Should Christians Really Stop Saying These 6 Things?

Biblical Christianity is sadly misunderstood both by Christians and non-Christians alike.  The most persistent misunderstandings about Christianity seem to grow out of religious and philosophical pluralism in the U.S.

Pluralism says that every religion is equally true and valid.  No religious adherents, therefore, can claim exclusive rights to the “truth” or impose their beliefs on others.  Believe what you will, but do not assert those beliefs.  That is the cardinal sin of our age.

11th century Hebrew Bible with targum, perhaps...
11th century Hebrew Bible with targum, perhaps from Tunisia, found in Iraq: part of the Schøyen Collection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently read an article on the Huffington Post by Steve McSwain entitled, “6 Things Christians Should Just Stop Saying.”  Judging by the popularity of this article (over 21K “likes” on Facebook at the time of this writing), McSwain’s thoughts resonate with many.

According to McSwain the six things Christians should stop saying are,

1. The Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God.

2. We just believe the Bible.

3. Jesus is the only way to heaven.

4. The rapture of Jesus is imminent.

5. Homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle and it is a sin against God.

6. The earth is less than 10,000 years old.

You can read the rest of the article here.

While I agree with point #4 and I think reasonable Christians can and do disagree on #6, the writer’s assertions on the other points and his overall premise are wholly incompatible with biblical and historic Christianity.

The most important point of departure between McSwain and orthodox Christianity is on point #1: The Bible is the inerrant, infallible word of God.  Speaking of the Bible he states,

It isn’t inerrant and not likely even in the “original manuscripts.” But then, I cannot say that with absolute certainty, anymore than anyone else can either.

Why? Because no such “original” manuscripts even exists. That’s like saying, “We believe there are aliens on other planets!”

Good for you. Now, prove it.

As we have it, no matter what translation you favor, the Bible is replete with errors. To pretend otherwise is your right. To say otherwise is a lie. You are entitled to your opinions, your assumptions, even your beliefs. What you are not entitled to is a misrepresentation of the facts.

First, the facts.  I found a helpful summary in another blogger’s response, “Should Christians Quit Saying the Bible is the Word of God“.  Although I have not verified the exact numbers he cites, they resemble data I have gleaned in my seminary classes and readings.

The author, Ken Weliever, indicates,

We have 7 copies of Plato’s writings, 49 of Aristotle’s and 643 of Homer’s Illiad.  But compare this with the manuscripts of Bible books. We currently have unearthed 5,668 Greek manuscripts.   In addition there more than 19,000 copies in the Syriac, Latin, Coptic, and Aramaic languages of Scripture.  The supporting manuscript evidence for Scripture exceeds 24,000 documents!

The sheer number of manuscripts we have as well as their overall unanimity concerning the central doctrines of Christianity make the Bible the most reliable ancient writing we have based on documentary evidence.

More deeply, the author’s underlying principle seems to be, “Believe what you will, but don’t carry out the implications of those beliefs.”  What I mean is this:  If Christians actually believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God, then they are obliged to A) Attempt to discern authorial intent and B) do what it says.

In point #2 McSwain says,

That, too, is false. What you really believe is your interpretation of the Bible. And the last I checked, the history of the Christian church is the history of disagreement over “interpretation.” How else do you explain the scores of denominations within Christianity alone? It would be patently more honest of Christians to say, “The following represents our understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures, but we are also aware there are many equally sincere Christians who interpret the Scriptures differently from us.”

While it is true that various denominations differ in their explanations of some texts, all orthodox Christians interpret the most central tenants of the faith similarly.  Jesus is the son of God in the flesh who came to save sinners and anyone who believes in Him will experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and live with God for eternity.  These and other foundational beliefs have been held by Christians for over two millennia.  Not without dispute and challenge, but these disagreements do not invalidate the truthfulness of the teachings.

For McSwain to say that we are only believing our particular interpretation of the Bible implies that the meaning of a text resides in the reader and not the author.  What the author intends to communicate in his writing matters much less than what the reader deems meaningful.  If we apply this belief to McSwain’s own article then I can import whatever meaning into it I desire.  Maybe I believe McSwain’s article is really just satire and his intent is to call well-meaning Christians deeper into their biblical faith.

Would McSwain be happy with this interpretation of his writing?  Probably not.  Why?  Because he is the author and he intends to communicate certain ideas and not others.

In the same way, the Bible has many human authors and one Divine author.  The authors all intend to express certain ideas in their words and God intends for those ideas to be accurately interpreted.  This doesn’t mean that our context doesn’t demand constantly revisiting the Scriptures to see how they apply in new settings. But this isn’t a difference in principles, just in application.

As a Christian, I cannot agree with McSwain.  If Christ-followers deny the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God, we have no basis for our faith.  We lose all normative basis for living life according to Jesus’ teachings and we all become subject to the relative morals and values of our culture.

Conclusion

If then, Christians believe the Bible, then we are obliged to do what it says.  While this is true, we should never coerce people to believe what we do.  Then it would be impossible for them to love God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength (Mark 12:30).

But we must also never retreat from our conviction that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  And if this is true, then we must always  proclaim the Good News that Jesus  is “the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

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10 thoughts on “Should Christians Really Stop Saying These 6 Things?

  1. Reblogged this on Halls of Green and commented:
    Jemar sums up the typical position in much of the culture which says something like: “We believe all religions are equal and you are free to believe and practice yours…except you Christians because you need to just shut up.” Thanks, Jemar, for responding in a helpful way.

    1. I’m not sure that’s the exact sentiment. To be honest christianity and it’s opposition to certain cultural movements has put in in the spotlight. As far as I see it, no one is saying christians need to shut up, just that one religion shouldn’t overly influence the laws of a country. I’m sure the same would be said of the dominating religion in any non theocratic country. The loss of privilege is not persecution.

      1. Loss of privilege is not persecution indeed. I think perspective matters here. Not every community which challenges Christian positions such as biblical authority on things like marriage is explicitly anti-Christian but it doesn’t take too much searching to find very vocal even if not especially influential communities that are. I have in mind recent articles about the intolerance of tolerance as I read Jemar’s post. I am happy to let Jemar’s article speak for itself and accept correction from him if he feels I mischaracterized his post. Thanks for a thoughtful response.

      2. No problem, thank you for taking the time to send one of your own. Regarding the “intolerance of tolerance”, I don’t want to jump to any conclusions about what you mean, but I have in mind a quote I read somewhere along the lines of “some take democracy to mean that ignorance is as valuable as knowledge”. Although as you said, perspective matters as to what is considered knowledge and what is considered ignorance. Personally social inequality will always err on the side of the less useful for me. I do understand that everyone has nuanced views and A wouldn’t like to attribute to your comment anything you didn’t want read. Please correct me if I misread you.

      3. I think you said something especially relevant there: “perspective matters as to what is considered knowledge and what is considered ignorance.” I read Jemar’s post as a response against those accusing these biblical beliefs to be ignorant. There seems to be an assumption that if you hold to the things Jemar listed you must be a ignorant person. The “ignorant” label is then leveraged to marginalize and dismiss such views. Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem labeling certain groups as ignorant and hateful (Westboro Baptist anyone?). We need some careful thinking to protect religious freedom both Christian and non-Christian. I like to remind my vehemently anti-Muslim friends to be careful how they argue for the treatment of them in our country because what happens to them today could possibly be turned toward them tomorrow depending on their beliefs. I don’t know how we are going to get there but we need to work toward allowing people to have differing and even conflicting beliefs that we shouldn’t quickly dismiss as ignorant all of the time. I appreciate your mention of nuance too because there are a variety of responses to issues that involve social equality. We would all do well to define our terms and goals carefully. I think it is possible to have very well informed people who still disagree. This is where we have to build our bridges.

      4. Yes, I see what you mean. I try my hardest not to label anyone’s beliefs ignorant, because as far as I’ve ever seen ignorance is more about the person than their beliefs. Ignorant people use religion, or their lack of it (because as you said there are some anti-theist who jump on the bandwagon) as a vehicle to promote their negativity.

        However, I do think some people think being religious bestows upon them immediate goodness, and their actions stop being relevant. Personally I think the only way to BE a Christian is to really act like one.

        The thing is, it’s hard to defend a viewpoint when it inherently classes other types of people as lesser. I find it quite ironic how some christians I’ve met are critical of how they think women are treated in Islam and yet staunchly defend their “religious right” to do the same to others.

        I think some christians (and I stick to identifying a few and not the whole) might catch some flack in terms of ignorance (in my own opinion) because it’s a religion based on love and a personal relationship to god. Not vocal judgement. I personally don’t adopt any paradigm or world-view that inherently requires me to be disparaging of other people because in my mind things like sexism and homophobia are just bad things regardless of who endorses them. There are other groups that class certain types of people as wrong and lesser and we’re all fairly unanimous about our distrust of them.

        but like any group of people. You get defined by your most ignorant and vocal members. Unfortunately.

        Enjoying a bit of sensible chat,
        Ash

  2. “The supporting manuscript evidence for Scripture exceeds 24,000 documents!”

    So what?

    You’re trying (I think) to say that what is written in that scripture is fact.

    Plato and Aristotle and Homer wrote stories and philosophy, not fact.

    If you want to say the scriptures are just stories and philosophy, fine, I agree with you. But the number of copies you have in no way serves as good evidence for what it claims to be factual.

    1. 1) “You’re trying (I think) to say that what is written in that scripture is fact.”– This statement needs explaining. The Bible is factual in that it tells about real people, real events, and a real God who enters the world to save all who believe in Him.

      2) “Plato and Aristotle and Homer wrote stories and philosophy, not fact.”– Even the “fact” that Plato and Aristotle actually wrote what is attributed to them is a major assumption based on the dearth of manuscript evidence. What we have received as their writing could be incredibly corrupt and we wouldn’t be able to tell the difference because we have few comparison texts.

      By contrast, the Bible is incredibly well-preserved and consistent. The manuscript evidence allows us to compare across time and traditions. But belief that the Bible is the Word of God is by faith. It is a work of the Holy Spirit for anyone to believe God’s word in whatever form He sends it. The manuscript evidence only echoes the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      1. “The Bible is factual in that it tells about real people, real events, and a real God who enters the world to save all who believe in Him. ”

        And I’m saying the writing is not sufficient evidence to prove the supernatural events.

        “Even the “fact” that Plato and Aristotle actually wrote what is attributed to them is a major assumption based on the dearth of manuscript evidence.”

        Because it doesn’t matter who wrote them. The words written and attributed to Plato and Aristotle are important…the words…not whoever wrote them.

        And there are no supernatural claims in their work. Which makes it different.

        ” The manuscript evidence allows us to compare across time and traditions.”

        So what? I have the word-for-word transcript of a man who claims to have been abducted by aliens.

        The transcript is perfectly consistent. Does that mean he was actually abducted by aliens?

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