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Alternate Activity 3: Biblical Authority (25 minutes), Workshop 16: Evangelical Christianity

In "Building Bridges," a Tapestry of Faith program

Materials for Activity

  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Bibles — Hebrew and Christian scriptures

Preparation for Activity

  • Obtain Bibles for everyone in the group—preferably a New Standard Revised Version, but use multiple versions if necessary.
  • Post blank newsprint.

Description of Activity

Participants explore how they might talk with people who believe the Bible is inerrant.

Say, in these or your own words:

One feature of Evangelical faith is a belief that the Bible is the word of God and literally true—not stories and history witnessed, imagined, and recorded by different people over hundreds of years. Many Evangelicals believe the Bible is inerrant—that is, without error—and contains all the guidance needed for life. This belief is a cornerstone of Christian fundamentalism.

Ask: "What benefits can you see in accepting the inerrancy of the Bible? What basic needs might be addressed if you believe the Bible is literal truth?

Record their ideas on newsprint. If no one offers these points, include:

  • The Bible provides one, single source for answers to life's Big Questions.
  • Concrete rules for right and wrong actions. Belief in the Bible's inerrancy removes the need to puzzle out complex moral and ethical questions.
  • The Bible is like God speaking directly to you—your connection to something larger than yourself.
  • You can feel a sense of belonging with like-minded believers.

Note that Evangelicals will fiercely defend their belief in the inerrant Bible. Say, in these words, or your own:

Trying to convince a biblical literalist that the Bible is flawed is not constructive. They have been challenged before. For every issue you can raise, an Evangelical believer will have an answer satisfying to them, but probably not to you. If you wish to respectfully engage in a conversation with a biblical literalist to learn their perspective, let's talk about where your conversation may lead.

Write on newsprint the primary areas in which challenges to biblical inerrancy are typically made, giving examples as you go:

  • Inconsistencies within the Bible (e.g., stories told differently in different parts of the Bible)
  • Conflicts between biblical stories and science (e.g., the first rainbow appeared after Noah's flood; the sun stood still during a battle; the world was created in six days; archaeological findings that suggest historical events occurred differently than described in the Bible)
  • Immoral teachings (e.g., God appears to command or condone genocide, rape, slavery)

Invite the youth to suggest how a believer in biblical inerrancy might respond to each of these challenges. Prompt, as needed:

  • To the charge of inconsistency, literalists may answer: 1) Events might have been reported by humans in a different order than they appear in the Bible; 2) Some writers (guided by God) reported certain aspects of an event, others reported different ones.
  • To the charge of conflicts with science, literalist answers are numerous and varied. Some literalists may insist that the earth is 10,000 years old and that evolution never happened; others may accept scientific findings about the age of the earth and the theory of evolution. For example, evolution could be understood as the mechanism by which God created all the life forms on earth, and the six days of creation were days as defined by God and could have been—by our system of measurement—millions of years.
  • To the charge of immoral teachings, two common responses are: 1) The actions of people thousands of years ago cannot be judged by the moral standards of today; and 2) The ways of God are unknowable and while terrible things happen in the Bible, they were by God's direction and therefore must be right, fitting into a plan too big for us to see.

Share with participants the following statement:

If one starts with the foundational belief that the Bible is inerrant and that it is the will of God, with some creative ingenuity [these] conflicts can almost always be harmonized. (Ontario Consultants, cited on the Religious Tolerance website)

How does this statement strike the youth?

Invite the group to examine the idea of inerrancy by looking at biblical text. Distribute Bibles and have youth look up these passages, in the order given:

  • Genesis 6:6-8 ("The Lord was grieved that he had made man ... ")
  • Exodus 12:29-30 ("At midnight the Lord struck down ... ")
  • 2 Kings 2:23-24 ("From there Elisha went up to Bethel ... ")
  • Joshua 6:20-21 ("When the trumpets sounded ... ")
  • 2 Samuel 12:29-31 ("So David mustered the entire army... ")

Ask for reactions:

  • What do you think of the passages?
  • In what ways could these passages have truth?
  • If the truthfulness of a passage seems flawed to you, does that diminish the value of the text as guidance for living? How so? How not?

Invite youth to find, in Christian scripture, II Timothy 3:16-17: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God ... " Have a volunteer read the text aloud. Ask:

  • What do you think of this passage?
  • What "instruction in righteousness" do you think can be found in the Bible?
  • What material do you know of in the Bible that seems contrary to the statement in this text? What about atrocities and wrongdoing presented in the Bible?

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Tuesday, December 6, 2011.

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