Is Bible inerrancy a key doctrine for christians?

Difficult issues series

Bible

The inerrancy of the Bible has become a divisive doctrine in recent years. Many churches and colleges, in the US in particular, treat this as a “make or break” doctrine, lecturers have been sacked for denying it, and accusations are made against those who hold a different view. At the same time, a growing number of christians, it seems, are questioning the doctrine or saying flat out that it isn’t true.

Is the doctrine worth the fight? Is it necessary to hold it, or the whole of our faith is thrown into doubt? Is it even true?

This post is a summary of what I have written in In what way is the Bible a special book?, and if you want to consider this matter further, please check out that page.

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Did Jesus endorse a centurion’s gay relationship?

Difficult issues series

Centurion

This one’s been around for a while, but I hadn’t seen it until recently, so maybe you haven’t either.

When Jesus healed a centurion’s servant in Matthew 8:5-13 & Luke 7:1-10, the Greek word pais is used and translated as “servant”. The word pais had several meanings, including young boy or son, but also had a common meaning as the younger partner in a same sex relationship. So, it is said, Jesus blessed this same sex couple by healing the servant, likely just a teenager.

For many people, there’s a bit riding on this. Gay christians understandably are looking for Jesus’ support for same sex relationships. Traditional christians, equally understandably, are looking to uphold the traditional view which opposes these relationships. Who’s right?

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Learning from an atheist

Apologetics series

CATHEDRAL

Many atheists have alleged that great harm has been done by religion, christianity in particular. Even if they have overstated their case, we can, and must, still learn from their criticisms. And if the analysis is fair, we have all the more reason to listen and repent.

Keith Parsons is a US philosopher and atheist who writes about the philosophy of religion, and actively engages with christian belief via The Internet Infidels website and the Secular Outpost blog. Keith has made his assessments of christianity in two posts on Secular Outpost, and they are worth checking out.

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If God knows everything, why pray?

Spiritual Principles series

praying

There are several different types of prayer – several different types of conversations we may have with God, if you like to look at it that way. Sometimes we need to ask for forgiveness, sometimes we want to thank him or tell him we love him, sometimes we just want to meditate on God.

In this post I am talking about when we want to ask God to do something, for us or someone else. And the simple question is, does praying make a difference?

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Does religion do you harm or good?

Wellbeing

Famous atheists have said that religion is harmful to the believer and to society. Religious belief is “poisonous”, making believers “delusional” and anti-social. And internet sceptics have followed them in repeating the allegations until they have some sort of authority.

These accusations may trouble some christians. But the thing is, the scientific evidence shows otherwise.

The science of religion and wellbeing

You may not be aware of it but the study of the neurophysiology, sociology and psychology of religion is a scientific discipline. There have also been many scientific studies of health and wellbeing, including many on the contribution religious belief or attendance makes. These studies make no assumptions about the truth or otherwise of religious belief, but look at how such belief is experienced and how it affects people and society.

I have listed almost 40 studies on religion and wellbeing in Studies of medicine and religion and outlined the conclusions of these studies in The health and wellbeing benefits of active and positive christian belief.

Religion, wellbeing and prosociality

The results are not black and white, sometimes different aspects of religion have different effects, but the overall conclusions are very clear. Religious belief and religious practice are associated with higher than average levels of physical and mental health and wellbeing, and higher levels of prosociality (prosociality is a term for “voluntary behavior intended to benefit another”). Sometimes religion is found to be a significant cause.

So religious belief and or practice has been found to help people under stress, assist recovery from physical and mental illnesses, and reduce the incidence of depression, suicide, substance abuse and anti-social behaviour. Believers are generally happier and more likely to donate to charity and volunteer in the community.

Some summary quotes

  • “our brain-scan research, which we document in our new book, How God Changes Your Brain, led us to the conclusion that faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain. Indeed, we believe that faith is more essential than exercise, especially in light of the cumulative research showing how doubt and pessimism can shorten your life by years.” (Neuroscientists Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman.)
  • “the data that religion has social and individual benefits is so overwhelming that saying that religion has no benefits is active science denial.” (Connor Woods, PhD student in Science and Religion.)
  • “the data consistently point to a negative association between religiosity and criminal behavior and a positive association between religiosity and prosocial behavior. Both relations are modest in magnitude and ambiguous with respect to causation.” (Scott O. Lilienfeld and Rachel Ammirati, university researchers and atheists.)
  • “There’s no shortage of research on religion and health. Most of it suggests that the religious not only live longer, but are also likely to live better.” (Jonathan Morgan on the Science on Religion blog.)

Take-home messages

1. This question can be settled by properly designed medical studies carried out by competent medical and psychological researchers and reported in respected scientific journals.

2. The overwhelming evidence is that religious belief and practice, overall and with many exceptions, lead to better than average health and wellbeing and a higher than average degree of prosociality.

3. The causation and mechanisms are not always clear. Possible explanations have been proposed but in most cases the jury is still out.

4. None of this “proves” God exists, and I haven’t seen any researchers would claim that. But it is consistent with belief in God.

5. This evidence is broadly contrary to the claims of some atheists that religion causes great harm.

6. Christians should not be concerned about scientific studies of religion. Scientists may often treat them as an explanation of religion, but we can just as reasonably see them as how God is experienced by human beings.

Further reading

Photo Credit: realize_photo via Compfight cc

Sometimes we need to be reminded

God cares about the poor, the suffering and the victimised. I don’t know why he made a world where so many suffer, but I do know he expects his people to do something about it – to ease the pain and to bring justice to the systems that cause the pain.

Sometimes we forget. But sometimes we are reminded. And music is one of the ways that reminds me, and moves me, the most.

So here are four video clips that generally leave me close to tears, that remind us of situations that may still be unfinished business, requiring repentance, or an apology, or a change of policy, or at the very least, the determination to not allow such victimisation to happen again.

I hope you watch all four, and I hope you both enjoy and are challenged.

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