Of late there have been several apostates in the news. Most recently, two fairly well known ‘Christians’ proudly declared that they had renounced their Faith. One of them was Hillsong’s Marty Sampson who recently announced on Instagram, “I’m genuinely losing my faith.” Christianity Today has reported on his apparent apostasy, so I won’t attempt to summarise or evaluate Marty’s reported utterances.
A dictionary definition of Apostasy is ‘an act of refusing to continue to follow, obey, or recognize a religious faith’ and I will leave it to those who know the man and the circumstances to determine the extent of his ‘falling away’.
One Reason for Modern Apostasy
What I want to pick up on is Marty’s reported frustrations about the Christian faith and apparent contradictions in the Bible. He posted “”How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send 4 billion people to a place, all coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it”. Well, I want to talk and write about it, but perhaps from a perspective that may be different to that of the many critics of people like Marty Sampson.
Marty is a high profile representative of an alarmingly large group of intelligent men and woman who fall away, to one extent or another, from orthodox Christian belief. Many of them suffer a crisis of faith because they cannot reconcile the biblical record with science, modern morality, or common sense. They learn of the well-established theory of macroevolution, but then their Christian mentors tell them that the cosmos is really just a few thousand years old because the Bible ‘says so’. The Old Testament appears to them to depict God as wrathful, petty, and vengeful, yet their pastors tell them that although God is love He also has an ‘angry’ face. They identify anomalies in scripture that seem to be distinct errors yet their theologians inform them that the Bible is inerrant and that ‘errors’ are just the perceptions of uninformed and spiritually immature readers. And these are just some of the more obvious issues that trouble many people, not to mention Hell, evil, predestination, and so on.
My Position on Scripture
For any reader who doesn’t already know where I stand, let me state that I believe in the inspiration of the Bible and regard it as entirely trustworthy. However, I differ from many of my contemporaries in my understanding of the Bible’s purpose and how it we should understand what it is saying. Although I may differ from some orthodox theologians on these matters, I am in good company – actually, the best company. We just need to read the Sermon on the Mount to realise that the Lord Jesus affirmed the inspiration of scripture yet, almost in the same breath, informed the learned men of His day that they were misunderstanding what the scriptures taught.
Let me state my essential thinking on the Bible’s purpose and my thought on how to understand what it teaches. If you want my abbreviated statement on the purpose of the Bible, then click HERE. In brief, my understanding is as the Apostle John put it:
“Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31).
My essential view of biblical interpretation flows out of this in that I regard the Lord Jesus as both the author and primary interpreter of scripture. If you want my full view on this then click HERE.
The Nature of the Bible
I believe that the Bible is a divine-human collaboration primarily designed to reveal the character and nature of Almighty God, pre-eminently through His self-revelation in and through Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible is exactly what God wants it to be, apparent anomalies and all. It’s divine purpose includes revealing the sinful ways of humanity, good and bad examples of responses to His instruction, and the way we can be eternally reunited with Him. It is not a science textbook nor a theological dictionary. It is a testimony to God and His ways and man and his ways. Now, if people like Marty Sampson understood this, then why would they have a crisis of faith when encountering biblical ‘problems’?
Let me offer one possible answer to my question. It is highly likely that the mentors of men like Marty have taught them that the Bible is inerrant because The Holy Spirit dictated all its words (impressed upon the writers just what they should record). If there are any ‘errors’ that can not be attributed to scribal incompetence then it would mean that God is in error. So “just accept everything and contradict nothing or you will be guilty of blasphemy!” (my own possibly overstated words and not a quote).
I have covered this idea in my book ‘Truth is The Word’ , but it must be obvious, at least I think it is obvious, that some thinking men and women of integrity are likely to struggle with any concept of total inerrancy. Perhaps some of these folk, like Marty, would not even consider walking away from the Christian Faith if they had a different understanding of the purpose of the Bible and of how to interpret its contents.
Inerrancy of Scripture
In 2006 I wrote a short article on biblical inerrancy which you can find HERE. One of my favourite theologians when it comes to biblical inspiration is the late Clark Pinnock. His major work on this subject ‘The Biblical Principle: Reclaiming the Full Authority of the Bible’ contains excellent comment on inerrancy. Unfortunately, this book is not available on Kindle. You can read Steven H Propp’s review of the print version on Amazon HERE and click on the ‘Look Inside’ to get a general idea of the book’s contents.
I don’t know Marty Sampson and I have no detailed information on why he thinks as he does. I have no knowledge of his testimony of salvation, nor of his life as a church worship leader. However, perhaps we should be gentler in our criticism of him and a little more challenging in our criticism of the kind of fundamentalist dogma that makes total inerrancy a litmus test of true faith.