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Religious Conversation With An Old Friend - Part 1

I'm a nice guy, and I'm nice to all of my friends, even when we're talking about things with which I disagree.

Like religion:

from XKCD
I have several friends who are good sports about it, and I have other friends, who are either (A) uncomfortable with the idea of talking about it (for whatever reason) or (B) too ill-humored to talk about it without getting pissy or mistaking my disagreement for personal attacks.

My friend Stephan* is not one of these friends. I met him during my time in Yellowstone National Park. We enjoyed many talks about Christianity, some while hiking through America's most beautiful wilderness. When we met, I was just beginning to think of myself as an atheist. Stephan belonged to a Campus Crusade for Christ group that was working at the park for the summer. 

A few months ago, I posted a link to a visual representation of contradictions in the Bible. This did not go unnoticed by my old friend, who initiated a discussion around it. I have been very glad to be talking to him, as I miss our old conversations.

I want to share this with other people for a number of reasons:

  1. This is a great example of how to conduct a civilized, impassioned discussion about religion.
  2. Stephan's questions and challenges are well-shaped and clearly stated.
  3. This is a conversation between two people who respect the idea of addressing each completely and systematically, and who try to avoid logical fallacies.
I will post the discussion in chunks, so as not to overwhelm the reader. As you read one entry, try to imagine what the response will look like. How would you have responded?

And without further ado, here is the first message:

*Not his real name

I know I haven't talked to you in a while, and this isn't really the best way to say "Hi, how've you been?", but I saw the link you posted, and wanted to comment, but didn't want it to become an endless Facebook comment debate, which rarely accomplishes anything. But I'm curious what your thoughts are...regardless of where this ends up, I'll let you have the last word. And by the way, how've you been? :-) 

Such a list saddens me, because many of those items can be easily explained through actually studying the context (textually & culturally), as well as distinguishing "paradox" from "contradiction".

All that being said: yes, there are some tough texts in scripture, and I do wrestle with them; but ultimately: who am I, a finite man, to conclude that simply because I don't understand how two things can be true together, then they must be a contradiction...

Imagine a highly educated & successful scientist explaining his work to a student (imagine a freshman in Biology 101), and then that student tore him apart, finding many "contradictions", when in reality, it was the student's inability to understand the complexity of the subject that caused him to initially reject them as contradictory. There are mysteries - the classic free will vs. God's sovereignty is one of them: no matter how one explains it, there will still always be an element of mystery (though I believe one can & should still seek sound doctrine, because scripture is clear on many of these issues). We can't scientifically explain God - that's what it means for him to be God: Holy - set apart - not created - not man.

But most of the items on that list aren't even deep mysterious questions - many of them just highlight a general lack of effort to resolve them. If one analyzed any other literary document that way, they'd be laughed out of academia!

Anyway, just thought I'd ask if you had any further thoughts on any of this - for I realize that you likely were not the author of the document: linking to something doesn't imply complete endorsement.

I hope all is well,

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