I have read your discussion with J. P. Holding of Tektonics apologetics:
Excellent job at sustaining a long and interesting conversation with Holding. Though of course neither of you in the end admitted much to each other. I think people such as J. P. and yourself, who have both undergone radical changes in thinking in your lives, probably imagine that if they could just find the right "hook" (as in fishing, not boxing), you might be able to lift the other out of their murky mental waters and into the light. An interesting spectacle to watch, though deeply rooted thoughts (with emotions, reasons and rationalizations as their tendrils) are about as difficult to uproot as material landscapes.
I am of course aware that my satiricial style and lengthy response time began to grate on Holding's nerves, since he loves chucking out his own stew quickly and thickly (though he apparently can't take it when I satirize one of his own articles like his defense of his discovery of modern herpetological obeservations in Genesis: http://www.skeptical-christian.net/...). It also apparently upset Holding that I was not impressed by his mimicking of scholarly discourse, and by his refusal to acknowledge any questions that even moderate Christian scholars such as Dunn recognize. Perhaps Holding will someday read a modern day college textbook on the issues like Bart Ehrman's latest NEW TESTAMENT textbook published in 2004 that reflects statements from a majority of scholars. Instead, Holding still thinks that Strobel's interviews with hard-line evangelicals in THE CASE FOR CHRIST is a fine example of scholarship. I'd like to see Strobel interview moderate and liberal Christian scholars too, as well as Jews and first-class non-Christian scholars and historians as well, but that would be asking Strobel to engage in a bit too much truth-seeking.
Holding has continued in his emails to you to assume that the Bible was so easy to understand and so straightforward that at least 70% of the societies on earth could easily discover exactly what Christ taught, what God's plan was, truly was, simply by reading the Bible. I'd like to tell Holding that a lot of people have indeed read the Bible, but they have dared to try and understand it in terms of something called, "historical millieu and developmental order." For instance, the earliest Gospels have Jesus teaching that forgiveness is direct, as in the "Lord's prayer," and those same folks note that in the parable of the final judgment in which the "sheep" and "goats" are separated, they are separated on the basis of their works, not based on their faith in Christ. And that the earliest Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) also state that "doing unto others" is "the law and the prophets." (Matthew 7:12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.) The earliest Gospels also tell us that when Jesus was asked "How to Inherit Eternal Life" he answered first and foremost simply to love God and your neighbor as yourself (as the rabbi Hillel also replied before Jesus' day). Another time, Jesus answered first and foremost, "Obey the commandments." Also, Jesus said in Matthew's "Sermon on the Mount" that calling him, "Lord Lord" availed nothing. You might have performed miracles in Jesus' name, still nothing. Then at the end of that same sermon, Jesus explained that in order to build your house on rock not sand, that meant "doing" the right thing, "giving to others asking nothing in return," as mentioned earlier in that sermon. Hence, the emphasis in the "Sermon on the Mount" in Matthew is "doing," not believing. (Matt.7: 20-24 So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.' Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. )
Only in the last written Gospel, the fourth Gospel (John), and only in the end-chapter to Mark (a late addition), do you read verses that say you must "believe" -- or be "damned." (Mark 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. John 3:18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. )
The focus and emphasis thus changed in the Gospels over time from "doing" to "believing." So, I understand the Gospels just as well as anyone else, but Holding downplays/ignores the historical order and historical priority of Jesus' teachings, such as the priority of "doing" over "believing particular things about Jesus or believing in Jesus," and Holding says that such an early most likely historical teaching is not nearly as important as the emphasis that Holding and other inerrantists place on interpreting the entire Bible in terms of later unique Pauline teachings (written by someone who didn't know the historical Jesus of Nazareth) and interpreting the Bible in terms of the last written Gospel's teaching about Nicodemus' secret meeting with Jesus "at night" to let Nic know that "He who does not believe is condemned already," and interpreting the Bible in terms of the late addition to Mark that says, "He who does not believe... is damned," and interpreting the Bible in terms of later creeds like the Nicean and Chalcedonian. Holding argues that there was essentially no difference between the "historical Jesus" and his later interpreters like Paul and the author(s) of the fourth Gospel. To Holding, Paul and the Fourth Gospel are the truth, while the sayings and teachings of Jesus preserved in the earliest three Gospels must be brought into line with Paul and John and the later Christian creeds that appear to have been more inspired by Paul and John than by the teachings of the historical Jesus preserved in the earliest Gospels.
Again, contra Holding, a lot of historians point out that Jesus' earliest known teachings on forgiveness concerned simple obedience and simple love and direct forgiveness. The historical Jesus was bypassing the cult laws and the walls of rules that the legalistic religious folks had erected round God, placing animal sacrifice, Temple taxes, and the Temple cult above direct prayers to God, direct access, simple obedience, simple repentence, direct forgiveness. That appears to have been the mission of the historical Jesus, to redirect people to a more direct simple approach to God as Father. Jesus tried to point people toward God, but they didn't look up past his finger, they started worshipping the finger itself. The bold bearer of God's words who wanted the simple direct reformation of Judaism, would later be made into "THE WORD INCARNATE." Christians divinized Jesus and made "beliefs about Jesus" and "beliefs in Jesus" a new form of institutionalized cultus, a new legalistic definition by which to measure admission into the cult. Many theologians, including the authors of textbooks and books on Christology, have acknolwedged that the evidence does point to a conclusion similar to what I have stated above. See for instance, FROM JESUS TO CHRIST, and, FROM JEWISH PROPHET TO GENTILE GOD, and even the moderate Christian theologian, James D. G. Dunn's latest book, since he has also examined the question of Christian origins in a developmental perspective and acknowledged important questions including the questions of the majority of theologians today who doubt that the words of Jesus as preserved in the last written Gospel (John) are anywhere near as historical as the words prayers and and parables that are preserved in the earlier three Gospels.
In other words, for Holding, the Gospel of John and Jesus' words in it take precedence over the earlier Synoptic Gospels' material (Mark, Matthew, Luke). The Gospel of John contains for Holding the "real truth" along with Paul's Roman "road to salvation," while the sayings and teachings of Jesus as found in the earlier Synoptic "road to salvation" are interpreted to suit later Christological considerations of the early church. That's the gap between Holding and I, and between Holding and many questions raised by N.T. scholarship, a divergency based on the Bible itself and the questions that arise once you consider its historical development.
Knowing that such a divergency exists, based on the Bible and Biblical scholarship, how can Holding continue to say that "Christianity" and the "Bible" are easily understood? Only his type of Christianity and his Biblical focus is "easy" and "unquestionable," and that remains true of course, only for him and those who agree with him and his focus. For me the focus of the original historical Jesus appears to have been "The Lord's Prayer" rather than the Evangelical's later "Sinner's Prayer" or later creeds and doctrines "about" Jesus. And the "Lord's Prayer" states, "Pray in this way... Our Father... Forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who tresspass against us." Can't get much easier to understand than that.
Holding downplays the "developmental" aspect not only in the area of "historical Jesus questions," but he also downplays the "developmental" questions of many features in the Bible, including as I pointed out, verses that contain not simply one view, but multiple views of the afterlife. Likewise, he downplays all evidence of Hebraic "borrowings" from the cultures around them in terms of language, phrases, names of God, and views of the structure of the cosmos -- including the view shared by many such cultures that animal blood had to be spilled and the animals burnt on altars so their gods could "smell the soothing aroma." To Holding the ancient Hebrews and Christianity itself was always the "first" to come up with such ideas, or the Hebrews and Christians "borrowed" exactly what God wanted them to, i.e., from the cultures around them, and that the Hebrews were in fact pre-planned to do such borrowing. It's always part of God's plan to end up some day with Holding's present-day Christian orthodoxy and beliefs. Never a doubt for Holding, all the developments after all, were merely to assure Holding of heavenly bliss. Reminds me of something H. G. Wells once wrote:
"They told him a God of Near Eastern origin, the God of Abraham (who evidently had a stupendous bosom) and Isaac and Jacob, had made the whole universe, stars and atoms, from start to finish in six days and made it wonderfully and perfect, and had set it all going and, after some necessary setbacks called the Fall and the Flood, had developed arrangements that were to culminate in the earthly happiness and security and eternal bliss of our little Mr. Davis, which had seemed to him a very agreeable state of affairs. And further they had shown him the most convincing pictures of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel and had given him a Noah’s Ark toy to play with [in times past the only acceptable toy to play with on Sundays was Noah’s ark] and told him simple Bible stories about the patriarchs and the infant Samuel and Solomon and David and their remarkable lessons for us, the promise of salvation spreading out from the Near East until it covered the world, and he had taken it all in without flinching because at the time he had no standards of comparison. Anything might be as true as anything else. Except for difference in color they put him into a world of Green Pastures and there they trained him to be a simply believing little Anglican.""Scientific education and religious education are incompatible. The clergy have ceased to interfere with education at the advanced stage, but they still control that of children. This means that children have to learn about Adam and Noah instead of evolution; about David killing Goliath instead of Koch killing cholera; about Christ’s ascent into heaven instead of Montgolfier’s or Wright’s. [SEE NOTE DIRECTLY BELOW] Worse than that they are taught that it is a virtue to accept a statement without adequate evidence, which leaves them prey to quacks of every kind and makes it difficult for them to accept the methods of thought that are successful in science."
- H. G. Wells, “The Mind of Mr. Joseph Davis”
- J. B. Haldane
[NOTE] Montgolfier ascended into the heavens via a balloon filled with hot air, and the Wright brothers designed and piloted the first successful heavier-than-air flying machine.
CHILDREN’S LETTERS TO GOD (HOLDING APPARENTLY HAS LESS OF A QUESTIONING NATURE THAN CHILDREN DO)
“Dear God, Why is Sunday School on Sunday? I thought it was supposed to be our day of rest.”
- Tom L.
“Dear God, What does it mean you are a jealous God. I thought you had everything.”
“Dear God, How come you did all those miracles in the old days and don’t do any now?”
From Children’s Letters to God: The New Collection, compiled by Stuart Hample and Eric Marshall
------------Thank God He made it easy to find the “one true faith.” So easy that your parents can pick it out for you before you are even born, and, in most places on earth, do.
It’s even easier to find a “true” Christian as opposed to a false one, or a “true” Moslem as opposed to a false one. The “true” believer who understands what his holy book “really” says, always happens to be the one addressing you.
Edward T. Babinski
(author of Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists)