Those are just the cherry on the sundae, as it were. Since we’re talking about cherry picking, after all. You’re carving out maybe 10% of the book to keep as the basis of your beliefs.
Can you share for us perhaps your best reason you, as an obviously rational person and adult, bought into what seems so clearly to me, anyway, to be no different than countless other religious myths? And is that reason based on hard evidence that you’ve investigated and concluded was worthy of accepting as true?
Those are just two responses to my comment on my friend Neil Carter’s blog post, a chapter-by-chapter review of The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. The specific chapter in his most recent review had to do with Keller’s explanation of why we can trust the Bible’s authority, and the issue of how to deal with passages that go against our progressive cultural values. I wrote:
Years ago I met someone at my church who said he was an atheist who wanted to learn more about Christianity. I asked him if he was considering converting, and he said something to the effect of the Bible being too bogged down by rape culture and violence and harmful teachings for him to ever call himself a Christian. Fair enough. But I would say that while issues of evolution vs creationism, subjugation of women, etc, are all deserving of our attention, dwelling on that does take away from the (mostly) universal message of redemption that the gospel teaches. I would say to anyone considering conversion to focus on that, which is what keeps me in the faith, anyway.
Responses like the ones above are just a few objections I hear a lot. And my pithy retort, You want to know why I believe? Well, just read my book! is less than satisfactory. But I didn’t address the issue of “cherry-picking” much at all in that text, so I’ll address it here.
First of all, I think it’s safe to say that all people of faith cherry-pick. I don’t believe anyone who swears they don’t. We all have individual objections or criticisms of certain biblical mandates, and until Christians unanimously decide which ones were meant for a specific 1st-century culture and which are universal, we act as if they don’t exist…until someone outside the faith brings them up.
Maybe this is hypocritical of me, but I don’t think making a conscious choice to focus on Jesus falls under cherry-picking. I would consider it an act of prioritizing, not unlike Jewish people focusing on the story of Exodus over the purity laws of Leviticus. Why? Because the story of the Israelites’ slavery and exile in Egypt is the core of the faith, upon which all denominations are founded on. That is what I like to think connects all people of the Book, regardless of whether they are Orthodox, Reform, or somewhere in between. In the same vein, what Christians believe about Jesus far outweighs the debate about how humans were created, how the lions were kept away from the gazelles on the ark, or whether homosexuality is really a sin. Those issues matter, but are not what I consider “center stage.”
As to my “buying into myths” as a rational adult, that gets trickier. I’m reminded all the time at church that my testimony is mine and can’t be disproved, but to the skeptic, I know it isn’t satisfactory. My story is not one of studying evidence and finding it so compelling I had no choice but to convert. I have to agree with pastor Andy Stanley, who said in a series of sermons on adult conversions, that most adults convert for emotional reasons over factual ones. I know that statement will lose many people, but it’s the truth.
To answer that question of why I“buy into those myths,” I’d have to go back to childhood where I always believed in some form of a higher being, but felt frustrated that the Jewish version wasn’t very accessible – he seemed far away and difficult to grasp, whereas Jesus was a human my friends could talk to and hang out with. I’d have to go back to high school when I met my friend Tricia, whose faith was truly lived, not just spoken about, and made such an impression on me that I had to ask her how she got it. I’d have to go back the dark days of living in an abusive relationship with someone who convinced me over a period of five years that I was worth nothing.
I’d have to recall the message I heard about God redeeming broken things during a Campus Crusade for Christ meeting a friend convinced me to attend with her. And I’d have to explain how that message saved my life on the few occasions I sincerely contemplated suicide: all my childhood heroes (Joan of Arc, Cassie Bernall, Anne Frank, Queen Elizabeth I, Esther of the Bible, to name a few) overcame adversity to become extraordinary, and I wanted that to happen in my own life. The gospel message haunted me for years, to a point where I could no longer ignore it, and gave me hope when life became too difficult to bear without anti-depressants and alcohol (yes, I know, a deadly combination). I see Christianity as a journey of being refined through the “fire” of life’s tragedies, not as a defense mechanism against them, which is how much of America treats it. I see Christianity as an example of radical love and radical forgiveness, which is ridiculous as it is beautiful, but I think the ridiculousness is kind of the point.
Those are the reasons in one giant nutshell. It may not convince most people who hear it, but that’s not why I tell it. I only share it because it changed my life.
(And despite some spoilers, I do hope you still consider reading the book) 😀