Christian apologists are eager to report that they alone have Truth with a capital T. What’s their secret? Let’s take a look at one list of rules that, we’re told, will reliably lead someone through the maze of religious claims to the truth.
The problem is real. Paul said, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). That didn’t happen, and there are now 45,000 Christian denominations. The Bible is the perfect word from a perfect divinity, and yet it’s somehow so ambiguous that Christians can’t figure out fundamental issues of doctrine (more).
Our source is an article in Christian Post that summarized a recent lecture by Alan Shlemon from Stand to Reason. Let’s see if this apologist shows us how to separate, as promised, “biblical from bogus.”
1. “Study scripture”
The first rule is that when you’re puzzled by an idea or claim, “we need to test it against Scripture.”
And there’s the problem, presupposing the Bible is correct up front. Why test an idea against the standard of the Bible? Since the Bible is full of contradictions and God has terrible morals, it should be the other way around. Presupposing the correctness of the Bible is a fundamental flaw at the argument’s foundation, but it isn’t even acknowledged.
Studying scripture gets into other dubious but popular rules of thumb like “let easy verses interpret difficult ones.” The idea here is that when you find some Bible verses that fit nicely into your Christian thinking but others that seem in opposition, don’t consider the obvious naturalistic possibility that the Bible was put together over centuries by different people with different agendas whose writings aren’t consistent. No, you should instead let the easy verses interpret difficult verses. And by this, they of course mean that you use the verses you like to reinterpret the unpleasant verses.
And there are more biased rules.
Let me respond with my own rule, that Christians must take four steps before they deliver their rationalization for why God looks like a Bronze Age barbarian. These hold Christians’ feet to the fire so they accept the consequences of their claims. I discuss them in detail here, but very briefly, Christians must:
- Acknowledge that God sure looks like a moral monster, even if you want to argue that, in fact, he isn’t.
- You say God might have his reasons for acting this way? Share them with us. Make a list of plausible reasons God might have for allowing a tsunami to kill 200,000 people or for letting a child die of leukemia.
- Show that this God plausibly exists. “You can’t prove no God” is no argument.
- A Greatest Possible Being could achieve goals without suffering. Justify why God didn’t take this route.
2. “Seek wise counsel”Admitting that you don’t have all the answers and listening to others sounds like good advice, but the advice really is to seek wise counsel from people within your church or denomination. This isn’t a search for the truth, it’s a search for rationalizations that will keep you a Christian, preferably in the denomination of the person giving the advice. How do you know their denomination is the correct one? Not by following the evidence but by listening to faith.
Christian faith is fragile. The Christian vessel must be insulated as much as possible from outside influences. Christians acknowledge this when they fret about sending their children to secular universities, but they never stop to think what this means. If the claims of Christianity were easy to verify, who would have doubts? Why is Christian doubt even a thing? And isn’t it odd that Christians must reject, ignore, or reinterpret the doubts that their God-given brain tells them?
The religion from a real omnipotent and omniscient god would be unambiguous. It’d be simple. Christianity isn’t.
Rule 1 is “study scripture,” pretending that the Bible has a single interpretation. Rule 2 is “seek wise counsel,” but this can only be a quest to tamp down annoying doubts and maintain the status quo.
We’ll conclude with a final rule in part 2.
as Albert Schweitzer pointed out long ago,
historians all too often have
“looked into the long well of history”
and seen their own reflection staring back at them.
— James Tabor at Bart Ehrman blog
Image from commenter epeeist, used with permission