A few months ago I wrote the first of what I intended to be a series of blogs on some of the things that legitimate the Christian claim to the truth. I believe there are many things that Christianity answers more clearly and consistently than other worldviews, i.e. creation, evil and suffering, etc… Nevertheless, there are some reasonable arguments against these things. I have thus tried (and will continue to try) to stick to arguments that are extremely difficult to refute. The arguments against the resurrection (the first blog) are quite poor, comparatively speaking. So it is with this particular point, I believe, as well. This second entry will argue that Christianity is uniquely honest, a trait that no other religion can claim as strongly.
Let me offer one more point of clarification before we begin. I do not associate Roman Catholicism with evangelical Christianity. One could probably make an argument against what I will claim by contending that this is not true when one looks at Roman Catholic history. But I do not believe that Roman Catholicism teaches the gospel recorded in the Bible. As to whether any Roman Catholics are Christians, that is another blog for another time. Simply let it be noted that I distinguish between the two churches.
As I have examined the faiths that one will find all over our world, I have been pleasantly surprised to find that Christianity has no secrets. There is no secret hidden knowledge. There are no riddles that one must figure out (despite how some have abused prophecy and apocalyptic literature), there is no dirt that is swept under the carpet for no one to ever find. Christianity has no secrets. And that kind of honesty is important in my opinion.
Let me speak primarily, and most importantly, about the Bible. I believe the Bible is an incredibly honest book. First, by revealing Himself in a text, and a text grounded in historical event, God provides us with a source of revelation that allows itself to be critiqued. Let me explain. Religions or belief systems that ground the validity of their faith on experience or mythology essentially require you to take their word for it. The validation for these systems is primarily experiential. One of the things this does is it makes them hard to critique. How is one to question someone’s experience? How is one to critique the usefulness of a story grounded in myth? James Herrick, author of the exceptional book, “The Making of the New Spirituality,” says this, “MacLaine (that being Shirley Maclaine, the famous actress and New Age guru) writes within the context of the New Synthesis, a spiritual movement that has taken leave of history, that has severed the spiritual from the physical, the subjective from the objective and has thus rendered irrelevant any effort to prove or disprove experiential claims as ‘historically accurate.’ By the same token, spiritual claims no longer stand or fall on the merits of their historical claims. Such a division between claims about events in space and time, on the one hand, and claims about spiritual truths, on the other, is unknown to the Revealed Word (Christianity). Attending the risk of the Revealed Word’s commitment to history is a refreshing honesty before a public being asked to embrace its worldview.”
Herrick is asserting that a worldview, or a truth claim, that grounds itself in history is capable of being critiqued and evaluated, while one disconnected from space and time, from history, simply cannot be critiqued. By allowing for examination and critique, one is showing that they have nothing to hide. Let it be known that the Bible is extraordinarily unique in this way. Few sacred texts are actually grounded in historical event. Hinduism and its texts, along with Buddhism and what might be considered its authoritative writings, place absolutely no value on this. The Quran is a work of poetry that has very little value historically. Most pagan religions recount stories that show little historical foundation, and are primarily mythological in nature. The most historical text I am aware of other than the Bible is the Book of Mormon, and it can be shown that it has extensive inaccuracies that render it completely unreliable historically. On top of this, the Bible not only opens itself up to critique, it stands up to it impressively as well. Well over 200,000 pieces of historical and archaeological evidence validate dates, times, places, and people in the Bible. To be sure, there are areas of inconsistency between the Bible and history, but this is not the norm. Over and over, former points of disagreement continue to be reconciled as newer discoveries are made.
Second, one must note the value of manuscripts in relation to the Bible. Over 5,000 manuscripts or portions of manuscripts are contained for the New Testament. This does not count the thousands more in varying languages. And while no originals are possessed (not that we would be able to identify the originals anyways), manuscripts are rather numerous and rather near the writing of the originals, particularly when compared to other literary works of antiquity. The information contained in these manuscripts is readily available in any Greek New Testament. At the bottom of each page each and every variant that has been found in any manuscript is listed and catalogued for research purposes. Many try and argue for the unreliability of the New Testament based on the sheer volume of variants contained in the various manuscripts. I’ve often asked those who make this point if they’ve ever actually looked at any of those variations. No one has ever told me that they have. One will ultimately find that the variants that are present, despite being numerous, alter the text in a minimal way. The variations are minor and have little bearing on the meaning of the texts. Granted, one would have to be able to handle the Greek to some degree to really work with the material, but the point is that all of it is readily available in any Greek New Testament that anyone can purchase. None of the variants are hidden away. None of the manuscripts are kept secret. We don’t guard the list of our translators like the Watch Tower society. Those responsible for a Bible’s translation are listed in the front. If Joseph Smith wants to hide away the gold plates he translated the Book of Mormon from, that’s fine. But it doesn’t look very honest or trustworthy when he does. Again, this has left the Bible open to controversy because of this. But at least it’s not afraid to be examined.
Thirdly, history accounts for the fact that the Bible is not the work of one single individual. Some would claim that the Bible has been continually revised and changed, which, in actuality, is difficult to prove, but the wealth of historical evidence validates much of it as historical and thus not all written and composed at the same time. By the same token it was not written simply by one man. The length of time and quantity of contributors offer dimension to the Bible that no other sacred text can claim. The Quran was written by one man during his lifetime. The Book of Mormon, the same (well, translated supposedly, not written). And yet, the Bible was written in three languages, on three continents, by over 40 individuals from all walks of life, over the course of 1500 years. This to me is more trustworthy than if it had been assembled by one man. The Bible doesn’t make anyone take one man’s word for it. By the same token, those who would ask for an original copy of the Bible so as to prove its truthfulness open themselves up to the same dilemma. If there is only one copy, it would be much easier to alter it and deceive people. But because there is diversity and quantity involved, a bad manuscript or witness can be rooted out.
Fourthly, the Bible is not a code book that was written only for those intelligent enough to decipher it. It was written to be understood, and by everyday people. Just read it and see what it says. It means what it says. There’s nothing to decipher. Sure, one may not understand exactly what it might be saying somewhere, but the way you find the answer is studying it. Keep reading the text in its context and try to discern what the author’s intended meaning was. It’s really not that hard. While God appoints teachers and preachers to help explain the Bible to their community of Christians, they are working with the same text everyone else has. And you don’t have to take the preacher’s word for it. You can look at it for yourself. You can study it for yourself. No one has to buy into anything that they can’t see right there in the actual words of the Bible itself, as available to them as it is to any preacher or teacher. Christianity trusts you to think for yourself and decide for yourself, with any and all information you need to make a decision readily available to you.
I believe these features make the Bible the most honest, trustworthy, verifiable, and evaluable sacred text that has ever been written. There is nothing to hide when it comes to the Bible. It stands apart impressively when seen in this light. Christianity has no secret rituals. It has no hidden knowledge. There is no mysterious interpretation or greater insight. There are no hidden secrets. What you see is what you get. And it is the most evaluable religion in my opinion, on the planet. There is no hierarchy of power that has to be protected and thus information and such that has to be protected and concealed for the preservation of that hierarchy. Christianity simply lays itself out there and invites the world to test it.
Let me conclude, however, by addressing the fact that many evil things have been done in the name of Christianity, and some may have tried to cover it up for lack of being able to respond appropriately to it. First, not everything done in the name of Christianity reflects what God commands in the Bible. Many through church history have used the Bible and Christianity to further their own ends. If someone does such a thing, the conclusion must be that they simply are not Christians, for they act against its teachings. I do not claim many of those who have done horrific things as my brothers in Christ. We must also acknowledge that this is a bad way to evaluate the truthfulness of a faith system. Augustine said that one cannot evaluate the truthfulness of any claim based upon its abuse. You have to let it speak on its own merit. The church, however, must also be honest about its errors. Whether they are true believers who are misguided, or false Christians masquerading as Christians, their actions are wrong and they must be affirmed as such. They damage the church’s witness no doubt. But they do not affect the objective truthfulness of a Christian proposition. Trying to hide or ignore something does absolutely no good.
Honesty breeds integrity and truthfulness. Secrets imply deceit and lies. One is certainly welcome to challenge any claim here proposed regarding Christianity. That’s kind of the whole point to the whole argument! However, Christianity appears to me to be a religion that values honesty more than any other in the world. I believe this is well attested to. And I believe this deserves our consideration.