Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Infallible word of God..?

This morning I re-tweeted the following:

If you don't have an infallible Bible, you have a Stepford God.
from @dailykeller - Quotes from Tim Keller, and I was challenged on it, by a Christian and a non-Christian.
The Christian suggested:
...Or does believing in an infallible Bible produce Stepford Christians? What does an infallible Bible mean anyway?

and the non-Christian:
with absolute respect to you, I have to ask- do you really consider the bible infallible? Every verse?

Interesting comments... So I felt my responses too long to tweet and here we are:

So, yes I do believe in an infallible bible. I believe it is the Word of God, given to those who wrote it out. However what I don't believe is that everyone who reads it, and therefore interprets it, is infallible. I also believe it is important to look at the context surrounding when things were written. So I wouldn't take a passage deliberately out of context to prove a point. If I did, then I would not be going through the discernent process because Paul says: I do not permit  a woman to teach, or to have authority over a man... (1 Tim 2:11)
If I did, then  I would not wear mixed fibres (as stated in Leviticus 19:19)
If I did, then I would have been cut off from my people, several times...! (see Leviticus 20:18)

In terms of Kellers quote above, I think he was saying that if we don't believe that the bible is the God-breathed word of God, then we put God into a mould that we have made for him. We make him in our image rather than the other way round. We have a God that ticks a lot of boxes but isn't capable of much. and I don't believe in that kind of God. I believe in a God that is not going to fit into any box that we could ever make for him. He is far bigger, wider, stronger and mysterious than we can ever imagine.

I think there are 'Stepford Christians' out there and they are the ones who just accept everything they read or hear without addressing whether that sits comfortably with them for themselves. They are the ones who when questioned cannot engage with the question and get all defensive about their faith. I'm not knocking that, some people are happy to have that kind of faith, they don't want to question stuff. Personally I'm not, and I love being challenged on stuff because it makes me think. 

Love to hear what others think...

PS: on twitter I am @redjules


Charlie said...

Infallibility is a slippery term, and it can be interpreted to suit what the speaker believes about the Bible. Generally speaking though, when used it is associated with "inerrancy", which again is open to interpretation but most people understand to be to do with a literalistic intepretation.

Thus most inerrantists would disagree with you about Paul and women, for example, and would certainly not accept your lumping 1 Timothy in with Leviticus 19.

I personally prefer the terms "authority" and "sufficiency" to describe an evangelical understanding of scripture. They are more theologically rigorous terms than infallibility and inerrancy, and save us from having to defend the indefensible.

PS. Can you explain what the Keller quote means? I don't get it.

Perpetua said...

In that case I'm afraid I'm a Stepford Christian, Red, as I don't believe the Bible is infallible in the way you define it. Inspired by God, yes, but not dictated. It was written by fallible human beings who were seeking to express their search for and discovery of God, but that every aspect of it is infallible? No. I could go on, but a blog comment isn't the place for a theological essay.

Incidentally I had to Google Tim Keller to find out who he is. I'm afraid I've never heard of him and am not sure what he actually means by the quotation you give.

Red said...

Thanks for the comments :)
info about Tim keller here - his blog: http://redeemercitytocity.com/profile/user_blogs.jsp?from=blog&REDEEMERUSER_param=40
He is pastor of a large church in New York and author/speaker.
Sorry I should have clarified that earlier, was writing in a hurry!

@Charlie yes true, infallibilty is a difficult term and I am sure others might interpret it differently, but I see it as you suggest as being unerring, it cannot be wrong, it is Gods word, so it cannot be wrong, but as I said it is how we take it, what we take it to mean that can be so easily mistaken. How do you mean about inerrantists and Paul? Do you mean that they would think it is unacceptable for women to teach/lead? I know the Leviticus passage and Timothy very different but that was my point, that one can take things out of context and say they mean something specific, rather than looking at the wider passage or context. And yes 'authority' and sufficiency' are better terms, I would agree, but I was responding in this case to the keller quote...
I did say above what I thought he was saying but of course that is my interpretation!
@Perpetua I think you misunderstand me with the Stepford Christians line, again that was in response to the quote, I was referring to those who don't question anything, just accept all that they hear/read so become clones of the particular preacher or writer... And I would not put you in that bracket!

As above I did say what I think Keller means, but that isn't to say I was right! Perhpas he means something totally different! will tweet him and see if he responds... watch this space :)

Lesley said...

Surely this is merely assertion that the Bible is infallible? How can you possibly claim that? The bible doesn't make that claim about itself.

We have our mind, our experiences, the Holy Spirit and the witness of other Christians, so it is rubbish that if we don't believe in the infallibility of the Bible we make God in our own image.

Then what does infallibility mean? The bible tells us that if a man rapes an unmarried woman he has to marry her. What does that mean in an infallible Bible?

Charlie said...

Hi Red, sorry I didn't read your post carefully enough. Keller is one of the most thoughtful of the US mega-pastors. I guess his point is that our attitude to the Bible mirrors our attitude to God himself. I would still argue that infallibility is a very unhelpful concept, being hitched to dubious assumptions about "right" and "wrong" in this context. I have endless debates with people who cannot understand why I am not a 7 day creationist, because it says in the Bible that God made the world in seven days, so it must be right.

My point about Paul is that inerrantists would stick to the literal sense of 1 Timothy, ie. women cannot teach in the church, full stop. I suspect this is not your position. They tend not to have much time for context when it comes to interpreting verses like that.

Cat said...

I think I read Keller's quote in the same way you did Red. I don't know whether he has replied to you on Twitter?

I found an interesting conversation about the bible and how we use it and if its authoritative etc Tim Keller is in this conversation. I dont know whether it will help, but it will probably bring up questions more then answers! hehe


Red said...

thanks all.
@lesley yes I can possibly say that actually! Just because something doesnt claim to be on thing, it doesn't mean it is not that thing... And for me, whilst I am still discovering so much in the bible, I have to accept that it IS Gods word, otherwise why read it? why believe in the God of the bible if we don't accept it as Gods word? Yes we do have the Holy Spirit, our experiences etc as you mention, but what do we align those things to? Isn't the bible the thing that brings all those things together and how we weigh up what is and isn't of God? I cannot possibly say what the bible means on rape (as above) or many other things, there is so much of it I don't understand and hey theologians debate this stuff constantly, but that doesn't mean I disregard it because I don;t always understand what it is saying. Again I make the point that it is not the bible that is infallible but they way we interpret it - in the clip Cat highlighted(thanks for that) both Alister McGrath and Bryan McLaren make the same point about human interpretation, and there are several examples cited of where people have used the bible to make their own agenda respectable.

@Charlie you suspect right!

@Cat no reply from keller sadly, I am too small a fish I suspect! Thanks for the link, very interesting, I am halfway through..

Lesley said...

Hi Red, the term 'infallible' in theological circles is normally not used merely in the context of the Bible being God's Word, which pretty much all Christians would agree about nor in the context of disregarding it, which I think pretty much all Christians across the spectrum would not do.

Those who believe that the Bible is 'infallible' generally would be the most right wing ultra-conservatives who solely use the rules of the Bible with which to draw their ethics. So unlike Jesus who uses Rules, Values and Results for ethics, they use Rules irrespective of what suffering that brings.

Those who speak of the infallibility of the Bible would deny any human influence from the author, saying it is pretty much dictated. They would scorn the careful literary criticism that show that different authors had different beliefs about God. They would say that the parallel passages in Kings and Chronicles that contradict each other actually don't contradict each other because of some amazing intellectual gymnastics. They take an all or nothing view of the Bible needing it to be 'literally true' and not merely 'true'.

I don't think you want to align yourself with them...

Red said...

no I wouldn't! And I'm trying not to... I think one can still believe it infallible without taking it 'literally' if that make sense. but then perhaps I interpret infallible differntly to others. I have a sense we are agreeing but that I am not explaining myself very well!

Rhoda said...

I agree with you Red, and also believe in the infallibility of the Bible. I do think you will (and have!) draw a lot of controversy with it though, since a lot of the church in the UK has sadly gone away from it.

I think some of the main problems with denying the Bible's infallibility/inerrancy are that we then begin to wonder if we can really trust God, and doctrines of the Bible are brought into question if we think that minor details are wrong.

Just out of interest I googled infallibility - here is what Wikipedia says, and I agree with all of this with regard to the Bible:

1.It is something that can't be proved false.
2.It is something that can be safely relied on.
3.It is something completely trustworthy and sure.

Red said...

Thanks Rhoda. I would certainly refer that definition to God himself, but there are some things that I am sure people would say could be proved false, like 7-day creation.
I think my view is that the bible is Gods word, therefore it cannot be wrong. However we do not know what he intended to say with every word, and therefore if we interpret it in any particular way we cannot say that, definitely, we have it right, because actually we just don't know...
I am loving this debate though :)

Lesley said...

Hi Red,

I suppose that I feel that the Bible is true and God breathed life into it and worked through the process, but calling it infallible makes it sound dictated, like the Qu'ran...

The Bible started off as oral traditions and then people started writing down these traditions, and then some clever chappy collected them together and redacted them into the Torah. But you can see the breaks, and sometimes the story gets a bit messed up because the Israelites are in one place and then another place a long way away and then back in the first place again. It is a bit like noticing an actress is wearing a blue dress then it changes to red and then blue again. Does this stop it being 'true' - no... but I think it does stop it being 'infallible'.

Then when the councils chose which books went in the canon they were no better than our General Synod, I'm sure. Did they hear God and choose the right books? Hopefully... Am I 100% sure? No... but we trust that it is there or thereabouts. Would I say this process was infallible? No. Does God still work through it? Absolutely.

Rhoda said...

If you have some time to read, here is an interesting article titled, Why Should We Believe in the Inerrancy of Scripture? by Brian Edwards, who has written at least one book on the subject.

With 6-day creation, people might say it can be proved false, but then I think they would also say that the virgin birth and resurrection from the dead could be proven false since they are scientifically impossible. What I am trying to say is that if God can do those things, then what is to stop Him creating everything in six days? It is interesting that over time a lot of the things that people thought were wrong in the Bible have turned out to be right :)

I agree that interpretation of the Bible can definitely be open to question though! Which is why I think it is important that we read the whole Bible so that we understand context and can compare scripture with scripture :)