Another of the challenges identified by Dr. Ruth Tucker in her book Walking Away from Faith is biblical perplexities and higher criticism. For those of us who have grown secure in the reliability of the Scriptures, it can be easy to dismiss other’s doubts with a quick wave of the hand across the standard arguments that convinced us. But as in the case of our previous topic – the interaction between faith and science – a proper mix of confidence and humility is in order.
On the confidence side, we have the Bible rooted in secular history more securely than any other religious text. For example, here is a New Testament passage you probably did not memorize in Sunday School that sets the tone for accepting and embracing the authenticity of the Gospels. “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Lk 3:1-3). And the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth was soon to follow.
Here and elsewhere, Luke establishes the time (around 30 A.D.) and the place (Palestine) for the announcement of Jesus’ coming and the subsequent commencement of His earthly ministry. Since then, many specifics of Jesus’ culture, travels, ministry, and crucifixion have been corroborated by archeology and historical research. (see The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel).
With so much evidence in our corner – and growing all the time – why the doubts? I suspect the case for doubt in the area of biblical perplexities is at least two-fold. First, our time and place in history is separated from the New Testament authors by large gaps in time (about 2000 years), in language (Aramaic and New Testament Greek vs. English and other modern languages), and in culture (an eastern vs. western mindset). These “gaps” lead to confusion, apparent contradictions, and a misunderstanding of the basic message of the Bible. How we address these “gaps” rather than just glossing over them can make a huge difference in keeping our young people intellectually connected to their faith.
The second reason for doubt in the face of biblical perplexities is the general and uneasy feeling that the message of the Bible stands in contradiction to our everyday experience. In other words, “If the Bible were true, it should explain or at least agree with my present reality and it doesn’t.” As more and more young people move away from the rationality of our western philosophical tradition, connecting the truth of Scripture to their reality becomes even more crucial. In my opinion, the Bible not only agrees with our reality, but is actually the only philosophical system (if we can call it that for this discussion) that fully explains our reality; a connection to reality so strong to me that it was the primary driver in my decision to fully embrace the gospel message of Jesus Christ as a college student. Unfortunately, this message is often missed by our young people today and its cause will be taken up next time.