Who says? Retrospective

This question became THE QUESTION for me in my twenties. Any time a claim was made, in my head I thought “Who says?” While it might seem like a belligerent stance, it was more about a desire to know the source of these claims. This desire came from the realization that my own conclusions and claims were limited and not to be trusted. This was a search for authority because I knew I had none.

Now, the first place that this question started popping up was in the context of claims made in the media and elsewhere regarding science. Investigating just a little showed that the authority of these claims was weak, and often those doing the research were not even making such claims. Once I started reading about quantum physics, and the inability to observe a phenomena without affecting it, it started to click. We really don’t know nearly as much as we think we know, and the more we learn, the more obvious this is. Those that claim they know with the most certainty are the least trustworthy. I know this is somewhat a generational attitude, and I think that many probably share my questioning stance.

Fast forward a little, and I started applying the same magnifying glass to another area of “certainty”: my own faith. Who says the Bible is inerrant? Most responses I found relied on the Bible itself. Ok, so how did the Bible come to be the Bible? Holy inspiration of many writers was not enough detail. How did the New Testament make self-referential claims when the New Testament was not even compiled yet? Who said that The Word referred to in the beginning of the Gospel of John was the Bible? Who said that this grouping of books was so transcendent that there could be no conflicts or errors of perspective in it? Who said it was only 66 books?

The answers to some of these questions and others started to make me realize that much of what I thought was certain was not. Sometimes it was just one man that claimed authority for a particular view, but then someone else makes a contradictory claim with the same authority. Many leaned on the supposed authority of those who had gone before them, but those they leaned on often had very little support themselves. In the end, it seemed to me that much of the systematic theology that I grew up with was an academic exercise with one ego floating atop another. Some of the conclusions may have been helpful, but the certainty of correctness seemed arrogant and dangerous. To add to the pot, so many authorities disagreed, and used the same text and techniques to “prove” their stance. Everyone was right in his own eyes, but if everyone is right… everyone is wrong. ┬áThe Church was a discordant throng of self-certain popes, all claiming to know the mind of God. The worst thing you could be as a Christian was uncertain.

So I pushed some of those things away, keeping sola scriptura, biblical inerrancy, and all manner of scriptural “proofs” at arm’s length. I could not flat-out deny them, for what authority did I have? But the basis for some of these doctrines was entirely too human for me to trust. So with these core tenets pushed away, I realized that I did not have much certainty at all. I had become a Christian Agnostic. I was not denying Christ, but I was rejecting the authority of the narrative I had been told. I was not denying the value of the scriptures, but I was rejecting the narrative that had been built upon them. I was not denying the existence of God, but I was seeking Him outside of the Evangelical narrative I had grown up with. I embraced unknowing and doubt. I am sure to some that sounds like I was rejecting my faith, but to me, it felt like the beginning of finding it.

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3 thoughts on “Who says? Retrospective”

  1. Wow! It’s like you knew what I’m going through. I feel this way right now and it’s pretty confusing to me. I don’t really know how I feel about the Bible being inerrant and the Word of God. Is it a black and white Bible or is there more gray than we thought on a number of issues? It’s great to hear of someone else’s journey through similar territory. Thanks for sharing. I, too, feel like it’s part of discovering something deeper.

  2. Jeff, it is a hard place to be. I hope it is easier for you.

    Even now it is difficult to verbalize the process because I know it could be difficult for friends and family to hear sometimes.

    Gradually, my perspective towards scriptures became what I would like to think is more human. They are significant records of humanity’s interaction with God, written by men, through their individual perspectives. They were still men, and just like writers today, were subject to their own cultural influences and perspectives. To me, this makes them more valuable. They really are stories, poetry, sayings, histories, and letters, first and foremost. They do not tell the complete story, but they create a framework for the narrative. The biggest change though was to stop interpreting, and start reading. If the epistles are letters, we should just read them as letters. They are to a specific community at a specific time, for a specific reason. This is part of a story, not an instruction manual. We should not be pulling chunks from a letter, a story, a history and squishing them together as if they were a unified message to us here and now.

    Partly it is the language that separates us from the humaness of scriptures. Even the term scripture simply means writings. Bible means book. The original term used for the apocryphal books (Anagignoskomena) means “recommended reading”, or “things that are read.” We have imbued these things with transcendent and esoteric qualities that do not allow us to engage them for what they are. I don’t contend that they are not holy, or sacred, only that we have elevated them to a less useful position.

  3. I’m really appreciating this dialogue from someone who can speak the same language of doubt still within the context of belief, still wanting to believe, as do I. I like your view of the Bible and how it is more of a story from which truth can be drawn as opposed to a direct line of communication from God himself.

    I think for me the struggle is to find faith that is mine and not what is fed to me through others. This is a difficult thing for a guy so easily influenced by the thoughts and ideas of those around me. Forging a newer and hopefully more authentic relationship with God is my aim. It would be great to experience God without the “Christian” filter and see Him for who he really is as opposed to what the church and other humans have created Him to be.

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