I was driving yesterday, and while driving I listened to the radio. I happened upon a Christian program where “Pastor Mike” was answering the question: “Is the Bible Accurate?” – and by that he meant inerrant and flawless in every way. He explained that all the apparent contradictions and questions found in the bible can easily be reconciled and smoothed over. There are no contradictions, he says, because this is a divine book; its authors were overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, in the same way that the fallible virgin Mary was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit in order to produce the sinless and flawless Jesus.
At one point in the program he said that the reason that some people “doubt” the bible is that they don’t want to do what it says. He compared it to children finding a note on the kitchen table with instructions from mom and dad – a list of chores to do. “And it’s all good and fine and everyone believes that it’s from mom and dad, and it signed by mom and dad… and there’s no question about the authenticity of it until they get to a point on the list where there’s something they really don’t want to do. And now there’s a question. I don’t even know if this is from mom and dad. Who really wrote this? …All of these skeptical thoughts arise when culture puts pressure on people about the things that the bible says. And they say, well I wish the bible didn’t say that…”
There are several problems with this line of thinking, but I want to comment on only two of them:
1 – It would not be unreasonable to doubt the note on the kitchen table if it appeared in multiple hand-writings, and gave contradictory instructions. If, for instance, the note said at one point “take the lamb chops out of the refrigerator and boil it,” and then a few lines later said “take the lamb chops out of the refrigerator and roast it – do not boil it.” It would not be unreasonable to read the letter with some skepticism if differing agendas could be detected within its instructions. A faithful child would then read critically, trying to determine what is good and true about the note, so that she could be truly obedient.
2 – The analogy rests upon an unwarranted assumption: that all those who read the bible critically, paying attention to discrepancies and contradictions, do so because they are trying to avoid doing what God commands. It may be granted that there are some who do so. Some will use whatever excuse is handy. But there are great multitudes of Christians who are trying to be faithful to what God commands – and believe that addressing the contradictions and problems of the bible is part of that faithful obedience.
I don’t think God wants us to be naïve. I don’t think God wants us to be like Ned Flanders from the Simpsons, who said, “I've done everything the Bible says! Even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff!” (Hurricane Neddy, 1996) Of course, “Pastor Mike” won't even admit that there is stuff that contradicts the other stuff…