A Developing Doctrine of Scripture: Inerrancy vs. Infallibility vs. ??? (Pt 2)

The views on Scripture I expressed in my last post leave me firmly out of the inerrantist camp, according to most, at least. I would not feel comfortable signing a statement of faith claiming the Bible’s inerrancy, in general, though I honestly might approach the question differently if it were to attend a school rather than to teach at a school or lead a ministry. I distinguish between these because I think the word inerrancy is completely vague and means different things to different people. It shouldn’t actually mean anything different than “infallibility” but these words have come to distinguish different positions to many. Some people use inerrancy just as a code word for “I’m an evangelical” and might actually accept that some can legitimately believe in the position often associated with “infallibility,” which doesn’t require the Bible report accurately on every scientific or historical detail.

In my mind, if a school I was thinking about attending (for ex, Wheaton) didn’t make it clear precisely what they meant and whether or not my view was acceptable to them, that’s their omission and not really my responsibility. (If I went to a school that used the word “inerrancy” it would probably be for something other than biblical studies or theology anyway, which to me reinforces my sense of freedom to do what I want—I don’t find the inerrancy/infallibility issue to be particularly relevant to any other field, even at a school that wishes students to be evangelical Christians.) On the other hand, obviously, many people still use inerrancy to draw strict boundaries between those with a fundamentalist understanding of Scripture and those without, so I feel that if I was being hired for something, I would need to further discuss my views with them, explain exactly in what sense I could agree with the word inerrancy, and I’m guessing most of the time, I would be immediately rejected as a heretic, which is fine with me.

I would easily sign something that says “infallibility,” because that is often code for a position like mine, but, again, in my mind, inerrancy and infallibility are equally vague words that intuitively should mean the same thing. I would prefer to define my position as believing in the inspiration of the Bible and its authority in matters of faith and practice. This seems to me to be a much clearer way of expressing “infallibility,” plus it emphasizes what the Bible is good for, rather than what it’s not (science/nitpicky details of history).

I find it discouraging that only a minority of evangelical institutions and organizations have decided it’s safe to omit the fundamentalist language of inerrancy. It’s sad to me that this is a debate that we’ve been having for nearly one hundred years, and it’s surprising that “inerrancy” would still be the word of choice at somewhat more moderate schools such as Wheaton (which is no Bob Jones University, for sure) or large evangelical organizations like Campus Crusade. I find no reason why strict inerrantists should feel compelled to excluded infallibility folks from the evangelical fold, even if they take a certain position themselves.

I understand that this issue has been historically important in the fundamentalist/liberal debates, but I would have hoped by now that people could observe the many moderate evangelicals that have taken non-inerrantists positions and not fallen down some slippery slope into extreme liberalism. (Of course, why should I be surprised when folks like Wayne Grudem also consider the most conservative egalitarians to be nearing hellfire?) Given these unfortunate circumstances, I feel somewhat more comfortable hanging out in mainline evangelical or post-liberal circles because the post-conservative side of the mainstream evangelical world seems so small—though I ultimately never wish to dissociate from evangelicalism.

At the same time, I ironically experience little life tension related to my position, as most of my friends seem to fall somewhere near here. Of course all of my Fuller professors are in a similar boat, and at my American Baptist church, our small group of 20- and 30- somethings approaches Scripture with reverence, as well as the occasionally joke about the complicated nature of the Bible. Almost all of us come from more conservative backgrounds—some truly fundamentalist—but have since adopted a more moderate position. Despite feeling like a minority within evangelicalism, within my little world, mine is actually virtually the only position around. It’s a strange existence, for sure.

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A Developing Doctrine of Scripture: Questions and Answers (Pt 1)

Daniel Kirk recently replied to my previous post asking about how Jeremiah and I have been processing questions about a Christian doctrine of Scripture, so I am going to attempt to make some sort of reply in multiple parts. In this first, part, I’ll explain where I’m coming from as far as my questions regarding Scripture and some of the answers I’ve come to.

I first began to explore ideas about Scripture during my last year of college while in a New Testament survey class with Bart Ehrman. I already knew at that point that I didn’t care too much about trying to integrate the Bible with science—I didn’t think it was meant to be read as a science textbook, though I didn’t yet know anything about Genesis vs. the Babylonian creation myth Enuma Elish or other such things that support this view. I also thought it was silly to care much about how well the Gospels harmonized, since every storyteller emphasizes slightly different things and whatnot.

That doesn’t mean I was without questions, however. Some of the things I was more concerned with included, “Do I care whether or not there was an actual flood or battle of Jericho or census by Quirinius? If so, what do I do? If not, what does that mean for a Christian doctrine of Scripture?” and “Do I care if Isaiah was written by 3+ people or if the Torah was pieced together around the time of the exile or if the Gospels weren’t written by the people whose names got appended to them or if pseudonymous letters are featured in the ‘Pauline’ corpus?”

At Fuller, I’ve explored these questions a bit, but not as much as I might have imagined. With regards to historical events, I suppose I’ve become ok with the possibility that certain events have been recorded with large brushstrokes capturing the meaning or basic idea behind various events without necessarily recording every detail with the same level of precision as a modern historian. For me, this is largely an issue of whether or not I approach to text ethnocentrically. If I insist that the authors of the Bible behave according to my cultural norms, then I can find fault with “inaccuracies,” but if I accept that their focuses and aims in telling stories were not always the same as mine, I can be ok with “mistakes.” At the same time, I think it’s wrong to approach the Bible using a hermeneutic of suspicion. I like to assume it’s generally trustworthy and not dismiss the basic plot of the story, or even the general direction of the details, without a really good reason. I don’t feel this is suppressing the truth about inaccuracies, just not getting too worked up over things that are not a big deal.

With regards to authorship, my answer is a little less certain. I don’t have a problem with the Gospels being written by different people than the authors named, since they don’t claim to be by anyone in particular in the text. I have no problem with the concept of communal authorship. I also don’t really have much of a problem with any person or group writing any part of the Hebrew Bible (like 3+ “Isaiahs”)—I sort of take the Hebrew Bible as it is since it wasn’t mine first. (Is that a cop-out?)

I have a bit more trouble with the possibly pseudonymous letters of the New Testament. It’s seems illogical see Ephesians and 1 Timothy as Scripture because they’re part of the canon if they’re part of the canon because they were supposedly written by Paul if they were not written by Paul at all. (For the record, I am not convinced that a differing vocabulary, etc. guarantees a different author, but I also don’t rule out the possibility. I’m not educated enough, I feel, to be anything but agnostic on the issue.) In the end, I am very cautious to dismiss these books because of their place in the canon and historic value to the church. I also know that various interpretations of the “difficult” passages of these books exist, so that there is not necessarily a reason for a feminist to feel pressure to toss them out of the Bible or relegate them to secondary status. I also feel cautious to insist that the named authors of these books—I don’t think I have a problem with a scribe or affiliate of an individual playing a large role in the composition of a letter. If someone who wasn’t even friends with the “author” was intentionally deceiving people by writing NT books, I would probably have a problem with it—but the fact is, I know nothing of the social networks, private conversations, or intentions of any of these people. I just sort of feel it’s an impossible problem to solve, so while it’s interesting to think about, I’m not very motivated to figure it out once and for all. Again, perhaps a cop-out, but that’s where I’m at.

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Apologies & Summer Classes

I have a final tomorrow, so I shouldn’t be blogging right now, but I have done such a poor job keeping up with my goal of several posts a week that I really am starting to feel bad about it.

So, a brief catch-up post, if nothing else. I have been busy with a 5-wk intensive class (Systematic Theology 1: Theology & Anthropology) and a 2-wk intensive class (Christian Ethics in a Pluralistic Society). My 2-wk intensive ends Friday, though I will still have one assignment and a research paper for that class, and a research paper for the other, due Sept. 3. It’s good to be almost done, but I’m a little jealous that Jeremiah will be done tomorrow for the whole summer!

My classes have been fairly interesting, so in lieu of a post in more complete form, here’s a few of the things I’ve been thinking about:

– I read the IVP book Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views hoping it would help me explore my own views of open theism, Calvinism, and the like. It was interesting, but I don’t think I’m much closer to settling anywhere.

– We read a lot of articles for ethics that were written from a Catholic perspective. I feel very certain that their sex-must-be-open-to-life stance is incorrect, but it has been very interesting to read about issues relating to sexuality from this perspective and still somewhat challenging, as I don’t think evangelicals have a very developed theology of sex.

– I was quite frustrated to think about the typical evangelical stances on inerrancy and evolution as we discussed the topics of Scripture & revelation and the doctrine of creation in systematic theology. I’d say we were encouraged to more middle-of-the road positions, so this is no complaint against Fuller, just against the churches and schools I was raised in and the damage done to many people’s faith because of people who (in my view) misunderstand a truly Christian view of these topics. Jeremiah and I had some interesting discussions about how local churches need to better equip their congregants to deal with questions, understand the Bible well, etc. We have a vision for a short (100-150 pg) book that will give an overview of various critical approaches to the Bible for lay people so that they are less frightened and better able to deal with Bart Ehrman, etc. When we actually know what we’re talking about, perhaps we’ll write it…

– This doesn’t have to do with class, but babies are literally everywhere. Every single week this summer I think someone has either had a baby or announced they were pregnant. Also lots of people getting married this summer. I guess this means I’m in my 20s?

– In my ethics class I’ve been really fascinated by this one Catholic’s argument in favor of civil unions–not just for gay people but for everyone, basically. He just thinks the church and state have really different ideas about marriage, something that has made me come to similar conclusions on my own. I’m thinking of making something related to this my research paper topic, though I’m not really certain what the paper will actually focus on. I have a feeling it will be more about church/state/marriage than gay marriage, but we’ll see.

– We just got some new bookshelves from IKEA and have plans to get some more. Our library is now “complete” after we install a fan, but our living room still needs a little help. We’re excited to soon have a “finished product” apartment!

That’s all for now. More to come.

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Not a California Gurl

I admit it: I love to listen to CHR—Contemporary Hit Radio, i.e. the Top 40 station. One of the best things about living in California (after the weather) is the fact that rather than normal Top 40 stations, we have “Rhythmic Contemporary” stations. This means, basically, that you get all the great pop, R&B songs, and hip-hop songs of a normal CHR station, still skipping some of the hip-hop that would play on an “urban only” station (which generally tends to be the hip-hop I enjoy less), and skipping most of the rock and country songs that other CHR stations would play.

This last part is key. I do certain rock (e.g., U2), but I don’t do other rock (e.g., Nickelback). I appreciate a radio station that doesn’t make me listen to any more rock than I have to, since I tend to dislike more than I like. Unfortunately, however, even my beloved AMP radio is making me listen to other disgusting excuses for art. Indeed, Katy Perry’s “California Gurls,” does not even perform well against other dumb and potentially offensive songs. Yes, even “Carry Out” by Timbaland and Justin Timberlake ranks far, far above “California Gurls” in my mind.

I dislike “California Gurls” for many reasons. First, its spelling. Secondly, it’s labeling women as girls. (Thanks, Jennifer Hagin, for ruining my ability to mindlessly accept colloquialisms.) Thirdly, Katy Perry’s barely cloud-obscured nudity in the video. Fourthly, Katy Perry’s costumes because they are just sexist and disgusting. Fifthly, the song’s insinuation that men should pick their women based on geographic location and that women are valuable as members of a group rather than as individuals. “Carolina Girls” may be a much more innocent song, but I’ve always hated it, too—along with the thousands of “Carolina Girls” t-shirts sold at UNC Student Stores every year.

One of the most frustrating things about “California Gurls,” however, is the aspect of it that is true. Of course most women here don’t walk around in bikinis, drive Jeeps, or have sex on the beach on a regular basis. However, there is something different about women (and many men) in California: an increased concern with appearance. In California it’s easy to walk around in what you think are normal-people clothes and feel like a total bum. As my friend Kate noticed on a visit here, people seem to dress up even just to visit the mall. After traffic, this is probably my least favorite part of living in Los Angeles county. There are plenty of kind-hearted and intelligent people out here, but the stereotype that L.A. residents are shallow, materialistic, and always sporting the latest styles sometimes feels very true.

Back in college, the dominant culture was that of the over-achiever. It was this culture that our InterVarsity staff encouraged us to struggle against—that we might find our value in God’s love for us rather than our achievements. Here, I wish we had a few more prophetic voices encouraging us to not buy into the SoCal mentality. I wish this partly for selfish reasons—so that I wouldn’t feel as out of place just because I don’t wear make-up and could stand to lose a few pounds—but I also want it because I hate seeing the damage that comes from misplaced priorities. Unfortunately, L.A. sometimes seems to specialize in cultural flaws (though, of course, it also has its share of cultural beauty), and it can be difficult to know how to adequately address a culture’s influence in our own lives, much less help anyone else with this task. Still, I think this is a task we are called to, as we try to better love God, ourselves, and our neighbors.

With no further brilliance to share, I will conclude by recommending two recent books that I have not yet read: Unsqueezed, an entertaining book about culture and body image by Margot Starbuck (author of The Girl in the Orange Dress, a fantastic memoir on adoption, divorce, and God as Father) and Under the Influence, a look at the culture of California and its influence on broader American culture.

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Feminism, Babies, & PhDs

A lot happened this February. First, I was invited on an all-expense-paid weekend trip to Baylor University where I had applied to a sociology of religion PhD program (which made me feel important and intelligent). Secondly, I went on said trip (which made me feel professional and mature). Lastly—and thankfully not during the aforementioned trip—I had a brief pregnancy scare (which made me feel a lot of things).

In March, I was put “at the top” of the wait list, and soon after I received an official notice that I was not rejected per se—but there would not be space for me in the incoming class. I did not feel bitterness towards those who had been accepted, as I had met them and thought they were both brilliant and fun. I had hoped to be their peer and friend, but even given this unfortunate news, I only wished them the best. I did, however, have an important decision to make: Would I reapply to PhD programs next year? And I eventually decided I wouldn’t.

My main concern: babies. Ending a PhD at 29 somehow felt a lot more do-able than ending a PhD at 30. I’m not sure what is magical about 30, but 30 felt impossible. Too close for comfort. If I was graduating at 30, would I be able to be have done having kids at 35?

35 is the even-more-magic number. 35 is the deadline. Over 35 you are an “advanced maternal age” patient. Your risks for everything go up; your baby’s risks for everything go up. If you’re willing to take fertility drugs or abort a baby with birth defects, you can keep going into your late 30s and early 40s. If you’re willing to consider just having one or two kids, you wait to start until your late 30s and early 40s. I, however, wanted to be sure I wasn’t forced to have kids over 35 if I didn’t want to, and I wanted to make certain I had room for as many as we decided to have.

My husband didn’t want me to give up on my goals because I felt confined by gender. He promised to be a total team player, sharing housework and childcare as equally as possible. The burden wouldn’t be on me. We could do not only the dual-career thing but the dual-academic-career thing. I was unconvinced. If children dropped into our laps as five-year-olds, or even toddlers, maybe we could make a way. But pregnancy was going to cause trouble, almost inevitably.

Jeremiah continued to encourage me to not give up, so I bought a book called Mama, PhD. Through the essays of these real-life mothering grad students and professors, my suspicions were confirmed. A PhD just wouldn’t work for me right now, not only because of its length, but also because of everything that comes after—the pressure to publish and to find a tenure-track position. It felt wussy, in a way, to back down just because things would be hard, but in the end, I was convinced: I would much rather give up a PhD for now (with the option of returning later) than be miserable fighting the system for the next 10+ years.

All of this came as a surprise to me, as I’d never considered how much pregnancy itself would frustrate my plans. Somehow I’d neglected to consider how sexism (via inflexible systems and bad attitudes of superiors) could affect my career, regardless of how egalitarian my marriage was. I also simply hadn’t thought much about kids before, as I was in no rush to have them. I thought waiting five years for kids (till 29 or so) was my minimum anyway. I thought I would work full-time with kids, even very young ones. I thought I wanted the sort of career that would let me stand out as an over-achiever, as an intelligent woman, that would put those frumpy stay-at-home moms to shame. It was hard to believe that anything could change those desires.

But something did change. As I try to make sense of it all, it seems the only variable to shift was the proximity of the possibility of having a child—something that is impossible to anticipate your feelings toward—and my embarrassing realization that I do actually want kids. A realization not because it was brand new information but information with new meaning; embarrassing because I wasn’t supposed to be the sort of woman who gets gushy over these things.

One’s self concept must go through certain changes, however, when reality proves it wrong. I wasn’t sure what to make of the reality that a negative pregnancy test in February made me cry over a non-existent unplanned baby who would have screwed up our educations, finances, and years of extended adolescence and marital bliss. It is clear, however, that beneath my sometimes bitchy and proud (insecure?) feminist exterior there are plenty of uncomfortable feelings for me to explore, if I ever get brave enough to do so.

I’m still trying to figure out a lot of what this means about what I do want to do during the next ten years or so and when I do want to have kids. And I still may end up working a lot. I’m still planning on more school. I could even end up waiting for babies until 30. But I’m wrestling with these questions in a way I didn’t anticipate ever having to wrestle with them, and definitely long before I’d imagined I’d begin.

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New Things

As some of you may have seen on Facebook, I’ve been trying to figure out for a little while what to do with this blog. I haven’t been keeping up very well with posting, and part of the reason for that is that I didn’t want to be investing in a blog that ultimately I was going to reinvent (I should save new posts for the new blog instead, right?). I also wanted to have some sort of complete thought worth sharing before posting.

One of my ideas was to become more active (er, active at all…) on Walking Towards Jerusalem, a blog my husband Jeremiah started last year. He intended this to be a “biblioblog”—a blog focused on biblical studies—and told me I could join. I initially was enthusiastic because there aren’t many female bibliobloggers, but my interest has waned. It’s not that I don’t like blogging about the Bible—I just don’t like to feel constrained. He said I could blog about other things, as well, but I have never known if that blog was a good fit.

I also have considered helping this blog become more focused in order to attract a real audience. Ever since I stopped posting (i.e., when I started dating Jeremiah last March), my visits have virtually disappeared. I used to have a fairly active, though small, readership, but when you’re inconsistent for a while, even that small readership tends to fade. I thought that maybe if I came up with one thing to talk about, I could “market” this blog and make it “cool.” However, this is much easier said than done. Most of the time, I’ve felt void of ideas and like I was trying too hard.

In the end, I think I’ve decided two things. First, I’m working on an experimental blog, which is not yet up and running, aimed at smart teenagers who want to learn more about theology, etc. I have no idea if it will catch on, but this is my attempt to write about something that interests me that I feel the Internet actually needs. Hopefully there will be at least five high schoolers that agree that it is needed and will visit my little corner of the web. I’m interested in seeing what middle and high schoolers, as well as young college students, are interested in discussing from a more intellectual/academic perspective (or a more holistic perspective that at least begins to look at this angle of Christianity) and what needs might not be met by youth groups. Obviously, it’s only a sliver of the general population that really wants to learn more about theology, but I know I had various curiosities and interests in high school and am sure there are others like me out there. I don’t know many places offering the opportunity for teens to get an introduction to anything I’ve learned about in seminary (except for an interesting program at Duke Divinity School), so I’m interested just to see if there is a felt need for something like this—I hope to learn a lot in the process. If it is a total flop, the worst thing that has happened is I lost $15 on a domain name.

The second decision I’ve made is to try to stress a bit less about making this blog interesting or cool. I’m not going to try harder to think of a topical focus or to recruit an audience. I think that really, I may be better off acknowledging that many of my friends live far away and would be more interested in seeing what I’m doing and thinking about than my poor attempts at polished pieces of writing. (Not that many of my past posts have been particularly polished…)

I have tried to avoid a “personal blog,” because it feels too much like a twelve-year-old’s online diary, but the fact is, I don’t write for beliefnet or some other place that’s going to get me lots of traffic and turn me into a respectable guru on one of my passions. Instead, I’m just Ashleigh, a grad student who is thinking about various things and enjoying my life. Hopefully photo posts, incomplete thoughts, and similar goodies will be just as exciting to my five readers—maybe I can even entice my best friend to start reading again. ;o)

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Marriage and Social Justice: Ideas for Churches

Following up on my previous post “Marriage and Social Justice,” what can churches do? While I’m applying for an MS in Marital & Family Therapy, I’m not an expert quite yet. Nevertheless, here are a few preliminary ideas:

Evaluate what you have.
Get the help of those with appropriate training in your church (or bring in experts from outside) to evaluate how your church could improve various structures, programs, etc. to better include people from different kinds of families, as well as to best equip these people to move toward healthy, stable relationships. Be sure to consider lifespan development and what specific age groups, as well as other population groups, may need.

Make marriage a priority in your outreach budget and hiring decisions.
As you reach out into your church’s neighborhood or a low-income neighborhood in your community, consider hiring (alone or with the help of partnering churches) a therapist and/or family life educator to offer services to individuals that otherwise wouldn’t have these resources.

Help families care for their children.
Consider sponsoring a daycare center for low-income families. If subsidized by your church, parents who otherwise would struggle to find affordable childcare will have a quality option—and you have the power to make certain this is a place where children are loved and educated well by intelligent and compassionate caregivers. This helps families (especially single-parent households) economically, but also lets your church be a part of nurturing children whose family life (and world generally) might be pretty unstable.

Be pro-active in caring for teens and young adults.
Consider, especially, the needs of teens and young adults as they try to understand their families of origin and the possibilities for their own relationships. This might include forming a special small group for college students coming from divorced or dysfunctional families or developing new and better ways of talking about sex and relationships with teenagers.

Try to remain flexible and refrain from judgment, even as you advocate against certain behaviors.
Foster an environment of support that challenges people without judging them. This is especially needed for single parents, cohabitating couples, divorced individuals, etc. Do whatever needs to be done to make certain these people are integrated into your church as a whole. For example, consider whether “couples” small groups are really the best way to structure the majority of your adult Bible studies or whether it might be useful to purposely include any cohabitating couples at your church on a marriage retreat (after all, couldn’t their relationship also use some extra investment?). Dealing with the ethics of various situations is always tricky, but whatever you do, be sure you are creating spaces for people to grow in positive directions.

Acknowledge difficult topics.
You may need to offer teaching and resources relating to abuse, rape, infidelity, sexual addiction, and the like. It’s easier to pretend these issues aren’t in our churches, but since they are, to care for people well, we need to help them deal with them spiritually, emotionally, and relationally.

That’s just a start… anyone else have ideas to offer?

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