A reader writes:
I'm interested in your posts on divinity. I very much enjoyed the article in the New Yorker that you linked to last week. I think it gets to the nub of the issue -- that the Orthodox conception of Jesus holds up as long as you don't think too much or learn too much about it.
I was fairly Orthodox (albeit liberal) christian for most of my nearly five decades, but after reading a host of scholarly literature, including Bart Ehrman and James Tabor, it's hard to maintain that faith. The fact is that once you delve into the details, you will discover that the widely taught idea that "we believe what has been handed down from the first Christians" is plainly false. One has to seriously twist the meaning of the gospel writers in order to assert that they were teaching Jesus' divinity. Clearly phrases such as "Son of God," which we are taught refers to divinity, did not have the same meaning to the authors. Clearly, doctrines such as Jesus' divinity and the resurrection immediately upon death were developed over long periods of time.
How does that change one's beliefs? Well, in order to study history and maintain one's beliefs, you either have to: 1) deny the facts; 2) develop some system of progressive revelation that encompasses God's guiding hand over history; or 3) revert into some type of mysticism. None of those options are appealing to me.
The last two options are extremely appealing to me, or rather part of what I regard as the hard work that Christians in our time and place need to do if we are to save a faith in crisis.
Christianity is in crisis - and in a deeper crisis, in my view, than many Christians are allowing themselves to believe. I start from a simple premise. There can be no conflict between faith and truth. If what we believe in is not true, it is worth nothing. The idea that one should insincerely support religious faith because it is good for others or for society is, for me, a profound blasphemy if you do not share the faith yourself. I respect atheists and agnostics who reject faith; I find it harder to respect fundamentalists - of total papal or Biblical authority - because of the blindness of their sincerity; but I have no respect for those who cynically praise religion for its social uses, while believing in none of it themselves. Sadly, a critical faction of the Straussian right has been engaged in exactly that kind of cynicism for a while now.
But if religion and truth cannot be in conflict, Christians who believe in a God of logos have an obligation to make sense of those moments when modern learning disproves certain religious preconceptions. No modern Christian, it seems to me, can claim the literal inerrancy of the Bible without abandoning logos. No educated Christian today can deny that the scriptures we have - copies of translations of copies of copies of oral histories - are internally and collectively inconsistent, written by many authors, constructed in specific historical contexts, reflecting human biases, and supplemented by several other gospels that at the time claimed just as much authority as those gospels eventually selected by flawed men centuries later. Anyone who believes that the Holy Spirit automatically guides every church leader to the perfect truth at all times need only look at the current hierarchy to be disabused of such childish wish-fulfillment; or cast an eye on church history for more than a few minutes.