Review of Keith Ward’s view on Scripture

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Reliability of Scripture or the Lack Thereof

Common Ground

 

I came away from this book with the impression that Keith Ward has wrestled with his faith and has gone through the four stages of theology or faith that Mikel Wisler referred me to, you can find it here http://www.ceasefirestrategies.net/2011/02/when-christians-attack.html.  I also read online that Ward is a theistic evolutionist, which is the most logical stance to take, and has debated atheists.  I also find that the fact, that he likes to dig deep and see beyond the rules into the heart of what the Bible is saying, refreshing and in accordance with the teachings of Jesus, specifically when he admonishes the Pharisees that they are following the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law.  Paul speaks of this principle in 2 Corinthians 3:6 “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”.

I also went through the stages of theology and almost got lost in level 3.  I questioned the rules, and sought comfort in the gnostic bible, and in liberation theology.  This was my attempt at finding a different Jesus that would allow me to wallow in my depravity (namely drinking) without asking anything of me.  I initially found them to fill me with hope, it was nice to be able to ignore the teaching in the Bible that did not comport with my lifestyle.  However, after finding them to be without truth, I came back to a deep appreciation for the rules of the Bible, not as a limiting factor on my happiness but as a true guide into deep spiritual awareness that God put those rules in place as an act of Love.  There is a promise in Deuteronomy attached to the Law that I find comforting, the Father knows what is best for us  “Walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you possess”.  I now also see the deeper meaning in many of those rules, as Ward admonishes us to do, to look beyond the rule and to see the deeper meaning.  However, we must be careful not to loose site of the trees for the forest.  I think sometimes Ward wants to see the deep meaning and fails to see the plain meaning of the rule.  

My spiritual, faith and theological journey has taken me to many places.  I am now struggling with what it means to have a sanctified life and what it means to be sanctified not simply justified.  I am now on the same page with my wife, it took many years to get to this point, and am truly beginning to lead my kids spiritually.  I attribute this to getting to “stage 4” and embracing stage 2, not as a crutch but as the spiritual foundation that I believe God intended it to be.

My examination of Ward’s book is, what I hope to be a genesis of a conversation with anyone who wants one.  It is not a final statement, but just my thoughts as I examine Ward’s beliefs and consequently, examine my own beliefs more deeply.

Let’s Dig Deeper!

 

Michael Breniser

 

 

 

 

Nature of Scripture

Here is a list of Keith Ward’s direct quotes regarding his view of the nature, authority, authenticity, and reliability of Scripture

 

  1. I think a literal reading of New Testament statements about the coming of Christ in glory can be shown to be pretty unbiblical! (p. 10).
  2. Most oddly of all, their belief in the verbal inerrancy of the Bible is not itself based on Biblical teaching (p. 10).
  3. The Bible is absolutely essential for every Christian, and it is very reasonable to think that in it God does teach truths that God wills to reveal through Christ (p. 12).
  4. Even if Jesus was divine, he did not write down or dictate his teachings to his hearers, and those teachings were passed down by word of mouth, translated and then put into four different Gospels many years later (p. 13).
  5. Human beings, the Bible says, are “God-breathed.”  They are brought to life, they are given life by God (p. 14).
  6. The Scriptures are God-breathed, because God’s Spirit hovers over the prophets and the writers of Scripture to give them insights, to enliven them, to raise their minds toward divine reality – but not to dictate to them what they shall say (p. 14).
  7. The Bible is not inerrant in detail, but God has ensured that no substantial errors, which mislead us about the nature of salvation, are to be found in Scripture (p. 15).
  8. It is not a set of doctrines, and it does not record the direct thoughts of God without any human interpretation (p. 17).
  9. Christians do not in fact worry very much if they read the Bible in English, or in some other language – which shows that they do not really think the exact words, in the original language, are sacred and given by God (p. 17).
  10. It is as though Christians always wished they had a sacred text that told one continuous story, from one (God’s) point of view, without any diversity of perspective or human interaction (p. 17).
  11. They think Christian revelation is a book, miraculously free from any errors (p. 28).
  12. For the Bible does not take itself literally.  It is the fundamentalists who pick and choose, omitting or re-interpreting huge chunks of Scripture so that it will fit into a neat theological scheme – which as not invented until the sixteenth century (p. 29).
  13. After all, Biblical scholars differ quite a lot in their approach to the Bible.  Some take it to be literally the word of God.  Others dod not believe in God at all, and think it is a set of purely human documents (p. 30).
  14. The best scholars may not believe the same things that you believe.  They may have a very different sort of Christian faith, if they have one at all (p. 30).
  15. What the Bible really teaches is usually not very clear, and is often widely misunderstood (p. 31).
  16. Reading the Bible consistently means that we must think very carefully before coming to conclusions about what the Bible is telling us to do (p. 33).
  17. So when reading passages about the “second coming” of Christ, like Mark chapter 13, you should read them in the light of the Old Testament passages on which they are based (they can be found in any good reference Bible).  When you do that, you will find a well-established tradition of the use of symbolic speech by the Prophets (p. 34).
  18. The difficulty with fundamentalism is that it lets some parts, taken largely out of context, determine the meaning of the whole.  This is an upside-down way of reading the Bible (p. 34).
  19. To “sublate” means to negate and yet to fulfill at the same time.  That is what sublation is, canceling an obvious or literal meaning by discovering a deeper spiritual meaning that can be seen to be the fulfillment to which the literal meaning points (p. 35).
  20. So it may be that many parts of the Biblical history were actually written to convey a spiritual meaning, and it does not matter much whether they actually happened as described (p. 37).
  21. A key question for any proposed Biblical interpretation is:  Does this interpretation increase my self-awareness, disclose the nature of God as it is seen in the great key events of revelation, and increase in me the spiritual fruits of compassion, love, kindness, and sensitivity to others?  It is because of this that any interpretaion which depicts God as vengeful, vindictive, exclusive to just a few chosen people, or purely retributive, falls short of the Christian insight that “God is love” (1 John 4:16), and that God’s love knows no limits (“neither height nor depth, nor anythig else in all creation, will be able to separtate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39) (p. 39-40).

Initial Thoughts

It is usually easy to classify a person’s theological position after reading just a chapter of a book, but with Keith Ward’s book it was difficult to understand what his theology is and what the foundation consists of because he makes contradictory statements.  I would say that Ward’s accusation that fundamentalists pick and choose certain passages  and omit others (I agree that many Fundamentalists do this) to further their theological slant is exactly what he does.  On the one hand he confesses that he believes that Scripture is God-breathed and is the source of saving knowledge, but then omits any interpretation of God as being judgmental, exclusionary, and vengeful because it does not fit Ward’s view of God as a God of ONLY love.  

Therefore, he reinterprets or redacts any references in Scripture that does not fit the mold of the God that Ward has fashioned and by doing so has eliminated many facets of God and has made God into a one-dimensional demigod.  

In Greek mythology and in many primitive religious hierarchies we see each deity embodying a primary trait or power.  We see the breakdown of powers in these examples: Ares as the god of war, Demeter as goddess of fertility and harvest,  Hades god of the dead, Hephaestus god of fire and metalworking, Aphrodite goddess of love, beauty and desire, and Zeus king of the gods and god of the sky.  Ward strips the God of the Bible of many of His traits and powers in an attempt to justify his exegesis and to sublate any passages that do not fit with the god Ward has created.

I believe that by doing this Ward misses his primary purpose of finding the deeper meaning in each text.  What he ends up doing is stripping much of the richness of Scripture away and eliminating many of the facets of God’s personality.

Divergence of Opinions

Keith Ward classifies the purpose of his book in Chapter 2 by saying the following with the emphasis by Ward, “THIS IS AN ADVERSARIAL BOOK.  It attacks Christian fundamentalism, and that may seem a very uncharitable thing for a Christian writer to do.” 

 

I will classify Ward’s statements into a few categories.

  1. Scripture The Inspired Word of God without Significant Errors
  • Ward professes a “fundamentalists” view of Scripture by affirming God as its source through “God-Breathed” humans that God ensured that no substantial errors crept into and that all professing Christians should read Scripture as a means to know God’s will for humanity (Quotes #3, 5, 6, and 7).  However, he does move a bit to the left by saying that “God ensured that no substantial errors” were recorded in Scripture.
  • Ward’s views based on these statements seem as if coming from someone who believes in the Inspired Word of God.

 

  1.   Scripture as a Non-Sacred Text Full of Errors
  • Here Ward postulates that Scripture contains many errors and any literal reading of the text is fundamentally wrong (Quotes #1, 2, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11).  
  • Ward’s assumption that because “those teaching were passed down by word of mouth, translated and then put into four different Gospels many years later” (p. 13) it proves that the authenticity of those words are suspect at best.  This position leads to many problems:
      • First, by equating writing of the Gospels at 50 – 90 A.D. with a proof or propensity of the text containing errors is a false assumption as it denigrates the oral tradition of the Jewish culture.  There were many people who could recite the entire Pentateuch and the culture was based upon Oral Tradition.  Remember, they did not have the technologies that we have that have made memorization unneeded.  We used to be able to remember various phone numbers but now most of us do not know more that a few.  Even if you assume later writings of the Gospels it would still have been within the lifetime of some of the eyewitnesses and all of their children would have been only one generation removed from the actual events.  If the text was riddled with errors and outright lies, they never would have been accepted or disseminated.
      • Ward believes that the Scriptures are full of errors because they were written after the life of Jesus (assumes they forgot details), they were written by humans (assumes that they wrote falsehoods and might have embellished details to fit their own purposes), and Jesus did not write or dictate his teachings to the writers of the Gospels (assumes human error again).  The biggest problem with this is summed up with these two questions: “If what Ward says is true, then how can we trust ANY of the words of Scripture?”  and, “If God used Jesus to redeem the world, does He care what we believe about His nature, will, and how we live our lives?” 
      • “If what Ward says is true, then how can we trust ANY of the words of Scripture?”  This stance requires some sort of framework in which to know which parts of Scripture we can trust as God’s Word and which parts we can discard as simple human words.  I know of no such framework that is logical and consistent in its application.  You are left with an attempt to interpret Scripture through your own personal cultural biases.  So, many post-modern westerners, including Ward, have great issues with a God that would allow or to send people to a place of eternal punishment (hell), but do not have issues with God telling us to love our enemies and to forgive those who do wrong to us.  However, in many tribal cultures the belief in a Hell is not a problem for them because they believe there are natural consequences for violating both natural laws like gravity and spiritual laws.  They do have a problem accepting that they should forgive those people who attacked their village and burnt their homes down, killed their children, and raped their wives.  They cannot accept that type of God.  This type of rule for interpretation cannot be correct because it is to culturally dependent upon changing cultural norms.
      • “If God used Jesus to redeem the world, does He care what we believe about His nature, will, and how we live our lives?”   If Ward does indeed believe in the God of the Bible, then we must ask if God does have any “rules” then how are we to know them.  It would be a very odd God that would allow us to all be fooled by the Bible if it is full of errors.  At the end, we could be faced with a laughing god that says, “it is pretty funny how all of you attempted to follow the Bible, it was just the writing of people and it did not come from me” and then “you all get into heaven or maybe you go to Hell, because you did not know what my will was”.  This is an arbitrary god that has no basis in reality.
  1. Scripture as Allegory, the Need to Sublate, and Ignore Disliked Scripture
  • Ward’s Bible is God’s Word and at the same time it is a mysterious and cryptic text that needs to be interpreted through the lens of allegory, symbolism, sublation, and through the “God is love” lens to be able to know what we are to take from the human words.  It is a very confusing place devoid of logic, where he applies allegory when nothing in the text demands it and where the historical-critical method of exegesis is king.  However, when the text speaks plainly and is presented as history, or a command, Ward will sublate it or altogether ignore it when it doesn’t fit into a loving God that is the caricature of God that he has painted (Quotes #12, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21).
  • “For the Bible does not take itself literally.  It is the fundamentalists who pick and choose, omitting or re-interpreting huge chunks of Scripture so that it will fit into a neat theological scheme – which was not invented until the sixteenth century” (p. 29).  To say that the Bible does not take itself literally is a gross overstatement that is thrown out there without any evidence.  So, when we see the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:1-17, the death of Jesus in John 19:28-30, the death of Herod in Acts 12:23 or when Jesus gave the sermon on the mount Matthew 5, these are all figurative, symbolic or allegory?  If so we are left with nothing.  When the Bible appears to be speaking through allegories or symbolism it sounds as such, like when Jesus speaks in parables, it is obvious.  When the Scripture is presenting history then we either accept it as such or we need to discard the entire Scripture.  Ward then accuses fundamentalist of picking and choosing and omitting Scripture to fit their “neat theological scheme” and attempts to elevate his own methodology above their’s he is being hypocritical to the nth degree.  If Ward were to say that their methods were crude and that he is presenting a better method to pick and choose and omit, then he would at least be intellectually sincere.  
  • “To “sublate” means to negate and yet to fulfill at the same time.  That is what sublation is, canceling an obvious or literal meaning by discovering a deeper spiritual meaning that can be seen to be the fulfillment to which the literal meaning points” (p. 35).  Here I agree with Ward that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus does sublate the Old Testament laws.  However, Ward then goes on to sublate any teaching in scripture that does not conform to his view of God.  So, a God that speaks repeatedly about Jesus being the only way to heaven and speaks repeatedly about those who choose not to believe will be cast into hell, Ward sublates these passages with God is love, which to him cannot coexist – a God of love and a God of justice.  I will go into the issue of salvation and eternal life in my next post.
  • Ward lays out his exegetical framework of viewing scripture on pages 39 – 40.  I have touched on this previously, but essentially Ward says that we must interpret all of Scripture through 1 John 4:16 “ And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him”.  So, a God of love cannot possibly send or allow people to go to hell.  Ward even says the word hell does not even appear in the Bible, which is laughable because the word love also does not appear in the Bible because there are NO english words in the Bible.  Instead what we find are these words Sheol, Ge Hinom, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartaro as a place of eternal punishment and Agape, Eros, Mania, Philos, and Storgy.  Ward also talks of the principle of comprehensiveness, which is supposed to weigh all of the Bible when making an interpretation so that we don’t take one passage and follow it when the rest of the Bible speaks of it in a different light.  However, while Ward points this principle out, he doesn’t use it.  Instead he interprets all of Scripture through the love lens.  The biggest mistake Ward makes with his emphasis on a loving God is his obvious fundamental misunderstanding of what love means.  If ward would have utilized the principle of comprehensiveness he would have discovered that love means more than simply saying “everyone is forgiven and gets into heaven and we all should love each other irregardless of any actions that a person takes”.  
    • Job 5:17 “Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty”.
    • Hebrews 12:5-6 “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son”.
    • Exodus 34:14 “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God”.
    • Revelation 3:19 “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.  So be earnest, and repent”.
    • There are many more passages that show that love is more than simple forgiveness.  

 

 

Final Thoughts on Scripture

  • Ward’s view of Scripture is very confusing and it is practically impossible to follow by utilizing any set of principles because his principles are self contradictory.  
  • Who should we listen to when interpreting Scripture, Ward says, “After all, Biblical scholars differ quite a lot in their approach to the Bible.  Some take it to be literally the word of God.  Others do not believe in God at all, and think it is a set of purely human documents”, and “The best scholars may not believe the same things that you believe.  They may have a very different sort of Christian faith, if they have one at all” (p. 30).  This is especially troubling, in that he elevates scholars that don’t even have a faith in the God of the Bible as being the ones we as Christians should listen to.  I believe that it is a good thing to look at what the other side so that you can be more educated as to why you believe what you believe but you should not read their material as a guiding text on your spiritual journey.  The Bible admonishes us in this issue, “The many without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  So, for me I don’t think that Ward’s opinions should be taken very seriously within the Christian community because of his acceptance of non-believers as good spiritual guides and his disregard for Scripture.  
  • His stance when allowed to run its logical course MUST lead to a total abandonment of ALL of Scripture.  It is a simple and logical conclusion because he leaves us with no methodical means to determine what parts of Scripture are true, false or God’s Word. The conclusion is that if we should follow the Bible at all we must interpret it through the lens of our culture, which leads to obvious issues, like what is the God of the Bible like in Hitler’s Germany, current North Korea, or in San Francisco California.  
  • Lastly, Ward generalizes most “fundamentalists” as those who are narrow and double minded people that believe that if others do not believe like them then they are not even Christians.  I regard myself as a fundamentalist, and at the same time I acknowledge the diversity within the Christian community as being real and valid.  However, the basis of what it means to be a Christian within the Holy catholic Church are as follows:
  1. Jesus was fully God and fully man
  2. He died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins
  3. He rose from the dead and is in heaven

 

These are the foundation of what it means to be a Christian.  If you don’t believe these then you are not a Christian.  I disagree with some of the practices of the Catholic Church as well as the Charismatic Church, but both believe in the foundations of Christian faith and therefore are to be counted within the community of believers.  No one knows who is truly saved or not saved but  God, but after reading Ward’s book I am not sure if he really believes in the foundation of our Faith.  I would not recommend anyone seeking a knowledge of God to read this book and would STRONGLY warn new Christians from reading it.  However, for those who are firm in their faith, I would recommend reading this book as a means to further understand their faith in reflection of a very liberal scholar.  I will end with this quote from page 13, “Even if Jesus as divine, he did not write down or dictate his teachings…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Breniser

February 22, 2014

 
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