When I first became a Christian, I had a low view of the Bible. In my opinion, the Bible was the word of God, but any given verse or story could be disregarded if it was too hard to believe or understand. In this way, David and Goliath could be disregarded as mythology and a belief in giants could be avoided. Similarly, the slaughter of various tribes during the conquest of Canaan could be ignored and the difficulties of Old Testament violence thereby mitigated. While a future post will focus on the thinking process that changed my mind regarding the reliability of the Bible, I think it is useful to examine Christianity without the Bible. How did I justify a belief in Christianity when I had very little confidence in the Old Testament?
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
Imagine an overgrown barn in the middle of the woods. As you approach, you see that the barn has a window which is crusted over with dirt and grime. As you peer into the barn through the window, you can make out vague shapes and forms but it is difficult to see anything for certain. When Paul says that we see God through a glass darkly, the glass is obviously the Bible and the Bible can be hard to understand. While I thought the Bible was the word of God, communications in war can be garbled by the enemy and I viewed the Bible as the imperfect remnant of God’s true word garbled by imperfect oral transmission, the lying pens of the scribes (Jeremiah 8:8) and imperfect human understanding.
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
(2 Timothy 3:16)
While this verse is often used to justify the Bible as being the inerrant word of God, to me it had the opposite effect. If God had the same view of the Bible as Christians who advocate “sola scriptura”, then it seemed to me this verse should be more emphatic. “All scripture is the eternal and enduring word of God and the sole essential resource for the life, decision making and instruction of every believer”. Saying that it is merely profitable seemed to me to emphasize the need to earnestly seek to understand God’s word through prayer and reflection. The lukewarm advocacy of the Scripture in this passage, therefore, seemed to indicate that a simplistic interpretation of God’s word is not enough. The plan of God can only be understood by an earnest attempt to seek Him facilitated by prayer and study.
Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)
With this view of Scripture and with the violent and mythological elements of the Bible being so hard to understand, I embarked on a quest to understand Christianity independent of the Bible. After many long years of study, I finally arrived at my destination and began this blog in order to write the book that was the product of my search. The title of the book that I am trying to write is: From First Principles: A Christian Apologetic. The basic flow of the logic will be familiar to any reader of my blog and runs as follows:
- Perfect love is self-existent and has always existed. We call perfect love God.
- Desiring to bless others, perfect love created other beings.
- Because created beings are not perfect love, they are incapable of demonstrating perfect love to each other or to God.
- With divine help, however, created beings are capable of living in the eternal heaven of perfect love.
- Without divine help, contrariwise, created beings can only live in the hell of imperfect love.
- Because of pride, created beings would reject divine help and live in hell.
- In order to get created beings to accept divine help, God created them in a world where the inevitable consequences of imperfect love were so obvious that they would reject pride and accept divine help.
- God sends some form of divine help in order to reconcile Himself to imperfect love (sin) and invite created beings into perfect divine love.
In this way, you can derive the basic plan of God with a few minor assumptions about God, His nature, His plan and the nature of created beings. Use game theory to derive the prohibitions against sexual immorality, theft and murder and you have almost all of the essential elements of Christian belief. Use the evidence from science to demonstrate that all of time and space had a beginning in the Big Bang and voila, a rational set of Christian beliefs entirely independent of the Bible. The only aspects of Christian belief that are entirely unreachable through human reason is the exact form of divine help for sin (see bullet 8). This is because the cross is inextricably linked to the triune nature of God and the nature of God can only be revealed by God through His word. To me, the fact that a belief system very similar to what we find in the Bible can be derived from a small set of starting principles lends tremendous credibility to the Bible.
If you want to argue that all created beings are incapable of perfect love without accepting divine help (as I believe), then you need a reason why some of these created beings would be required to have faith while others would not in order to explain angels in the Bible. I have extended the above derivation to explain suffering and faith in this way in a previous post. (see “The Plan of God” and “The Second Wave of Creation“) The advantage of such a “positive gospel presentation” over a more traditional gospel presentation is that it avoids the baggage that is associated with the errors of the historical church and has more appeal to human reason.