Today I want to take note of a man who for decades represented a Fundamentalist approach to Christianity and who believed with all his heart that every word of the Bible was infallibly and inerrantly the word of God.
I hope you'll spend a bit of time reading the biography of him to which I've linked you in the previous paragraph -- noting, please, that Criswell was not a caricature of himself. That is, he sometimes said things he later regretted. And although I might -- and do -- disagree with many of his theological stances, I recognize him as a prominent and sincere spokesman for an approach to Christianity that many people have adopted. In fact, it's now often called a Criswellian approach.
In 1969 he wrote a book called Why I Preach the Bible is Literally True, drawing a line in the sand that has marked a sharp division among Christians before and since.
As a counter-voice to Criswell's view of scripture, I offer Donald G. Bloesch, who taught theology at Dubuque Theological Seminary and who wrote a book I've found helpful, Essentials of Evangelical Theology.
Listen to what Bloesch says about the idea of biblical infallibility:
"Many latter day evangelical Christians have felt the need to extend the meaning of inerrancy to cover purely historical and scientific matters, even where the treatment of these in the Bible does not bear upon the message of faith. It is no longer sufficient to declare that Scripture is the infallible standard for faith and practice: it is now regarded as totally inerrant (Tammeus note: That was Criswell's position). A view of error is entertained that demands literal, exact, mathematical, precision, something the Bible cannot provide. . . Such persons mistakenly believe that this approach insures the canons of orthodoxy whereas in reality it is a suicidal position that rests the case for Christianity on the shifting sands of scientific and historical research. The discovery of one discrepancy in Scripture can then discredit the entire Christian witness."
In many ways, this is a major divide among Christians today. Criswell stood on one side, while many others stood on the side of a less-rigid understanding of the Bible. And that difference is at the root of many disagreements and debates within the faith today.
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LEARNING ABOUT RELIGIONS FIRST HAND
Here's a novel idea: To learn about a religion, try traveling to a country where that religion is predominant. That's what this CNN travel writer suggests -- and he takes his own advice by going to Turkey and learning more about Islam. I hope to go there some day myself, though so far all I've managed to do in Turkey is change planes at the Istanbul airport.
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P.S.: I've told you about the Web site ReadTheSpirit.com, overseen by David Crumm, former religion reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Today and through the weekend, the site will feature a piece that Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn and I have written about the work we did on our upcoming book, They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust. I invite you to have a look.
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AND: Although my next book, They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust, won't be out until next year, I invite you to give my first book, A Gift of Meaning, as a holiday gift this year. It contains a collection of columns that I think stand the test of time. To order the book directly from the University of Missouri Press, click here. Missouri Press has the book on sale this fall, but the sales price is not reflected on the page to which I've linked you. So to make sure you get that lower price, you might want to call the order department at 800-828-1894. To order from Amazon, click here.