Encouraged by the Ignorance of Others

doubtYou know that feeling you get when you realize your own shortcomings are not so much greater than others’? Like the fact that the great Apostle Paul struggled with sin is comforting to us who have to fight the flesh daily? It reminds us that we’re all part of this sin-cursed world and we all have a fallen nature.

So when it comes to ignorance, it ought to be no surprise that there are people out there that are just as dumb as I am at times. And while their ignorance is encouraging, it’s also very discouraging.

Last week, I had two different episodes involving atheists. Well, I think they are atheists of some sort. Maybe agnostic. But most certainly antagonistic – toward the Christian faith, that is. Both would describe themselves as intelligent, but I was taken back a bit by two specific things that were said.

The first one occurred at a coffee shop. It’s a privately owned cafe and coffee roastery that I’ve worked out since it opened. Though I don’t officially work there anymore, chances are you’ll see me there if you visit. Last Saturday, I was putting some finishing touches on my sermon preparation for the next morning.  I came to get away from distractions at home, but obviously this was no better.

I don’t know what it is about gourmet coffee and liberals, but the two seem to go together like two things that really go together. One gentleman in particular frequents the establishment. He’s a highly educated individual (as he goes out of his way to make sure you know). He reads the newspapers with lots of big words. And Harper’s magazine. And watches Bill Moyers. He also tries to engage in some sort of discussion with me from time to time. And I’ll admit it – I’m a bit intimidated. He’s probably twice my age. I know he is smarter than I am. Names and dates, Russian authors, dog breeds, types of heat (seriously), and other facts are in much more abundance in his brain than mine. And the times in which I’ve talked with him I always walked away feeling stupid. Wikipedia hasn’t helped too much.

So he sees me in the back on my laptop with a book opened. I was using Bible software and a word processor and I had a copy of Cleon Roger’s Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament on the table. Sounds technical, but for those of you who know what it is, it really isn’t. It’s a simple tool. If you can use a concordance, you can probably use this book. Anyway, he invited his nose into my book and said something like, “studying Greek, eh?” I wanted to respond, “no, I’m carving a cayak out of a log” but I figured that wouldn’t be a good Christian testimony. And the intimidation factor set in a bit in my mind. He’s probably going to recite the Illiad from memory – backwards – I thought.

Instead, after I told him I’m just preparing for a sermon, he said, very matter-of-factly, “Well, the Bible was written in Greek!” I thought. . .ummm. . .yes, and nodded my head, awaiting the next revelation. He then mentioned how it was later translated into Latin and I knew where he was going. He was attempting to do what he has done before in the past with me: question the veracity of modern Christian orthodoxy by claiming that, over time, things have changed so drastically that first-century believers wouldn’t know where to attend church if they were alive today or had attained a DeLorean DMC-12. Ah, the There-Were-So-Many-Christianities-In-The-First-Century bit. I’ve seen that before. So, in an attempt to prove much was lost in translation, he asked, “Now, the King James Version, that was translated from Latin, right?”

What? The King James Version translated from Latin?! You’ve got to do better than that, sir! Next!

The second instance occurred a few days later, at work. I was with a guy about my age who has a degree in philosophy. Not only can he tell me more about Plato, Rousseau, and Nietzsche than I’ll ever know, he’s also dug deeper into the New Atheists like Dan Dennett and Sam Harris. So he must know the arguments, I assume.

Now this peer of mine has been totally bought by the New Atheism’s methodology, for he claimed that having a faith like mine is “cause for concern.” That was nice of him to say, I thought. We got into a discussion about Christian teaching, and whaddayaknow? He brings up the same argument of alternative Christianity with one eventually winning the whole battle royale in the end through political power and capuchin hats. Expecting a sort of Ehrmanesque statement of fact, he surprised me with the question, “Yeah, like weren’t there like thousands of Christianities in the first century until Paul came around 200 years later and founded the church?”

Huh? Paul? 200 years after Christ? Founding the church? Is there a punchline, because this joke is going nowhere!

So, what’s the deal, am I to be surprised? No, of course not. Theologically, I’m supposed to believe that man is so depraved that he, in his opposition to the Truth, will remain in ignorance. And I do. But practically speaking, I honestly get a bit cowardly at times, thinking that enemies of the cross are going to take me for such a philosophical thrill ride that I’m going to be left speechless. Well, they succeeded at the latter. The encouragement is in this: let God be true and every man a liar. I am just a sinner saved by grace. I haven’t been given a superior intellect. While Christianity is not primarily intellectual, but spiritual, it is supported by intellectual disciplines. If Satan can’t prevail, neither can seemingly intelligent liberal latte sippers.

Now I wouldn’t say these two instances are the basis of a generalization of atheists and anti-Christians. But it shows a trend that I’ve been seeing more and more lately. And that’s the discouraging part. People only hear what they want to hear. An “expert” on the History channel says in passing, “there is no unified orthodoxy until the Catholic church suppressed the people through governmental authority” and that’s all the ammunition the New Atheist needs to crusade for his cause. But what about the other side? They’re listening to those experts, but about Christian scholars? At least give them a chance! We’re supposed to be fair and tolerant, what about them?

So I don’t give this account to say “atheists are all ignorant concerning Christianity.” Many are not. But at the same time, many choose to be. It isn’t worth digging into. They hate the church, they hate Jesus, they hate Christians, so they cling to any amount of supposed evidence and store it in their minds until an extremist like me comes along and studies his Bible in the back of a coffee shop.

If someone’s an atheist and has no interest in Christianity, perhaps that lesson isn’t for him. But for those of the New Atheism who are on the offense against Christianity, might I suggest doing the research fairly before dismissing it? There’s ample scholarship into which one may look.

We’re all ignorant of many things, aren’t we? As a Christian, knowing Christ is the highest end. I ought never be ignorant of Him. Likewise, I ought to know His doctrine, His truth, and the history of His people. Christianity has a rich heritage. And the more I find out about it, the more my faith is strengthened.

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14 comments so far

  1. morsec0de on

    “But for those of the New Atheism who are on the offense against Christianity, might I suggest doing the research fairly before dismissing it?”

    That suggestion can be well founded, depending on the discussion/debate and on the reason for it.

    I, personally, will discuss and research Christianity because I find it interesting. But if we were to get into an argument about Christianity (or any religion) being true, then that’s a completely different conversation. Then all one needs to do is look at the supernatural truth claims and see if they hold water. How and who formed the church matters very little in a conversation of that nature.

  2. Damien T Garofalo on

    I agree. There are various approaches to the subject.

  3. Travis on

    Here’s something I’ve observed. One of the unique characteristics of the New Atheism is its pop-culture feel. Skepticism no longer just makes you look intellectual or cultured; it makes you look cool. So, thanks to all the 2-cent Christianity-bashing websites, short and shallow straw man arguments against Christianity are easy to find. Many people quickly grab that type of atheism/agnosticism with little to no further research.
    But, (dare I say it?) many Christians do the same thing. Whereas the ignorant atheist believes whatever the guy on the History channel says “actually happened,” the ignorant believer takes whatever “preacher says” and is satisfied.
    We live in a time of spiritual and intellectual lethargy, believer and nonbelievers alike.

  4. Philip D on

    Let’s face it, though, the first guy in the coffee shop picked the wrong dude to go messing with about the history of the Bible, especially the King James Version.

  5. CD-Host on

    The first person is not so wrong as he sounds. There has bean a Christian tradition of translation that goes back to the old Vulgate. One of things I suggest to people is to read translation that break with the Christian tradition to get an idea of what you are missing by reading through Jerome. 10 really good bibles you may not know about.

    As for the second person, this is very similar to a post I was planning on the effect of the da Vinci code. We now have a popular version of the New School (Walter Bauer, Pagels, Ehrmann, Pearson, Turner…) floating around. There are only a few treatments by Christian scholars like Darrell Bock and NT Wright and so far they haven’t really dealt with the details. They have made broad sweeping claims. I have looked and I haven’t found good quality Christian scholarship that refutes the Bauer’s theories. For example I have yet to see a Christian scholar address Turner’s work on the Sethian literary tradition, address Pearson’s work on the evolution of Alexandrian Christianity, address Pagel’s work on Heracleon.

  6. Damien T Garofalo on

    I understand what you’re saying, but trust me, guy #1 did not mean it the way you might. I realize that a translation tradition finds its way back to Jerome. I also realize, according to Art Farstad, the KJV translators knew Latin better than Greek. Finally, I realize that Erasmus relied on the Latin, especially in Revelation. That being said, this gentleman had no clue that the KJV was translated mainly from the TR, “out of the original tongues.” His point was to say the whole system of Christianity can’t be trusted because there’s a sort of Greek-Latin-English line in which too much has been lost in translation.

    I appreciate the link, but might I inquire about your personal position? Though I agree it’s good to be familiar with other translations, you’re not suggesting there hasn’t been a reliable line of preserved truth are you? Sorry if I read that into what you’re saying.

    • CD-Host on

      I appreciate the link, but might I inquire about your personal position? Though I agree it’s good to be familiar with other translations, you’re not suggesting there hasn’t been a reliable line of preserved truth are you? Sorry if I read that into what you’re saying.

      I’d avoid words like “preserved truth” they are too vague to make definite statements about. So let me be more specific.

      1) I think that we have a great deal of knowledge about what 2nd century Christian texts that make up the bible looked like in the original languages. In other words we excellent preservation from about 150 CE on of the “bible”.

      2) We are doing some good work to get what the bible would have looked like around 110-120. It is looking like most of the pieces in our bibles go back at least this far though not likely put together the same way. Things like reconstructing the apostolicon are showing how well those books from the early 2nd century are preserved.

      3) Some of the materials appear to be much older. Books like Mark and Galatians go back likely at least 2-3 generations in essentially their current form.

      4) On the other hand the destruction of vital Christian texts that happened in the 4th and 5th centuries was dreadful. We lost a lot of our Christian heritage thousands of books and what we have is maybe pieces of a few hundred, we are being forced to work with fragments rather than libraries. We should have 100x as much as we do. I can’t in good conscience call what we have “preservation”. And it really only in the last 2 centuries that we have gone about systematically reconstruct these fragments in a real way these truths were lost to 1500 years of Christians.

  7. Kent Brandenburg on

    I’m happy that you were concerned to evangelize. We have many of the what we call, Berkeley-types, out here right next to, well, Berekeley. I’m also happy that you didn’t take the CD Host bait.

  8. Damien T Garofalo on

    I’m ignorant (in the pattern of this post!) about the views of CD Host. I’ve looked through your blog and it’s very interesting. Is there a way to describe your beliefs?

  9. Kent Brandenburg on

    The Berkeley types are the atheist/agnostic types. My beliefs I would call ‘biblical.’

  10. Damien T Garofalo on

    thanks. I figured that. And I’m aware of your position, Kent. . .but the question was for CD Host :)

  11. CD-Host on

    Damian —

    Yes. I’d say the core ideas:

    1) Christian literary history is a good guide to history. In other words if you want to know what people believed in 120 CE read the books from 120 CE.

    2) Follow basic rules of textual criticism:
    No apologetics. Study this history the way you would any other.
    No miracles or supernatural events.
    No heresy. We treat all ancient authors equally, not giving weight to the eventual winners.
    Religions develop in religious communities they don’t fall out of the sky.
    All sources have human authorship.
    The sources were written by people in the midst of events, the authors don’t understand how events will turn out.
    The authors are not neutral. They are writing apology and polemic and propaganda, and they need to be deconstructed as those.
    Our sources are dependent on the human being: physiologically, psychologically, emotionally, socially.

    3) The progression for Christian beliefs was
    Hellenized Judaism
    Hellenistic Judaism
    Gnosticising Jews
    Christian Gnosticism
    Orthodox Christianity

    not (orthodox version)
    Hasidean Judaism
    Palestinian Judaism
    Jewish Christianity
    Orthodox Christianity
    Christian Gnosticism

    I could keep going but that is actually quite a bit to discuss.

  12. Damien T Garofalo on

    that’s fine, CD. I was wondering if you would call yourself a Christian, and if so, where in modern Christianity do you fit in? From the looks of it, I guess you wouldn’t affirm the inspiration of the scriptures, would you?

  13. CD-Host on

    Elaine Pagels who is (a/the) leader of the New School attends church weekly in Princeton. You see a lot of New School people in mainline churches. In the evangelical world you often can see it as part of the emerging church movement. You also see many that are atheists, x-believers. On the other hand you see lots of evangelicals and catholics who hold parts of the new school. For them it is taking the reformation to the next step; the Reformation wanted to free the bible from the church and try and stop reading it through 1500 years of history and doctrine. The New School says the collection of the bible itself is part of that history and doctrine, if you want to understand the bible you need to read the books in their original contexts, using a first century mindset. I’ve been called an “unreconstructed fundamentalist” for holding that view.

    I have no problem affirming inspiration of the scriptures.


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