This week, our favorite evangelical whipping boy Prof. Peter Enns wrote a blog about what the Bible doesn’t teach. In his preview to his series of blog posts, he’ll engage some famous scholars on when they realize that the evangelical church has been teaching something that is not quite biblical. His blog also quotes from my friend Prof. Greg Carey’s HuffPo article on where liberal scholars come from. In Greg’s own article, he talks about key events in his life where he had moments of illumination when he realized that the church party line is not always correct. Enns’ blog especially deals with the inerrancy issue.
Although I’m nowhere near the fame of these two men, I can share when I too realized that the church party line on biblical inerrancy had fallen off the track. That moment came for me when I was still in seminary. I recall reading about the editing process of the Hebrew Bible and then it dawns on me that the Hebrew language was not as old as Moses and that its uniform style indicates a synchronic editing period among the scribal elite. That moment didn’t really bother me as much as the reaction of many of my classmates as I discussed this issue with them. Here’re some of the responses I got. Why are you so concerned about such minutia of faith that was not “written in the Bible”? Why can’t you just take what Jesus said literally and be done with it? Why are you always asking critical questions? At that stage, a more severe question came to my mind. Why are evangelicals so afraid of the truth?
The problem, as I saw it, has to do with the (false) dichotomy between having an evangelical heart and a critical mind. I recall classmates and even some professors distinguishing between “evangelical” and “critical” scholars (because they just don’t want to call the critical people “liberals”). Such a dichotomy shows that many evangelicals simply think that having a critical mind is bad and that being evangelical means leaving behind your critical faculty in favor of “faith”(whatever that faith actually means). To me, faith is often the synonym for being real stupid. In my many conversations, people would often ask me whether I’m an inerrantist. I usually have to ask them to define the term. Most stumble over themselves trying to come up with the short Sunday school answer. At the end, many of them simply shrug and say, “You just believe that the Bible is full of errors.” At that stage, a more severe question came to my mind. Why do evangelicals attribute motives and convictions on people who believe in neither?
Having said the above, I’m not saying that the “Bible” (whatever that term actually means) is full of errors, but as N. T. Wright recent stated that evangelicals often give the right answer for all the wrong questions. The models we have been using simply do not work for both the content and formation of the Bible. The problem is really the questions we ask. We are afraid of asking the right questions because we’re afraid we don’t have the short Sunday school answer for our simple faith (I mean, stupidity). The longer I’m working at this, the more uncertain I am about simple faith (or you may say, the more “liberal” I am). What’s so bad about uncertainty? Well, uncertainty calls for faith. That’s what. For some, that kind of faith IS bad. For me, my journey does not take away my trust in biblical authority, but it does help me to reevaluate what authority means.
PS. For what else the Bible does not teach, please feel free to read my book Right Texts Wrong Meanings.