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Two Ways to Lose Your Faith
By Richard E. Kuykendall
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2013 Rev. Dr. Richard E. Kuykendall
All rights reserved.
What I Don't Believe and Why
It was just a couple of nights ago (circa 2002), as I was lying in bed that I finally decided to do something that I had wanted to do for quite some time. What it was that I had decided to do was write a "systematic theology." But this would not be your typical, run-of-the-mill systematic theology. No, this would be something quite different. But before I tell you how this will be different, let me first ask the question, "What is a 'systematic theology' anyway?"
From a Christian perspective, a systematic theology is a work which attempts to deal with the broad and most basic themes of the Bible. It attempts to summarize for instance, everything that the Bible has to say about God. And it is from this kind of work that doctrines evolve.
Traditionally, systematic theology deals with about seven broad subjects, under which headings almost everything in the Bible can be dealt with. They are as follows:
God or Theology
Christ or Christology
"Man" or Anthropology
Salvation or Soteriology
The Church or Ecclesiology
"Last Things" or Eschatology
Rev. Dr. Richard E. Kuykendall
Supposedly, after one has systematically dealt with all of these subjects, one is supposed to know what the Bible teaches on the most basic questions of religious inquiry. The finished products of these ventures become the doctrines of the church. In many denominations these doctrines are held as infallibly true—and thus they serve as the guidelines for determining what is "the truth" and what is heresy.
For a long time now I have been fascinated with the idea of summarizing the whole of Christian thought under seven broad headings. And that is how the idea of this book came to me the other night as I was lying in bed. You see, how this all happened was a woman in my church gave me a set of tapes to listen to titled, "Why I Believe." This woman watches a lot of religious television programs, and it was here that she came upon these tapes which were made by a fundamentalist minister by the name of Dr. D. James Kennedy.
So there I was, listening to the Reverend Dr. Kennedy talking with deep conviction about why he believes in hell. And it was then, as I lay amazed at the absurdity of it all that I decided to break my silence and have my say as to why I do not believe many of the things that he does. But have no fear, in showing you what I don't believe, does not mean that I am showing you Why I Am Not a Christian as Bertrand Russell once did, because, after all I am a Christian minister.
And here is where the difference that I mentioned earlier comes in. Whereas he and virtually all systematic theologians supposedly prove that what they believe is the truth simply because the Bible says so, or because a hundred other theologians have said so, I will simply and unashamedly show you why I do not believe in many of the things that they claim to be true. In doing this, I do not have to appeal to the scriptures, though I sometimes will, and I don't really care what a hundred theologians have said either. As a matter of fact, whenever you try to back up your position by appealing to other theologians who agree with you, there are always as many who have taken opposite positions anyway. So what's the point? Just because a number of others believe what you do does not prove anything—except that other people believe what you believe. And if this was a way of judging truth, then any group could do the same—Jehovah's Witnesses, Har Krishnas, and the Flat Earth Society included.
Another difference in this particular work is its literary style. If for instance, you were to peruse a theological library, looking for classic works in systematic theology, what you would find is that you would need a theological education to follow most of them. Trust me on this one—and if you are of such a nature that you must see and know for yourself, then I challenge you to try reading Aquinas, Calvin, or Hodge—Berkhof, Barth, Brunner, or Berkouwer—and of course we can't forget Paul Tillich. Take your pick, or try them all. And when you're through (that is, if you ever get through, because most of these guys had a literary form of diarrhea—if you know what I mean) I think that what you'll find is that all you will accomplish is the acquisition of a good case of intellectual or spiritual indigestion. It seems that some of these men felt that the more words they piled up, the stronger their case would be. But a million words can't prove anything—other that that one can write a million words. I on the other hand will be brief, and to the point. And I will not pretend to prove that which in most cases is improvable.
One final point. I guess the main thing you should keep in mind as we begin is the difference between what is true and what is opinion or belief. It is my position that in order to claim that something is true it must be publicly verifiable. If it cannot be publicly verified, then we cannot say that it is true, rather it is actually only opinion or belief—which may or may not be ultimately true. Thus if one says, as Dr. Kennedy does, that hell is hot, this statement can only be said to be a belief or an opinion for there is no way of verifying it. If on the other hand someone says that fire is hot we can say that this is a true statement because it can be verified by anyone, regardless of age, sex, race, social status, or their level of intelligence.
So as we begin let us remember that in dealing with theology we are dealing with opinions or beliefs. And as Nietzsche once said, "No matter how strongly a thing may be believed, strength of belief is no criterion of truth." I point this out because I am in no way pretending to share with you "the truth"—unlike the Rev. Dr. Kennedy. And my purpose here is not even so much to share with you what I believe, but rather what I don't believe. I don't believe that the moon is made of cheese, nor do I believe in leprechauns, Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy—I don't believe that the world is flat, nor do I believe that the earth is the center of the universe, but beyond my disbelief on these matters, there are a number of things taught within the main stream of Christianity which I do not believe either. Just what these things are will be laid out in the pages that follow. So if you're ready for a theological roller coaster ride, then let us begin!
General and Special Revelation.
It's now been more than forty years since I took my first class in systematic theology. And I can still remember the hottest issue I had to deal with then when it came to the doctrine of revelation. The whole debate revolved around the practical affects of the ideas of "general" and "special" revelation. But before I get into this debate, let me first explain in the simplest terms what revelation is.
Revelation is the term that is used in theology to speak of how God is revealed to us—how we came to a knowledge of God. Of course the very idea itself presupposes the existence of God—this however is a question that I will put off dealing with until the next chapter. For now let us simply assume that God does exist, and let us restrict our questions to how we come to know anything about "Him," (we'll discuss the question of the gender of God as well in the next chapter).
Now, back to the debate. What is the difference between "general" and "special" revelation? General revelation refers to that which can be known about God in general from the created universe. Without the aid of any organized religion, any prophet, priest, or holy book, what we can know, or at least infer about God? At this point I am not going to answer this question for you. I speak of it here only to contrast it with the idea of "special" revelation. And special revelation refers to that which can be known about God through the Bible. Of course this is obviously a Judeo-Christian bias, but we'll get to that a little later. Suffice it to say here that general revelation is what can be known about God through life in general, while special revelation is what can be known about God through the Bible.
Now I mentioned the word "debate" earlier. And the debate that I, as a fledgling theologian was immersed in over forty years ago, was whether or not what could be know of God through general revelation was enough to "save" someone—you know, was it enough to get one into heaven? Those who sided with the special revelation school of thought claimed that no one could be saved without accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior. One of their favorite proof texts was Acts 4:12:
"Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."
And of course the name which they are here referring to is Jesus Christ. So for them no saving knowledge of God could come from general revelation, for according to their thinking, no one could be saved without accepting Christ—and one can only learn about Christ in the Bible. And let me say here that those of this school of thought in my class were definitely the majority.
I however took the minority position. To me their position eternally condemned all of those (besides faithful Jews) who lived prior to the birth of Christ, as well as all those of other faiths. But it also condemned to eternal damnation a whole mass of unfortunate individuals such as mentally disabled people who could not understand the gospel and those who were born blind and deaf who could not read or hear it. To me, if this was true, then special revelation revealed a God to be an elitist of monstrous proportions—one who would cast into eternal damnation countless millions simply because they didn't happen to read "His" book or hear the gospel story from one of "His" faithful followers. Thus I took the position that all had free access to God through God's general revelation in nature. After all, I had my own "proof texts" as well. For instance there was Psalms 19:1-4 which reads:
"The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night shows knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth and their words to the end of the world ..."
And then there was Romans 1:20 which reads:
"For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead ..."
It was important for me to know that I worshipped a God who was truly "no respecter of persons"—a God who truly was love incarnate—a God who would save Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims and those as well of "primitive" faiths—all who had "lived up to the light they had"—even those with mental handicaps. This was the only God I could worship—the only God I could even respect. And if God was as elitist as my special revelation friends claimed, I'd just as soon have nothing to do with "Him."
In the years that have passed since I first was involved in this debate, I find that I still hold to the general revelation position—but this however with a certain humble admission. And that admission is that the god that is revealed in the universe turns out to be very ambiguous to say the least. It is true that we see a tremendous degree of order and design in the universe—the laws of nature—the way things evolve—masterful things, from the movement of the heavenly bodies, and the intricacies of the human brain, to the miracle of our senses and the mysteries of the subatomic world. But beyond all of these wonders—beyond all of this awesome design is the brutal reality of suffering. Not only is there the suffering that we experience due to the unbridled forces of nature—natural disasters of all kinds, from those in the environment to those diseases that rack our bodies—but there is the suffering that we humans heap upon ourselves. And why? What do these facts tell us about God? Do they reveal a god that is a divine practical joker, or a sadist of cosmic proportions, or do they simply reveal an imperfect god who just wasn't up to the task of making a perfect universe—who just blatantly screwed up, and doesn't know how to redeem the Frankenstein's monster that "He" created.
I will not attempt to answer these questions here. Yes, those who cling to the spiritual security of their sacred texts will claim that they have the answers to these complex questions. But just because you can quote a simplistic answer extrapolated from a book, does not mean that you do indeed have the answer. No, all it means is that you believe that you have the answer. It seems to me that the choice that we all face is whether we will take the leap of faith, and simply believe what the scriptures teach, or will we live in the ambiguity that we are faced with, living as we do in a universe full of seemingly mixed messages. And by the way ... we will devote a whole chapter in Part II to "The Problem of Suffering."
And now, as to the inspiration of scripture—there is no way to prove that the Bible or any other sacred text is "the word of God." The believer however will point to texts such as II Timothy 3:16 to prove that the Bible is "inspired" or "god breathed." And just what does this passage of scripture say? It reads as follows:
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness."
Well there you have it! It said as clear as day that "all scripture is given by inspiration of God." The problem here however is at least twofold. First it must be recognized that at the time this verse was written the New Testament did not even exist. This was simply a letter which was written to a person named Timothy. And if it could prove that scripture was inspired, if anything it only proved that the Hebrew Bible was inspired, for that is all that was considered scripture at this time. Secondly, there is a problem with the reasoning here, in that this is a case of what is called, "circular reasoning." This reasoning runs like this:
Question: How do we know that the Bible is the inspired word of God?
Answer: Because it says so.
Question: But how can we believe what the Bible says?
Answer: Because it is the inspired word of God.
Question: But how do we know that the Bible is the inspired word of God?
Answer: Because it says so.
And so this line of reasoning goes on and on, ad infinitum—ad nauseum. With all honesty all we can really say is that the Bible is inspiring to many people.
If it were possible to prove the inspiration of the Bible, one would have to prove it with outside confirmation. Internal confirmation, such as it says so, just doesn't work—otherwise one would have to believe the Book of Mormon or the Qur'an on the same grounds. And some recognizing this point have attempted to prove the inspiration of the Bible by pointing to archeological discoveries which have substantiated the Bible's historicity. But even if the Bible offered us a true narration of history, this would not prove that it was an inspired document. And neither do the appeals to so-called fulfilled prophecy prove that the Bible is inspired, because firstly, many of the prophecies remain questionable to say the least under the closest textual scrutiny, and secondly, even if you could chalk up literally hundreds of examples of so-called fulfilled prophecies this would not prove that the Bible is the word of God anymore then it would prove the same thing with regards to Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, or Jean Dixon. The bottom line is that the Bible cannot be proven to be the word of God. It must be believed to be God's word. And the sad thing here is that this choice in the minds of believers is of the utmost significance, in that unbelievers are believed to be lost!
I read the Bible—I also preach and teach from it. To me the Bible is a collection of the religious literature of the Jewish people, and the early Christian church. To me I read here man's word about God, not God's word to men and women. The Bible is a remarkable book which I hold in the deepest respect, but I do not believe that it is God's word to us—though I do believe that it contains it, in the sense that in places it shows the heights to which the human spirit can soar. It also must be admitted however, that it also shows the depths to which we have often fallen. Suffice it to be said—though the zealous may consider me lost—that despite all the rhetoric of those who claim that the Bible is the story of "God's search for man," in reality the Bible is the story of certain men and women's search for God.
Excerpted from Two Ways to Lose Your Faith by Richard E. Kuykendall. Copyright © 2013 Rev. Dr. Richard E. Kuykendall. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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Table of Contents
Foreword Rev. Dr. Mark Schindler, J.D., xi,
PART I What I Don't Believe And Why,
Man ... And Woman, 34,
The Church, 49,
Last Things, 59,
PART II As It Is: A Philosophy Of Life For The 21St Century,
What Is Truth?, 81,
Just As It Is, 93,
What Are Miracles?, 101,
The Problem Of Suffering, 109,
Guilt And Atonement, 118,
The Hope In Life After Death, 125,
A Postscript On Disappointment, 133,