Sacred Dance #6: Certainty and Fundamentalism

Why do some people react so violently to the suggestion that the writers of the bible made errors?

Lets consider a way of thinking about discerning the will of God that is characteristic of most fundamentalists. It can be illustrated like this:


In this model, the bible essentially occupies the position of the brown cell. It assumes that the “true” author of scripture is God, and that while he may have acted through someone who inscribed his words, everything in scripture should be considered straight from the source. Our job here is simply to be a consumer of truth, and to then then line my life up in accordance with the truth.

This approach provides a lot of security. Assuming that I act obediently, I can be quite certain that I am in proper relationship with God because I can absolutely know that I have done what he has told me in very direct terms. It is this “security” that makes fundamentalism work so well for many Christians. God says “Cover your head when you worship.” I do that. Viola! I am in proper relationship. No doubts. No worries.

The problem is that, once I learn that a bible writer made a mistake, such as writing down the wrong age of an ancient King in Judah, the whole thing falls apart. Since God clearly would not make a “mistake” in dictating scripture, I can only assume that he didn’t really author scripture, and I am left with no other means by which to come into relationship with him.

But, before we start considering other approaches to discernment, we need to explore just how deeply this problem goes.

The truth is, the issues involving “mistakes” relating to relatively insignificant facts in the bible are only scratching the surface. There is good reason to think that the writers of the bible were heavily “editing” – if not outright altering – the realities of their world, to suit their purposes. This is – most disturbingly to some – true even with respect to the words and teachings of Jesus.

We’ll explore that idea next.


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