January 18, 2021

iMonk 101: Can I Have My Bible Back? A Guest Post by Joel Hunter

bible2.jpgUPDATE: Joel has made an extensive explanation and defense of his “Story or proposition?” argument from this post over at the Boar’s Head. Be sure and check it out if you’ve read this.

I’ll be back to blogging in a day or so, but until then I want to re-run this fantastic IM essay by Joel Hunter, BHT fellow and soon to be Philosophy Ph.d from the University of Kentucky. Joel’s explanation of what has been done to the Bible by its contemporary defenders and the damage it’s done is a wonderful exploration of ideas of scripture that comport with Wright and Capon. If you love the Bible, but wonder if the focus on “propositional” reading of scripture is all it’s been built up to be, you’ll be encouraged by this post.

Read: “Can I Have My Bible Back?” by Joel Hunter.

iMonk 101 posts republish some of the best essays from the IM archives.


  1. I’ll admit my inability to understand effectively what Joel is saying about Genesis. It seems it doesn’t matter “what” God says about himself in the rest of the Bible, if Genesis did not actually happen….whether it is a poem, or a scientific recipe, the question is did it happen? If it did…God is Lord of creation, if it didn’t…He isn’t. We can’t “encounter the truth” of that unless the propositions it is built upon (poetic as they are) are true, right? Maybe I’m missing something….but it seems to disable the truth function of scripture in light of the encounter function negates a certain aspect of it.

  2. Michael:

    Throughout your series of posts concerning inerrancy, the following Paul Tillich quote kept coming to mind:

    “The reason that the religious symbols became lost is not primarily scientific criticism, but it is a complete misunderstanding of their meaning; and only because of this misunderstanding was scientific critique able, and even justified, in attacking them. The first step toward the nonreligion of the Western world was made by religion itself. When it defended its great symbols, not as symbols, but as literal stories, it had already lost the battle. In doing so the theologians…helped to transfer the powerful expressions of the dimension of depth into objects or happenings on the horizontal plane. There the symbols lose their power and meaning and become an easy prey to physical, biological and historical attack” – from “The Essential Tillich”, by Forrester Church.

    I think I understand what jmanning is saying, that if Genesis literally didn’t happen, can Christianity reach above mere sentimentalism? But I think what Joel is saying is that the argument is based on the false perspective of positivism. Focusing on inerrancy does not add to the bible’s value but permanently turns the focus away from the truth it contains to defending against endless historical and scientific attacks. But once we have engaged in this inerrancy battle, trying to restore the original focus will be viewed as surrendering to the literal and scientific critics. I think there is a place for such apologetics, but I think they have crowded mystery out of American evangelicalism. It’s no wonder that pragmatism rules the day.

  3. Bror Erickson says

    dumb ox,
    I don’t think that holding the events recorded in Holy Scripture to be actual historical events, or defending them apologetically has ever crowed mystery out of American Evangelicalism. Rather it has upheald mystery. What a great mystery it is that God is so powerful as to create the world by speaking alone. What a great mystery it is that God became man, in Jesus Christ. That not only did a man die for me on the cross some two thousand years ago, but God, the author of life, died for men. That is mystery.
    If anything has ever crowded mystery out of evangelcalism it has been the reduction of historical accounts to mere myths, which Paul tells us to avoid. But perhaps more than that it has been the reduction of the Sacraments (Latin for Mysteries) to symbolical actions we do for Christ, rather than mysterious real and true actions Christ does for us through his all powerful word, a word so powerful it created the world. Certainly a person who can create the world through his word, can also change water into wine, wine into blood, and bread into body.

  4. Bror:

    Good points. There is definitely no power in myth – despite what some may say. I know my confirmation kids were pretty excited to hear about the discovery of Egyptian chariot wheels under the Red Sea. It doesn’t necessarily make faith any more real or personal to them. It also won’t necessarily help them stand firm when someone finds the next alleged tomb of Jesus (Can they hold out until the next archeological dig proves the claim false?).

    I also agree with you about the sacraments. The mystery found in them is unfounded if there was no historical crucifixion. Paul made it pretty clear that Christianity without a historical resurrection is a waste of time. But proving that these events really happened doesn’t necessarily help confirmation kids make the connection with those to two precious words of institution: “FOR YOU”. Aquinas said that truth revealed through the physical senses or intellect is still dependent upon God’s inspiration. Someone may require much proof; others little. But the gift of faith is still from God. Otherwise, modern apologetics looks as silly as medieval relic adoration, but with intellectual relics rather than physical ones.

    The more I thought my faith was dependent on my personal apologetics skills, the more impersonal and defensive it became. As I have been able to let go of the burden of disproving every phantom critic, God seems closer, and I can actually feel a little more relaxed about sharing my faith again. (I think this argument could be extended to liberate churches from putting on vaudeville shows and installing water slides, but I that’s a different iMonk thread).

  5. Bror Erickson says

    dumb ox,
    Nice Aquinas quote, but what do you expect from a guy who calls himself dumb ox. I suppose he is correct, for I will quote my favorite theologian now, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my REASON and all my senses, and still takes care of them.
    So yes faith is a gift of God, but not less a gift to Thomas who subjected the resurection to the realm of sensory experience, as it is to the rest of the disciples who believed when they saw. Faith is a gift of God, but we do a disservice to faith when we try to divorce it from reason. As if someone can’t believe if he has reason to do so. The question becomes then; did Thomas believe? Or was his faith somehow inferior? Or did he make the same confession of faith in the end that the rest of the disciple made? Were not all the disciples just as blessed for seeing as for those of us who have believed but not seen in the same way?
    Let’s face it much of the Bible claims to be actual history, some of it is poetry and what not. But the parts that claim to be history are subject to the same methods of historical investigation as any other history text. No more and no less than any other record of historical events. The truth claims have to be true in the world we live in if they will have meaning. We might out of zealousness for God want to defend the text from being treated like any other historical text, but we don’t do it any favors thereby. God’s truth is truth. It can stand up to the method’s of historical investigation. (for further analysis here read “Christianity and History” by John Warrick Montgomery).
    I guess I never thought of Apologetics as making my faith more real or personal. Never thought I had to defend the faith from every critic. And my study of it hasn’t ever as far as I can tell diminished the personalness of my faith. I do find it a useful tool when talking to people who want to believe but have listened to a few to many hair brained pseudophilosophers. And no Christian should ever be afraid of Archeology. It routinely falls on the side of the Bible.

  6. My apologies for the Aquinas quote. It looks like it clouded the discussion. I honestly have no denominational axes to grind or any favorite theologians to put into play. I have found Aquinas helpful in my spiritual journey, but I do not agree with everything he taught nor what others turned him into. There are plenty other Christians who have had a greater influence on me, and among all of them I am a rank amatuer. I really appreciate and respect the diversity of opinions which appear iMonk.

  7. I’ve noticed the same thing about apologetics/theology. The more I have tried to prove certain theology, the less I worship through it.

    What used to be a statement about God’s “supratrancendentness” becomes lifeless after I fight with it. God’s truths make great plowshares; yet horrible swords.

    It’s kind of like a guy winning an argument against his wife, and then sleeping alone with his victory.

    I’m trying to quit.

  8. Bror Erickson says

    dumb ox,
    Seriously I liked the quote. I like Aquinas, well at least some of what he said. So don’t apologize for it. I liked it. And didn’t figure it had anything to do with a denominational axe to grind. Although I like to be open and honest about where I am coming from, hence the Luther quote. And I am not saying you are not being open or honest. Just saying I’m Lutheran and make no qualms about it, I do also try, especially on this board to respect others for their opinions.
    you write:
    “God’s truths make great plowshares; yet horrible swords.” I somewhat agree with this sentiment. But some how feel compelled to point out (Forgive me) I have never heard of God’s word compared to a ploughshare, but have heard it compared to a sword, a very sharp two edged sword to be exact.
    I do think the main difference between you and dumb ox, and me is the concept of worship, or the goal of worship. I don’t think what we call worship is primarily my act, but God’s act, and that happens regardless of what I feel. I don’t know what is meant by worshiping thorugh theology. Theology for me is a way to better understand God and his word, but is not something I need to have a hundred percent correct to worship God with. Again because I believe worship is primarily God’s act, not mine. Theology is then useful for explaining God, and strengthening faith, and in my case essential to what I preach, but I’m not sure to what extent I worship through it.
    I guess what I am getting at is this, I was baptized at about 3 hours old. No emergency my dad just liked to baptize his kids as soon as possible because he could. I went to church almost every sunday now for my whole life. And there God forgave my sins week after week, he taught me about Him. He nurtured me in the faith. I went through confirmation in 7th and 8th grade, God still forgave me for the wrong answers on my tests when I went to Church. Later I developed an addiction to theology. The question is what was happening at Church while I was growing up, if I needed my theology straight to worship God. I still find every once in a while (though not very often at all:^)) that I was mistaken in some aspect of my theology. Thank God HE forgives me! I don’t need an M.Div to worship God, but it sure does help me when I talk to others and try to introduce them to God. Same with apologetics, I don’t need it to go to communion on Sunday morning, but I find it helpful when I am talking to others who don’t know Jesus Christ, or have heard some slanderous rumor about him that keeps them from trusting him.
    I think the problem might be though that some people are going to refuse to believe, and arguing with them will just leave you dissapointed. I’ve been there too picking an intellectual fight for Jesus. I don’t think that is what apologetics is for. Then we feel we failed when the person didn’t convert. I’ve been there. I’m not sure if I was more upset about their soul, or my pride being bruised. But I have had to learn I can’t take responsibility for a persons conversion, that is the work of the Holy Spirit. I probably should not take it so personal then if they don’t convert. Apologetics work better when I check my pride at the door.

Speak Your Mind