Conversations on faith (1) June 16, 2012
This post is the first in what could become an on-going series of conversations with Bill, a correspondent who wrote to me having begun to read my book “Who made God? Searching for a theory of everything”. The exchanges are, I think, self-explanatory and Bill has kindly agreed to my posting them here — because he is genuinely looking for answers that could possibly be helpful to others in his position. I am most grateful to him for this. Greetings and signing-off salutations have been removed throughout to conserve space.
Dear Dr. Andrews
I purchased your Kindle book last night and have read it non-stop. I appreciate your easy-to-understand style of writing as I have written technical to LCD myself. Unfortunately, I think you have stepped out of your areas of expertise and into opinion-based faith. I am not a Christian (although I do lean in a theistic direction), although I was raised Catholic and studied to be a priest; but I am searching for God, not someone’s opinions. Once your book turned off into specifically Christian theology, I had a difficult time taking it seriously.
I understand that truth is everywhere to be found and I welcome it in any form. The problem for me is having studied the Bible, I see the fallacies and myths for what they are. I cannot reconcile the God of the Bible, or for that matter Jesus, with an ordered universe, love, or anything similar. The God of the Bible is a monster, not worthy of my love or respect. God must be so much more than that. The Christian and Jewish God is just too small.
I will continue to read and reread your book and hope that I can take more out of it than I have. Although I do not believe in prayer, if you would say a word or two in my behalf, it would be appreciated. I will email again after the second read and see if I have gotten past this difficulty.
I really appreciate your honesty and will certainly pray for you. While at the moment we seem, theologically, a very long way apart I am most willing to engage in a dialogue concerning the things that trouble you about the Christian understanding of the Bible. Might I suggest, for your consideration, that you read again (I’m sure that at some point you have read it before) Jesus’ “sermon on the mount” in Matthew 5:1 to 7:29 which is, in my view, the definitive Christian interpretation of Old Testament moral teaching and provides a corrective to certain views thereof.
It’s probably asking too much at this stage but if you felt inclined to do so you could also listen to some of my sermons on www.campuschurch.org.uk (click on ‘recent messages’ and then on any listed sermon which should then play automatically on your computer). These sermons don’t specifically address your questions, of course, but they do seek to open up biblical truth of various kinds and some folk do find this helpful. Do keep in touch and feel free to put specific questions to me in due course.
Dear Mr. Andrews,
Thank you so much for your reply; I appreciate it very much. I would very much like to have a discussion with you; but need to finish your book first. I do so enjoy your writing style and ability to make the most complicated of matters reachable. I’m not looking for a fight or an argument; I’m looking for God. I know He’s there, and there was a time when I could pray honestly; no more. I miss God. I’ll email you back in a few days. Thanks again for your reply,
[Bill subsequently sent a number of questions which are reproduced in my answering e-mail which follows]
It was good to hear from you and to have your initial questions. I have interpolated my answers into your own e-mail below and hope this is clear. I commend you for starting at the beginning, as it were, since the reliability of Scripture is surely the key issue. It certainly was for me because I became a Christian as a 19 year old science student having had no religious upbringing and zero exposure to biblical faith. But having come into contact with some believers I was seized with a desire to read the New Testament for myself and borrowed a copy from a friend to do so. As, night by night, I read through the gospels I became aware of the reality and presence of Jesus Christ, a reality that has never departed from me during almost exactly 60 years since that time. Thus it was directly through the Bible, not through any human persuasion, that I came to know Christ as my Saviour.
[Here follow Bill's questions with my interpolated replies in italics]:
I finished your book a few nights ago and am letting things digest before I re-read. I do have a few starter questions if you don’t mind. First: which version(s) of the Bible do you use as a primary text?
I normally use the New King James Version (NKJ) for writing and preaching because it is a genuine translation (as distinct from a paraphrase) and yet avoids archaic language. But I would not call it a “primary text” because I attach this description only to the original-language autographs, in so far as they are available to us in the ancient manuscripts.
Second: What is your attitude toward and belief about that particular reference Bible? Specifically, concerning the accuracy of the translation?
This Q is partially answered in my previous response but (in preparing a sermon, for example) I do avail myself of many translations, from the KJV to Young’s literal translation to the recent ESV study Bible. I have a limited knowledge of Greek and occasionally check things out in my Greek NT. For the OT I rely on Bible Study aids as well as the range of English translations.
Third: Is that Bible, as it is translated into English the word of God, the words of man, history, myth, or a combination of some elements.
No translation is the word of God and I would only strictly apply this description to the original autographs. However, I do believe that these original documents are the word of God mediated through human writers (see e.g. 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:21), that they have been faithfully preserved in the various early MSS and that we do have a close approximation to them in the basic Hebrew and Greek versions used by translators. The introduction to the NKJ is a good summary of my position. We may well ask why God would use this rather messy way of passing on His word to posterity rather than have a single original version miraculously preserved … as is claimed for their own scriptures by, say, Islamists or Mormons. My answer is that by transmitting the original texts through a plethora of copies and even fragments the Holy Spirit has actually preserved for us us a more reliable and believable record than some single text which could well be the invention of man (e.g. Joseph Smith’s golden plates). A related (and for me highly persuasive) argument is that the Bible was authored not by a single individual or group (like the Qur’an) but by a large number of writers over a long period of time … who nevertheless speak with a united testimony in both OT and NT concerning the way of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.
What I’m trying to get at is who or what is the authority for your belief system? That should get me started. It’s a fair bet I’ll have a few more questions in due course. (I prefer the truth to my fondest illusions).
My authority is thus a “God-breathed” revelation concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ which has been mediated through human authors guided by the Holy Spirit and providentially preserved for us in the Bible through multiple agencies. I hope what I have said above answer the questions up to this point but do keep them coming!
[to be continued]