Mormon epistemology, part 10
This is an email I wrote to George:
If I were talking to an atheist or a Muslim about Christianity, I would ignore the issue of the authority of the Bible altogether initially. Remember the four points I thought were essential to Christianity? The authority of the Bible wasn't one of them. And the authority of the Bible doesn't even show up in the ancient creeds--neither the Nicaean creed, the apostles creed, nor the Athanasian creed. It is important, of course, but it's not definitional to Christianity. I think a person can discover that Christianity is true without ever addressing the question of whether the Bible is the authoritative word of God. These things can be based on philosophical and historical arguments, and there is plenty of literature out there on arguments for and against God, the historical Jesus, the resurrection, etc. If I were talking to an atheist or a Muslim, I would talk about the evidence for my beliefs without addressing the issue of the authority of the Bible. A few books that have been influential to me regarding the historical Jesus and the resurrection include N.T. Wright's series on "Christian Origins and the Question of God." So far, he's published three volumes, and there are at least two more coming. They include:
The New Testament and the People of God
Jesus and the Victory of God
The Resurrection of the Son of God
When I first started studying the Bible, I used to pray that God would reveal the truth to me. I knew there were many denominations and many beliefs out there. I didn't have much faith that God would answer my prayer because I figured there were lots of people who had prayed that same prayer, and yet people still disagreed with each other. I used to be quite a bit discouraged about it. But as I studied, my anxieties began to fade as I began to realize there were good arguments and bad arguments, well-justified views, and unjustified views. The more I learned, the more I began forming opinions. And I came to a point where I decided absolute certainty wasn't necessary. Reasonableness was enough. So I'm no longer anxious about the mere possibility that I could be wrong about some things. I'm sure I'm AM wrong about some things. By I try to proportion my beliefs to the strength of their supporting arguments. That is, I believe strongly in what I think is well-justified, and I hold my beliefs lightly when they are speculative. I wrote a blog about the subject of authoritative interpreters, if you're interested. I think the notion creates problems of its own. [I also wrote a blog] about how I deal with the issue of "whose interpretation is right?."
Unfortunately, I'm not in a position to address the evidences you brought up to support the BOM. I plan to get into that eventually, ... but at the moment, I'm still learning the basics. All I know is from secondary literature, and from what I've read, secular archaeologists and historians aren't very impressed with the evidences that Mormons bring up. You mentioned bias on the part of these archaeologists as an explanation for their reluctance to yield to these evidences, but it seems to me that knife cuts both ways. As I pointed out in my last email, the difference between the BOM and the Bible is that while all people--those who believe in the Bible and those who don't--agree that the Bible is rooted in history, but when it comes to the BOM, it seems that only Mormons think it is rooted in history. So I don't think bias is the deciding factor. If it was, then you'd have the same thing with the Bible as you do with the BOM--only Christians saying it is rooted in history. Since both secular and Christian scholars agree that the Bible is rooted in history, but only Mormons think the BOM is rooted in history, if bias is a deciding factor, I'm inclined to think the bias is on the part of Mormon scholars, not secular or Christian scholars.
[Editing some stuff out...]
You said that Jesus' statement that we could ask anything we want was unqualified, but do you really believe there are no qualifications at all? What if I prayed and asked God to send a worldwide flood to remove wickedness from the world? Well, we know that would be praying amiss because the Bible already tells us that God won't do that again. It seems to me that Jesus' statement IS qualified in a few places in the New Testament. We must pray according to God's will (1 John 5:14), and I think much of God's will is revealed in the Bible. The only way people can have whatever they want is if God has no purpose in the world. If God has specific plans and purposes, then I don't think those plans and purposes are going to be thwarted just because people make requests of God that are inconsistent with those plans and purposes. Qualification to Jesus' statement about prayer seem to permeate the Bible when you look at it like that.
And that's the end of my email to George.