I of late have attended, much to my dismay, a Bible study. Not a mere discussion of the Bible but one formed around fundamentalist doctrine. Of a sort. The study was basically independent of leadership, which is to say it had no church leader leading the group around some central theme or book (other than The Holy Bible itself), as is the norm in such things. I was intrigued because the instigator of the group titled it An Inquiry into the Bible.
That was intriguing since I welcome such inquiries. There are, to my mind, too many "certainties" around the biblical Word. Some questioning is very much welcome in my world.
We began with Genesis. It began quite slowly. We could not make a lot of headway past the first two verses. The idea of a "Gap Theory" loomed and this lead to a discussion on how old the earth was (between 5,000 and 8,000 years old). Evolution crept in, but only to be dismissed as an example of what is wrong with the teaching within our public schools.
Though I attempted to correct certain misinformed opinions regarding evolutionary science and geology, I was outnumbered. Was it surprising to me that everyone could so easily disavow modern science? Though I was aware that there were fundamentalists holding these beliefs, yes, it was still surprising to me.
Still, this was nothing compared to the next meeting when we somehow touched on the infallibility of the Word itself. Now, I hold a mostly progressive opinion of the Bible. It is my opinion that the Bible is not the Word of God, though I do find some sections "inspired." But I must also say that I find The Brothers Karamazov inspired, and Don Quixote and Turner's paintings also inspired. The fundamentalist finds things oddly different than in my biblical worldview. I tend to agree with Bishop Shelby Sprong when he says that the Bible is an epic, created to give the early Jews a story to better explain their history.
I attempted to turn the argument to a different standard, something other than the Bible as foundational. If there were some other process, or experience, or something that we could all agree on as being a touchstone--something much like the cogito ergo sum--some Archimedean lever point, then we could start to form a consensus.
So I threw out this: We need to ask the question, But is it true? Of everything. Even the Bible. Unfortunately fundamentalists will not give up the idea of the inerrant Word of God. Their reasoning is circular: The Bible says it is the Word of God, therefore it is the Word of God. Inconsistencies are nonexistent. Why? Because there could not be any errors or inconsistencies since...there cannot be errors or inconsistencies in the Bible. It is the Word of God...get it?
But is it true?
I was given an essay by R. C. Sproul entitled, Explaining Anomalies. Sproul is a Reformed Christian, which basically means he is a fundamentalist of the Calvinist sort. He famously disavowed any friendliness with the Catholic Church by Chuck Colson and Fr. Richard Neuhaus and others by denouncing the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document of 1994. (As an aside, the more contact with conservative fundamentalism I have, the more I notice an extreme anti-Catholic sentiment, verging on hate.)
Sproul's argument, or excuse really, is that the more we discover concerning the Bible the less divergencies will arise. Sproul explains, "Other discrepancies in the biblical account have yet to be resolved, but that doesn’t mean we should doubt Scripture’s truthfulness." Sproul compares the paradigm of Bible scholarship and archaeology with science, with the theories of Ptolemy giving way to Copernicus only when "too many anomalies were discovered" within the Ptolemaic system. Well, one has to ask oneself, are there too many discrepancies within the Bible to ascribe them to God, and shouldn't we begin to reconsider the divine nature of the Word? Not according to Sproul who sees each and every one of these pesky anomalies being cleared up one after the other. I am not so confident, especially after spending a few hours discussing creationism with a bunch of fundamentalists. (Here is a list of the more commonly seen discrepancies/anomolies within the Bible, the sort that fundamentalists like Sproul easily explain away as being merely differences of perspective and emphasis: http://infidels.org/library/modern/jim_meritt/bible-contradictions.html )
This is of course just begging the question, since it supposes the Bible's inerrancy within the premise. If the Bible is not true, does all of Christianity need to be plowed under, compost for some future belief? What could our new touchstone be, if not the Bible? But it must be Truth, and Experience. Do we experience the Spirit? Well, do we? Is it true? Do we truly need doctrine to tell us our experience, to show us if we have given the correct answer on some spiritual quiz? Is there even a correct answer?
So many questions arise when we give up this touchstone, this box of God, which is the Bible. And once we give up this box, we seem to have to live with these questions.
I have another question which I feel is analogous to this other one concerning the Bible and Truth: Why do so many Americans (and other people too but Americans especially) dislike poetry? Isn't it because Americans dislike questions? And living with questions? Americans want answers, they want clarity. They hate mysterious fuzziness and mysticism and living within the question. They seem to crave the security of The Answer. Better: They seem to crave the security of The Right Answer.
Poetry is a question; the Bible is, truly, a question.
When people read the Bible as if it were The Answer they have placed themselves and God into a box, a box of answers that they have chosen as a refuge against all those pesky doubts that accrue in life.
But the young are beginning to embrace questions, so I have noticed. They are questioning all sorts of things, what it means to be a male, a female; what it means to be a married couple; what it means to be a success.
Fundamentalists are consistent in their cry for Revival. The young may well be creating that revival now, or very soon, but I doubt it will be recognizable as one to a conservative Christian. It will be one of a slow unwinding of doctrine and a slow acceptance of a spiritual awakening, but one that does not cut off one from the body of believers, but envelops many in a loving, but poetically questioning spirit.
I append below the full answer to the Sproul essay: