Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Opening the Faith to Examination

Much has been written in response to the recent Newsweek article by Kurt Eichenwald, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.” So much so, that the various and obvious mistakes and oversimplifications by the author have been revealed and the article itself shown to be, fundamentally, a screed. But if the article is useless in actually understanding the ins and outs of biblical interpretation and translation, it may be ironically useful in highlighting a virtue of the Christian faith.

It is often argued that Christianity is believed on faith (faith defined as ‘against good reasons’), and is thus fundamentally anti-intellectual. It is said that if Christians would only open their minds to reason, skepticism, and science they will see the error of their ways. The Christian, in short, does not think and their faith is ripe for the shredding. When push comes to shove, however, it turns out that Christianity is open to rational investigation and the current trend of anti-Christian skepticism and New Atheism is a closed loop of fundamentalism.

In his Vital Magazine article, “Who’s Misunderstood,Newsweek?”, George P. Wood makes this point, “Yes, I want to take Eichenwald to task for some of the unfounded things he wrote in this article. But I also want to listen to him. My friend Craig S. Keener once said, ‘When we fail at self-critique, God sometimes raises up outsiders to help us (gently or not).’ Might Eichenwald—despite the many errors of fact and judgment in his piece—nonetheless be raising some important questions?” George follows this up with a set of questions worth asking and answering as well as we can.

He is right to note both things: Eichenwald’s article is an intellectual embarrassment, and the Christian faith still takes the challenge and the questions seriously. As a matter of theology and history – principle and practice – the Christian faith is an open book. Quite literally our book has been open to scrutiny and study since day one and anyone who tells you differently has not done their homework. Christian theologians have opened their formulations to scholarly and practical criticism. This necessary virtue of the Christian faith can be summed up in the questions, “Is it true?” and “Does it make sense of life?” The fact that plenty of Christians and individual churches have embraced blind faith does not negate our actual theology and historical practice.

The Christian famously believes that all truth is God’s truth, thus the believer should not be afraid of questions and differing points of view. If an issue is raised that the Christian does not know what to do with, I guarantee someone else has. Most challenges to the Christian faith are nothing new, so they have been answered in one form or another for hundreds of years by some of the world’s leading thinkers. If the challenge comes from a new corner of science or philosophy, the Christian only needs to draw on the deep well of current, credible resources.

The Christian also believes that their faith will be refined and strengthened the closer to the truth they come. We believe deeply in truth and the existence of a God who is the very ground of being, so it is important for us to come closer and closer to our God. In his epistles, Paul consistently commends knowledge of God (Greek, scientia) to his readers and says that it is vital for their growth toward Christ. The Old Testament has an entire genre of literature called Wisdom Literature which commends both intellectual knowledge of God and wise living in the ways of God. Thinking and living in the open air of investigation is in the Christian’s blood.

In stark contrast, the current form of atheism is like two of the three famous monkeys sitting on a fence. Their hands are over their eyes so they will not see other points of view, their hands are over their ears so they will not hear criticism of their own views, but their mouths are wide open.

No comments: