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.
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.
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).