The Semester 2, Week 4 edition of USYD student newspaper, Honi Soit contains a regrettable and ill-informed display of anti-Christian journalism at USYD. The article, “The morality revolution: why there needs to be more accountability in religion”, takes aim at the Sydney University Evangelical Union (SUEU), a Protestant Christian group and the largest faith-based group on campus. Readers may remember the saga which surrounded the SUEU in 2016, where the University of Sydney Union threatened to de-register the club over a clause in its constitution requiring leaders and members with voting rights to be able to affirm a faith in Jesus Christ.
The article notes, quite rightly, that the SUEU as an evangelical Christian group affirms in its Doctrinal Basis (a collection of fundamental beliefs which the club members have desired that the club uphold) that scripture is infallible, divinely inspired and has supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct. The article continues:
“This claim is questionable especially as a quick Google search will yield many instances where the Bible is inconsistent and contradictory.”
With this sentence, the author appears to suggest that a quick Google search suddenly topples thousands of years of scholarly reflection – both Christian and secular.
The typical sloppy editorial standards of Honi Soit are front and centre! Lazy writing, lazy research, lazy argument. Three short reasons why this argument bears little to no weight in this battle of ideas:
1. Each of the terms which Honi quotes as forming part of the doctrinal basis has a technical meaning, the nuance of which is not captured in the response. The claim that scripture is infallible, for example, is a claim that the Bible is not incorrect in relation to all matters of which it purports to teach, rightly understood with text, context, structure and place in the biblical framework. To illustrate: the Bible speaks of “standing at the four corners of the earth”. Yet it would be false to claim that the Bible is riddled with error by pointing out that the earth does not have four corners as the Bible is not purporting to teach such a thing (for interest, see Isaiah 40:22 to the contrary!).
2. Of course, there are parts of the Bible, even in the gospel accounts, which prima facie appear to contain historical inconsistency. For example: the order of post-resurrection appearances, the number of bystanders who viewed various events in the gospels and the order of the places to which Jesus and his disciples travelled. First, such alleged inconsistencies go nowhere to disproving the claim that Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, lived, died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures and rose again from the dead. Second, as point one demonstrates, the Bible does not necessarily make such a high claim of inerrancy (for transparency, some Christians hold to this, but this is a far greater claim than infallibility) but rather one of infallibility. The Bible is not trying to teach for example whether the risen Lord Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene, the other Mary and then the disciples or Mary Magdalene, then two others, then the disciples – it is teaching that indeed, Christ is risen!
3. Pointing to minor prima facie inconsistencies in the gospel accounts written by every day human beings, something dealt with at length by Christian scholarship, as an argument against Christianity itself displays a lack of understanding of the nature of historical sources of the time. Early Roman sources, for example, are riddled with inconsistencies in the recounting of battles, the record of the lives of nobility and the various conservations purported to have occurred between key actors. Moreover, many Roman sources on which history relies were written many decades if not centuries after the fact and often based on primary accounts lost to us. The Christian New Testament, in contrast, is largely written within the lifetime of, and sourced from eyewitnesses to, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Indeed, many scholars regard such prima facie inconsistencies as not disproving the authenticity and trustworthiness of the Bible. Rather they regard it as strengthening its legitimacy as being something written by real people who had a real story of good news to tell.
All of this leads to the real intellectual crux of the anti-Christian forces of today. The fact of the matter is, they are avoiding and escaping the elephant-in-the-room type claim of Christianity:
“That Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, lived, died and was buried, on the third day rose again and is Lord.”
Not a bad debate topic perhaps…
The article goes on to speak of how “this kind of dogmatic belief has seen religious institutions escape accountability when they attempt to justify perpetuating harm and discrimination towards queer people” and how “most fundamentalist religious groups, including those at USYD” – can’t think to whom the writer was referring… – “have also neglected to condemn conversion therapy.”
I condemn the use of gay conversion therapy. I’m sure every other group on campus would agree with me. I also want to affirm that it is not right, not biblical and not modelling the example of Jesus for Christians to perpetuate harm and discrimination towards queer people. Christians are called to love their neighbour as their self, to lay down our lives for the sake of others, to serve and not be served. The church should be rightly rebuked when it does not do so. However, I know that Christians are sinful and in need of God’s grace and that the church has not always been loving towards queer people. I pray that the increased spotlight on the church brought about by things such as the Royal Commission will aid in promoting a culture and response of love towards all people in the community.
I put to both readers and the anti-Christian lobby that the reason why Christianity has stood the test of time and the test of some of the most intense scholarly inquiry is because despite the flaws of its adherents, generations and nations continue to consider the claim that Jesus is Lord and are convicted by its accuracy and impact on their lives. One only need ask a Christian about their experience of God to see this.
No amount of intellectual hubris will substitute for a soft-hearted and bona fide journey along the wayside of the highway of the Rock of Ages.