Deconstructing the Deconstruction
Scholarship is an invaluable tool to the modern Christian. It has the benefit of bringing a vast amount of data together into one place and making it digestible.
Scholarship is also a dangerous place. Pet theories and logical inconsistencies abound, and if one is not careful, if one does not read broadly enough in a particular area of study, if they take one source or one scholarly as being the authority, the final voice on the matter, then they can walk headlong into problems.
This is not to say that scholarship is worthless or untrustworthy, but to advise caution whenever you encounter such authorities. Non-specialists need specialists, and the only way that we can know the good, is by encountering the bad.
This rule applies to those who would presume to be scholarly authorities or even to claim that they’re presenting some conclusion based upon scholarship, such as Keith Giles.
I’ve interacted with Keith before, and those prior interactions seem to be providential, because he is building upon the errors committed in those very interactions.
In a blog post titled, “The 6 Pillars of Religious Deconstruction“ Keith sets out to undo, to deconstruct the Christian faith. He begins his post by writing,
“When it comes to Deconstructing our Christian Faith, there are 6 main pillars that hold everything up. Once these pillars begin to crumble, the entire structure starts to fall apart.
That statement is true, depending upon whether the hammer that he’s bringing to engage in his wrecking of these pillars, which he identifies as the Bible, Hell, the Atonement, Suffering, the End of the World, and the church.
The question is, does any attack that he levels actually do anything?
Keith begins his attack on Scripture by writing,
“This is odd since one would assume that the foundation of the Christian faith would be “Christ“, but that’s not the case, unfortunately. For most Evangelical Christians, especially, the Bible is their authority, and they will gladly affirm this if you’re uncertain about it.
Well, since it is the Bible that tells us, who are removed by two thousand years of history, of Christ, anything said of Christ—as an authoritative proclamation—can only be spoken of based upon the authority of Scripture. We cannot rightly even speak of Christ or his work, or even the reason for his coming apart from the authoritative word found in the Bible. Keith furthers his argument by writing,
“Because Christians tend to base their faith on the Bible, they also feel the need to overstate its importance, making it the linchpin for everything they hold dear. Therefore, once you start to doubt their claims that the Bible is inerrant and infallible, the rest of your faith is soon to crumble.
Let’s just apply Keith’s standard for a moment: how does he know anything about Christ? What must be assumed in order to answer that question. Now, I’ve got a whole video on the relationship of inerrancy and infallibility as a unified doctrine. Keith’s problem here is that anything that he proposes to say positively about Christ, in regard to his identity and purposes, directly depends upon everything that he intends to deny. This is why it’s necessary to have a positive response to what is said next,
“[It’s] not very hard to prove that the Bible is indeed filled with errors, mistakes, contradictions between prophets, discrepancies over details, and even misquoted Bible verses. [Not to mention all the words intentionally left out of the text or mistranslated to oppress women and demonize homosexuality, or the handful of epistles in the New Testament that are most certainly forgeries or pseudapigripha, for example].
There’s a key word missing from that paragraph. And that word is “alleged”. Time and time again, many of the alleged “errors, mistakes, and contradictions” come down to the fact that the person making them either doesn’t prove that they are in fact that or that they misrepresent what the context is.
Further, Keith’s argument about “mistranslation” is an argument without basis because—as I demonstrated in this response to him—he is playing against any meaningful or consistent exegesis of the text. This also applies to the accusations surrounding alleged “forgeries” a term that seems to be coined by Bart Ehrman which assumes an original or valuable original, never mind that Ehrman has to back away from this position to defend the historical reality of Jesus. Further, there is the problem of dating texts as more and more data comes into our possession (see my posts on dating the Gospels and the epistolary material). Keith is simply playing on the ignorance of his audience, something that he continues by writing,
“So, if your Pastor has ever told you that the Bible was 100 percent accurate about everything and if even one thing was proven false then the entire Bible would be worthless [and I have heard exactly that on numerous occasions from the pulpit], then it only takes one of those examples above to start pulling on the thread that eventually unravels your entire Christian faith.
Now this would seem to be dependent upon a simple misunderstanding. The conscientious Christian recognizes that there needs to be a distinction made between “accuracy” and “truth”. This distinction may seem artificial but it helps us hold onto a coherent doctrine of inerrancy. We recognize that the biblical authors were not necessarily concerned with “facts”, but with the larger narrative. However, we do know that they did get their facts right. For more information on this point, see R.C. Sproul’s book, Can I Trust the Bible?
Keith’s next attack is on the doctrine of Hell.
Now this is a sticky subject even among Christians because there’s a variety of views that have been held throughout history. In regard to this doctrine he writes,
“Once you start to doubt the absolute accuracy of the Scriptures, it’s a short walk to questioning the validity of Eternal Torment in Hell for those who don’t pray the prayer and join the Christian club. For some, Hell is their first thread of doubt and once they realize that most of those verses in the New Testament that we were told are about Eternal Torment aren’t actually about where anyone goes when they die, the rest of their faith starts to buckle.
Um…if he’s already dismissed the reliability of Scripture, then how does he know with any certainty that anything that he’s about to pronounce is true? His strawman is embarrassing because it has no real relevance to the question. The question is what does he muster to support his contentions?
He gives us 5 points to bolster this argument.
“The Old Testament never mentions this doctrine at all
Well, that’s debatable. There are instances where the fate of the wicked is discussed ( eg Ps 1:5-6; Ps 37:10; Ps 94:12-13; Job 36:6; Is 57:21) but there is no detail given beyond the statement as to how they will be dealt with. However, there’s an important rule in biblical exegesis: you don’t get doctrines from where they aren’t discussed, you get them from where they are discussed. Which goes into his next point,
“The doctrine of Eternal Torment originated in the Intertestimental Period (sic)
He throws in a bracketed comment that is…well…kind of historically inaccurate. Let’s keep something in mind: the intertestamental period didn’t end with the coming of Christ. The intertetstamental period ended with the bodily resurrection of Christ as the sign and seal of the new covenant. It ended with Pentecost and the beginning stages of the full gospel proclamation. The 4 gospels record the end of the intertestamental period, and Acts records the beginning of the new covenant, with the epistolary material providing the application.
Something else to remember: coherent, biblical theology recognizes that revelation is progressive—not in the political sense though. There is a recognition that revelation took place over time. I cannot hold Moses accountable for something that wasn’t positively taught until Isaiah, and I can’t hold Isaiah responsible for something that he didn’t see until Matthew saw it. We have to get beyond this simplistic idea that every believer in every age had the same beliefs and the same data from which to form their beliefs.
“The language often used by Jesus to talk about worms that do not die and fire that is not quenched are actually borrowed language from OT prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel who said exactly the same thing to those in Egypt, Syria, Edom and Jerusalem – but in every case those prophets were speaking about invading armies who would take them into captivity, not about where they go after they die
This statement is absolutely true. The language used in the prophets in the OT is about their immediate situation. However, Jesus took this language of the prophets and, in Mark 9:42-50, changed the application. But this shows an inconsistency in Keith’s argument: if he wants to make an argument on this text, by denying inerrancy, and with it inspiration, sufficiency and authroity, he undermines his own objection because he can’t say anything about what either the prophets said or didn’t say or what Jesus meant by it. To make any arguments about teachings in Scripture, one must assume the inerrancy of Scripture and all of the baggage that comes along with it.
“The Pharisees embraced the doctrine of Eternal Torment after picking it up from pagan sources which gained influence in Rabbinical teaching after the OT was written
I’m going to hold off comment on this one because the it ties into the next one.
“Jesus would have never taken his views from the Pharisees, especially if their views weren’t supported by the OT prophets and originated from pagan sources
I hate to break it to folks…I take that back…I don’t: Jesus was a Pharisee. Almost everything that modern Christians believe in (inspiration of Scripture, resurrection, the existence of spiritual beings; and the existence of an afterlife) are rooted in the historic tradition of the Pharisees, a movement that began in the Babylonian exile that was established to preserve the faith of the Jews. Good grief, Jesus defended a belief of the Pharisees against the Sadducees. Jesus’ primary opposition to the Pharisees was often their wrong emphasis of tradition over Scripture, not in anything that they taught from Scripture.
Further, his objection here is incredibly anachronistic and requires much more depth than I can go into here but just to summarize: what we see is that there was a vast similarity of beliefs across the ancient world. If a believing Jew would have been asked by a pagan, what do you believe happens to an evil person, his answer would surely have been similar to the pagans.
Keith turns his eye to another “pillar”, penal substitutionary atonement (PSA), writing,
“Simply put, the PSA theory says that God’s wrath was so great against mankind’s sinfulness that Jesus had to come and take a bullet for us – receiving the full fury of God’s burning wrath on the cross – so that now God can love us and forgive us.
Now, I’ve already taken on his argument against PSA, which he seems to get correct the gist of the theory. But its this last paragraph in the section which need the most response,
“In this view, Jesus mostly saves us from His Father, not from our sins or from hell. This also paints God as a monster who responds to his children with anger and fierce violence rather than with love and compassion.
Alright. Let’s get some things straight here: first, it is because of our sins that every single person deserves Hell. Period. Full stop. Second, it is because of our sin and rebellion that the wrath of God is poured out against all mankind. Every person is proud in their sin, are opposed by God, and hated by him. God distinguishes between his children who have been bought in Christ Jesus and those whose father is the Devil. God’s love is meaningless if it does not respond in anger to injustice. His compassion is empty if he does not punish the wicked. This is why Christ took in himself the rightful death penalty of one man, so that in doing so, he could—by his blood—cleanse all who come to him by the calling of his Father. If Christ did not pay the penalty for our sins, as our substitute, then our sins remain and we are not forgiven.
Well, we’re halfway through, which means that this is going to be a two part response, so stay tuned.