Tim Dees, my good friend and a partner in crime with Jacob's Well recently wrote an interesting commentary on the recent republican debate and the question asked about the candidates beliefs about the Bible. Tim's essay was entitled THERE IS NO 2008 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION and for some reason has yet to make it up to his The FotD web site (Tim, please remedy). In the post he made an interesting statement that I want to unpack a bit further - here it is:
I cannot argue, without religious presuppositions, that every word of the Bible is literally true; I can only argue that no part of it is false, but that would require going through every possible objection and offering rebuttals. In that sense, the question is logical quicksand.
First of all, I would like to say that I agree with Tim's statement, though that may be shocking for some of you to read. Second, I would like to say that such manner of argumentation would be a fiction so the point is somewhat moot. Reid, what do you mean?
Well, if one is forced to argue without religious presuppositions (beliefs) one would be doing an impossible task. Human beings are simply unable to argue from such neutral ground. Now, I do think we can successfully perform thought experiments...such as the following.
I just want to use my reason, along with taking on purely secular presuppositions and then try to prove that no part of the Bible is false...this indeed would be a task of herding cats. You would need to demonstrate that every falsifiable statement in the good book is in fact not falsified when all the facts are known.
Yet, this sort of process is a fiction and assumes way to much. First, it assumes that secular presuppostions give one good reason to trust our reasoning. Second, it assumes secular presuppositions are "religiously neutral" which they are not. Someone who wants to act or play as if there is no God is operating in a profoundly religious world. She has answered some ultimate questions and is now going about her business in light of these answers. These answers are in no way rational inferences, but rather faith commitments about ultimate reality. She is acting on beliefs.
So, if I want to talk about the Bible being the word of God, or being always true and never false, one would not want to place religious presuppositions aside, but rather keep them central. The Bible being always true is connected to what we believe it to be...the Word of God. Yet this is connected to there being a God...and not simply any God, but one who speaks and gives revelation through prophets and apostles - writers inspired to write his words. Now, I am not saying that one should not give arguments to why the Bible gives credence to the claim that it is the Word of God which never falsifies. We should appeal to fulfilled prophecy, we should build inductive cases from archeology (Did you realize we may have just dug up Nehemiah's wall?) and science which reinforce biblical truth claims etc. We can and should provide arguments for the text of Scripture being the Word of God. But these arguments do not stand alone away from Christian presuppositions, they live within them.
So how should we proceed with friends who have questions about the nature of the Bible? I offer the following:
- Do not eliminate the claims the Bible makes for itself - that it is God's Word - 2 Tim 3:16
- Do help resolve tensions for your friends of different beliefs (secular non religious faith adherents included) through good arguments for Scripture's authority.
- Do ask them to do thought experiments with you to take on Christian presuppositions and then ask their questions of the Bible. For instance consider the following:
You: Joe, you think there isn't a god, but for a moment let me ask you a question. If there were a God, do you think he would want to communicate with us?
Joe: Sure, why not
You: What ways would you choose to talk to us mortal ants?
Joe: Maybe he would have us google "God" and get some clear answers! Laughing...I suppose he could talk to us
You: Good. What if we misunderstood him?
Joe: He could put it in writing!
You: Good point...even more so, he could become one of us...then we can share that God spoke through apostles and prophets and in these last days he has spoke to us through Jesus - then allow him to consider Jesus and the gospel.
Anyway, I agree with Tim - but I challenge the whole project and think there is another way than appeals to lonely, autonomous, human reason in such discussions. And if you have not done so, you need to subscribe to Tim's Fact of the Day.