Last week, Dr. Albert Mohler interviewed former President Jimmy Carter about Carter’s new book The Lessons from Life Bible. This really is an interview, not a debate (though Dr. Mohler’s registers disagreement with him on some points during the conversation). You can read the transcript of the interview here, download the audio here, or listen below.[audio:http://albertmohler.com/media/audio/totl/Podcast/Thinking_In_Public_Jimmy_Carter.mp3]
Here’s President Carter’s answer to Dr. Mohler’s question about the inspiration of scripture:
I believe Christ died for our sins on the cross. I believe He was resurrected and that we are promised, if we have faith in Christ through the grace of God, that we will inherit eternal life. I believe that God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son. I believe those things, but I know that there are some things as a scientist—my background is in nuclear physics—there’re some things that weren’t understood by the writers of the Bible. I just ignored those discrepancies as insignificant.
President Carter’s answer to Dr. Mohler’s question about homosexuality was also interesting:
Well I have to admit, Dr. Mohler, that I’m kind of selective on that point of view. I really turn almost exclusively to the teachings of Jesus Christ, who never mentioned homosexuality at all as a sin. He never condemned homosexuals and so I don’t condemn homosexuals. And our church, our little church in Plains, we don’t ask, when people come to join our church, if they’re gay or not. We don’t ordain, we don’t practice marriage between gay couples in our church, but that’s a Baptist privilege of autonomy of local churches. I’m against any sort of government law, either state or national, that would force churches to perform marriage between gay people, but I have no objection to civil ceremonies. And so, I know that Paul condemns homosexuality, as he did some other things like selfishness that everybody’s guilty of, and so I believe that Jesus reached out to people who were outcast, who were condemned, brought them in as equals and I also pretty well rely on Paul’s writing to the Galatians that everyone is equal in the eye’s of God and we’re treated with compassion. And I personally believe, maybe contrary to many of your listeners, that homosexuality is ingrained in a person’s character and is not something they adopt and can abandon at will. So I know that what I’ve just explained to you might be somewhat controversial, but it’s the way I feel.
it is interesting that Mr. Carter goes to the verse about stars falling from the sky to show that the writers of the Bible did not understand science and, therefore, were fallible. I assume he is referring to the passage in Revelation. It is odd that he does not even consider that the language might be figurative or symbolic. I would have expected him to criticize the 6 day creation instead.
And, by the way, I learned recently that you know my friend, Ron Harris.
Yep, I sure do! Give him my greetings!
Does it make me a bad guy, or a bad Christian for that matter, that I agree with the first Carter quote that Denny pulled?
I do wish that all conversations with divergent views looked like the conversation between Carter and Mohler.
As far as what President Carter said on inspiration, I might have worded it differently, but I do not think what he said was wrong. God inspired the authors of Scripture, but they wrote inside their own culture in ways that people in that culture would understand. That is, God accommodated to the original hearers/readers of Torah putting things in ways that they could understand, for each of the books of the Bible, and I think everyone agrees with that, but the disagreement is how much does that imply.
That is, there are not 2 choices of God telling the truth and God lieing, but rather another of God accomodating truth to the original hearers.
Right. And in that regard, I go back to the idea of a “living Bible.” How do we, or should we even, read the Bible exactly as written, or do we view it through a more modern lens (as it seems Carter does)?
I can explain what I try my best to do.
1) Understand how the original reader would have understood some teaching unit (pericope). This involves knowing what earlier Scripture teaches on some subject and the cultural context of the verses.
2) Knowing that Christ is the goal of Torah (God’s teaching), allow this to influence how I understand Scripture.
3) Only after the above exegetical work is done, and only then, do I try to apply this teaching to today and to myself, my family, church, country, etc.
I’d agree with all three of the above. I think one area where many falter (to the detriment of the church) is two words that you mentioned: cultural context. Especially when it comes to the epistles.
By saying cultural context, you are implicitly saying that right and wrong, that sin and righteousness, are not objective standards. That it is the culture that defines what is right and wrong and not God.
Yes, I think that ignorance of some cultural context is the main reason for misunderstanding Scripture today. One can with some effort delimit the teaching units of Scripture for the most part and with more effort find other relevant earlier parts of Scripture that provide the immediate context and earlier Scriptural context, but figuring out the cultural context can take a lot of work and it is always possible to learn more.
For example, it makes a huge difference if a remez/hint to another Scripture is recognized as such or not, and similarly if an idiomatic phrase is recognized as such or not. There is simply way too much of believers reading something like “raining cats and dogs” and then looking for cats and dogs falling out of the sky. It keeps me humble when I read Scripture, knowing that I did similar things in my ignorance and might still be doing it in other cases.
Regarding homosexuality, the former president makes a common error regarding our fallenness.
Selfishness and covetousness and pride are also “ingrained” in our nature. But these things are sin. The fact that someone may have a greater proclivity for lying, greed, or homosexuality does not mean that those behaviors are then acceptable. If I struggle with greed more than the average person then I will just have to work harder to resist it. If I am born with a greater tendency toward alcohol addiction then those who love me should not accept my indulging in alcohol. The man or woman who, for whatever reason, struggles with same-sex attraction has, like all of us, a sin to fight against.