XFiles: Plan BOctober 17, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)
Next up on Geisler and Turek’s agenda, the Seven Things Jesus taught about the Bible (i.e. the Old Testament). As I said before, they’ve strayed pretty far from their thematic declaration that it takes more faith to be an atheist: this section could have been preached from any conservative Christian pulpit on any given Sunday morning without even mentioning apologetics.
Let’s begin with the first Thing or two. According to G&T, Jesus taught that the Old Testament:
1. Is Divinely Authoritative—When tempted by Satan, Jesus corrected him by quoting from the Old Testament… Why would Jesus so confidently quote from the Old Testament if the Old Testament was not authoritative? He must have considered the Old Testament to be a source of truth in order to dismiss his most powerful enemy with it.
In fact, on ninety-two occasions Jesus and his apostles supported their position by saying, “it is written” (or the equivalent) and then quoting the Old Testament. Why? Because Jesus and his apostles considered the Old Testament Scriptures to be the written word of God, and thus the ultimate authority for life.
For once, I agree with Geisler and Turek. Jesus did indeed teach that the Old Testament was the ultimate authority for life. What Geisler and Turek fail to realize, however, is that this is not a good thing.
If you were raised in a Christian environment like I was, it may not be as obvious that there’s a problem here. But think about it. Why would the Bible—a book written by men—be the ultimate authority for life? Why wouldn’t God be an even higher authority? Or even Jesus for that matter?
The Bible is called “God’s Word,” even though it was written by men like Moses and David and Paul, because it was supposedly “inspired” by God. That is, it derives its authority from the relationship it is supposed to have with God. Thus, God should have an even higher authority than the Bible, because the Bible’s authority is only supposed to be derived from His. Yet here is Jesus, who supposedly is God (according to Chapter 13, anyway), attempting to derive his authority from the derived authority of the Bible? Something’s not quite right here.
Let’s back up a minute, and consider two families. One family has a father named Jamal, who is a vital part of the family. He shows up on a frequent and regular basis to interact with the other family members, and in fact he lives in the same home with the rest of the family, apart from when he has to go off to work and so on. The children know what he is like, and what he wants them to do and to value and to believe, because he is continually, tangibly, and personally present interacting with them.
The other family has a father named Frank. The children have never actually seen him, but they have a book about him, or at least a book about people who say they’ve known him and can tell the story of what he’s like and how he wants his children to be raised. The stories don’t all fit together quite as well as might be hoped, and his kids disagree on what the stories mean even when they do seem to say the same thing, so there’s a certain margin of error inherent in the fact that their closest connection to Frank is through their personal interpretation of what other people have said about what Frank thinks and wants and values.
Obviously, the book about the father is a poor substitute for having the father around in person. No matter how much authority you vest in a book about the father, it can never equal the actual, tangible presence and involvement of the father himself, in person. Given a choice, you would never choose the book over the actual father (unless of course your goal was to avoid doing what your father wanted).
As we look through the Old Testament, we see a God Who not only grows progressively less powerful as time goes by, but Who also becomes more and more distant, aloof, and absent. In the Garden of Eden, God (allegedly) shows up personally and interacts directly with His children, without intermediaries, and likewise with later generations like Noah and Lot and Abraham. Around Abraham’s time, though, we start to see some changes. God doesn’t always show up in person; sometimes He sends angels instead.
By the time of Moses, there’s a definite shift. God still shows up in person, but only to a select few, on a few special occasions. Most of the people, like the Israelites and the Egyptians, have to resort to a human representative (Moses), who is the only person that gets to interact directly with God. Some of them can see God from a distance, as it were, but the two-way conversations are much, much more restricted. It’s the dawn of the Age of the Prophets.
Later generations see a lot more of the prophet and a lot less of God, and even the prophets very often get less than a personal appearance of God—just a voice, or a feeling, or even less. By the time of the Babylonians, God is pretty much not showing up in person at all any more, and hordes of prophets have taken His place in declaring “Thus Saith The Lord” to the people. The problem is, most of them are saying that God is going to protect Israel against the Assyrians and Babylonians, so when the defeated Jews are led away into exile, it’s not only a major blow against the prophets, it’s a crushing blow against God Himself and people’s faith in His power.
What happened next, during the exile, was both inevitable and incredible: deprived of their Temple and the traditional worship of their God, the Jews consoled themselves by turning to their holy books. And here’s where they made their remarkable, serendipitous, and (some might say) fatal discovery. By transferring their faith from God and His prophets, into a book, they could stop the cycle of failures that was threatening their faith.
God doesn’t show up in real life? No problem, He’s left us His Word to guide us. The Book is all that matters. The prophets consistently turn out to be wrong? Who cares, only the Scripture is genuinely correct. Things don’t turn out the way the Bible said? Heck, that’s easy, some uninspired reader just misunderstood what it was trying to say. Put your faith in God, or in prophets, and you’ll be disappointed by their inevitable failures; put it in an easily misunderstood book, though, and there’s always a good excuse that doesn’t threaten your faith in the least.
The Bible, in other words, is Plan B, the universal rationalization for God’s consistent failure to behave like a real, loving Heavenly Father. Sure, it would be nice if God actually behaved as though He believed what men wrote about Him in the Bible, but in His absence, we can use a book, suitably canonized and authorized (by men!) as a substitute. And yes, it would have been better to have even genuine living prophets who could dialog with us and with God and bring us specific answers to contemporary questions, but in their absence we can still maintain our faith by basing it on a book whose “true meaning” is unverifiable and thus unfalsifiable.
That’s what’s so odd about Jesus, who supposedly is God Incarnate, appealing for his authority to books written by men to compensate for God’s absence from real life. Incarnation should have given Jesus an authority that even prophets could only dream about, yet here he is resorting to the same inferior substitute for God’s presence that the losers in Babylon came up with. Authoritative Scripture is a way to compensate for God’s failures, and here’s Jesus, aka “God the Son,” not only endorsing it, but depending on it.
This is exactly the sort of outcome that would have to happen if the Myth Hypothesis were true. There is no God for Jesus to be the incarnation of, so to make himself something special, he has to somehow acquire some godly authority. The Jews, or at least the Pharisees, have very conveniently invested the Old Testament with divine authority in God’s absence, and therefore Jesus can tap that authority by presenting himself as someone who knows the OT and can quote it. A God Who actually existed, of course, wouldn’t need to appeal to the authority of books written about Him by men claiming to speak on His behalf. He’d be God: hear and obey, or else.
Geisler and Turek, of course, would explain this by appealing to the doctrine of the dual nature of Christ: he both is, and is not, God, therefore he both does, and does not, need to behave as though he were God. In other words, yes, the truth about Jesus directly contradicts itself, but that’s ok, because he’s God and that makes everything all right. As we saw before, that’s a dishonest reaction to the irreconcilable contradictions in what the Bible teaches about Jesus. But we’re just getting started. Next week, Geisler and Turek explain what Jesus meant when he taught that the Old Testament is “imperishable.” Stay tuned.