You must believe the Bible right now – Part 1

Here’s the argument:

“If you start questioning certain parts of the Bible, where do you stop? You’ll have to question all of it, and where do you draw the line between bits you ignore and bits you believe?”

Here’s my opinion of that argument:

Not an argument at all: doublethink.

Here’s another argument:

“If you start questioning certain parts of what the Prime Minister says, where do you stop? You’ll have to question all of it, and where do you draw the line between bits you ignore and bits you believe?”

This is clearly rubbish.

You can’t dictate what you believe by looking at the consequences of that opinion.

You have to decide in all conscience what you think, and then live with the consequences.

Here’s another argument:

“I can’t believe the world is round until after next summer, because I’m going to Australia and I don’t want to fall off.”

What you believe doesn’t change the fact that the world is round. Similarly, what you believe doesn’t change the Bible.

I’m not saying that the Bible contains untrue things. What I am saying is that if you think it might, the argument above is not a good way of persuading you otherwise.

Is it possible to be a Christian and think that some parts of the Bible are wrong?

5 Replies to “You must believe the Bible right now – Part 1”

  1. Hi Andy,

    > “If you start questioning certain parts of the Bible,

    > where do you stop? You’ll have to question all of it,

    > and where do you draw the line between bits you

    > ignore and bits you believe?”

    I think there’s an important situation in which this argument mostly works, even if it doesn’t always; that’s if it’s directed towards people who already believe in and want to stay committed to the authority of the Bible as the basic thing they can trust in life. Its power in that context is really to say that rejecting part of the Bible undermines its standing as one’s basic authority – one has moved to using something else (e.g. personal preference, or other beliefs, or indignation) as one’s basic means of judging, which these people (including me) won’t be keen to do. This argument will suggest to them that other ways of resolving their doubts are initially preferable, before rejecting the section of the Bible in question. This isn’t doublethink, it’s weighing one’s options.

    > You can’t dictate what you believe by looking at the

    > consequences of that opinion.

    This is true in the case of beliefs that are already closely held. But in the case of beliefs which we’re assessing or are beginning to hold, I think we do just that – we look at the consequences of believing them. We compare a thing we’re tempted to believe with other more deeply held beliefs, and if it grates with these then we won’t accept the candidate belief (or alternatively, it begins to destabilise our deep beliefs). Indeed, proof by contradiction works by showing that one belief leads to consequences that jar against a more basic premise. Take for instance the argument: ‘Reject part of the Bible -> it will be unclear which parts you can trust -> the Bible cannot be your baseline’. If someone’s rock-bottom belief is ‘The Bible is my baseline’, then that person won’t be very willing to reject part of the Bible. This is the useful content of the argument, but as you say, it won’t help someone who is not committed to this tenet, or who is not reluctant to drop this tenet.

    > You have to decide in all conscience what you think,

    > and then live with the consequences.

    Yes, I’m sure you’re right about this, with the above proviso.

    > I’m not saying that the Bible contains untrue

    > things. What I am saying is that if you think it

    > might, the argument above is not a good way of

    > persuading you otherwise.

    That’s right. What would be a good way to persuade people, do you think?

    > Is it possible to be a Christian and think that some

    > parts of the Bible are wrong?

    Yes, I’m sure it is; the first disciples found a lot of what Jesus said hard to accept, and we’re very much like them. However, as disciples, we’ll want to grow in trusting what Jesus says – and this presumably includes growing to trust the Old Testament that he trusted, and the New Testament written by the apostles who were sent by him and who he claimed that he would inspire by his Spirit.

    So it may well be a growing process. On the other hand, there’s lots to be said for the prior philosophical stance of expecting that what God gives us in the Bible is trustworthy – so as well as a growing

    practical trust in the Bible, I’ve got a bottom line commitment to its reliability too.

    Cheers,

    David

  2. OK, quite a lot of this discussion is happening under the `Part 2′ bit, but here are some comments on what you’ve said here.

    > This argument will suggest to them that other ways of

    > resolving their doubts are initially preferable, before

    > rejecting the section of the Bible in question. This isn’t

    > doublethink, it’s weighing one’s options.

    I think you’re being very generous here: personally I encounter this argument presented as a proof rather than something to be aware of.

    > > You can’t dictate what you believe by looking at the

    > > consequences of that opinion.

    > We compare a thing we’re tempted to believe with

    > other more deeply held beliefs, and if it grates with these

    > then we won’t accept the candidate belief

    But this is different from that: the only deeply held belief we could be talking about here is the belief that the Bible is inerrant. But then the argument turns into `I don’t believe this part of the Bible is wrong because I don’t believe any of the Bible is wrong,’ which is fine as a belief, but isn’t an argument really.

    > > I’m not saying that the Bible contains untrue

    > > things. What I am saying is that if you think it

    > > might, the argument above is not a good way of

    > > persuading you otherwise.

    > That’s right. What would be a good way to persuade people,

    > do you think?

    See the discussion in `Part 2′ – if you really want to know what I personally think, I’d say that we’d be better off using the Bible as a resource to find out what God is like in a similar way to the way you use a historical source (which is actually a very productive viewpoint to take when studying it), and spend less time telling people they’re not allowed to disagree with any of it (except the bit about men having long hair being against the very nature of things, presumably*).

    * 1 Corinthians 11:14-16

  3. Hi Andy,

    Really great to see you at the weekend! Here (at last) are some thoughts…

    > But this is different from that: the only deeply

    > held belief we could be talking about here is the

    > belief that the Bible is inerrant. But then the

    > argument turns into `I don’t believe this part of

    > the Bible is wrong because I don’t believe any of

    > the Bible is wrong,’ which is fine as a belief, but

    > isn’t an argument really.

    I think I mean more than the tautology that I believe it because I believe it; I’m more interested in saying, ‘I don’t believe this section of the Bible is incorrect, because the Bible is my foundational means of assessing things, including assessing what is correct and incorrect.’ I agree that some people just say ‘I believe it because I believe it’, but I think I’d want to say more.

    There are other deeply held beliefs which would be relevant to this broad area of discussion, where we look at consequences of belief in the Bible’s reliability or unreliability (here I’m drawing on Grudem’s Systematic Theology):

    – ‘We mustn’t lie.’ But if God (for instance, in Christ – see the comments I’m about to post under your Part 2) claims that the Bible is true, and in fact it contains lies, can we follow God’s example and lie?

    – ‘We can trust God.’ But can we, if he lies to us in this fashion?

    – ‘We must obey God’s commands.’ But can we, if he doesn’t mean some of them? As Grudem says, what’s likely to happen in practice is that we’ll disobey what we least wish to obey, and distrust those parts we’re least inclined to trust.

    – ‘God is bigger than us.’ But is he, if I’m the ultimate arbiter on what’s wrong about his message?

    – ‘The overall thrust of the Bible is right.’ But how do I justify this if many details are incorrect? Note that it’s not just full reliability which is at stake – even a belief in broad reliability will suffer if many details are considered incorrect.

    – ‘The important biblical doctrines are right.’ But how do I justify this if I’ve already discarded apparently important biblical doctrines (like the truthfulness of scripture)?

    > See the discussion in `Part 2′ – if you really want

    > to know what I personally think, I’d say that we’d

    > be better off using the Bible as a resource to find

    > out what God is like in a similar way to the way

    > you use a historical source (which is actually a

    > very productive viewpoint to take when studying

    > it), and spend less time telling people they’re not

    > allowed to disagree with any of it

    Interesting. But how can we justify the belief that the Bible can teach us about God in this way?

    > (except the bit about men having long hair being

    > against the very nature of things, presumably*).

    > * 1 Corinthians 11:14-16

    This is the sort of thing I’m interested in – I want to approach such a passage with integrity, respect and curiosity, working out what Paul means, what God’s purpose is in including this, and what it should mean for us. It’s a surprise that Paul says this, and surprises are good for learning from and altering our perspectives; I wouldn’t want to close the door to the possibility that I’m wrong on the topics covered by the passage. It can be a hard graft to figure out how it is that a passage could be good and right – I’ve been working through how I can believe and trust the Old Testament Law over the last few months – but it’s surprising to me how well the agenda of grappling belief has been working.

    Cheers,

    David

  4. I can see why nobody else has joined in !

    However it is marvellous to hear you two argue. (especially when I can look up all the long words, honestly, you don’t speak proper like what I do!)

    Off to read part two now. Hope it’s as good as part 1.

  5. Glad to hear you enjoyed the show! Sorry everyone if we went a bit heavy. We really want to get somewhere and apply this to our lives, you’ll just have to trust me on that…

    😉

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