Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Searching For Questions?

Is it ok to question the historicity (the historical accuracy of what is said and portrayed literally) in the Bible?
What can be gained from this?
What harm can it bring?

One man, Ed Dobson, found out the answer to that first question was "no", in a tough way:

BIO/BACKGROUND--From ThinkChristian
Dobson, the 31-year-old son of retired Calvary Church pastor Ed Dobson, resigned his post as Bible teacher at NorthPointe Christian High School last week after the school board questioned his role in the March 16 special, “Jesus: The Missing History.”
On the hourlong program, Dobson questioned biblical scholars on possible contradictions between the Gospels and the historical evidence of Jesus’ life. The questions included:
Was Bethlehem Jesus’ birthplace?
Was Jesus a carpenter or a stone mason?
Was Jesus’ eviction of money changers from the temple a political or religious move?
Is there any truth in the Gnostic gospels?
In the program, which is not scheduled for rebroadcast, Dobson does not definitively answer the questions or take a position. He interviews biblical scholars who present evidence that contradicts the Bible.

A series of emails from the school board and community shows that the situation is predictably messy and complicated, and while I’m sympathetic to Kent and have a great deal of respect for his work, I don’t want to comment much on this case because I don’t know all the facts. Hopefully he and his church community will work this out in a Biblical manner. However, this bit—from an email by an upset parent—stood out and points to a broader question (emphasis mine):
We understand that this was done with unbelievers and that parts of this were edited.
The part that actually concerns me that as a Christian the Bible was questioned. The Bible is never to be questioned!
Why as a Christian would one place himself in this type of situation where we would actually be questioning the Bible.

Ok, so I have some questions...

In the world of academia, this question was the "make or break you" point for most religion majors at many schools. I remember how few people who came in as rel. majors my freshman year actually graduated with a degree in Religion, mostly because they had a really tough time emotionally and spiritually looking at the Bible, Christianity, and Theology critically. I don't mean that to diminish them, simply stating the BIGGEST (not only) reason that those that chose to quit did so.

On many conversations (both online and in person), there seems to be this running consensus by many that questioning the Bible is in some way a negative thing. There are many people like this teacher, and John Dominic Crossan (older man at the end being interviewed) who have spent their lives asking the hard questions about the Bible. This involves looking at the latest scholarship, archeology, and cultural studies of all of the people groups and areas represented in the Bible. There is soo much more to the scriptures than what we find on the pages. Those that see this as a negative thing are quick to label those people who question, "heretics" or "false teachers".

Most of the time a person's opinion comes from their theological approach to the Bible. Many people, myself included, grew up being taught that what you find on the page is the "only" meaning of the text. The text was taken at "face value" and could have no other meaning. This is known as a LITERAL INTERPRETATION of the Bible. Basically, what you see is what you get.

However, what some people call the "obvious meaning" is not always so obvious. Even with those who take a literal approach to the Bible you can find many different schools of interpretation. Many theologies have grown over the years by different literal readings of the same texts.

But one thing that the modern research has taught us is that there is a lot behind, between, and beneath what we find on the pages of the Bible. Knowing things like cultural practices, political subtleties, secular philosophies, and the differing religious sects and beliefs of a region play a significant role in understanding the life and times of those in the Bible. In addition, knowing the dates, identity, audience, and intentions of the authors of each book can play a big part in helping us to have a DIFFERENT understanding of the passages we were taught literally growing up.

But which is a BETTER way of interpreting the Bible?
The literal interpretation requires less research and persistence in keeping up with the latest scholarship. However, one who DOES keep up with the research will find that there is not always a consensus amongst Biblical scholars. That means making some judgement calls in what scholarship is most accurate. This can be tough! This also means that new research usually provides more questions than it does answers. As we see in the video, Ed's quest provides him with more questions than he had in the beginning.

In my opinion (having been exposed to both sides), I personally have found a greater depth than I ever had by adding in different historical findings and theories (let me stress, a lot of historicity is and ever will be theory save the invention of the time machine). Many use this an argument FOR a literal interpretation. But, there are so many passages, ideas and concepts that were taught to me one way (using the literal interpretations), that I have found far deeper and more meaningful interpretations by adding in the historical context. Things that I took for granted as "knowing" to be true before, now have room for questions, but have multiple depths and meanings. To me, and this is my humble opinion, it has opened all new depths and understandings to things like the teachings of Christ. It has made God seem more complex, but so much bigger in the process... a place I am comfortable with him being...I mean, he is God.

Whichever view you fall under, they both present their own problems and benefits.

But back to my questions....
1)Is it wrong to question the Bible?
2)Why or Why not?
3) Why are we HOSTILELY critical of those that choose the side different from ours?


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