Thursday, 13 October 2011

Historical bottom lines

Thomas Verenna passes on the question: What events recorded in scripture must be historical for you to affirm the truthfulness of Christianity?

The source of this puzzler is Brian LePort's blog. It's a great question. Can there even be a coherent theology without some kind of historical base, or does it just all turn to custard? Can the assertion that the moon is made of Swiss Cheese be factually inaccurate while still being deeply meaningful and revelatory?

Cutting edge philosopher/theologians like Don Cupitt long ago cut loose from the Grand Narrative. Perhaps that's why their perspective no longer looks distinctly Christian any more.

At the other end of the spectrum are the fundamentalists (Tom cites the United Church of God as his example!) who want you to believe absolutely everything. Somewhere in the middle, unctuously impaled on the fence, are the poster boys of ponderous prevarication (N. T. Wright anyone?)

Maybe we could break Brian's question down into some representative 'True or False' bite-size chunks.

  • Adam and Eve were literally the progenitors of humanity.
  • Satan is a fallen archangel in rebellion against God.
  • There was a worldwide flood that wiped all life off the face of the earth in the time of Noah.
  • God made the sun stand still so Joshua could wipe out his enemies thoroughly.
  • God commanded bloody genocide against the Canaanites in the Old Testament.
  • Daniel knew what was going to happen hundreds of years into the future.
  • Key events in Jesus' life were accurately predicted in Isaiah, Psalms etc.
  • Mary was a virgin when she fell pregnant.
  • Jesus turned water into wine.
  • Jesus rose from the dead in bodily form three days after the crucifixion.

Score ten for each which you feel are true (i.e. definitely historical), five for those you think might be historical but equally might not, and zero for those you think are patently false (i.e. pious inventions).

If you score 85-100, do you consider yourself a fundamentalist? If not, why not?

If you score 0, do you necessarily consider yourself a non-Christian? If not, why not?


  1. One thing only is needed to verify the authority of Scripture: The Apostle Paul claims that Jesus Christ personally taught him (a claim made by many in the 20th Century) -- if that is really true, the Bible stands, otherwise....

  2. My point isn't so much that fundamentalists take everything as historical. Even nonfundamentalists, nonevangelicals, who believe certain events or sayings are historical take away from the reception of the narrative and the literary critical value. Even when believing the most banal subjects (it doesn't have to be the dead rising from the graves and only later presiding as deans over subjects at Liberty University--though that quite possibly happened, knowing some of the deans) like the crucifixion, and searching out the historical *core*, so much is taken for granted and missed, theologically and literary, that one has to wonder what the value of such an excursion is at all? I am reminded of the words of Bultmann or Schweitzer that such attempts are useless and solve nothing and the only truths they prove are those about the authors who are writing about them.

  3. I scored zero, but I like the potlucks! I like Jesus. I like some of the hymns.

  4. To be Christian means to follow the two commandments.

    Klaas Hendrickse speaks truly: Fundamentalism is a branch of paganism.

  5. It comes back to whether or not you think this old joke is funny: "Cancel Easter, they found the body!"