chapter 8: are we right because we presuppose we are right

Saturday, April 19, 2008

My life was bliss! I met my wife and found the Holy Grail that would reveal the God of the bible as he really was.  Besides the distinctive of the system that sets it apart from all other systems of bible interpretation, there was one very important element present in this system that conclusively showed itself to me like the Holy Grail I was looking for.

The Holy Grail marker for me was this:  The fact that the approach connected and resonated completely with the scientific world I encountered at the beginning of the 21st century.

It seemed to me that the system married everything we know from the world around us with the bible.  That the Bible and its claims in the exact same way as we examined the world around us.  It insisted on rationalism and objectivity.  It demanded that the bible be founded upon common sense and grounded in actual real-life history and experiences.

I was under the impression that what I heard from the pulpit on a Sunday morning was the same approach to the bible as my university lecturers had towards economics, accounting, chemistry and mathematics.

I did not fully comprehend the difference between facts and our perception of the facts and how difficult it is to evaluate your perception in light of the actual facts.  What i thought was an alignment of my perception and actual facts was no more than a mirage in the desert.

It was as if the scientific method was being applied to the bible.  Every bit of theology coming from this system was a direct result of this approach and since this approach has shown itself superior to any and all previous approaches to life, it had to be the correct one.

It was, I reasoned, this approach that showed us that the world rotates around the sun, gave us modern Economics and Chemistry, lead to the discovery and development of cures for some of the most dreaded diseases on the planet, reduced childhood mortality around the world, gave us economic stability in world markets, etc.

My argument was that the superiority of the approach is clearly evident for all to see from the success it had in our world outside of area of Bible interpretation.  If we then apply the same approach to our study of the bible, surely this must be the right approach that is the death of the allegorical, the nebulous, the airy-fairy and the cloud coo-coo-land approaches to the bible.

It was not mystical nonsense – it was real, verifiable and it was here!

The movement’s prime target market is middle-class people with a college degree.  Not that I was middle class or a college graduate, but I identified well with this group.  The product positioning was designed for someone with a mental world like mine and the fit was just right!!

To me, this was what I have been searching for!

My best friend, Dawie, after he qualified as an engineer, went to do a postgraduate degree at the Master’s Seminary who is the leading proponent of this approach in the world based in Los Angeles, California.

It was from the Master’s Seminary that he one day made a comment to me that would come back to haunt me.  A comment that would create a small crack in the impenetrable fortress of this approach that would see its total destruction in my mental world many years later.

Dawie has always been very independent in his thinking and he, more than anyone else I know personally, grasp all matters scientific.  I can not recall the exact context of the discussion, but I can remember his comment crystal clear.  “Eben”, he said, “what they teach us in Seminary is great, but I realised a very basic tenant behind this approach to the Bible: We suppose we are right because we pre-suppose.”

I immediately realized what he just told me and no sooner did he say it, I forced it out of my mind.  It was as if I did not hear him and I mentally ran!

Back to my beautiful wife, my newly born son, Tristan and my cosy life in a middle-class suburb of Pretoria.

The fact was that at the end of the day, the grand edifice of the Holy Grail was built upon a system of presuppositions.  Completely untested and unproven presuppositions.  Metaphysical presuppositions which by their very definition lies outside the realm of this world.  Mystical, ancient, pre-historic and dark ages presuppositions.

The very features of the system that revealed it to me as the Holy Grail could not be subjected to the same rules of logic as we apply inside the system.  The system, to put it in other words, is only provable from inside the system and the only way to get inside the system was to accept the presuppositions.

The problem with this circular position is clear and years later I would discover that it is mathematically impossible to prove the validity of any system from within that system.

The Bible is not, as I once believed, the proof of the existence of God.

The very first sentence in the Bible reveals that this bias was present in the minds of the people who wrote the Bible.  Gen 1:1 reads: “In the beginning GOD….”

The existence of God is the supreme presupposition and everything else flows from this.

But, the presupposition remains untested and there is absolutely no logic underpinning it.  Well, not completely.  It is possible to look at life around us and think that all this may have been “caused” by some sort of a God, but then to make the jump and identify this God as the God of the Bible is not valid.  Such an assumption is unreasonable.

The fact is that the existence of God is never “proved” in the Bible, nor does it ever set out to develop this into one of its themes.   There are inferences that can be made about the existence of God as one progress through the Bible, but nothing more.  Thus, from the pages of scripture, you will not find the proof.

Even if the Bible tried to prove Gods existence one would still have to treat these claims as coming from an ancient, superstitious religious document that must be read from this vantage point and the claims will have to be verified independently and objectively.  One will have to give no more or less value to its claims as one would to any other religious document that stem from the same time period.

The fact is that the assumption that God exists and that if there is such a being as a god at all, that this god must be the God of the Bible are two necessary presuppositions that one must accept BEFORE one comes to the Bible.

As time went by I was experiencing life in the real, non-mystical world, governed by cause and effect with wonderful predictability behind everything.  I continued to study the Bible and as I did, the implications of Dawie’s comment became something that I could no longer ignore.

I realized that the reason why I thought that the system was so wonderfully constructed and that it so correctly mirrored the distinctive of the Scientific Age, was because I was evaluating the facts from within the system and that once you strip away the most basic presuppositions, the system falls apart as completely incompatible with everything we know about the world we live in.

I remember my first inkling of the truth about the Bible very well and when I realised that the problem is fundamental with the presuppositional requirement of Gen 1:1.  It started, not with the Gen 1:1 presupposition, but another very important pillar namely the presupposition that scripture was given to us without any mistakes – the doctrine of the inerrancy of scripture which flows from the doctrine about the character of God and inspiration of scripture to use the theological labels.

I was at home in Pretoria one day after a hard and stressful day at work and because I read through the bible from cover to cover many times, I decided to read the gospels in a parallel fashion to make it a bit more interesting.

Any casual bible reader will know that there are differences between the Gospel accounts which are particularly noticeable when one looks at  Mathew, Mark and Luke who are very similar to each other.

If this is true that there are differences between the gospel, meaning that they give two completely different accounts of one event and that the differences are not merely a matter of different perspectives on the same event or even that they talk about two different events that we just confused by thinking it is the same one; if there are differences which boils down to the fact that they contradict each other and at least one account must therefore be wrong, then the implications will be major since then scripture is not inerrant.

If this can be shown, then it can not be said that the bible was originally written without any errors in it.  And if one admits to that, one can not hold to the position of inspiration as God speaking truth through human authors.

But from the doctrine about the character of God, it seems that if it is indeed God who inspired the Bible, then there can not be any mistakes in it.  The bible states that God is truth and that God, who is truth can not lie.

More than that, God is perfect and does things perfectly and if God was able to correctly create something as intricate and perfect as the universe, then it is completely impossible that there be any contradictions between the Gospel writers. God would have given us something that was perfect, consistent with his nature. The Gospels must all agree, not on perspectives, but on the facts.

While I was reading the gospel accounts I was looking at Mathew 8:5 – 13 which is parallelled in Luke 7:1-10.  The event of the Healing of the Centurion’s Servant in Capernaum.

Without going into a detailed and very laborious treatment of these two passages, the fact is that there can be no dispute that it is in fact the same event that both writers speak about, but there are fundamental factual differences and contradictions between the two accounts given by the two writers.

I remember reading it and thinking to myself:  “If anybody on earth was reading any other two ancient documents with the same two accounts, the unanimous conclusion of every scholar and layperson would have been that it is two different accounts of the same event and that one of the two writers got the story wrong.”

I was sitting on a somewhat uncomfortable chair in the lounge thinking about this matter. Dawie’s words came back to me.  I looked at the passages again.  In my mind, I stepped back and looked at my mental world.

“Eben”, I was thinking, “you are assuming inerrancy.  You are pre-supposing and the fact that you pre-suppose does not make you right.”

“You are assuming there can be no contradiction. Why?  What would happen if you don’t assume that?  Where would the clear evidence lead you?  How committed are you truly to read the Bible the same way you read the morning paper – literally?  Why do you abandon the clear implication of the facts – the facts given by Mathew and Luke contradict each other!”

This was an inconvenient truth!!

I started to read what bible scholars throughout history said about these passages.  I studied their arguments.  I realized that all the deliberations were done from a perspective that assumed inerrancy as I worked my way through the poor arguments presented by these scholars.

The facts were shocking to me and even more – the implications would be far-reaching.

“If this is true, then I must abandon the assumption of inerrancy and how can I ever abandon inerrancy as a presupposition?  I can not believe in a perfect God who spoke imperfectly”.

“Even more, if I abandon this assumption, why will I hold as sacred the other assumptions?  Then I must address the presupposition of God and his existence and the presupposition that if there is indeed a God, that he is not just any god, but the God of the Bible!”

“And if I question this, I stand a chance to lose, not only my salvation but the connection that I had with this God whom I truly adored and that was the very centre of my entire existence.”

I was not that much concerned with the fact that God may banish me to eternal hell if I think these thoughts and I may be wrong, but I was shattered by the notion that a concept, the god-of-the-bible-concept, was my all and everything for my entire life and this may now turn out to be a complete lie.

I would lose my very reason for existence (a mental construct that can be changed, I know, but it is shattering to any person who tries to do this)

The God of the Bible was the reason why I existed and the centre of my being.  He was the delight of my life, my father whom I longed for and sought for so many years and have finally found.  The God that made all of life real to me.  What if it turns out that everything that I thought I had, a very intimate relationship with my creator, was in fact something that existed only in my mind with absolutely no basis in reality?

What if I discover that if there is a god, he/she/it/they will in all likelihood NOT be the God of the Bible?

The fact that the Bible had errors already proved that if there is a god, that he was able to bring a very, very complex world into existence, but he was incapable of communicating to us in a perfect way.

Even if his communication was perfect when the Bible was first written, then God did not see to it that the Bible was transmitted down through the centuries without mistakes.  Almost like saying that God can save us, but he can not keep us saved.

If there is one mistake in the Bible, how can I trust anything then?  It takes only one imperfect aspect of a perfect system to make the entire system imperfect.

Then, creation can be wrong as well!  What about the whole concept of Jesus?  and salvation?  what if the whole deal with Adam and Eve is wrong?  Atonement through substitution?  Eternal life?

I was standing on the brink of discovering the depth of the deception by Christianity.  A discovery that would rock my world to its very foundations.  One that would forever show me the power of the mental world we live in and how we can convince ourselves that something is real when in fact it is wholly erroneous!

I never imagined that the pit of deception that I was about to uncover was as deep and as filthy as it turned out to be.


(c) eben van tonder