Can We Trust Scripture?
First of all, what is this "Explorers Group" thing about? Well, it's a place for skeptics, doubters, and people with questions (which if we're honest, includes all of us) to take a fresh look at Jesus. And it's a place where any question is fair game. So the way we want to start is by asking ourselves a couple of questions...
- If you could ask God one question, and were guaranteed of getting an answer, what would you ask? (Don't worry about whether God actually exists at this juncture - just focus on the question you'd like to ask if he/she/it actually does. The point is to think about what really big question you'd like cleared up. What would it be? Got it yet? Ok, now go on to Q2 below...)
- Now ask yourself, if God actually answered, what would it take for you to believe it was actually him speaking? (Think about that for a sec - what would it take to convince you? A voice from heaven? An angel with a flaming sword? Something even more dramatic?)
What's the point? Well, the first question gets at the fact that most of us probably DO have some really big questions we'd like to have answered, things we just can't figure out on our own. This group is meant to be a safe place where we can work on getting answers to our spiritual questions.
The second question gets at something else, though - almost all of us could probably find a way of explaining away an answer we didn't like. A voice from heaven? I must be hearing things! An angel with a sword? I must be seeing things! Video tape? Come on - someone just photoshopped it!
See where this is going? If God really did suddenly answer our questions, we could always find a way of writing it off. It's kind of like dealing with a conspiracy theorist who doesn't want to believe it was Islamic terrorists who flew the planes into the Twin Towers on 9/11 - anyone who wants NOT to believe badly enough can always find a reason not to.
Why is this important? Well, Christianity says God speaks to us through Scripture (the Holy Bible). Many of us will be skeptical of that claim, and for good reasons (which we'll see below). At the same time, we also need to be skeptical of ourselves - after all, how can we be sure that we're not just acting like conspiracy theorists, looking for reasons not to believe an inconvenient truth?
Consequently, here's one of the basic operating principles we want to embrace in our Explorers Groups - yes it's ok to be skeptical of Scripture, to ask hard questions and be leery of easy answers; at the same time, we also want to be skeptical of ourselves, to ask why we DON'T want to believe that the pronouncements in Scripture might actually be God's word to us.
We think the best way to do both of these is in a diverse group of friends, where some of us believe and some of us don't, but where our friendship isn't contingent on our agreeing.
Why Scripture? (the rub)
If we want to take a fresh look at Jesus, we're going to have to take a look at Scripture. And that's what we focus on in the opening week of our Explorers Group.
How on earth can anyone actually take the Bible seriously? Wasn't it written thousands of years ago? Isn't it based on dead languages that nobody really understands? Isn't it full of errors and contradictions? Aren't there a gazillion different ways of interpreting it? How are we supposed to know who's right?
And where do Christians get off, claiming it was written by God? Wasn't it written by men hundreds of years after the fact? And didn't church officials decide what books were in or out? Surely Jesus wouldn't expect us to take it literally? How could something like this even be relevant to intelligent people in the 21st century?
These are great questions. You could boil them all down to this: Could the Bible really be God's word to us? It seems so unlikely; could anyone believe this without turning off their brain?
Why Scripture? (the response)
That's what we want to wrestle with in Week 1, and we think the best way to do it is not by dodging the questions, but by tackling them head on.
- The Case AGAINST Scripture - (yep, there are some good reasons to be skeptical)
- The Case FOR Scripture - (wow, there's also good reasons to take it seriously!)
Why don't you take a second and read each of these articles.
So what's our point? On the one hand, we really can't prove that Scripture is the Word of God. On the other, many of it's supposed "defects" actually make it a piece of really significant historical evidence that deserves thoughtful consideration. At the end of the day, it's the best window we have into the Jesus of history.
Here's what this means for us as Explorers. As we move forward, we're going to be looking at the Gospel of Mark. This isn't a cop out - it's just being intellectually responsible. Mark is data; thoughtful people consider the data before coming to a conclusion.
Here's a hint about how to read this book. Rather than assuming up front that it couldn't have happened as Mark says, why don't we try assuming that it did? Try suspending your disbelief for a bit (trust me, you're not going to end up selling flowers in an airport if you do this). Try evaluating Jesus from the perspective of those who believed in him first, and see what you think.
There's plenty about Mark's Jesus that might still rub you wrong (and if that's the case, you'll have much better reasons for rejecting him outright). But you might just discover a Jesus you didn't know existed - a Jesus who is beautiful, potent, and real. The Jesus of Scripture, the Jesus of history.
Sound interesting? Let's check him out by looking at the Gospel of Mark!