Saturday, August 17, 2013

My Own Faith Journey

I found my “own” faith when I went away to Anderson College, not yet a reasoned and evidenced belief system, for that came later, years later. At college I finally had the freedom to decide for myself what my personal philosophy or faith could be.  Because of this I don’t recognize the legitimacy of the conversions of children and teenagers since these spiritual experiences occur while still under parental control. Deciding to follow Christ as an adult is like signing a contract as an adult. Society recognizes that children do not have the mental capacity to freely give genuine consent with all the responsibilities pertained thereto. They have a “received” faith, not a personally “owned” or constructed belief system. At the time when I first took my adult steps into following Christ I became a voracious reader of the Bible. I read it for hours. I read it before my textbooks. I read it as a priority above relating to other persons on campus. During those first two or three years I consumed its pages and as a result I knew its contents at least as printed, and where to find what it said on most topics.

During this time when I consumed the biblical text I processed it at a very nonacademic level, but with one difference. When I was able I checked its information for accuracy. Numbers were verifiable and since math was one of my strengths I confirmed what the text read. While reading through the Bible I came across a problem in Numbers 3. This chapter narrates the numbering of the sons of Levi, for the families of Gershon, Kohath, and Merari to be specific. The census section (3:14-39) gives the tallies for the various families, Gershon 7500, Kohath 8600, and for Merari 6200 with a total of 22,000 “by their families, every male from a month old and upward” (3:39) The total listed however was incorrect. The actual numerical total is 22,300. Given that the precision level was at the hundreds place this constituted a serious problem. Could Numbers be this bad when calculating numbers? Check this out for yourself! At the time I noted it, but I had no idea how to process this discovery since it clearly conflicted with the uninformed faith I then had. All I understood at the time was that I had found a real error in the Bible that could not have any errors.

The time of biblical consuming noted above was before the radical transformation evoked by my cafeteria encounter with Dr. James Massey and Prof. Marie Strong. On that occasion while I was eating a meal by myself, one sat at my right and one at my left.  These two instructors then retold the story of the talents. All the time I was thinking I know this parable, I can tell it to you too. They then confronted me with an application that I had never considered. One of them asked, “Jim, on judgment day what are you going to answering God when he asks why you buried your brain in the ground?” I was struck with the awesomeness of the question and a need for immediacy of a solution. At the time I was a committed member of the group that I now label: “the being stupid for Jesus crowd.” Wrestling with this serious question enabled me to reevaluate my approach and I decided to become a thinking follower of Christ. After I became a critical reader of the biblical text I began to learn the biblical languages, to use grammar and linguistic reference works, to process commentaries in a skeptical way, and to build a new rational faith.

The Numbers 3 example given above represents a prime example why any reader of the biblical text who want to understand its contents as presented while rejecting personal reconstructions must use capable scholarly biblical commentaries. For not all references printed are truly capable or accurate. Years later after much critical study I located a capable commentary that reasonably solved my problem. If you are using a commentary that ignores this problem or others like it, find another one.

1 comment:

  1. You write, "At the time I was a committed member of the group that I now label: “the being stupid for Jesus crowd.”

    Sadly, this group amounts to a large contingent of churches today. Just look the bumper sticker theology that is plastered on cars, t-shirts, self-help books, and on Facebook today. Teachings that are out of context, hypocritical, and self-serving. And, it is we, as pastors, who are guilty for such stupidity! This mindset is clearly one of the reasons why the established church is losing numbers... or dying as some writers have spelled it out over the past year or so.

    God forgive us! God give us a passion for the truth! God give us the boldness to speak the truth!