When I wrote the first post of this series I mentioned that I want to discuss how teachers should introduce the thinking of critical scholarship to their local church. Some might argue that one should never speak of Bauer or Bultmann, Schleiermacher or Schweitzer, or Gunkle, or Ehrman, or Crossan, or Borg. Why introduce skepticism to people who have come to believe the Gospel and who may not have the ability to decipher between strong and weak arguments? Others might note that it is likely that there are people in your congregation who are familiar with these folks and their arguments. There are people in your local church who wrestle with their faith because they’ve seen the recent National Geographic or History Channel presentation that challenges their understanding of Jesus, or the virgin birth, or the resurrection. If you pretend that there is no elephant in the room it is not likely that it will go away, but rather that the person who had unaddressed doubts might disappear from your community.
It is tricky. I understand that pastors do not want to introduce skepticism where there is belief and many do not want to ignore the reality that there are some in the pews who are skeptical with the desire to believe.
With this reality in mind let me ask, how does the local church address claims such as these? (I am aware that one’s answer will differ between the person who is part of a local “Bible” church, a Southern Baptist, an Episcopalian, and a Roman Catholic, as examples, and I welcome these different perspectives.)
- The creation narratives of Genesis 1-2 are near eastern mythology with a Hebraic twist.
- There is no geographical evidence of a global flood such as is presented in the story of Noah and his family.
- Egypt contains no records of anything like the plagues that prepared the way for Israel’s exodus.
- Jericho was far smaller than depicted in the Book of Joshua.
- Most of the Hebrew Bible developed post-exile and it functioned to provide the community with an identity more so than to tell history “as it really happened”.
- The virgin birth was a later development of the church aimed to counter rumors about Jesus’ mother and the identity of his father.
- The resurrection did not happen (at least physically).
- The Gospel of John is useless for studying the historical Jesus because the words of the narrator and the words of Jesus are the same making it impossible to divide fact from fiction.
- Jesus did not think of himself as “god” in any meaningful sense.
- The pastoral epistles were not written by the Apostle Paul.
Whether you affirm some of these ideas presented by scholars, or you deny them for whatever reason, the fact of the matter is that they are not secret. Someone could listen to a few lectures on iTunes this week and come to worship this Sunday with a lot of questions for the pastor. How does the local church address these matters?
Let me open this for discussion. If you are a pastor or lay leader in a local church how have you navigated challenging questions about the Christian faith? For example, if someone in your community wanted to discuss the list above how would you handle their concerns? Would you address these questions in a group setting or do you prefer to deal with them on an individual basis? Are there some of these conclusions that you don’t mind affirming (e.g., there was no global flood) while others that you find to be more important (e.g., the centrality of the resurrection)? Share your thought in the comments!