Basis for Judgment

I wrote this in a comment in a discussion group on Facebook, and thought it might be worth sharing beyond that context.

  • Choosing to believe that the Biblical texts are inerrant truth, all written by whom they claim to be, and even that God is really their author, and then treating any evidence to the contrary in a dubious denialist manner, is nowhere said to be the basis for God judging human beings favorably.


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  • C. Bauserman

    Well, now, let’s not be too quick to shove all inerrancy under the bus. I know to what kind of inerrancy you refer (the modernistic, watertight, verifiable kind). I, however, hold to a different kind of “inerrancy,” one that might pass for most people. Heard it from an old mentor of mine, who heard it from an old hero of his:
    “When the whole Bible is read faithfully by the whole Church, then it (the Bible) will not lead her (the Church) into error.”
    “the whole Bible” = no proof-texting (Protestant problem 1)
    “faithfully” = no misapplication of passages (reading ahistorically or any of that) (Protestant problem 2)
    “whole Church” = no room for exclusion; both the eggheads and the laypeople must read (the original Catholic problem)

    Altogether, these three aspects of reading the Bible properly will keep the Church on track, because that’s what we’re supposed to be keeping out of error: the Church, not the Bible.

    • TomS

      And what reason do we have to take this as a definitive statement about the Bible? I don’t want to seem to be negative about a statement which seems to be moderate.

      • C. Bauserman

        Not saying anyone had to take it as a definitive statement. I’m just saying, it’s a good statement to have. We do at least want a doctrinal statement about our book, right?

        Well, again we go back to it being a collection of human writings, humans who were inspired to write by the Spirit of God, inspired to write books that were collected together later, by different men, and canonized by again, the Spirit of God inspiring those men as well. So, God co-opts these writers into his grand plan, but he also lets them write what they see fit. Ultimately, that collection and canonization, being initiated by the Spirit of God, helped to bring together a book that could guide the Church through time.

        It is therefore a good statement because it reflects the purpose of the Bible itself: to guide the Church, the people of God, in the creative power of God the Father, the mediating power of Jesus Christ the Son, and the live-giving power of the Holy Spirit of God, in the same way it was written, and in the same way it was canonized. If we read the Bible as a proof-text for something (against “whole Bible”), or fail to read it faithfully to its history (among other methods of criticism – against “faithfully”), or exclude a part of the Church from its reading (against “whole Church”), then we betray the very Spirit of God which initiated both the writing of the books and their collection, that is, the very same Spirit that filled the original Church.
        So, what reason do we have? The very Spirit that initiated the writing of the many books of the Bible and their collection and canonization, initiated the Church as well. I can’t think of a better reason than to stay faithful to the very Spirit that completed all these processes, and still works in the Church today.
        (It’s designed to be moderate. Most fundies can accept this as well as most Catholics/Orthodox, y’know, the whole spectrum.)

        • Why do you believe that the Spirit of God inspired humans to write books, collect them, and canonize them?

          • C. Bauserman

            (Quick question: am I speaking with Christians or atheists? Because this is really cool if I’m speaking with either. I’m finally getting to articulate my viewpoint a little.)

            I just don’t believe that the Bible can be an entirely human book. God was involved in the process one way or another, I think; it’s just that some people give him more credit than he’s due (verbal plenary, even, God forbid, direct dictation). What I will say is that God wouldn’t give the Church, his very people, a narrative for the ages that had nothing to do with her mission, would he? So, he used the same Spirit for both the books and the Church. A set of books created and canonized apart from the Spirit, on entirely human grounds, could mean any books, and would not be an appropriate guide for a Church begun under the Spirit of God.

            Anyways, again, that’s just my take on it. I won’t be able to verify everything because ultimately the God we study, the very Father, the very Son, the very Spirit, whose voice we hear in the Holy Scripture, is more vast and more incomprehensible than the universe itself. Thus it would seem appropriate that the Scripture would also reflect such a sentiment.

          • I don’t care for labels, but I’m not a Christian. Your argument that “God wouldn’t give, the Church, his very people, a narrative for the ages that had nothing to do with her mission” …

            … would work equally well for the the Bhagavad Gita, the Quran, or the Tao Teh Ching, wouldn’t it?

          • C. Bauserman

            (… Thank you, genuinely, for conversing with me. I value this conversation … um … Sir or Madam … Quilter.)

            Concerning labels:

            I do honestly don’t like to break it to you, but labels do exist (at least, from my perspective. I know yours is different): those inside the covenant between God and his people and those outside, those who desire to build God’s kingdom here, and those who would … rather go about their existence. Though, you are free to come inside if you would like; the usage of labels does not automatically denote an “us vs. them” mentality, at least, not for me (and hopefully, eventually, for Christians everywhere). These labels do not bring exclusion as an automatic inference or any warlike behavior against those outside the covenant, but instead inclusion with welcoming open arms.

            Answer to question:
            Yes, you are correct. It would unfortunately (for me) work equally well for those writings as well. Not to say that those writings are terrible. They’re masterfully written prose and poetry by wonderful artists and rhetoricians.
            But …
            … I’m still convinced for some reason that Scripture is exceptional. But I’m not really sure if I can argue it.
            … Not only simply not arguing it on the basis of some particular thing, but arguing it in general.

            I mean, I’m pretty young, and my worldview is still a bit fragmentary. But I’m still trying to hold tight to what convictions I believe are right, and letting go of the ones that I was originally taught that might be wrong, upon further examination…

            However, ultimately, my faith, both concerning Scripture and God himself, won’t come down to my apologetics or my rigor of critical thinking, because the God I choose to believe in is not, cannot, nor has ever been bound fully by the realm or the life of mind. He has a mystical element to him, and it’s definitely not my job to decode that…

            “The more fully and sharply one wants to see, the more he damages his eyes and is blinded altogether, for his vision is overwhelmed by the magnitude of the sight if he insists on taking in the whole instead of only that portion that is without risk.” — St. Gregory of Nazianzus, concerning looking at the sun in an analogy to attempting to behold the full glory of God beyond mystery…

            Sorry for evoking the mystery of God. I know it sounds like a cop-out, but honestly it’s just the nature of the game. I just hope you, uh, don’t see me as stupid or anything like that…

            But anyways, thanks for conversing with me. This might be my last entry in this little subsection. But thank you for getting me to think critically again…

            I dunno what else to say. I guess I’m done for now…

          • Alright. Keep studying, and don’t limit yourself to authors and apologists who already agree with you.

    • R Vogel

      I like this, I have a slight problem with the definition of ‘faithfully’ as ‘no misapplication’ since it seems to suggests there is a single proper application which may be problematic.

      • C. Bauserman

        I may have defined faithfully a little too tight. I couldn’t recall the definition that my mentor gave me off the top of my head… I’ll have to ask him again and possibly edit from there.

      • C. Bauserman

        (How I saw misapplication: I guess I was viewing misapplication as something that could be seen as completely, totally, obviously wrong. I mean, I consider Scripture to have a plurality of possible interpretations, but obviously there are some that will, um … yeah, let’s just say some of them make me cringe … deeply. So that’s what I was trying to safeguard against. Not all applications can be right, but applications can exist in a plurality.)

        • R Vogel

          That’s a good way of framing it, especially if you adhere to the first point. I have found that many troubling parts of the bible are far less so if you engage the entire text first. Then apply the overall theme to the episode or verse in question – if there seems to be an inconsistency, you should rethink one or the other. I think I will borrow this if you don’t mind

          • C. Bauserman

            Be my guest. That’s my goal, to just share it around. It’s a great statement that many Christians of all denominational stripes can accept. And it reflects the hermeneutical circle/spiral – reinterpreting the whole in light of the parts and parts in light of whole. It’s just that the whole Church should be active in this hermeneutical circle/spiral…

  • Thanks for sharing!

    Honestly, religious people generally just don’t give a care about truth. They prefer whatever lies that “make sense” and make them feel good about themselves. It’s simple, self-serving human nature.

  • If one chooses to believe that God communicates his purposes directly to humans, I guess one might as well choose to believe that He does so inerrantly. Otherwise, why bother believing He does so at all?

    • Neko

      It seems the problem is on the receiving end.

      • Indeed, which makes me doubt the whole enterprise of trying to figure out what God is trying to tell us.

        • Neko

          At the moment I’m convinced that humans are hard-wired for transcendence, so even if it’s a futile enterprise, most just can’t desist from trying to know God.

          • I think that a propensity to seek transcendence may be hard-wired, but I’m not sure that there is anything there to find.

          • $41348855

            I think I may have to disagree with this, Vinny. In a comment on another thread I mentioned the fact that the laws of physics themselves are considered to have a transcendent reality by some physicists.

            So even an atheist may accept that there is a transcendent reality. In that case, the debate is over what the transcendent reality is.

          • I have no doubt that an atheist may accept that there is a transcendent reality, but I’m still not sure that I do. My point had to do with drawing inferences from the way in which we are hard wired. My hypothesis is that the motivation towards transcendence may be a byproduct of consciousness. The first of our ancestors to evolve consciousness would have recognized his own mortality. The propensity to see transcendent meaning could have been an evolutionary adaptation that allowed man to escape the despair to which that knowledge can lead.

          • $41348855

            Yes, our sense of transcendence is no guarantee that there is a transcendent reality, and it could, as you say, have an evolutionary explanation.

          • R Vogel

            Have you been reading Becker? I have Denial of Death on order. It is a compelling hypothesis.

          • Not that I know of, although I’ll look for him. I would like to see how someone who actually knows what he is talking about develops it.

          • R Vogel

            I believe he is the first to discuss the existential terror of death that was later expanded into Terror Management Theory (TMT). You might find this interesting (although admittedly written from a religious perspective)

          • … or the definition of the adjective “transcendent”. One might consider a personal God transcendent. Another might consider a multi-verse transcendent. The only connection between the two that I can see is that “transcendent” ultimately just means “wow”.

          • Maybe it is the propensity to see things as “wow” that is hard wired, but someone somewhere along the line decided that “wow” wasn’t a good enough word for it and substituted “God.”

          • Neko

            “Wow” is more like the sublime: excited consciousness aware of its own inability to grasp awesomeness.

            Transcendence is related, I suppose, but involves some kind of instinctive reach toward reality beyond consciousness (“through a glass darkly’) that is of course more and better (the “Kingdom”).

          • Dictionary definitions of transcendence tend to place it beyond “the physical”, putting it into what most would think of as the supernatural realm. When someone like Neil deGrasse Tyson uses the word – it’s pretty clear that he is still talking about things that are within the realm of science.

          • Neko

            Good point. What is he describing when he uses the word?

          • $41348855

            The multiverse would indeed transcend our universe but that wasn’t the kind of transcendence I was thinking of. In the example I referred to the multiverse itself is brought into existence by the laws of physics. If that is the case then the laws of physics transcend the multiverse, and since the laws of physics themselves are not physical then there is a transcendent reality that isn’t physical.

          • arcseconds

            The way physicists normally think of laws of nature is that they’re non-physical, transcendent things already.

            However, I’m not sure that this is necessarily the way one ought to view them, and there’s a school of thought it’s really a stubborn hold-over from back when most natural philosophers accepted as uncontroversial the notion of the Universe having a designer that could author laws for it in a straightforward way.

          • $41348855

            I suppose that the laws of physics could be seen as descriptions of the regularities of nature rather than laws. In the case mentioned, where the laws are used to explain why the universe exists, we do seem compelled to think of laws rather than descriptions. I doubt whether the matter can be settled. The point I would like to make is that I don’t think invoking something that transcends the physical world is a cop-out.

    • Wouldn’t this logic lead one to see the Bhagavad Gita, the Quran, and the Book of Mormon as inerrant as well?

      • Since I don’t find the belief that God communicates his purposes particularly logical in the first place, I have a hard time being sure where the logic leads. If one merely had held the belief in the abstract, then all purported communications might enjoy an equal status, however, I think the belief is usually reached in connection with one exclusive mode of communication.

    • R Vogel

      I am struggling with some of the same questions. My (2) responses, which are admittedly inconsistent, would be:

      What if holy scriptures (whatever the religion) are not about G*d communicating G*d purposes to us, but rather us trying to figure out what our purpose should be? So when we say they were inspired by G*d, that doesn’t mean G*d reached into someone’s head and started scribble things down, but that while contemplating G*d, and what our purpose should be assuming G*d’s reality, this is what they authors came up with?


      What if G*d is not interested in directly communicating G*d’s purpose to us as much as G*d is interested in us figuring it out on our own? As a parent I don’t always give my son direct instruction, sometimes I help guide him to figure out what the best thing to do is on his own. The interesting implication of this is that over time perhaps our need for G*d will diminish if not disappear altogether, as my son’s need of me. I have been thinking a lot on Bonhoeffer’s about a ‘world come of age’:

      ..And we cannot be honest unless we recognize that we have to live in the world etsi deus non daretur [translation: “as if there were no G
      *d”]. And this is just what we do recognize–before G*d! G*d compels us to recognize it. So our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before G*d. G*d would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without [G*d]. The G*d who is with us is the G*d who forsakes us (Mark 15:34).

      • I too have a variety of thoughts on the matter which are not entirely consistent:

        (1) Compared to an omniscient, omnipotent,omnipresent being, I can’t see how our capacity to reason is any more than trivially greater than that of a cat or a dog. As a result, I can’t see any reason why we should expect an infinite God to want to communicate directly with us as opposed to any other creature in our world. For all we know, we may be nothing but an ant farm to God, i.e.,something he watches from time to time just to see what we will do.

        (2) If there is a God, He gave me a mind and the capacity to reason. Isn’t that enough? Maybe He just wants me to use it to make the best sense that I can of the world in which He has placed me. Having tried to use that mind as best I can, I have reached the conclusion that trying to find messages from Him isn’t a constructive use of my time.

        (3) I was a liberal Christian for much of my adult life and my attitude towards scripture was along the lines of your first response.I drifted into agnosticism when I decided that the existence or non-existence of God didn’t really affect the answers I came up with to questions about meaning and purpose.

        • R Vogel

          I have come to think that the terms ‘omniscient, omnipotent,omnipresent’ are nonsensical things people throw around. I have no idea what they mean or why they are useful. They immediately raise the issues of Free Will vs Determinism and Theodicy, neither of which can be satisfactorily answered within the framework.

          I think you have framed the issues quite nicely here. I have moved away from the exclusionist idea of religion and have settled on the idea that it is simply a set of symbols which are either helpful for thinking about certain issues, mostly related to how we relate to each other, or they are not. Some symbols will resonate with certain people and for others a different set will resonate (I think of religion similar to how I think about music or poetry). De gustibus non est disputandum! If there is G*d, I’m not sure how we would gain any real knowledge about G*d.

      • Neko

        The G*d who is with us is the G*d who forsakes us (Mark 15:34).

        Nice. I think of Mark as the atheist’s gospel but I like your take.