Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Harm of Divine Inspiration

There are a number of reasons to leave behind the belief that the Bible is supernaturally inspired. Bob Price points some of them out in his essay, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible: A Critique. Moderate Christians know that divine inspiration is at best a sentimental belief. It is nice to think that the Holy Spirit "breathed" on the biblical writers. The Holy Bible is a cultural icon. We don't read it. We admire it like a nice piece of antique furniture. Because Grandma read it we treat it with respect and call it God's Word.

Sentiment more than truth is what keeps moderates from admitting and stating clearly that the Bible is a human product. If the sentiment was harmless, then I wouldn't bother writing what I am about to write. However, the sentiment that the Bible is God's Word is not harmless. It is not true and it is not harmless. The harm is that the belief that the Bible is the Word of God harbors extremists. Because moderates are not critical of this belief about the Bible, the extremists under the protection of the moderates, are able to do great damage.

Think of how the Bible is used to justify the oppression of gays. Of course, moderate Christians don't use the Bible to oppress gays. Instead we try to engage in painstaking exegesis of Romans chapter 1 or the superstitions in Leviticus in attempt to show that the Bible isn't as anti-gay as the extremists make it out to be. We miss the entire point. The Bible is wrong. It is wrong about gays, women, slaves, ethnic cleansing, the origin of humankind, the future, the character of God, and the person of Jesus. The Bible--all of it--was written by human beings. Some of it is brilliant and some of it is bad, bad news.

Because moderates are either not willing, are too frightenened, or too overcome by sentiment to state the obvious, the extremists always have the upper hand. We have no answer to "The Bible says..." or "You don't believe the Bible...."

If we just admitted the truth, that the Bible, like every other book on the face of Earth, is a human product, filled with human genius and folly, then the extremists would have no authority for their outrageous views.
Moderate Christians are lazy and irresponsible. We are letting the atheists do our dirty work for us. They are saying (and good for them) what we won't about the Bible and about the terror that is being done in its and in our name. It is time for critical Christians to come clean about the Bible--what it is and what it is not. We blame the moderate Muslims for not dealing with their extremists, it is time for moderate Christians to take our own advice.


  1. 1 Corinthians 13 is clearly inspired by the Holy Spirit. Its beauty and its ability to reach so many people across millenia are so brilliant that Paul must have had some help. Is this mere sentimental belief? No. It is recognizing that God is active and gives a damn about us earthlings after all. Is God's fingerprints only on trees, or is God's grace so brazen that even our very words may have a more-than-human origin? While affirming that God's fingerprints are on trees (and the beautiful mountains that I live on), I also affirm that God can and does inspire human activities, even our writing.

  2. Hi Seeker,

    Be curious what you think of that essay. I very much enjoyed your latest post on insiders and outsiders.

    Thanks C,

    I, too, find I Corinthians 13 a beautiful piece of writing. I also find portions of Job elegant as well as the Sermon on the Mount and many other selections in the Bible. I also find Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Shakespeare's plays moving and insightful. But why suggest that human beings from our own creativity are not capable of writing these things? Why postulate that a supernatural force is responsible?

  3. How do you understand C-67's claim that the Bible was "given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit"? If the Scriptures are "unique and authoritative" then what makes them so?

  4. Thanks, John. I really liked the essay a lot. I especially loved his comment about the notion that God is a cranky theology professor. I think that summarizes in a nutshell what is so wrong with a certain brand of Christian thinking.

  5. A word regarding the confessions. For those not in the club, C-67 refers to the Confession of 1967 of the Presbyterian Church (USA). There are eleven such confessions in the Book of Confessions. If you go to the right of this blog under "Everything Presbyterian" you can read the Book of Confesssions (BOC) on-line.

    The Confession of 1967 was adopted in, you guessed it, 1967. It took over a decade to write, edit, vote, and adopt.

    The Confessions in the PCUSA seek to reflect the church's views in a particular time. They are a compromise.

    Some use the confessions as loyalty oaths and for them they serve a disciplinary function.

    Others use them as guidelines and signposts for the church's faith and serve a teaching function.

    While theologian Jack Rogers wouldn't agree with everything I say and vice versa, I did like the image he used for the confessions. He said they can either be a birdcage (keeping us trapped) or a birdbath (a place to land for refreshment before going on our journey).

    I'll take the birdbath.