[About the Participants] [Opening
Statement by John Rankin] [Opening Statement
by Robert Price][Dialog] [Questions
from the Audience] [Closing Statements]
[Return to Mars Hill Forum]
Is the Bible Coherent?
Questions from the Audience
Questioner: I have a question about the flowers. First of all, I have to applaud you for your truth-seeking and for your ability to be open to look for affinities between different religions, because that's at the heart of finding truth.
But I just have one question about this "let the chips fall where they may." It seems like even approaching the Bible as a non-religious person, just reading the stories, the story of the Tower of Babble and the story of the Pharisees. It seems like it warns you, at various places, that using knowledge and using your own interpretation can lead to faults and downfall.
And my question to you, I guess, is that are we as human beings so innocent, so free from sin, so knowledgeable and so right to judge, and if we are, is coming to that judgment through PhDs and gaining more knowledge, or is it through prayer and spirituality?
Bob Price: It's not an either/or thing, I don't think. It certainly is easy to try to govern yourself and say, am I trying to get away with something here? Would things be easier for me if so-and-so were true? Do I want so-and-so to be true? And that's something everybody has to ask themselves, it seems to me.
Like people used to say, those Baptists that believe in eternal security, they're just trying to get away with any sin they want to commit. I never met a Baptist that did, but it's possible that somebody could use that. Or Jim Baker, who knows what rationalizations he had for what he did, he probably had some.
But anybody can do that, and I think it's equally dangerous to make yourself into God by saying, yeah, that Bible has the infallible word and I happen to know what it is, and I'm going to tell that person they can't live the way they're living. Wait a minute, maybe, maybe not, but the dogmatizing. And talk about humanism, thinking the mere human opinion as the word of God, I see that all the time in religion.
So there are dangers both ways. And you'd have to be the biggest fool going to think that an increase of knowledge equals an increase of wisdom. You're right, it would be incredibly stupid to . I regard PhDs as learners' permits, you're at the beginning of the process, not at the end.
John Rankin: Let me just give a few comments in that context as well.
I actually like the phrase "let the chips fall where they may," and that's always been my understanding. And I think that any one of us who is truly convinced of our Biblical world view will let the chips fall where they may. And this is why I talked earlier about the love of hard questions, is that if we have a Biblical worldview, and we believe it's true, then the more we believe it's true, the more free we are to let people dispute. Why? I don't protect the truth, it's the truth that protects me. So if we have confidence in it, then we are open.
And you know, Bob, when you mentioned about those who say the Bible is infallible and I know what it is, well, I will say the Bible is true, and I'm judged by it. And that's very different from saying I know what it is. I will do my best to understand it, but I also believe that perhaps the most incontrovertible statement in all the Bible, and maybe in all history, is when Jesus says, "You will judge a tree by its fruit." And that's why, many times, I think that the Bible has been poorly represented, when people in the church are hypocritical, and they fear hard questions, or they seek to impose doctrine, or they don't follow the ethics that are therein.
One other quick observation, maybe two. If you look in all world religions, it is said that they all have the Golden Rule, do unto others what you would have them do unto yourself? And yet it's only Jesus who makes it positive. All the others say, in one form or another, don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you. Except for the Koran, which says do to others what you want them to do for you -- if they're Muslim. But if they're not, then chase them down until they're dead.
And so the ethic of the Bible is the power to give. And so when I look at competing religions, I look at people who are equally made in God's image as I am. And I'm saying, what will serve their fulfillment as it will serve mine? And therefore the motivation of the gospel is to preach the good news. And as Jesus said, he came to save and not to condemn.
And just for what it's worth, Bob, when this young lady mentioned about do we seek wisdom through PhDs or through prayer, you said it's not either/or, so I'm glad that you're a praying man.
Bob: Well, in fact I do go to church every Sunday, an Episcopal church, whether there is a God or not, I find it fulfilling spiritually. So I'm not like some kind of-I don't have any axe to grind, like there's no God! I hope I can prove it! That's crap.
Questioner: My name is Kenny from BCMI and my question is for Dr. Price. How do you address such issues as the Bible being God's inspired word, and also Christ claiming to be the son of God?
Bob: Two different and real major questions. I don't think the inspiration of the Bible, if it were true, which it may be, makes any effective difference. And I say that because I've studied a bunch of different theologies by evangelicals, fundamentalists, Roman Catholics, and others, and it occurs to me, at the end of it, that there's nothing about the idea that God had the Bible written, which inspiration reduces to that.
I mean, if it means anything, it means that God had the Bible written in one way or another. There's nothing in that that really rules out there being fiction in the Bible, legend, myth. If I already know God would not deign to have a lousy piece of fiction in the Bible, then I know, I don't need any Bible! If I can read the mind of God to that degree!
So there's nothing. It's like if God had the book written, it's this book, and if I'm going to read it as I read a book, I have to use the regular historical, literary and other methods. And so I don't see how it actually makes any difference if I wind up with different voices on different matters of what the gospel is, even, much less whether you can get a divorce or something.
The fact that it's inspired doesn't help if Matthew and Luke say different things about divorces. Or if it's ambiguous, it doesn't make it any less ambiguous. There are many places where, even if you believe the Bible is in errant, you have to admit it's ambiguous, and so what are you going to do?
So I see the inspiration thing, really, as a non-issue. Even if it's true, it makes no difference. It's like saying the Bible is big or the Bible is blue or something, it doesn't actually have anything to do with the text I'm reading.
Second thing, I don't think Jesus necessarily claimed to be the son of God or God. Here's one of those places where you compare the gospels, and it appears we've got a lot of embroidery with people putting their theology on the page. If you compare the Caesarea Philippi confession of Peter scene, for instance. In Mark, Jesus says, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter says, "You're the Christ." In Luke he says, "You're the Christ of God." In Matthew he says, "You're the Christ, the son of the living God." In John, in what seems to be his version of it, he says, "You're the holy one of God." In the gospel of Thomas, saying 12 I think, Thomas says, "Master, my mouth is unable to frame what it is you're like." And that's the right answer. Who knows what Jesus said?
And it's not some kind of skeptical presupposition, it's looking at the text and saying, does this tell me what Jesus thought about himself?
Once in a class I asked people, tell me if there is any place, even if Jesus said every one of the things attributed to him in the Bible, where Jesus says, "I am the Messiah." And this one guys says, well, what about right here in John 4. He's talking to this Samaritan woman, "I who speak to you am he," but that's not what he said, though, he said "I'm the Messiah." I said, what Bible are you reading? And he said, The Living Bible. And I said, I thought so, that's not the real Bible, it's this horribly bad paraphrase of the Bible. But even there, in the Greek, it's not necessarily what he's saying.
But isn't it interesting that Jesus never actually says, hey, I am he. He says false prophets will come and say it. In the gospel of John again, it's theological poetry, my favorite book of the Bible, I love it, but it seems to me it is demonstrably not history. So it's difficult to know what Jesus claimed. Not that it matters to me, that doesn't mean-like if Jesus said, I'm the son of God and here's my ID card to prove it, that doesn't mean I need to take the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, more seriously than merely reading it would.
I mean what if Moe Howard, one of the Three Stooges, wrote the Sermon on the Mount? Suppose a monkey on a typewriter wrote it. Would that make the result any less penetrating? Would we have to take it less seriously. As though, uh-oh, Jesus says stand on your head. Well, I wouldn't, but since he's the son of God, here I go.
No, it's not like that, it's teaching a gospel with inherent, moral weight to it, whether the guy who said it is Jesus Christ or Lex Luther-as Martin Luther said, by the way. It's a gospel, if Jesus, Peter, and Paul say it, or if Herod, Annas, and Judas say it. And if it's not the gospel, it doesn't make it the gospel if Peter, Paul, and James say it. And I think he's right, you have to judge by the weight of the material itself.
John: You know, Bob, after introducing us to the theology of the Three Stooges .
John: I thought you were about to say Peter, Paul, and Mary. But anyhow, a couple of points here. I am so impressed with the ethical consistency of scripture, as I've shared it with you tonight, the power to give, on forward, that I don't think we ever have to tell people the Bible is inspired. And I don't think we have to make it a prerequisite for being a believer. And do you know why? If the Bible is inspired, which I believe it is, it will give the fruit of it. And so if we get inside the story, the inspiration will prove itself accordingly.
And it is true, idolatry is the worship of something good instead of the God who made it good. Now do you know what some fundamentalists or other Christians have made an idol out of? The written Bible, or their translation thereof. Look at the debate about the King James with some people. And yet, what is the word of God in scripture? John 1:1, it's Jesus. The living word.
And so what happens is, the written word is the written testimony in space and time of the God who's acted on our behalf. And if we would get inside the story, the story itself would be that which proves its inspiration without requiring people to have that doctrine ahead of time.
Therefore, I think that Bob's skepticism, his healthy skepticism at this point in context is very good. There are many people who have made an idol out of their doctrines or out of the Bible itself, instead of worshipping God. So unless they use the words "infallible," "inerrant," or "inspired," then somehow they can't trust it, I believe it's completely inspired, completely true, but the story itself will give the evidence to that.
And it's interesting also-well, now I won't go down that line because that will be too much detail. I want to be specific and respond to the question that Bob responded to.
In terms of the son of God, remember when Jesus said that he wouldn't testify to himself but he would have others do it, in terms of John the Baptist? What I think is so remarkable about Jesus, in the four cross-checking witnesses of the gospel writers, is that he lets people discover for themselves that he is the son of God.
And so in the Gospel of John, this is a major theme, the deity of Jesus, I and the father are one, and he continues to tease his enemies, the Pharisees. And at one point he said, well, my father, Abraham saw my day and rejoiced. And they said what, are you a man not yet fifty claiming to be older than Abraham? And Jesus says, before Abraham was, I am. And what do the Pharisees do? Pick up stones to stone him. Why? He was claiming to be the Messiah, he was claiming to be God in human form. Before Abraham was, ego emi, Yahweh from the Hebrew. He was saying I am Yahweh in human form, I am bigger than space, time, and number, now incarnate in the son of God.
And so what we see, and John has his own angle much later on, we had the three Synoptic Gospels, and they each have their own audiences, their own themes they're developing. And the Apostle John said that if all the books were to be written, if all the stories and details of Jesus' life were to be known, the earth itself couldn't contain the number of books that would have to be written. So each of the gospel writers are selective in their witness, in their multiplying witness, of who Jesus is. And all the way through, Jesus is very humble, he's very subtle, and he's drawing out of us our ethical response.
Questioner: Okay, sort of complementary questions for both of you. The first one is for you, Dr. Rankin. You said that you see the Bible's coherency in creation, sin, and redemption, but one of the things your opponent spoke about was the apparent contradictions in the Bible. And so how do you deal with those, even though there is this overwhelming story that you see throughout the Bible, how do you deal with those smaller inconsistencies, or apparent inconsistencies, or apparent contradictions, or whatever.
And then, on the other hand, you've talked about how you've seen the inconsistencies in the small stories. But the Bible is still grouped as different books, and so there's obviously got to have been some coherent theme to put those books together, but you don't agree with the creation, sin, and redemption, you said. So what do you see as the theme of the Bible?
John: Let me respond real briefly there. The best way would be to deal with the contradictions specifically, but let me just give you two basic categories.
Some contradictions that are put out there by skeptics often times deal with stuff where-for example, the genealogies. And there are four or five major groupings of genealogies. And we have to understand, what is the purpose of the genealogies. Luke and Matthew have different genealogies, because Matthew only goes back to Abraham, because he has a Jewish genealogy. He traces the patrilineal side of the equation.
Luke is dealing with Gentiles, so he goes all the way back to Adam, and he shows women all the way through, to show key women participation. So they have their audiences, and they have a complementarity. So that's one way of answering it.
Another way is perhaps the larger issue of ethical contradiction. And this is a huge issue, and I'm going to try to just touch on it very briefly, but this is an honest way, I think, of hitting a core issue.
Bob talked earlier this evening about genocidal jihad in the Old Testament -- the members of Jericho who were completely wiped out by the Jews, at God's command, in the text. What's the difference between that and Islamic jihad? In other words, what's the difference between than and the love of enemies that Jesus talks about in the New Testament? And that's one very large contradiction that people talk about all the time.
And it would take me a good five minutes of going through the history of the story of the Bible to explain how this story understands itself, but I'll try to be very simple right here.
The understanding of scripture is that pagan nations are devoted to destroy the messianic lineage. And they're given 400 years, by Yahweh, to repent of their sins, and they choose not to do it. Yahweh was patient with them for 400 years, he gave Pharaoh more chances than anyone else in the entire Bible, before he brought judgment. Back to Genesis, he said, if you disobey you will be judged. God knows the heart.
But what happens is, since the pagan nations want to destroy the messianic lineage, and the Messiah is coming to save us all, God says, if you don't wipe them out, now that they've completely judged themselves. For example, in the city of Jericho, remember how Rahab was saved along with her family, a woman who made a living as a prostitute inside the city walls, very wealthy to be living where she was, politically very well connected. But what does the story also show us? She was concerned about protecting her family. So it's a very reasonable assumption that this woman sold her body, not because she wanted to be a prostitute, but because in a pagan nation, that was the only way to protect the ones she loved.
So when she heard of Yahweh, of the Lord God delivering the Jews from Egypt, she said, I want to believe in that God. But all the other members of Jericho, though they heard of the great mighty deeds, wanted their sorcery, their sacred prostitution, their child sacrifice. And so they all knew the story, and Rahab tells us, but only Rahab and her family wanted to believe. So God says, there comes a time when you'll be judged. But since these pagan nations are seeking to destroy the messianic lineage, I tell the Jews at one time, no rape, no pillage, no selfish plunder. You destroy them, and completely, because if you don't, they will lead you into child sacrifice, among other things.
Psalm 106 says that because you didn't destroy them, they destroyed you. And so the view is, because of their own sealed choices, they were a self-diagnosed, and self-approving cancer. And God says, there comes a point at which you will be judged. And so I will have the Jews learn to judge between truth and falsehood. I've given them 400 years, now you destroy them. Completely different from the Islamic jihad.
But, at the Biblical level, why is this God's love? Because God's love is to bring himself to all of his enemies, and part of his love is to let us choose what we love. So Jesus says, those who love darkness, to darkness they will choose. You know, I argue that those who are in hell, number one, love being in hell, and number two, God loved them enough to have them love what they love. Are there people who would rather die in bitterness and unforgiveness than to forgive? That's the ethical language of hell.
So I've just scratched the surface, but what happens is, when we bring up these contradictory questions, or questions about contradiction, my answer is, let's get inside the story, do all the work. Now if Bob and I were to do that, okay, he has such a different perspective, presuppositionally, at this point, that he's going to look at it from certain angles, I'm going to look at it from other angles. Who alone is the judge? God is the judge. And finally, where is the fruit that is produced? And on that basis, I'll just let God be the judge.
Bob: You've got a longer version of my biography than I do, because I remember coming to the text opposed to all these views I now hold and being dragged, as I felt, kicking and screaming to them. It wasn't presuppositional.
John: I didn't say it this time, only once earlier.
Bob: No, no, you did, I see it in these pernicious ways because of my presuppositions, but 'tain't the case. I may be wrong, but .
John: I have my presuppositions too, okay. So I'm just talking about the fact that we have different presuppositions.
Bob: Well, I just don't perceive or recall any kind of naturalistic or whatever anti-miracle or presuppositions leading me to these views. I suppose I could be self-deceived, like the Freudian says, you hate your mother, the guy says, I do, I don't remember, I don't think I hate her, and he says, see, that just shows how much you've repressed it.
John: Bob, if I could just say something real quickly. I'm not talking about a Van Tillian presuppositional framework. I'm talking about presuppositions we both hold at this day, due to our histories that bring us here. That's what I was referring to.
Bob: Then it's not a presupposition, is it?
John: I have a presupposition that God is true. I have arrived at that through critical thinking.
Bob: I don't doubt it.
John: So I say that is my operative presupposition. See, you're responding philosophically, where I'm using it slightly differently. I just want you to understand how I view you and I as we come to the same table. We both have our presuppositions as we come to this table tonight, however we've come to them. So I was just trying to answer that because of our different presuppositions, it will lead us to different conclusions.
Bob: Yeah, I just don't accept that, I don't think I'm axe-grinding, I could be wrong, but isn't that what .
John: I never said you were grinding an axe.
Bob: Oh, yes you are when you say I'm only coming to this conclusion because .
John: No, no, no, no! No!
Bob: Sure! When you say you only believe what you do because of these presuppositions, which I do not say.
John: No, I only believe what I believe because of my presuppositions.
Bob: No, you don't! You just said, you just critically looked at it, they're not the same thing.
John: No! Our presuppositions, the way I use the word, are arrived at critically.
Bob: That's not a presupposition. That's the "pre" element, prejudice, same kind of thing.
John: No, it's not prejudice!
Bob: My point is, if you make a judgment, it's not prejudiced if you look at the facts, right?
John: We're using at the word so differently. My suppositions, does that work for you?
Bob: That might be better. Because presuppositions, usually that's used to write people off.
John: I'm glad you brought that up. I am treating you the same way I believe I'm treating myself. Our suppositions, however we have arrived at them. There's no view in my mind of axes to grind, no presuppositions as though you were born with them according to Freud's diagnosis. No, our suppositions, we look at it differently because there are suppositions we've arrived at. I use the language "presupposition" happily, you don't, I'll drop the "pre," we agree.
Bob: Okay. What was it-oh yes, do I see any element of continuity. I really think that the continuity element in the Old Testament is that we have the library of the national literature of a particular religious and ethnic group that just accumulated gradually despite many, many contradictions. So there are, as you would expect, a lot of continuities, too.
The big leap comes from when you jump from that into the New Testament, which is a sectarian document representing one of many current, specialized, reappropriations of the Jewish heritage by a lot of non-Jews, too. Which is why I compare it to the Book of Mormon, where you have a kind of an appropriation of somebody else's religious heritage.
So insofar as it's trying to be a sequel to the Bible, in a sense, to the Old Testament, there's a kind of continuity, but it's very difficult to say there is any central message at all. I don't even think that the Messiah, unless you mean the anointed King of Judah, is an Old Testament concept. I think we re-read what were birth and coronation oracles and hymns in the Bible.
I recommend a book by Sigmund Mowinckel called He That Cometh all about this. I think we have re-interpreted a lot of these royal oracles and so on, having to do with kings just coming to the throne, how they're going to save the world and be anointed with the spirit and all that. We've re-interpreted them in light of Christianity, and there were not, in fact, ever, any Jews saying oh, I can't wait until the Messiah gets here. There was certainly nationalistic expectation once they lost national sovereignty. But the idea of a Messiah, I think that is really read back into it, so I don't think that even forms a part of Old Testament religion, much less being a central axis.
Questioner: There seems to be different truths in scripture: divine sovereignty, human responsibility, or Jesus is 100 percent human, he's 100 percent God, things of this nature. How would you respond to that in terms of fitting into the coherency of scripture? And then two, if you'd both comment on the Jesus seminar, I don't know a lot about it.
Bob: Well, I've been going to it for about six years, and it's been going on longer than that, since the mid-80s, and you have described it pretty well in terms of the procedure. There's a lot of debate, people present papers on particular Bible passages, sayings, or stories about Jesus. Then they make proposals, and they have the four colors to-this is barred from text critical groups, by the way, the people who do-like the United Bible Society's critical text, they give an A, B, C, D reading to disputed passages.
If they say yes, even though there's some difference in the manuscripts, we think the text really originally said this, they give an A. If it's just barely possible but not likely, like the Trinity thing in 1 John 5, they'd give that a D. And so they just use the color thing to indicate where the consensus or the vote, anyway, after all the considerable debate has ended, what most of the fellows of the seminar, who are pretty representative of mainstream critical scholarship, of what they thought. Jesus thought, Jesus almost certainly said, very likely said, probably didn't, or definitely didn't. And it was about 18 percent on what they thought was historically accurate.
I, personally, think that is way too optimistic, I think we have virtually no reliable data. I think we're in a mess there, just like we're in with the historical Buddha, though for somewhat different reasons. Not that it matters to me, the way I read the Bible. But if you're interested in the history of it, that's my conclusion. But the Jesus Seminar just tried to show scholarly discourse to the public, because you don't hear it otherwise. Most people just hear it in grossly caricatured ways, all those unbelieving critics, and they were just trying to show, here's what happens, like it or not, here's what the procedure is like.
And what was the first part of the question before the Jesus Seminar?
John: Sovereignty and choice. And then son of God versus son of man.
Bob: There, I think you have a lot of different views. Like on Christology, for example, you have, I think Mark is an adoptionistic document, I believe it leaves the impression that Jesus becomes God's son at the baptism. Whereas Matthew and Luke are not, they have Jesus born like a Greek demigod, born as the son of God, and John has some kind of incarnational view, but what kind? I don't think one can even get to grammatically settle the issue between Arius and Athanasius, between the Jehovah's Witnesses and everybody else. Was the Logos fully divine or like God?
Similarly, I think John often makes Docetic statements, that is, Jesus wasn't fully human, he just appeared to be, and as often says, oh no, he was human, and that it may be a result of the text being continually rewritten by different factions in Johannine Christianity.
Well what this shows to me is the fluidity and the energy of a religious movement in its formative era, very much like what you would see in the Lubavitcher sect of Judaism now, the followers of Rabbi Schneerson, who expect him to rise from the dead as the Messiah, and some of them even dare say that he was God in human form, others say that's blasphemy, and it's the kind of thing you would expect, people wrestling with their faith, and a human, who somehow, is he the lens through which you view God, or is he an idol who takes the place of God, we don't want that. And so all of these different answers are evidence of the ferment of the early Christian movement.
And we might like to say, well I'll open the Bible and find out what Jesus really was and is. It isn't that simple, it's just not that kind of literature. It attests many different early Christian views of Jesus that would be helpful in forming our own view. Did anybody just not tell me that god skywrote one day, before you die you have to have the absolute, accurate opinion of who Jesus Christ was or you're going to hell?
And as far as I know, God never did that, so I can make the best sense I can of who Jesus Christ is or was and the Bible gives me a lot of extremely thought-provoking stuff to do that. It is not the kind of thing that simply tells me. But luckily, I don't know that I'm responsible to have an infallible orthodox creed. Who said we had to?
John: Let me give a few responses here. In terms of the Jesus Seminar, I'm not a member of it, so I can't give the .
Bob: You ought to come some time.
John: Maybe I'll take your invitation, that might be a whole lot of fun.
In terms of the Jesus Seminar, there's a lot I could say. Let me just make one observation. It comes out of the higher, German critical understanding of the Bible that believes presuppositionally, I think it's fair to say, that the Bible is not coherent. That it is the imagination-if not the imagination, then the opinion, of four different sources in the Bible, JEPD, I won't explain what that means now, that contradict each other. And based on those suppositions, they're trying to see how consistent Jesus is with that.
Now there's one problem that we have here, and Bob and I addressed this in the one other forum that we've shared together in Montclair, New Jersey. And that is when Bob says he doesn't think there is an historical Jesus .
Bob: There may have been, it's impossible to tell.
John: It's impossible to tell, my response at that point was that the only religion in history that cares about history is the Bible. That's not quite how I mean to say it. The only religious origin text that starts with the assumption that it is historical is the Bible. All the pagan religious origin texts start with self-conscious understanding of mythology, and from Genesis all the way up to the New Testament, there is the text on its own terms saying this has eyewitnesses, this is historical.
In fact, what's remarkable, it starts with Adam and Eve and says who their children are all the way up to Jesus. And so the very text itself is breathing historical eyewitness. And so for someone to say that we don't know if it's historical, well they're ignoring the very source of why we should be concerned about history to begin with, and the very source of how the Bible testifies about itself.
Son of God, son of man, how do we look at that balance? Well, that's the whole nature of the incarnation. Jesus is fully God, he is fully man. And there are certain theological traditions in history that maximize one and minimize the other. So, for example, the Gnostics said, based on their presuppositions, that the body was evil, the Hebrew Bible says the body is good, and that Jesus himself wouldn't deign to take on human flesh, it was just an appearance, as it were. And therefore, they sell short his humanity and say he wouldn't be completely human.
And also, Roman Catholic theology does this, from a different angle. Roman Catholic theology says that Mary was immaculately conceived. She was free of sin. Why? So Jesus could be free of sin. Well, if Mary is free of sin, which the Bible doesn't say, just like saying she's a perpetual virgin, it doesn't say that, okay, Jesus had brothers and sisters, she was to be celibate until Jesus was born.
But what happens is, later developed Roman Catholic theology, if it says that she had to be perfect and a perpetual virgin in order for Jesus to be the son of God, then why didn't her parents have to be immaculately conceived to protect her? And how far back to you go until you abolish the sin of everybody? So it's taking away from the humanity of Jesus.
Also, imagine Jesus growing up with a father and mother who never sleep together? Talk about un-Hebrew, talk about un-human. And so you get a deity without a humanity.
Then you've got those who will strip Jesus of his humanity, excuse me, his deity entirely, and just make him another human sage. And so the son of God, son of man balance is showing that balance is complementary. He is the son of God, he is the son of man, fully God, fully man, and of course, we see in a lot of history that there are tensions, there are paradoxes that hold truth in the balance between them. And of course that's how the atomic substructure of the universe is built as well.
Another example of that is sovereignty and choice, and so in the next 45 minutes, let me sum up for you what that's all about. I'll try to do it in about one minute.
What is very powerful-and let's just put it on these terms, okay? Genesis 1 starts with the declaration of the sovereign Yahweh, Yahweh Elohim, who's bigger than space, time, and number. And the assumption is that he's free, and we are made in his image, and the first words, so the first words of the Bible, is the power or sovereignty of God. The first word spoken to the first man in Genesis 2, you are free. So if you want to have a balance, you have sovereignty and freedom right there.
There are some people who can say, well, we can't be free if God knows everything. Have you heard that argument? And we're fore-ordained? Well, here's the reality. If we take the Biblical assumptions, C.S. Lewis likes to talk about this, of God being greater than space, time, and number, it means that right now I'm experiencing the present, at about 9:32 pm on the Ides of March, the year 2002. Just thought I'd bring Caesar in there for the fun of it.
So this is the moment we have. The present is shaped by my past, it goes back over 49 years if I include my in utero, which I do, because I'm pro-life, okay? So it goes back to the fall of 1952, okay?
What is my future? Is my future 20-20? Maybe in terms of the calendar, but not in terms of my eyesight, 20-20 is my past. OK, let's just talk about calendars. So 1952 is my past, the year 2020 is my future. I am shaped by the past, I look forward to the future, but do I experience the past right now? In time, no. I may remember it. Do I experience the future? No, I only have the present.
But Yahweh Elohim, who is bigger than time, space, and number, is present where? Present in our past, present in our present, and present in our future. And therefore, for him to say that I foreordained you, is using human language for our encouragement. It's not that he manipulates our will, but he says, essentially, I am where you're going to be, and be encouraged and hang in there, because you made it. And that's actually the way to sum up Romans 8 in that sense. He who is bigger than space, time, and number, the only concept in all religious origin texts of God who's bigger than the universe and its limitations.
And so what happens is that the one who is without limitation in his resource gives us the freedom to accept or reject that. Now if we were not fully free in the limitations of time, space, and number in which we live, it would mean that God is not free, because we're made in God's image. And it's the pagan deities who are slaves to the element who force us into slavery. And therefore, if we are to say that we're not free, and somehow our freedom mitigates against God's sovereignty, and some people argue that, it makes God into what? A Marduk, a [Babylonian] pagan deity, an astrological entity.
Now what's interesting, look at the debates in psychology between Skinner and Rodgers, between determinism and free will. The debate is all the way throughout there and through all of history. And so I will say, and this is to answer the question about the balance: I chose to believe in Jesus Christ; I could not choose otherwise. I have that balance, I have that existence. I am shaped by the past, and yet I am free today. And I think that life is full of these balances, and if we understand these balances, then we understand part of the beauty of life.
Male Audience Member: In the same sense, it seems like you can look at the bible either as something providing a coherent source of information, and therefore resolve ambiguities of translation or even in the current translation you've got, in terms of what's making them coherent, or you can look at them in terms of let's make them not coherent, let's see how we can resolve the differences.
And without some sort of overarching paradigm of saying either it is the coherent word of God, how can we make it coherent, or it's not, it's a bunch of stories, how can we draw out their individual authors, how do you resolve what those ambiguities really are? That's for both of you, sorry.
Bob: Well, it does seem to me that everybody's got the problem of a book that is not, in fact, a systematic teaching about anything, of morals, history, theology, whatever. You've got to gather the material together, and that's what some post-modernists talk about as logos centrism, and maybe it's a wrong idea. And like, I think for instance the free will versus predestination thing, which secularists have too, what is it, genes versus environment, and so on, that's another version of the same thing.
It seems to me we probably have placed the question wrong by abstracting freedom and determinism when neither one of them really captures what's going on in life, and life is too fuzzy and big and vague to do that, so they're just helpful metaphors.
In the same way, I think the Bible gives us a bunch of metaphors, advice, perspectives we wouldn't have otherwise. And I don't see any need-I think of this great scene in Fanny and Alexander, one of Bergman's last movies, where this woman says that she's talking to the ghost of her son, it's a fascinating thing. And this guy died, and everything fell apart. And she says to him, when you died, my world broke apart. But I haven't tried to mend it, it feels better this way.
Well, it seems to me that reality is, in many ways, a broken bunch of shards. And that we're sort of unnatural in trying to make it-we're reducing it and making it into an idol, whether we do it with a Bible or science or anything else, but trying to make it a neat little package, that's making it smaller than us. I mean if you can grasp it, you're bigger than it. So the tensions and stuff don't bother me, and I'm not in a hurry to tie them together and resolve them. I would rather simply see them as clues to further reaches that I've not yet explored.
John: And I think that's a good observation about language and understanding. And one thing that I've enjoyed very much about tonight is just spending some more time with Bob and listening to the story and perspective of someone who comes from a wholly different perspective than I have. Theologically, as a Christian, as a human being, I find that this is delightful.
By the same token, I recognize that because of the suppositions, the understandings that he has, and I have, we really are, in many regards, coming from different assumptions in terms of language and meaning of words. So the next question for me is how can we share a common humanity?
Bob just said that reality is-we have a broken bunch of shards of life. What a marvelous description of the doctrine of sin! Buddhism starts with "suffering is." Pagan religion starts with brokenness. And what is so unique, and what is so powerful about Genesis 1 and 2 is that it starts with goodness. It is good, good, good. There is wholeness, there is integrity. That's what the Hebrew word "shalom" means, it means peace, but it's peace that's based on wholeness and integrity.
So if we understand the human story based on God's image, then we have a basis to communicate with one another. So I think that's a very fine question, very well posed. I acknowledge my limitations, Bob certainly has acknowledged his, we're coming from different angles, and therefore the deeper question. And, quite frankly, this is the question that motivates me, namely, how do I advance the common good for both of us? If God is true, nothing I'm going to do is going to change that, whatever is truth, I'm not going to change that, and therefore, the real concern for me is to live according to that truth. God is Bob's judge, he's my judge, I'm not his judge or vice-versa.
And therefore one of the celebrations that I have as a Biblical Christian is that I am free to love God, heart, soul, mind, and strength, free to love my neighbor as myself, and free to love my enemies, based on the Biblical ethics. And that's a coherence that is not found in any other source.
Many questions I could have asked Bob tonight that I didn't have time to, I could have asked him, what is coherence? Maybe I'm setting him up for his conclusion, we'll see what happens. But what is coherence? Why do we care about coherence? Or, if in the face of brokenness, why do we care about wholeness? Why is it that the human spirit yearns for divorced mommy and daddy to get back together? Why is it that the human spirit yearns for a broken bone to be healed, or for a leukemia to be reversed and to be healed? Why are we all looking for those qualities of peace, order, stability, and hope?
Why do we all seek to live, to love, to laugh, and to learn? Even the person who commits suicide thinks there's more peace in death than there is in life. They're motivated, ironically and painfully, but they're motivated by pursuit of wholeness. And so do we start with a reality that is broken, like Humpty Dumpty and can never be put back together again, or do we start our assumption with a reality of a wholeness which, though broken, is put back together.
So that's my answer to that question-now I'll do my conclusion, since I go first and Bob gets the last word of the evening. So I'll just segue into my conclusion, one observation, and then a reiteration.
[About the Participants] [Opening
Statement by John Rankin] [Opening Statement
by Robert Price][Dialog] [Questions
from the Audience] [Closing Statements]
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