RE: The Problem of Liberal Theology

From: Shuan Rose (
Date: Fri May 10 2002 - 18:59:36 EDT

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            A key question raised here by Glenn is what things in the Bible must we
    believe are true in order to hold on to our Christian faith. I like the
    statement on inspiration by the Pontifical Bible Commission:

    Guided by the Holy Spirit and in the light of the living tradition which it
    has received, the church has discerned the writings which should be regarded
    as sacred Scripture in the sense that, "having been written under the
    inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God for author and have been
    handed on as such to the church" ("Dei Verbum," 11) and contain "that truth
    which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation"

    I am not Catholic but I would agree that the Bible is inspired in that
    contains "that truth which God wanted put into the sacred writings for the
    sake of our salvation". I think that George is right to put the emphasis on
    the truth and historicity of Christ, not every assertion in the Bible.
    Moreover, to quote Glenn's words back at him, if we wanted to play the
    doubting game, we would very quickly come to doubt everything in the Bible
    ( and for that matter all ancient history).
      I would recommend a look at THE INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE IN THE CHURCH
    by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, available online at
    The Roman Catholics did a thorough job, and it is mostly free of explicitly
    Catholic theology.

    -----Original Message-----
    From: []On
    Behalf Of george murphy
    Sent: Friday, May 10, 2002 4:20 PM
    To: Glenn Morton
    Cc: Shuan Rose;
    Subject: Re: The Problem of Liberal Theology

          3 points on the following:
              1. I didn't mean to say that the Exodus as traditionally
    pictured could be verified, but only that one might in principle verify
    that there was an escape of Hebrew slaves from Egypt as the basis of the
    biblical accounts. I'm sorry I wasn't clearer on this. It doesn't take
    a lot of archeology to convince one that an Exodus of 2.5 x 10^6 people
    and a D-Day scale invasion of Canaan are implausible. An escape of a
    small group of slaves who infiltrated Canaan & made common cause with
    some peoples already there (as the stories of Rahab & the Gibeonites
    suggest) is another matter. But I don't want to put any emphasis on
    this here.
              2. The existence of Jesus as an historical figure is crucial
    for Christianity, and the specific human life that he lived is defined
    in part by the historical traditions of Israel. But it doesn't follow
    that Jesus is less historical if some of those traditions did not refer
    to events that really happened. Yes, Luke includes Noah in the
    genealogy that links Jesus with the origin of humanity. Jesus is no
    less historical & no less linked to the origin of humanity if there was
    no historical person named "Noah."
              3. The major point I tried to make earlier is that finally we
    are called to make a decision about theological claims that can't be
    verified by scientific or historical study. There has to be some
    evidential basis for such a decision if it isn't to be just signing a
    blank check, "I believe in X." No one I know is urging such a course,
    saying "We have no reason to believe that Jesus ever lived or was
    crucified or risen, but we should believe as if he did." But it is the
    theological claims about historical events that are significant.
    Otherwise the NT would be of no more interest than Tacitus.



    George L. Murphy
    "The Science-Theology Interface"

    Glenn Morton wrote:

    > George
    > wrote:............................................................
    > >> I am not a liberal - a statement I make not to clear my
    > theological honor but because the theological truth that I think the
    > Bible conveys includes a great deal that many "liberals" wouldn't be
    > interested in defending (resurrection, Incarnation, &c). <<I agree
    > that you and I agree on more things than we often let others see.
    > :-)
    > >> Having said that - your argument just won't do. Because the
    > really important things that the Bible claims - that God is the
    > creator of the universe, that God got Israel out of Egypt, that Jesus
    > is truly divine and truly human, that "whoever believes in him shall
    > not perish but have everlasting life" &c - are not things that can be
    > verified. You can make a good scientific case for a temporal origin
    > of the universe, but not that God created it. You can make an
    > historical argument for the Exodus, but not that God acted in any
    > distinctive way to bring it about. <<<Here I think we have a problem.
    > I don't think you can make a good historical/archaeological argument
    > for the Exodus. And if not, what does that say about the veracity of
    > Scripture. Look at the Israeli archaeologists who doubt the entire
    > story! The physical evidence isn't there. And that is the same
    > problem with the traditional interp. of Genesis 6-9. The physical
    > evidence isn't there for a Global flood nor is it really there for a
    > widespread big local flood in the Mesopotamian basin, nor is it there
    > in the Black Sea. I agree with you that I can't prove that God was
    > behind an event. But I can prove that the event has no evidence (which
    > is not the same as proving it didn't happen) and I CAN prove that an
    > event HAS evidece that it occurred. Lacking that evidence raises
    > doubts about the occurrence of the event, regardless of whether God
    > was behind it or not. >>>You can make a convincing argument for
    > the historical character of a lot in the gospels, including the basic
    > fact of the resurrection - but you can't verify that Jesus was God
    > Incarnate. And you can't prove historically or scientifically that
    > God justifies sinners for Christ's sake. <<Agreed, but never have I
    > tried to prove that God was behind the events of Genesis 1-11. I just
    > want to see if they really happened in ANY fashion at all. Same with
    > the Exodus. THere simply isn't the data, historical or archaeological,
    > to support the reality of the story.Shuan, does this sound like a
    > fundamentalist here?
    > >>> & no, you have never said that you could prove these
    > things. But the point is that after verifying to your satisfaction
    > that the flood, or the creation of humanity, or whatever events you
    > wish really happened as the Bible says - you are still faced with
    > theological claims which cannot be verified. >>> Ah thanks for
    > acknowledging that I never said I could prove those things. The
    > problem I see is this, George, we base our theology upon what God
    > did. We believe God is behind events X, Y and Z. But we find that X,
    > Y and Z never happened at all! So, what becomes of the theology? Was
    > God really behind the occurence of NON-events? I don't like resting a
    > theology upon such ephemeral and tenuous foundations, especially in a
    > historically based religion like Christianity.When I look at
    > Mormonism, they claim that God was behind the events described in the
    > Book. But what if those events never happened at all? (and I think
    > they are utter nonsense and imaginary) Am I still to believe that God
    > is behind the battles described in that Book?
    > >>> Certainly some degree of historical accuracy of scripture is
    > important for faith in Christ because scripture is our basic witness
    > to Christ. But in that case why not deal with the NT documents, which
    > are closer & more germane to the Christ event? Even if you can
    > provide a convincing argument that the events of Gen.6-9 really
    > happened 5 x 10^6 years ago, it's a tremendous stretch to claim that
    > you've provided any additional reason to belief the theological claims
    > made in the NT. <<<Agreed, but one can significantly undermine Jesus'
    > claim to be descended from Noah if Noah never existed. And one can
    > seriously undermine the claims of Jesus to be the sacrificial lamb--a
    > reflection of the passover, if the passover never happened.
    > >> The bottom line is that it is the theological claims that
    > are important, whatever percentage of accurate historical narrative
    > you think scripture contains, & those claims are ultimately matters of
    > faith, even though they refer to historical events. You might be able
    > to verify that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate but not that the
    > Son of God did>>As you might expect, I would characterize it a bit
    > differently. :-) Theological claims are important only if they
    > represent reality of the theological world. The theology of Molech,
    > we hope, isn't real. And I know you agree with this. And given that
    > the theological claims are based upon God acting in history (the
    > Exodus), if the history didn't happen, why should I beleive the
    > theological claim? And yes, we can say that these are stories
    > designed to convey theological truths rather than referring to
    > historical events, can we say that of the Exodus also? Frankly, I find
    > the evidence for the Exodus to be as shaky as evidence for the global
    > flood.(once again, Shuan, this isn't sounding very fundamentalist is
    > it?) glenn
    > see
    > for lots of creation/evolution information
    > anthropology/geology/paleontology/theology\
    > personal stories of struggle

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