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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

Our crew here isn't composed of people who have the same views about inerrancy; my own view has caused some dyspepsia among those with more, ah, fundamental views. But calling that doctrine a heresy is pretty extreme. Over the next two weeks I'll share a 2013 item I wrote about someone who does exactly that.


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A reader requested that we examine the book The Ultimate Heresy by Rodger Cragun, which we will do in two installments over the next two issues. The peculiar stance of this book is that the concept of Biblical inerrancy is a heresy.
Cragun, not surprisingly, has more than a few problems with his approach and overall theory.


First, Cragun spends an inordinate amount of time -- about half of the book -- showing from the Bible itself that the Bible is never called "the Word of God, " and showing that the phrase, when used, refers to something else, like a single specific prophecy.


Really now.


For those who may have missed it, I discovered that without Cragun's help some time ago:



The Bible as "Word of God." KNM has insisted that Skeptics have "always" as their "underlining (sic) issue" whether the Bible is the Word of God. I have replied that this is not my own focus in argument; I concern myself rather with whether the Bible's contents are true, logical, or practical. If it is on all counts, then it being the "Word of God" is simply, as it were, a cherry on top, but contributes nothing new in utilitarian terms.


A relevant observation here is that designating the Bible to be the "Word of God" is itself a post-Biblical phenomenon. An apostle or prophet who heard that phrase would not have thought of a book, but rather, of the transcendant thoughts and words of YHWH. It could certainly have not meant the whole Bible prior to its completion and compilation, and when the phrase “word of God” is used in the Bible, it always means some specific prophetic utterance, or some message (like the Gospel).


This would of course include what is within the contents of the Bible; but as well, "Word of God" implies a universality of application that simply is not true of much of the text. In precise terms, for example, the book of Zephaniah could be said to report the words of God TO Zephaniah concerning judgment on specific nations. As I have noted many times, this is symptomatic of modern Sunday School lessons that strive mightily to make even books like Leviticus applicable to modern life -- which is a mistake.


In that respect, while we may not necessarily find it fruitful to abandon "Word of God" as a designation for the Bible as a whole, and I would not advocate doing so because of the confusion it would cause at this late date, it does represent an anachronism that should be clarified. In a proper technical sense, the collection we call the Bible represents two collections of covenant documents, and so "Old Testament" and "New Testament" are actually more precise and helpful than "Word of God".


And so, as I have told KNM, the concern should not be, "is the Bible the Word of God." More than that, it should not even be whether it is "from God," but rather, the more basic questions of whether it is true, logical, practical, and so on as applicable. The former way is a carryover, I suspect, of the work of well-meaning evangelists and teachers (like Billy Graham) who were accustomed to being able to invoke the Bible as "the Word of God" and get immediate respect and authority. It worked well for a time, but it no longer does. But if we show that the Bible is true, then one is able to open the door to the possibility that God’s messages have in some way been transmitted in the text as a medium.


To illustrate, one might say that this posting is the “word of JPH” or “from JPH.” But the truth of the post does not in any way depend on it being MY word, as opposed to that of, say, Tekton ministry associates like Nick Peters or “Punkish." If you decide my "word" here is true -- you can worry about whether it is from me later...or even not at all, if you choose.


Not that any of this matters, since it is hard to see what point Cragun thinks he is proving in the first place. While some modern preachers may use the shorthand phrase, "the Word of God," to refer to the Bible, only an infantile Christian would fail to see that to use this as an argument that the Bible is the Word of God is circular reasoning. Thus, in essence, Cragun spends about half his book knocking down an exceptionally infantile argument.


A far better "argument" for inerrancy -- though more of a common sense notion than an actual argument -- would be a syllogism Cragun presents all too briefly:
  • God is perfect.
  • What God thinks is perfect.
  • From that which God thinks He reveals to people.
  • What He reveals to people must therefore be perfect.
  • Unfortunately, Cragun doesn't deal with this syllogism except to dismiss it as, "Aristotelian logic." The last I checked, though, logic did not function only in Aristotle's presence. Nor did the Hebrews have their own brand of logic proffered by someone else. Notions like cause and effect were not inoperable in ancient Israel. So, what Cragun thinks is the point in his citing of "Aristotelian logic" is hard to say.


    In the end, Cragun's screed against inerrancy is a straw man. Even if the Bible was not inspired, it contains multiple truth claims that would remain to be evaluated and argued for or against. As we shall see next issue, however, arguing the virtues of individual passages is precisely one of the most difficult tasks for Cragun, and to that extent he is also using the shortcut of the designation of the Bible as the "Word of God" in much the same way as the fundamentalists he so decries.


    Another aspect of Cragun's case amounts to this, if I may dare to frame it in Aristotelian terms:
  • The Bible contains X horrible thing, and also some of these horrible things hurt my feelings or offend me.
  • Therefore the Bible is not inerrant.
  • Here again, however, robust failure is Cragun's chief methodology. The second half of the book contains many more examples than the first half, so we will save coverage of particulars for next issue. For now, let it only be said that in each case, Cragun ironically reads the Bible just like the very inerrantists he decries -- devoid of context and definition.


    We might also note an error from earlier in the book, one that exemplifies Cragun's ineptness as a researcher. In one place, Cragun makes the naive statement that, "Some of the bloodiest humanity's conflicts have been religious." [1] Really? In reality, religion has been behind very, very few wars. It was certainly not behind any of the major wars of the 20th century. Here, Cragun is like the ignorant stockbroker in Crichton's Timeline who has to be told that the Hundred Years' War wasn't religious, because everyone at the time was Catholic, and Protestants hadn't invented themselves yet.


    We should also mention another variation on Cragun's theme, which goes to the heart of why he thinks inerrancy is a heresy. Basically, he believes that inerrancy has caused people to enforce the Bible's horrible teachings, and indicates that if it were not for inerrancy, we wouldn't be doing intolerant things like opposing gay marriage. He also, rather foolishly, blames inerrancy for the creation of many divisions in the church. In this, Cragun has fallen for the naive approach of blaming the instrument for the acts of the person using the instrument. It does not occur to him that even a believer in an errant Bible can deem the Bible authoritative on select points. After all, even Cragun himself uses the Bible in an authoritative way to argue that it does not call itself "the Word of God." And so, Cragun's designation of inerrancy as a "heresy," even if correct, would be nothing more than a simple-minded band-aid solution that would shift, not erase, the problem that he alleges is occurring.


    A final point for this round is that Cragun tackles the sort of "inerrancy" that is also devoid of context, which we have previously condemned from authors as notable as Dr. Norman Geisler. How he would handle a more informed and contextualized rendition of inerrancy is difficult to say. The one thing we can say is that he is apparently too busy being offended to bother to look for alternatives.




    1 comments:

    Word up! {g}

    I would add that, at least as far back as the Aramaic Targums, the Memra (word) of God also became another way of talking about God Himself, with the phrase being used to replace direct references to God in the Jewish scriptures, although in a way that sometimes involved two persons of God somehow (probably following the example of references to YHWH occasionally involving two personalities or persons).

    Obviously this gets imported strongly into the New Testament via GosJohn (the opening verses of the prologue are essentially a reference to Aramaic Genesis); but it shows up in other texts, too. Luke, on examination, is certainly using "logos of God" as a title for Jesus in his address to Theophilus; and Paul (a little more arguably) is using it as a title for Christ in Romans 10 when talking about no one having to bring the word down from heaven or up from the abyss.

    I pretty much now read "word of God" in the NT as referring to Jesus (as God's second person) even outside GosJohn unless the context clearly specifies something else -- most examples aren't decisive one way or another, but testing the theory has been fruitful sometimes.

    JRP

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