I wrote a 12-part review of Thom Stark’s The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (And Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It). The review begins with this introduction. Thom wrote a response to the entire review and it appears here on his book’s website. Here is my response to Thom’s response. I’ll try to be brief.
(By the way, all the set-off quotes below are from Thom’s response and not the book itself.)
Thom’s main objection seems to be that my review has mischaracterized and misrepresented his book. I don’t think that’s the case, but we’ll work through his responses below to each installment of the review and you can decide for yourself.
Thom also says that I have misdiagnosed his motives. First of all, I have tried to stay away from his deeper motives as I know as little about them as I do anyone else’s. Where I have inferred motives, it has been with regard to obvious intent that anyone could discern. For example, he wrote a book. Although I don’t think he ever explicitly said that he wanted people to read it, I assume that was his motive in writing it. I also assume that the title of the book states his thesis and that the arguments of the various chapters are offered to persuade the reader to accept the thesis – even though I can’t recall his explicitly admitting these motivations. These are the sort of simple assumptions I’m making about Thom’s motives – nothing that requires a psychiatric degree. Beyond that, and as I say in the review, I’m sure Thom is writing truth as he sees it with the intent of helping his readers. In that regard, he and I are standing on the same ground – albeit in different places. I don’t think he bears you ill – I just think he does you and himself ill.
I make the point that I’m arguing for us to adopt Jesus’ view of the Scripture, and that Jesus’ view is that the Bible is the word of God (one attribute of which is that it is free of error). Thom responds:
Never mind that I discuss at some length Jesus’ view of and usage of scripture. Never mind that I directly confront the issue of whether Jesus’ view of scripture is something we must adopt just because it belonged to Jesus.
I don’t see how I’ve gotten Thom wrong on this point. He doesn’t think that just because an attitude belonged to Jesus that we should adopt it. You could read the part of the book he’s describing, or you could read title of his book which reads in part “What Scripture reveals when it gets God wrong.” Plus he has a chapter, the title of which is “Jesus Was Wrong.” I can’t see where I’m misrepresenting him. He thinks Scripture gets God wrong. What’s to misrepresent?
Thom’s main point here seems to be that I am not as well-versed in the scholarly literature on the Bible as he is. I conceded that in the review itself. I affirm it again here.
I’d only add that I am familiar enough with the scholarly literature to know that there are liberal and conservative wings of that scholarship and that Thom’s views can be plotted on the left side of that spectrum. Thom concedes as much when he refers to his views as consistent with “mainstream” scholarship (“mainstream,” as you can see, is in the eye of the beholder).
Again, I don’t see how I’ve misrepresented him.
Gantt assumes an allegiance to the cause of Christ commits one to an allegiance to the integrity of the Bible. I don’t hold that assumption. See, my allegiance is to truth, first and foremost. And my allegiance to the cause of Christ (namely, to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free) is derived from my allegiance to the truth.
I don’t say that allegiance to the cause of Christ commits one to an allegiance to the integrity of the Bible – I say it should. Obviously, there are people – and Thom is one of them – who profess allegiance to Jesus but not to the integrity of the Bible. It just doesn’t make sense to me. The Bible informed Jesus’ life and ministry. He trusted it. I can’t find anywhere that He taught His disciples what to do when the Bible got God wrong. If it’s as big a deal as Thom says it is, surely Jesus would have said something about it. On the contrary, Jesus trusted the Scriptures and taught others to trust them.
Thom says that a better allegiance is to the truth. However, for Jesus the Bible was truth (John 17:17; Psalm 119: 142, 151, 160). Besides, to say that you are loyal to God’s truth but then reject the Bible as truth seems particularly strange for a fellow who defines the cause of Christ in scriptural terms.
My point is simply that the evidence we have doesn’t allow us to form a rock-solid view about Jesus’ attitude to scripture. We can get a general picture. He treated it as authoritative. But what does that mean? Well, I think it means something very different for first-century Jews than it does for twenty-first-century evangelicals.
If anything, I think we have to admit that first-century Jews had a higher view of Scripture that twenty-first century evangelicals, for the simple reason that the former died for their faith in the Scriptures while I don’t think anyone has been killed for holding to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.
I said that Jesus wasn’t interested in whether they had errors in them, and wouldn’t have to have that interest in order to make use of stories for one’s purposes.
If Jesus “wasn’t interested in whether [the Scriptures] had errors in them,” then why is Thom?
I have not manufactured the idea that Thom’s view of Scripture is at odds with that of Jesus. And this is but one example of where Thom himself, in effect, admits this is the case.
Let’s return briefly to the settled subject of Thom’s motives. He says:
That Gantt feels the need to characterize my work as poisonous says more to us about Gantt than it does about me.
I am not saying that it is Thom’s intent to poison faith in Christ and in the Bible – I’m saying that’s his effect. Apparently there are times when I comment on Thom’s actions that he thinks I’m commenting on his motives.
Thom’s motives are between him and God. All we have to go on are Thom’s explicit statements and his actions, and what can be reasonably inferred from those statements and actions.
On the one hand, we have faith in a good and loving God. I’m for that. On the other hand, we have faith that the Bible portrays a single God who is consistently always good and loving. I’m against that.
If Thom doesn’t want me to say that his view of God and the Scriptures is at variance with that of Jesus’ view, he should quit differentiating himself from Jesus on this point. Did Jesus not say, “No one is good but God alone”? Didn’t Jesus conform His life…and death…to “it is written”? Does anyone hear Jesus warning people not to believe in the genocidal God of the Hebrew Scriptures?
Thom takes a curious position in his response to this chapter. In the book he says that God did nothing to intervene in the self-destructive course of the Canaanites. When in my review I ask, “How do we know that God did nothing in this regard,” Thom responds:
Because that’s not part of the story.
I say “curious” because Thom is taking the position here that God could not have done anything that was not written in the Bible. That sounds like he’s trying to “out-fundamentalize” fundamentalism!
It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Thom just does not want to leave any door open that might allow a person to believe that the God of the Scriptures is good.
…I’m blindly driven by my desire to undermine the authority of the Bible, clearly at the cost of my own capacity to reason.
Thom obviously doesn’t believe this. He’s sarcastically representing what he thinks is my view of him. (Of course, I could say that he was “caricaturing my view,” “making a straw man,” “misdiagnosing me” and other such things – but that couldn’t be the case, because then he’d be a hypocrite.)
I don’t think of Thom the way he’s described here. But I can use much of the same language to describe what I do believe. He has used his own capacity to reason and come to the conclusion that the Bible should not be viewed as the word of God. He honestly believes that it’s in the best interest of people to see the Bible as containing many significant errors. And therefore he has written a book (first a blog) to make that very point. However many good intentions may have paved the road he’s constructed, that road leads to an unpleasant place.
I don’t believe Jesus is God…
Yeah. Take it from the pseudonymous book of 2 Peter—the Bible never lies.
Even if you have concerns about some aspects of the biblical texts, is this the way you talk about a collection of books you say that you revere as coming from God?
In his response to the next chapter, Thom quotes Jeremiah 8:8:
How can you say, ‘We are wise,
and the law of Yahweh is with us’,
when, in fact, the false pen of the scribes
has made it into a lie?
Has he considered that when he writes that the Bible lies, he is fulfilling this passage?
I leave it to faith communities to determine what the texts are going to mean for them.
Here Thom seems to offer no hope to a poor individual soul who would read the Scriptures and hope to find God’s truth on his own. The guy (or gal) has to find a group. However, Thom goes to make sure we have no hope at all, for he says:
I clearly state that there is no anchor. In fact, the only appearance of the word “anchor” in my book is in a paragraph in which I argue that we don’t have one. Neither the Bible nor the believing community is an anchor. We have to argue with both of them, and that’s the best we can do.
No anchor? Does anyone think that Jesus was telling His disciples that there was no anchor in the Scriptures when He said, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken,” or “Scripture cannot be broken,” or “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets…; not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass…,” or “Heaven and earth will pass away but My words will not pass away”?
Thom Stark has a view of the Scriptures that is remarkably different from the one held by Jesus Christ. I have not misrepresented him on this point.
Thom’s response is so full of sarcasm that can be hard at times to find a direct statement by him which clearly reveals his stance. I don’t mind sarcasm; it can be effective in communication if not used to excess. However, when the meal is covered in salt one can’t help wondering if the cook is just not confident about the food.
In addition to saying that I misrepresent his position, Thom has said that I have not engaged his arguments. Indeed, it’s true I’ve not brought forward every nuance of his arguments, nor have I engaged with all of his arguments. I don’t want to strain out gnats and swallow camels. I’ve brought forward those themes that are consistent through his arguments. And I have dealt with those themes.
Thom is right when he says he can line up people who agree with him, but “woe to you when all men speak well of you for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets.” Am I saying that because Thom is articulating a view held by certain academics and faith communities that this proves him wrong? Of course not. But neither does having supporters mean he’s right. God knows who is right and who is wrong. And only God is fully right and always right. He gave us the Scriptures that we might have at least a portion of truth always available to read even when our souls are so storm-tossed that they cannot be made to think straight.
I stand by what I have said: You may trust Jesus as utterly reliable. And you may trust the Scriptures as an utterly reliable witness to Him.