of "the Bible" but of one specific story only (eg, Jonah and the whale), which some did not take literally. But beg pardon -- that story is perhaps .02% of what we call "the Bible," and what sort of person thinks that providing one specific and tiny example allows for an extrapolation to a whole?

That's right -- the sort of literalists Lose is criticizing.

4) Reading the Bible literally undermines a chief confession of the Bible about God. -- Meaning what? Lose reads off a litany of moral failures by Biblical authors, and from this extrapolates a conclusion that this means the Bible itself ought to be flawed too. This, again, though, is Lose falling prey to the fundamentalism extremism he decries. he says:

...literalists unwittingly ascribe to the Bible the status of being "fully human and fully divine" that is normally reserved only for Jesus.

No, sorry, that's that black and white mentality again. How about: "Fully accurate but not divine"? It's not that hard to produce an inerrant text. Watch:

2 + 2 = 4

Now just repeat that as many times as needed. And that's without divine inspiration.

It's rather amusing that Lose closes with an appeal to readers to share "your experience with the Bible and sense of its nature and authority." As if some average, everyday Joe reading the Huffington Post is the best source for deciding what the Bible's "sense of authority" is? Why not instead write to some qualified scholars who understand its social, literary, and historical context?

Welcome to the Wikipedia Generation. It's a generation of Lose-ers.

1 comment:

  1. Oh if you think the Huffington Post is bad just go to CNN. I think they're just as or even more unabashedly anti-christian than the Huffington post. The sad thing is alot of people actually apostasize, because of some lame crap they see on the news. Dang Media.