Monday, May 11, 2015

A Note to Ex-Christian Atheistic Fundamentalists

Downtown Monroe
I have met some ex-Christians who left Jesus and embraced atheism for the wrong reasons. As Christians they were fundamentalists. When they turned to godlessness they brought their fundamentalist mindset with them. 

Their fundamentalism especially concerned views of the Bible as an inerrant object of worship. The reasoning goes like this: If we can find just one contradiction in the Bible, just one inaccuracy, then we can dismiss the Bible in some "all or nothing" mentality. The problem for me with this approach is that early Christians did not view things this way. In fact, the first Christians did not even have a Bible like we have. So their faith was not dependent on some inerrant document.

BTW - my initial faith and resultant freedom from much bondage and baggage had nothing to do with belief in an inerrant Bible. 

I like how William Lane Craig expresses this in a podcast, "Craig Evans vs. Bart Ehrman." Here are some bullets.

  • "This all-or-nothing approach really is, I must say, a kind of common assumption by ultra-conservative Christians on the one hand and ultra-rabid New Atheists on the other. Neither one seems to have an appreciation that the task of Christian apologetics can be carried out quite successfully just by showing that the Gospels, or the New Testament documents, are reliable in the key things that they say about Jesus’ radical personal self-understanding and the facts concerning the fate of Jesus – what ultimately happened to him. In order to show these facts to be historically credible it doesn’t involve showing every single detail or discrepancy in the New Testament documents to be historical."
  • When you understand this you won't get bogged down in discussions over how many angels were at the tomb, and so on.
  • There are "core historical facts that... can be established by historical scholarship without any presupposition as to the Bible’s inerrancy or even general reliability, frankly."
  • "Mere Christianity" can be defended, and two points can be established: 1) the existence of God; and 2) God's decisive self-revelation in Jesus.
  • Following these two points, then there arise other significant "in-house" issues, such as: 'doctrines of election, and calling, and salvation, and the last things, and of the church, and doctrines of creation." And issues of biblical hermeneutics and biblical authority.
  • What if parts of the Bible seem to contradict each other? What if they cannot be "harmonized?" Craig writes: "That doesn’t undermine the historical value of the core historical facts that can be gleaned from these narratives. In other words, in order for the Gospels to be historically credible sources for the life of Jesus, they don’t need to be regarded as inerrant. You can admit that there are inconsistencies, irreconcilable differences, contradictions, and this won’t undermine the evidential task of showing those central facts about Jesus that would go to justify belief in God’s decisive self-revelation in Jesus."
  • The core of Ehrman's objections is this "all-or-nothing" approach. Craig writes: "I have found this assumption over and over again shared by skeptics and New Atheists. If there is any sort of error or discrepancy then the value of the document historically goes out the window. Of course that is utterly unrealistic. No historian treats his sources in this sort of all-or-nothing manner."
  • You don't need "a text that is even inerrant much less free of every apparent discrepancy in order to establish the central truths of Christianity. So it is simply a false dichotomy to say Christianity stands or falls based upon this view of the text."
Craig concludes, following Evans:

"Based upon the texts found in the New Testament, we can historically recover what the Jesus of history believed and taught about himself, specifically that he was the Messiah prophesied of old, and that he was the Son of God in a unique sense that set him apart from other men, and that he was the Son of Man, the divine human figure prophesied by Daniel in the Old Testament. 
Moreover I would add to that that on the basis of these records we can show that Jesus was crucified, that he was buried in a tomb, that that tomb was found empty on the Sunday morning after his crucifixion, that thereafter individuals and groups experienced appearances of Jesus alive, and that the original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead. You can show those even while recognizing and admitting discrepancies in the narratives – the number of angels at the tomb, the names of the women who come to the tomb, the order of the resurrection appearances, the time of day at which the women left to visit the burial site. 
ll of those discrepancies do nothing to undermine these central core historical facts which are well established historically. That is why this all-or-nothing approach is so, I think, misleading. An all-or-nothing approach that is presupposed by skeptic and ultra-conservative Christian alike, which says that Christianity stands or falls with the number of angels at the tomb or the time of day that the women set out to visit the tomb. That is simply not the case. In order to have a historically credible case for God’s self-revelation in Jesus, you don’t need to presuppose this wooden understanding of the text that Ehrman thinks you have to."

Finally - a note to the ex-Christian atheistic fundamentalist:

Sadly, some of the Christianity you learned was fundamentalist. You were taught an "all-or-nothing" approach, concluded "nothing," and left because parts of the Bible could not be harmonized.

But this hermeneutical legalism cannot be justified historically. It is historically recent (19th century), narrow (confined esp. to America), and is not needed to establish the relevant, core facts of Christianity. 

Many of us, such as myself, were not trained to be fundamentalists. So as we wondered about parts of the Bible we were not under pressure to harmonize them or else! These have led to certain in-house, intra-Christian discussions, which have been helpful and clarifiying.

If you left for the wrong reasons, you can come back for the right ones. Why not?