Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Fear-Based Theology

thinking more about the inerrancy thing..

One of the ideas that fuels a fundamentalist view of inerrancy is the fear of what will happen if people don't believe in inerrancy. If people don't believe the Bible is perfect in every way and circumstance, then what will hold the Christian faith together? How will we cling to Jesus if everything we know about Him comes from a tainted book? Won't people begin to slowly peel away all the theology we have, all the while reminding us that the Bible is not inerrant?

It's true. That can happen. First one doctrine is questioned and then another, and another, until what's left doesn't bear much resemblance to Christianity as it has been practiced for thousands of years. We're left with a bland pile of goo that really isn't good for anything.

It is false to say that not believing in inerrancy is equivalent to saying that the Bible is tainted or unreliable. A document can be completely truthful while having some errors in it. Reading an inventory for a regiment during the Civil War, and discovering that they claimed to have more artillery than they really did, in no way disproves that the regiment existed, fought in battle, and sustained casualties. It just means someone wrote down the wrong number or miscounted. W would consider it ridiculous for someone to base a conspiracy theory about the falsification of the Civil War on such a minor type of error. Yet, that is exactly how we treat Scripture. Fearing that those who don't affirm Christianity will use such types of errors to defame our faith, we come up with ways to protect it.

I understand the desire to cement what we believe into a perfectly preserved specimen, immovable and indestructible. It provides a comforting level of security to be able to say; "I don't understand it, but I believe it because I'm supposed to."

However, the solution is not to arbitrarily declare theological truth out of a fear of what might happen if we don't formulate a pre-emptive doctrine. That's horrible methodology for theology and for life in general.

That sort of thinking is what makes Christian parents pull their kids out of school and keep them at home--a fear about what could happen in the public system dictates the choice, not a confidence or faith in God's ability to move in the lives of our kids and their classmates and teachers. It leads Christians to push for abstinence-only sex education even in the face of evidence that it doesn't work. The fear of what teenagers might do if they know too much about sex trumps the knowledge that telling kids not to have sex, and giving them very valid reasons for why they shouldn't have sex, will not really stop many of them from doing it anyway.

But, we're afraid. We're afraid that if we don't perfectly control the way things are said and interpreted, be it about the inerrancy of Scripture or the social lives of our children, then everything will fall part and disaster will befall us all. So we construct rules, paradigms, and explanations to hide behind and give us reasons for our actions. We judge those who don't affirm those same paradigms and explanations very harshly because of their dangerous thinking, once again inciting the spectre of fearful consequences in place of thoughtful discussion.

I used to feel guilty about everything, not overwhelmingly so, but just enough that I would feel a pang of "ooh...should I have said/thought/done that?" over relatively minor things. I used to think that was the Holy Spirit telling me where I'd gone wrong, and it surely was sometimes. One day I realized that it was fear frequently poking at me--fear that I was less than what I should be, fear that I was disappointing to God, fear that if I didn't perfectly follow through in every way that I'd be just scraping by as far as God was concerned. I know from experience that many Christians feel that way.

But we don't need to.

1 John 4:15-16a and 18

"If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in hi and he in God. And so we rely on the love God has for us.."

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."

If we have faith in Jesus, then we are accepted by God. Constantly fearing His punishment and disapproval is an indicator that our faith needs some perfecting. Constantly fearing what will will happen if we don't do A, B, or C, as far as fighting in culture wars or developing theology, is another indicator that we're focused on controlling ourselves and those around us rather than transforming ourselves and those around us.

The point of the Gospels is not to create a checklist that we can keep to make us holy and acceptable in God's eyes, and to make us falsely secure in our right thinking. The point is to know we have been released from such checklists and welcomed into God's kingdom.

The transformation comes from the inside out, not from the outward constraints inward.


Chuck said...

I am not sure I live in fear of inerrancy, but, I do believe 2 Tim 3:16 and that the Lord will preserve his word (Psalm 12:6-7). I do not know how God does this, with all the various translations that have occurred since the original autographs, but he says he does. Also, I didn't pull my kids out of school because of fear either. I never put them in school. Why? Because I believe that we can teach them better.

terri said...

Hi chuck!

Personally, I don't have a problem with individual families making the choice to homeschool. I have lots of friends who homeschool and I myself would do it if I had a compelling reason. My issue is with the the promotion of it as a general solution to raising our kids. It deprives the world of the salt that we're supposed to be.

If people think public schools are bad now, how much worse will they be if involved, caring parents withdraw from them?

I believe 2 Timothy 3:16 also. All Scripture is profitable for our spiritual development. That does not mean that inerrancy is correct. I have no desire to disprove the Bible, but the claim that there is not one, single, solitary error in it isn't explicitly stated or taught by Scripture.

Thanks for stopping by!

Sadiq Alam said...

a very interesting post indeed. the thought of fear based theology also make me think often. i think one way to understand it is to understand the human collective consciousness and evolution,

in the earlier stage of mental evolution, a more fear based, mythical religion attracted ppl.

wth more progress, intellectualization, a theology, an understanding of God move more to higher order concepts such as love based theology.

we can see that in world religion as time progress.