Previous installment: A Review of Thom Stark’s “The Human Faces of God” – Chapter 3
Thom Stark is an errantist. That is, he believes the Bible has errors – lots of them. And he believes that those errors are significant. He wants you to believe it, too. Here is a sentence from the end of his chapter 3: “The next five chapters will be devoted to displaying how and why our scriptures are fallible (and fallible in significant ways).” That would also be an apt description of what Thom did in the first three chapters, but I guess this means he’s going to take his accusations to a new level. Whew!
Thom’s target throughout his book are inerrantists, specifically those who believe the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. As I’ve said, this is an argument between errantists and inerrantists, liberal scholars and conservative scholars, non-fundamentalists and fundamentalists – pick your descriptive terms. And it’s an argument I don’t care about.
What I do care about is the harm Thom does to those humble souls who read the Bible seeking to learn about Jesus Christ. He does this harm by trying to convince them that the Bible is not a trustworthy source. My position is that Jesus is the revelation of God, and that the Bible gives a trustworthy and comprehensive account of His reality. To believe that the Bible is, as Thom says, “…fallible (and fallible in significant ways)” is to put readers of the Bible in an untenable position. Either they have to wonder whether the page they are reading is one of the reliable ones or else they are forced to rely on Thom, or someone else, to tell them which parts of the Bible are reliable. And at the rate Thom is going, there won’t be many reliable parts left. It’s as if he’s snipping so many parts of the Bible away that he’s transforming it from a holy book to a holey book.
God – as well as His prophets and apostles – went to a lot of trouble that we might have the Scriptures. They did not do so in order that readers of the Bible might be uncertain of its veracity or dependent on other humans for its meaning.
Thom lays out scholarly findings for the lay person, but he’s only giving one side of the scholarly story. There are conservative scholars, just as committed to the tenets of academia as Thom is, who offer research which contradicts Thom’s conclusions. Most people don’t have time to explore both sides of the scholarly story to be able to draw their own conclusions. Thom is like the first-year medical student who can impress everyone at the party with his immense vocabulary. If he chooses to argue a medical point, who can argue with him but second-year medical students and above? Therefore, he pounds his reader into submission like a bully on an unsupervised playground pounds away at a smaller kid.
I am pointing out, however, that Jesus Himself is supervising this playground. Jesus does not require you to have a graduate degree in biblical studies to read the Bible to profit anymore than He required it of His apostles. The best way to understand the word of God is not to approach it academically but rather to approach it practically. Consider it not in the context of a class or degree, but in the context of your life. Read it with a view to do it. He who does the word of God is the one who comes to understand it as God intended.
I do not care what you think about the Chicago Statement or inerrancy as a doctrine. What I do want you to know is that the Bible is far more trustworthy that Thom would have you to believe – far more. It is the word of God…and it tells the truth about Jesus. Nevertheless, the Bible itself should not be the object of your devotion. Rather, we should be constantly devoting ourselves to Christ – about whom the Bible testifies.
The whole point of reading the Bible is to learn about Christ so that we can honor Christ and live in His presence.
To characterize the source of most of our knowledge about Jesus Christ as wrong on many points, and important points at that, is to poison a well that quenches thirst for righteousness. May God forgive Thom, for surely he knows not what he does.
Thom’s chapter four is Yahweh’s Ascendancy: Whither Thou Goest, Polytheism?
Thom’s erudition (and he is no mean scholar) is on full display in this chapter. He plunges into water way over the heads of all but seminary graduates and tells a story of how the Bible is not so much breathed by God as it is a product of its geography and times. His is an old argument, well-known to seminary professors at both liberal and conservative seminaries. The former view it as accepted dogma, the latter view it as age-old heresy. I don’t think Thom makes any pretense of discovery, but rather he is giving the liberal argument in laymen’s terms – and doing so with engaging and fluid prose, as well as formidable debating skills.
Now you could go to a seminary library and find the conservative counter-arguments to Thom’s – but is that the way you want to live your life? That is, do you want to have to go to the bookstore or library to find a response every time you read book like Thom’s? This approach can consume a lifetime. Authors like Thom and Bart Erhman can throw mud at the wall faster than anyone can clean it off. For example, there are a group of conservative theologians who have put up a web site called the Ehrman Project to counter the liberal views popularized by Bart Ehrman. But Ehrman’s works are distributed by a large publishing house and reaches far more people than their little web site can reach. It is not unprecedented for Jesus to find Himself surrounded by more accusers than defenders. Therefore, we must always remember that truth is not determined by the number of people who proclaim it.
At the end of the day, even if you could find and digest all the counter arguments to Thom and Bart, you’d still be stuck with an unpleasant choice: which set of experts to believe? They both are trained in matters at which you can only guess. It’s like having to choose between two heart surgeons debating about medical techniques of suturing – you know it’s important, but you lack the vocabulary and skill to decide between them. In the end, you have to rely on your gut. Why not rely on your gut to start with – which in this case is more precisely your conscience – and choose the Man from Galilee to be the one who operates on your heart? Leave the bickering surgeons to themselves.
I do not object to all the observations Thom makes in this chapter. It’s the conclusion to which he leaps that I object. For him, a survey of ancient Near Eastern literature and a full embrace of liberal orthodoxy about the origin of the Bible lead him full-speed ahead to the conclusion that Moses did not write the books that ancient Israel – including Jesus and His apostles – attributed to him. As for which Israelites did write those books, Thom is sure – with liberal orthodoxy supporting him – that the early authors were polytheists and the later editors and authors were monotheists. He can’t name them, but he knows for sure it wasn’t who the Bible says it was.
Once again, you don’t have to have a graduate education in biblical studies to make your choice of whom to believe: Thom or Jesus. And the choice is even simpler than that: Do you believe the words of the Savior brought you to by men who shed their blood in giving their testimony about Him or do you let yourself be pulled back and forth by the argument between errantists and inerrantists dwelling in academic ivory towers?
There’s no denying that polytheism marked the ancient world, just as there’s no denying that monotheism marks the modern world. That’s why some of Thom’s observations have value. However, these observations are framed in an argument from Thom that leads in only one direction: “You should not trust the Bible to be the word of God!” What good are his valid observations if you aren’t allowed to reach more productive conclusions with those observations?
Jesus Christ, through the coming of His kingdom, pulled the world out of polytheism into the monotheism that Abraham had championed so long before Him. In his chapter heading Thom asks “Whither Thou Goest, Polytheism?” The answer is “Into the oblivion of history…where the Champion Jesus Christ sent it.”
Next installment: A Review of Thom Stark’s “The Human Faces of God” – Chapter 5