But my religious studies prof said…

So you took a New Testament or Old Testament class this semester. But rather than having your questions answered about the bible, you’ve been given a lot of new ones: Did Paul write Titus? Was the Gospel According to John written after John died? Did four groups of editors produce Genesis? Was Jesus the co-eternal son of God? Did Isaiah’s disciples wrote most of Isaiah? Was gnosticism was an early, formidable competitor of Christianity?

I could keep positing questions, but suffice it to say a religious studies class can undermine the faith of almost any Christian if they refuse to look into the actual evidence. You see, it’s easy to use our past classes as an excuse to disavow our faith. We write off the Bible, because we want to live our lives the way we want to, and we feel justified by our semi-academic beliefs.

In my college experience I’ve seen this attitude erode people’s faith. That’s why it’s radically important to take a look at both sides of every argument. Anything less than that is laziness, and laziness is not a sufficient reason to reject historical Christianity.

Your introductory religious courses are reductionistic. Professors would agree that they cannot present the the whole academic picture. Unfortunately it’s hip in academia to undermine the Bible, so a lopsided picture gets presented in class. Too often our professors do not try to explain religion objectively, but merely try to explain religion away. They’re not pre-disposed to handle religious material objectively, they’re predisposed to handle religious material with skeptical doubt in particular about the historical authenticity of the bible. That’s part of how you make a career in the field. I’ll give you a few examples of this predisposition:

1. Prophecy proves dating: A truly objective third party would not presume that prophecy is either possible or impossible. Unfortunately, religious studies professors reject prophecy out of hand. So, if any text appears includes prophecies that square with history, they say, “this text was written after that event, because prophecy is impossible!” So, rather than asking whether Jesus actually prophesied the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, they simply say, “Prophecy is impossible, therefore the gospels must have been written after 70 AD.” It doesn’t matter that there’s evidence that points to the fact that the gospels were written before 70 AD, they simply could not be, because prophecy is impossible! So rather than allowing the evidence to inform their beliefs, their beliefs inform the evidence. That’s a predisposition.

2. Contradictory logic: Paul can’t win in the religious studies world. Their criteria for determining what is authentic and inauthentic Pauline material is absolutely contradictory. Take Ephesians and Titus for example; professors will say that Paul did not write Ephesians because the language is too dissimilar from his other letters. They also say that Paul did not write Titus. Why? Because the language is too similar. So, let’s put the pieces together: if a letter’s language is too different then Paul did not write it, and if a letter’s language is too similar then Paul did not write it. Huh? Compare a blog post that I write, to a personal letter that I write to a friend. Same author, very different styles, voice, and emotional aura. I suspect most religious studies professors would doubt that I wrote both (by their own criteria). Frankly, I find all of this too subjective; if you want the letters to be inauthentic, then you’ll simply see them as inauthentic and invent reasons why! If you want them to be authentic you might do the same. We cannot let subjective predispositions inform the evidence.

I hope you see my point: your religious studies professor is not objective, just like your pastor is not totally objective. I’m predisposed to trust the bible, your prof is predisposed to doubt and undermine its history. So you need to do the work of actually thinking through what they present. Laziness is not an excuse for disbelief. If you’ve been challenged in your religious studies classes, take the time to read and learn from people with different perspectives. (Or at least admit you don’t know much). Do not fall into unbelief, or a nominal Christian lifestyle because of laziness. Invest, learn, grow.

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About Patrick K. Miller

Currently I am living in Columbia serving at the University of Missouri with Veritas, The Crossing's campus ministry. In December 2010 I graduated from Mizzou with a degree in English Literature. My beautiful wife, Emily, works is an Interior Designer with a local firm. I like espresso, 30 Rock, and books. My favorite old dead guys are John Owen, Augustine and Francis Schaeffer. You should read something by them.
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