This is the conclusion of a series of posts that I have written about truth in Liberalism.

As you recall, this series started with a couple of incidences that triggered my train of thought on how certain Christian sects, specifically the conservative, charismatic, evangelicals, may renounce extreme doctrinal positions and yet cling to the ‘truth’ of these positions. I compared this attitude to the attitude these same people have towards anything that smells ‘Liberal’.

Being branded Liberal is equivalent to being totally wrong and possibly not even a Christian. For instance, there have been a number of blog posts and comment threads on Brian McLaren’s new book: A New Kind of Christianity. There is some civil talk but there is also quite a bit of lines being drawn and one of those lines is that Brian is just re-branding Liberal Christianity. To this claim I say, “This may be true to an extent, however if it is, it is to a ‘new kind of Liberalism’. There is a truth in liberalism that is being re-branded in a post-modern (over used word) manner. This is not bad.”

I believe one of the truths found in Christian Liberalism is Biblical Criticism: “The Bible is not considered a collection of factual statements but instead documents the human authors’ beliefs and feelings about God at the time of its writing—within a historic/cultural context by applying the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings.” If the bible is what some say it is, then it should be able to stand under this type of critique. The rest of the posts (here, here and here) where showing where there is real errors and contradictions in the scriptures that I believe the conservative position does not do justice to.

So my question is: Why is Liberalism/ Progressivism considered so poisonous? Why don’t conservatives allow that Liberals have a truth that is worth listening to and moving towards?

I do realize that I am characterizing the conservative view. I do realize/ hope that most conservatives are more moderate, even if the most vocal position that I hear is not so. I consider myself more conservative than liberal and  I am speaking up against this. Or maybe I have become a liberal, but if this is the case, I recognize that there is truth in conservativism. I hope that in reality I am a seeker of TRUTH and will go where ever the TRUTH leads.

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Now I will look at the problem between Paul’s version of reality versus Acts.

Question: How many times did Paul visit Jerusalem?

Answer according to Acts: 3

  1. Acts 9:26: Where Barnabas brought Paul to see the Apostles.
  2. Acts 11:30 12:25: Brought money to the church elders.
  3. Acts 15: the church appointed Paul and Barnabas and some others from among them to go up to meet with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem

Answer according to Paul: 2

  1. Galatians 1:18: after three years he went up to Jerusalem and met only with Peter and James
  2. Galatians 2:1: fourteen years after he went up again to Jerusalem by revelation

Did Paul visit only Peter or all the apostles on his first visit? Was Paul appointed by the church on his last visit or did he go up by revelation? And did Paul present the gospel he was preaching in private (Gal 2:2) or was his message  received by the church and the apostles and the elders (Acts 15:4)?

Question: What was the result of the last visit?

Answer according to Acts:

Therefore I conclude that we should not cause extra difficulty for those among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we should write them a letter telling them to abstain from things defiled by idols and from sexual immorality and from what has been strangled and from blood. For Moses has had those who proclaim him in every town from ancient times, because he is read aloud in the synagogues every Sabbath.

They sent this letter with them:

From the apostles and elders, your brothers, to the Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia, greetings! Since we have heard that some have gone out from among us with no orders from us and have confused you, upsetting your minds by what they said, we have unanimously decided to choose men to send to you along with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas who will tell you these things themselves in person. For it seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place any greater burden on you than these necessary rules: that you abstain from meat that has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what has been strangled and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from doing these things, you will do well. Farewell.
Acts 15:19,20,23-29

No circumcision required but other certain Law requirements that have always been proclaimed are to be kept. And from here on out we see Paul entering a region and preaching at the synagogues. In Acts 18:6 Paul says “Your blood be on your own heads! I am guiltless! From now on I will go to the Gentiles!”

Answer according to Paul:

those influential leaders added nothing to my message.  On the contrary, when they saw  that I was entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised  just as Peter was to the circumcised (for he who empowered  Peter for his apostleship  to the circumcised  also empowered me for my apostleship to the Gentiles)  and when James, Cephas,  and John, who had a reputation as  pillars,  recognized  the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me  the right hand of fellowship, agreeing  that we would go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.  They requested  only that we remember the poor, the very thing I also was eager to do.
Galatians 2:6-10

Nothing required except to remember the poor! And Paul was entrusted the gospel to the gentiles as the rest (Peter) was entrusted the gospel to the Jews. No where to my knowledge does Paul minister to the Jewish people other than in Acts. Acts has Paul going to synagogues, Paul’s letters talk about starting believing communities among the gentiles – church.

Oh, and by the way, Paul seems intent in making sure that the reader understand that he is telling the truth almost like there are other versions of his life and ministry out there that are twist the truth: “I assure you that, before God, I am not lying about what I am writing to you!” Galatians 1:20

So I have three possible solutions:

  1. Become a liberal (read with an intonation like this is a bad thing).
  2. Eisegesis the scripture in a manner that mitigates the problem.
  3. Accept that the scriptures are inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work, even as these same scriptures are a human library full of errors and contradictions.

2) Jesus’ birth narrative

Matthew’s Account

Jesus is unremarkably born a house in Bethlehem – in a plain reading of Matthew, this seems to be where Joseph and Mary are from. No remarkable journey; no census.

The magi come to pay their respect and in there search for the King of the Jews, they tip off Herod who then seeks to destroy this threat. Joseph and Mary flee Israel into Egypt until they hear of Herod’s death. They then return to Israel. Only then, when they heard that Archelaus was now ruling the Bethlehem region do they decide to flee to Galilee and settle in Nazareth.

Luke’s Account

Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem from Nazareth due to a census that is being taken. There they find no room for them and end up staying in a barn. After 8 days Jesus is circumcised and after they ‘perform everything according to the law’, they return to Galilee. We are told that every year the family traveled to Jerusalem for passover and on his twelfth year he gets left behind. This seems to preclude Matthew’s exodus to Egypt.

Conclusions

Though these two accounts have been [successfully] merged together by conservative theologians. This is done as a need of the doctrine of inerrancy rather then because the two are a natural fit. A plain reading using the same modern hermeneutics used to understand any ancient writings comes to very different conclusions. It seems that Matthew and Luke come up with two completely different versions of the birth narrative in order to further agendas that show Jesus fulfilling certain prophetic utterances.

These two narratives do not nicely fit together. Matthew’s account implies us that the young family only moves and settles in Galilee after they return from exile. Luke’s account tells us they originate from Galilee and that they return there after the birth and circumcision is completed. Obviously these two stories have been mashed together in a way that suits inerrant/literal believers’ needs, but I argue that by doing so we no longer have the stories that the authors’ intended. We now have a non-biblical(not found in the scriptures), hybrid story created for the sole purpose to make the scriptures inerrant.

There is also the problems with the Massacre of the Innocents and the census. The date of Jesus’ birth according to the account in Matthew would be around 4 BCE – calculated by reign of Herod, Archelaus and Herod Antipas. The birth of Jesus is a decade later around 6 CE  according to Luke’s account – calculated by the census (Quirinius did not even get into office until 4-5 CE). Of course, conservative, inerrant scholars have had to fix this, so they now claim that Quirinius was in office twice and that there were two censuses. Again, this does not come from a plain reading of scripture  or a plain reading of history but is required by the doctrine of inerrancy.

The conservative’s view is that  bible has authority over us. The bible is inerrant and to be taken/interpreted literally. The Liberal view takes authority over the bible by disassembling the document.  My view is that we need to enter into the narrative of the bible, and find authority there.
[my paraphrase of  Brian McLaren]

The traditional inerrant/literal view of the scriptures dictates to us what truth is. The result is a circular argument. We declare that the bible is inerrant, therefore we fix any errors and unify any inconsistencies and then use the result as proof that the bible is inerrant.

The inerrant view of scripture is faulty because it demands that we interpret or explain away real errors and inconsistencies. A common declaration is that the bible is a unified book that conveys one consistent message. Is this so? I have read books that make this claim and then spend the majority of its content explaining why supposed errors are not really errors and then inconsistencies are covered up or explained away. The result is often an extra-biblical mash-up that seems to holds more authority than the individual pieces.

For example, the unified creation story combines Genesis 1 and 2. However, the two chapters offer two unique and distinct creation accounts. The original language in each is unique and the time line is inconsistent. In order to remain inerrant, we make up convoluted doctrines to explain the differences and unify the facts. The result is an account of creation that is not really found in the bible.

The biblical criticism approach of the Liberals is the more honest approach.

Three examples I will look at in more detail are: 1) the crucifixion, 2) Jesus’ birth narrative, and 3) Paul’s conversion.

1) I could go in to much detail about the passion narratives, let me just say that our image of Jesus’ last few hours is a hodge podge of four individual and unique accounts. By combining these four into one homogenized account, I propose that we take away from the unique messages and inspiration that the individual accounts hold for us. My point is not to deny that this event occurred, but to say that each of the four writers had their reason for writing what they did. One’s take may have been that Jesus was tormented and confused, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” Whereas another’s image of Jesus is of confidence and defiance. In the inerrant/literal view, only one of these could be correct, so to fix this, we mash them together and have only one unified account. In an inspired narrative view, the truth and inspiration may not be in the factualness of the details but in the stories themselves.

Anyway, my goal in looking at the crucifixion was not to look at the narrative, but to look at one obvious error.

Recently I received an email that talked about the importance of the Passover. In this email, there was an obvious contradiction that is often totally overlooked. The author argued that the Passover was important to Jesus. To point this out he argued that, “The original Lord’s Supper was a Passover meal!”

However, later on in this email, as the author was comparing the crucifixion with the Passover, and he proclaimed that “at the moment the Passover lamb was killed, Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘IT IS FINISHED,’ and gave up His spirit!”

Do you see it?

How could Jesus be crucified at the same time that the lamb was killed that he and his disciples had for the last supper? You see, in the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus is killed on Passover day (Friday), which was the morning following the Passover meal (the Hebrew day started in the evening not the morning). In the gospel of John, the Last Supper is not the Passover meal (instead of Jesus taking about the bread and wine, he washed feet). In John’s gospel, the meal occurred on the day of preparation; the day before the Passover! John has Jesus being crucified on the day of preparation as the Lamb of God (Thursday), not on Passover.

John’s gospel is not factual. It is theological!

John lied and changed the factual details in order to make the theological point that Jesus is the Passover Lamb of God. If this is true, then the gospel of John is a theological treatise not biographical fact. Inspired? Sure, but not to be read literally. [There are other things in John that prove this point. For example, the whole born again confusion could not have actually occurred. The word play only works in Greek and Jesus and Nicodemus would have been speaking in Aramaic.]

[to be continued]