Stump the Chump

My guess is that this list is going to be a bit of a let-down for the people who asked for it for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that it's not like I have kept a file of these questions, so I'm working from my own flawed memory. Another reason is that the average theology blog reader is far and away more self-educated about the Bible and about various controversies than the average teenager is, so some of these are going to be somewhat run-of-the-mill.

I could probably write 500 words on why this list is what it is, but that would waste all my time for inserting the list. Here ya go:
  • Bible Contradictions. Yes, I know: {yawn}. However, while you may or may not be able to give a specific answer for any or every alleged Bible contradiction, here's the short list of categories all the ones I have ever encountered fall under --
    1. Anachronistic Scientific interpretation: like the "smallest seed" conundrum -- no, the mustard seed is not the smallest seed in all of creation, but the Jews didn't know that. The point of the Mustard Seed parable is not to make a scientific point but to demonstrate the expansive nature of the Kingdom using something these people understood. Should Jesus have started this parable out saying, "you know, in a land which is across an ocean you guys don't even know about, there's this water Lilly that has as seed that's the size of a mote of dust -- and it doesn't really grow to be that big, so the Kingdom of God is not like that ... Hmm ... oh wait -- it's like a Mustard seed ..."
    2. Materialistic demands imposed on the Supernatural: for example, Noah's Ark and the Flood. All told, there's probably no naturalistic explanation of the Flood -- because it wasn't brought on by naturalistic causes. It was caused by God, and the solution God provided for Noah and his kin, plus all those animals, should also be seen in that light. The irony of this kind of objection, I find, is that they want to go after the "big" ones -- like the sun stopping in the sky, or the parting of the Red Sea -- but they won't just come out and say, "And people don;t just raise from the dead, vis a vis Jesus." A foundational tenet of the Christian faith is a belief in a transcendent God who can do as He pleases in creation because He is its cause and sustainer. Failing to see this is a fatal error.
    3. False demand for conformity: Like the fact that the 4 Gospels tell the history of Jesus' life in 4 distinct ways -- which always cuts both ways. On the one hand, there's no question that the story Matthew tells is distinct from the story John tells -- and on the other hand they are plainly about the same man and the same historical events. The objector usually wants the 4 Gospels to be uniform in detail, but when it is pointed out that they are uniform in substance and the details underscore the perspective and audience intended by the human writer, they retreat to hyperliteralism and abandon any literate way of receiving the texts. Which really leads us to ...
    4. Plain failure to comprehend: The example I always use for this is Psa 3 in which the skeptical reader skims the handful of verses and condemns both David and God of being barbarous for wanting to "break the teeth" of David's enemies. Does David want God to be an Ultimate Fighting Champ -- or does David want God to redeem him and save him, and in the process punish the wicked for blasphemy? David is calling for justice, not brawling here -- and to misread the poetic language in Psa 3 is to read as if one had not progressed past first grade in reading comprehension.
  • Radical Skepticism: This view is manifest in the blogosphere by the complaint, "but how do you know which interpretation is right?" and usually manifest in teens by the question, "How can we trust what the Bible says since it is so old? Is the stuff in the Bible for us today?"

    This question is far more sincere in this form than in the blogospheric form, for 2 reasons. The first is that intellectually, teens are sharp, but even the brightest ones are all saw and no wood, if you see what I'm saying -- they don't have enough information to answer questions like this one, so even if they have a brain like a 10" 5 HP table saw, they don't know what to cut or how wide to rip it.

    The second reason is that this is what they pick up from the culture. And before we start cursing public schools and MTV, most adults aren't really much different. We pick it up at work and at the ball park and whatever -- a kind of individualistic skepticism which negates all kinds of authorities and all kinds of methods of knowing (I'd call them "epistemological footholds", but I'd lose half of you by saying that). For adults, this kind of thing is almost unforgivable -- because this kind of skepticism doesn't hold up in practice. It's lazy disobedience which, if we practiced it at work, would get us fired inside 2 weeks.

    But teens -- kids -- are sheltered enough that they can hang with this sort of mental disingenuity until they have to get a real job and get away with it.

    So how does one address it? I'd take them to Deu 5 & 6 where God tells us the purpose of His Scriptures, or to Exodus 20 where the 10 Commandments are plainly spelled out. In the former case, I'd outline the fact that God says that the reason He gives us these writings is so that we will not forget Him. God does not make a promise to always appear before us as a pillar of fire or a pillar of smoke: God makes it clear that for all time, His Word is the foundation for knowing who He is and what He has done.

    But because we live in a pomo age of experientialism, Exo 20 is a different kind of example. All in all, there are 5 commandments which they will probably not want to pay attention to, and 5 which they cannot deny are true today. You can get them to admit that honoring parents, telling the truth, not stealing, not murdering, and not coveting are true and virtuous. If that holds up, the others can be proven by induction. For example, if Moses believed that it was evil to tell a lie, how could Moses say that God gave him the commandments if there was no God, or that God said something other than what he wrote down?

    The key to these kinds of objections is to demonstrate not only that the objection falls apart under scrutiny, but that there is something far more obvious and useful present in Scripture -- even if it causes us to reach conclusions which are costly or hard to follow.
  • Calvinism vs. Arminianism/Lazy Evangelicalism. They usually don't even have these categories of theology yet, but questions like "How does God know?", "Why does God send people to Hell?", "Why does God allow bad things? Does He cause them?" are all part and parcel of a foundatinal weakness in systenatic understanding of the Bible.

    I would offer one caveat in this: the Bible, really, is not a systematic book. It is mostly a narrative book, a story. It has some expositional writing in it -- all of Paul's letters, for example, are expositional. But the way theology is delivered in the Bible is by example and by analogy. For example, in the OT, while the Messiah is prophecied about, the greatest images of who and what the Messiah will be are manifest in the temple system of worship -- and all of that is shadows and types, as the book of Hebrews says. So in order to "get" the Messianic work, we have to have a firm grasp of the analogies between what the temple provided and what Christ then fulfilled and completed. We can explain these things expositionally and systematically, but we receive them in Scripture analogically.

    In that, the answers are there: the propositional truths are there. The question is if we are willing to go after them and get them and them allow them to form our thinking and understanding of ourselves and of God.
  • Basic Bible Exposition. For example, what is the parable of the Good Samaritan about? Why does Jesus call himself the "Good Shepherd" or the "Son of Man"? What is the Gospel? Why does Paul tell us both to marry and not to marry in 1 Cor? And these questions are all because somehow, they have started to read their Bibles in order to get something out of them. These questions are far more important than the tricky ones, above, because unless these questions can be answered in a way they can understand and in a way which drives to ward a living faith, they will walk away from our faith as irrational and useless.
Don't let anyone walk away from the faith for that reason -- not if you can help it. Our faith is a beautiful and vibrant thing which ought to give us hope and life. If we make it a dead thing, or a matter of trivial pursuit, we should be shamed of ourselves.