On 2/28/13 Steve McSwain was published in the Huffington Post's Religion section with the following article:
6 Things Christians Should Just Stop Saying
The list is pretty straight forward, although he does some lengthy elaborations on some of the points. But in summary, here are the six things which a fellow(?)-Christian(1) says all other Christians really need to stop saying:
While I wanted to respond back then, I didn't really have a forum to do so; and I also didn't really have the time until just recently (preparing for the birth of our daughter, learning how to be a Dad to a newborn, going through an unexpected job change, etc.). Nonetheless, now that I do have time, I'd like to do something of my part in protecting (or encouraging) the flock, and give (by God's grace in me) what I believe is a Biblical response.
Of course, my main response would be just one thing - one thing Christians must continually affirm. And that would be:
The Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God
History itself shows that any time a denomination, local church, or any other Christian organization gives up on this doctrine, that same denomination, local church, or other Christian organization inevitably becomes not just un-Christian but anti-Christian. So if history has anything to say to the matter, he's basically saying in his first assertion that Christians must stop saying the very thing that at its foundation keeps them Christian.
In addition to that (or more accurately in conjunction with that), as I hope to show in the rest of this response, the fact that Mr. McSwain has himself given up that belief takes all intellectual credibility away from his entire diatribe.
Of course, I'm not going to refute point by point everything McSwain says. I would probably be in agreement with him on at least a couple of points (kind of). But I am hoping to do two things in this response:
And so for the response...
It is time.
Now this is quite the assertion here. And he puts the burden of proof on the Bible-believing Christians. Thank you: offer gladly accepted.
Ironically, he basically just asserts his view as if it itself is infallible, offering no real reason to accept it:
"It isn't inerrant and not likely even in the 'original manuscripts.'"
How in the world would he know that? He doesn't, which he goes on to say. So why his assertion should be pitted over against the assertion of Bible-affirming Christians without authority or without question still needs to be addressed. And I'd love to hear him out on the subject, but in this article he remained completely silent about the matter.
But then he made a most interesting analogy:
"No such 'original' manuscripts even exists. That's like saying, 'We believe there are aliens on other planets!' Good for you. Now, prove it."
There are two words for this argument: false analogy. We need to realize there's a big difference between something that is no longer in existence (original manuscripts) and something that has never been in existence (to our knowledge - aliens on other planets).
It is true that we don't have the original manuscripts containing the text of our Bible. But that in no way detracts from the doctrine of inerrancy. The doctrine is always stated as the Bible being inerrant in the original autographs (manuscripts).(2)
But to say believing in inerrancy is like believing there are aliens on other planets is just an emotionally charged assertion. It's not an argument at all; it's simply a false analogy.
Similarly, he asserts with no particular point of evidence that "no matter what translation you favor, the Bible is replete with errors." I'd like just one example, please! But perhaps that's just too much to ask, given there's vast amount of documentation refuting the idea of erroneous discrepancies.(3)
But let's get to the heart of the matter. His final assertion in his first point, in full, is:
As we have it, no matter what translation you favor, the Bible is replete with errors. To pretend otherwise is your right. To say otherwise is a lie. You are entitled to your opinions, your assumptions, even your beliefs. What you are not entitled to is a misrepresentation of the facts.
Now here is where I have to ask, what gives Mr. McSwain the right to say what is and is not our right? What gives him the right to entitle us to our opinions, our assumptions, or even our beliefs, and yet charge just as emphatically that we are not entitled to misrepresent the "facts"?
If the Bible, the standard that itself by authoritative revelation from God determines what is and is not right, is not taken for granted at the outset, how are we even to know that a misrepresentation of the "facts" is something we're not morally allowed to pursue or practice?
In other words, who authorized Mr. McSwain to be the arbiter of what is and is not morally acceptable?
Surely the Bible does say we're not allowed to bear false witness against our neighbor (Ex. 20:16), and that intentional lying (when not necessary for preserving innocent human life) is wrong (Prv. 12:22). But if the Bible is not our source of moral absolutes (how can it be if it's neither inerrant nor infallible?), why should McSwain or anyone else's "opinon" be the final authority of what is right and wrong?
Or put another way, if the Bible cannot be trusted as the authoritative Word of God and His revelation of what is and is not morally acceptable, why should McSwain's view be accepted in regards to what Christians (or anyone for that matter) should and should not say? This is simply a backhand way of offering himself as the inerrant, infallible source of moral authority (which I'm sure if pressed, he does not want to claim).
But that's just the thing. You take away the inerrant, infallibility of the Bible, and you take away the very ground of any moral claims at all. So at the very moment McSwain says the Bible is errant and fallible, he has taken away all authority for himself to tell us "Christians" what we ought and ought not to say regarding the "facts" or anything else. His only authority then for the rest of his article is simply his own view or opinion...
With that in mind, let us move on...
2. We just believe the Bible.
I realize there are one or two "non-denominational denominations" that enjoy reciting "our only creed is the Bible," etc.; but this is hardly what most Christians say (let alone believe). For the most part, church denominations and even independent local congregations are ''honest' in their doctrinal statements, expressing that the confessed statements are their understanding (interpretation) of what the Scriptures teach. I really don't see McSwain's point in this argument at all. It's not really an issue.
Let's move on...
A third thing Christians should stop saying:
For some reason McSwain wants to hang the Christian doctrine that Jesus is the only way to heaven on this one verse (which, if you remember really has no authority anyway because it's either errant, fallible, or both).
Yet the Bible speaks very plainly that believing in the Lord Jesus Christ truly is man's only hope in escaping God's just wrath against our sins (Jn. 3:3, 16-18; Acts 4:12; Rom. 3:21-26, 10:1-4, 9-13; Gal. 1:6-9ff; Heb. 2:3; 1 Jn. 5:4-5). It seems pretty clear throughout the New Testament...
"Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (Jn. 3:18).
Of course, I'm sure McSwain will say that's just our interpretation of those texts. But then again, who's interpretation should really count if it's an errant, fallible text anyway? Does it really matter how we interpret the text if the text itself is either erroneous, has no authority, or both?
But let's think about this too: by what logical, rational defense can McSwain substantiate that just because there are other people who have a sincere belief that the Bible is saying something differently that what it actually says, they are thereby valid in the true Christian faith? Does sincerity equal validity all of a sudden? Can I sincerely believe red is green without any repercussions? Certainly not while driving I can't!
And this brings us back to the fact that really McSwain just doesn't like the view that Jesus is the only way to heaven, so he's simply asserting his own view on his own authority, while offering no good reason to accept it. And so even though he closes his argument(?) with the following:
Again, it's your right to "believe" or, more accurately, interpret Scripture as you wish. You do not, however, have permission to arrogantly assume your way of interpreting the words of Jesus are the only way to understand His words. Last I checked, no one's interpretation of anything is infallible. Not yours. Not mine.
He can't escape the fact that he's contradicting himself through and through. Is he not himself "arrogantly assuming" that he is right in his own assertions of what Christians are and are not allowed to do, ought and ought not to say? If his interpretation of Jesus' words (to be clear, Jesus' "errant, fallible" words) is not infallible, then why are we not at liberty to disagree with him and continually assert that the Bible does in fact teach that the Lord Jesus Christ truly is man's only hope of salvation?
A fourth thing Christians need to stop saying:
I'm not really going to touch the theology of the timing of the rapture here. But let me just reiterate the point that's been made again and again.
On what basis can McSwain charge Christians to not say the rapture of Jesus is imminent?
If it truly is a theological error, then he needs to make it plain through use of Scripture. But if it's simply a matter of he doesn't like that view, this is just another assertion with no authority behind it except for his own say-so. And therefore we have to ask again, why should his view be more authoritative to us than Scripture itself?
But this next point is just really great...
I'll mention two more things Christians should stop saying. Many of these things I discuss at length in "The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of Knowing God":
So to clarify, our task as Christians is not to be faithful to God's Word (Jn. 17:17; 1 Jn. 4:6), but to get with the "moral, spiritual and religious environment" of the world (Jas. 4:4)?
I'm not sure I see the wisdom in that... Oh that's right...
You can still revere the Bible, my friend, but move beyond the prejudice of Paul or anyone else. You don't need to make Saint Paul infallible to treat the Bible as important.
Paul was just prejudiced against homosexuals. And we can still revere the Bible and see it as important without affirming what that uninspired traditionalist Paul was saying.
Just one question...by what standard can we allow for the Bible to be revered and seen as important if we have no rational basis for reverence and importance once we "accept" that the Bible is errant and fallible?
I guess it's yet one more assertion of the great McSwain whose authority we need to accept without question.
And for our last thing for which Christians need to stay out of the public eye...
Finally, please, please Christians stop insisting that...
There are actually quite a few things Mr. McSwain asserts in this last point:
Each one of these assertions would be worthy of an actual intellectual debate. But cutting to the chase and getting to the heart of the matter, once again we have to ask, if the Bible is not itself the final authority for all of life and faith (i.e. inerrant and infallible), then to what standard or authority is McSwain appealing when he asserts that Genesis ought not to be taught in public schools? By what standard is he measuring morality when he asserts that it's not a service to the country when Genesis is taught in public schools or when the Ten Commandments are hung on chamber or classroom walls?
I just don't quite understand. If we're granted the right (even by McSwain) to believe the history recorded in Genesis to be accurate, and we're paying for the public schools (by way of coercion though it may be), why shouldn't we be allowed to have "our" public schools (the one's "we're" paying for) teach what we believe is true? It seems even on his own worldview this push to get Genesis out of public schools is kind of ridiculous.
But when it comes down to it, this is just another case of Mr. McSwain asserting his own view over against what he himself is opposed to, without any appeal to a clear, objective authority (that is, an authority outside himself - like the Word of God).
In reality, the only authority that gives him or anyone else to speak about moral absolutes, he abolished in his first assertion. If the Bible has errors and cannot be trusted on everything it asserts, then by what standard are we to judge anything else in the world? Surely at that point it's just going to be one opinion versus another. And McSwain is simply asserting that his opinion is better than these Christians who keep saying these six things with which he disagrees.
So by denying the infallible nature of Scripture he has completely pulled the rug out from under his own feet. Unless he wants to make himself to be infallible or the final arbiter of moral absolutes, he has no authority to charge Christians (or anyone) with what they should or should not say.
So at the end of the day, in order to make sense out of ourselves, out of our world, out of our beliefs, and even out of argument itself, we have to acknowledge the inerrant infallible nature of God's Word at the outset, or else we have no ground on which to stand. If Christians need to stop saying something, let us stop saying it - but let the reason be shown to us by God's Word itself. Otherwise, we've just let the world come in and put itself in place of God; and we've bowed the knee to someone other than Christ.
It's never a question of being able to escape final authorities to which all else must appeal. The question will always be, to what final authority must we appeal? The answer generally boils down to ourselves (McSwain's assertions) or God (God's self-attested assertion - Isa. 40:18, 46:8-11).
Granted, some times the Bible speaks of difficult things (2 Pet. 3:16). But the answer is never to assert our own autonomous authority over against God (Job 38:2-3). Rather, like Peter, our only appropriate response is to say: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (Jn. 6:68; cf. 2 Pet. 3:15-18).
Unless we take God's Word as the authority at the outset (Prv. 1:7; cf. Ps. 14:1), then we truly can't make sense out of anything, including our own arguments against God's Word (1 Cor. 1:20).(4)
Therefore, the one thing Christians must continually affirm is:
The Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God
(1) I put the question mark there because as will become evident in the article, he is certainly not a true Christian by any sense of the word.
(2) And of course, when you do the textual criticism (even on the unbelieving worldview) you'll find we have every reason to believe that the copies we have of the text truly are an accurate, reliable witness to the originals (to deny this would be to deny the voice of even liberal textual critic scholars). Not to mention the abundant evidence and accuracy we have for our Bible compared to any other work of antiquity. For a compelling case of this, see:
Bruce, F.F. The Cannon of Scripture. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1988.
Geisler, Norman L., and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1980.
Metzger, Bruce M. The Canon of the New Testament. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987.
_____________. The Text of the New Testament. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Patzia, Arthur G. The Making of the New Testament. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1995.
(3) There are many great works on this topic, but for a very thorough one, I recommend:
Geisler, Norman L., and Thomas A. Howe. The Big Book of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1992.
(4) For much more detail on that statement, see my Listmania list on Amazon.