Does Bob Price lead a reason driven life? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Recently in a debate forum, someone trying to mock Christians said I should read Bob Price. Now I am well aware of Bob Price. Bob Price is one of the few people who has credentials in NT scholarship and yet puts forward the nonsense idea that Jesus never even existed. At any rate, unlike many atheists I meet, when I was given this challenge, I went straight to my local library to find whatever book I could. Only one was present and that was the Reason Driven Life.
Now let me say at the start that as you should recognize, this is a response to Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life. I am not a fan of it. I have not read it, but I suspect I would have many of the same criticisms as Price does. In fact, I think I would have more. I have a huge problem with the way evangelicals approach evangelism today and I don’t care for this idea of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ nor do I care much for our talk about “conversion” today. We were never told to go and make converts. We were told to make disciples.
So I can say that reading Price was a mixed bag. There were a lot of things I agreed with. What I found most interesting was for all his talk about fundamentalism being a problem, Price is just as much as a fundamentalist as Warren is. A key example of this is his constant emphasis on Hell. It’s not that Price realizes that evangelicals believe in Hell. It’s that he thinks that every evangelical believes in a literal fiery hell. I’m not even sure if Warren believes that Hell is literally a fiery furnace. Spasmodically throughout the book, Price will interject in the middle of another topic, complaining about belief in Hell.
What this amounts to on his part is emotional reasoning. He does not like the idea of Hell, so forget any idea of refuting the arguments for God’s existence. Forget about the idea that some scholars present evidences that Jesus rose from the dead. All we need to do is point out that we don’t like the concept of Hell and that is enough. Price jumps on the emotional bandwagon and expects that that will be enough.
For my own part, I do not believe in a literal fiery Hell. In fact, I have a theory that I have propounded before that I think Heaven and Hell could be the exact same place. Heaven and Hell are not defined by location but are rather defined by our relationship to YHWH. If we are on good terms with YHWH, then eternity will be heaven. If we are in opposition to YHWH, then eternity will be Hell. I could not state categorically that this is what Scripture teaches, and it is not a hill I am willing to die on, but it is my thinking at the moment.
Of course, I will not be commenting on everything that Price says. That would be too exhaustive. Only highlights will be touched.
On page 20, we are told that meaning is in the eye of the beholder. I find this extremely problematic. When Price admits to animal cruelty like this, I think that all good people should stand up and say we won’t tolerate that. Some of you are wondering, “When did he say this?” Well this is my rule. When someone tells me meaning is in the eye of the beholder, I take that to mean that they have a secret tendency to abuse animals. How can anyone argue against me if the meaning is in the eye of the beholder?
If we think with our reason instead, we will realize that reason lies in that which is being interpreted. We can interpret it rightly or wrongly, but the meaning is not something we put on to the object, but something we read out of it.
Price compounds this further saying on page 21 that in the question for meaning, we will not like arrive at any definitive truth. Does anyone else stop to ask Price how he ever arrived at that? How is it that Price arrived at the definitive truth that we are not likely to arrive at the definitive truth. Is it because Price thinks he possesses this definitive truth and thus can tell when no one else will arrive at it? Isn’t this the attitude he condemns in fundamentalists? Why yes it is. It’s not a shock he holds it since Price is himself a fundamentalist.
On page 27, we find the line about there being thousands of denominations. Like any fundamentalist, Price has repeated this without looking at it. Had he done some research into the topic, he would have found out that there can be numerous denominations that think the exact same way. A group become a denomination if it is independently operated. You could have two Baptist churches in the same town with the exact same doctrinal stance and they would each be two denominations. I suspect that if Mr. Price were caught somewhere and asked to name 50 denominations, he could not do so.
The problem goes on with Price’s approach to Scripture. Price states that all we are getting is a fallible interpretation of a fallible book from Rick Warren and the claim that it is what God is saying. The question to be asked at the start instead is not what about Warren, but what about the text? Is it really possible to know what the text says? If so, then if this is the Word of God, then if Warren has found what the text says somewhere and shares it, then it is correct that he is saying what God says. Is that a serious claim? Yes. Yes it is. How are we to determine if Warren is right? We study the text. Unlike fundamentalists, I will tell you to never just blindly believe what someone says. That goes for what I say. Study and investigate what I say and see if it is true.
Too many people do not take the time to do this. There is this idea that Scripture is meant to be plain and clear to everyone. This is not the case. Scripture requires work to understand. There are too many skeptics, heck, there are too many Christians, who have this idea that all they need to do is sit down and read the Bible and they in their world that is a different culture, different language, different time, and different place, will just know what is being said automatically. This is not the case. The person interested in truth will be open to studying their views by reading leading scholarship. This applies to Christians and non-Christians alike.
Price on page 32 talks about how God is love, until we get to the concept of Hell. With this, Price is having a modern idea of love as sentiment and thinks that Hell is opposed to that. If my view of Hell is correct, God is giving people what they want. No. They don’t want a fiery torture chamber. They don’t get that either. They want to not have anything to do with God. He gives them that. He leaves them alone. He will not bother them any more in eternity. Some could say they do not want that, but actions will show otherwise. If Christianity is true, those who want the truth will find it. If they do not, they were not looking.
At a point like this, Price gives much of the idea of evangelical guilt for not evangelizing enough or studying Scripture enough or praying enough. Price in making claims like this reveals little about fundamentalism and reveals much about Price. I, as an evangelical, read a chapter of the old and new testament in the morning. My wife and I read on the “verse of the day” app on my phone in the evening. I personally read a verse of the Bible to think on at night and in fact am reading a chapter of the apocrypha as well. You see, despite what Price thinks, I am not bothered by reading works I disagree with, including other religions. In fact, I agree that there is much that can be learned from other religions. I have read the Analycts, the Tao Te Ching, the Mormon Scriptures, and the Koran at this point.
For prayer, I pray in the morning after reading Scripture and my wife and I pray together at night. I will pray throughout the day periodically as well, though I will not usually spend a long time in prayer. As for evangelism, I do not go out and tell personal strangers about Jesus. I do my evangelism by writing online and that is just fine. Some people are real people persons and can interact with others. For me, the thought of approaching a total stranger and starting a conversation is a nightmare. I am fine if they start talking, but I don’t do it myself. This is just fine. Not everyone is meant to be that kind of person. I have no guilt for this.
On page 47, Price tells us that this world does not seem to be a good place for human beings, unless we superimpose our idea of love and warmth on it. He refers to this as a beautiful fiction. I find this as odd. I have this strange belief that we should live in reality and if the world is not really a good place, in fact, if it is really a morally neutral place or even a world with no moral truths, how are we to function in it if we live in opposition to it? Why should I embrace a worldview like Price’s that tells me that to function I have to impose my views on the world instead of accepting reality as it is?
Now some will no doubt think that I am doing this, but I am not. I do believe that the claims that God exists and Jesus rose from the dead are true. You can say that that is false. You have all right to do that. That does not mean it is false that I believe it is true and it does not mean that I am knowingly living in denial of reality. If my view is wrong, I am in fact not living in conformity of reality, but unlike Price, it is not because I think I have to impose a false view on the world.
On page 80, on the quote to remember, we are told “Nothing will mean tomorrow what it meant today.” If that is true, then whatever it meant when the author wrote it is not what it means today. In fact, at this point, Price’s book could be an argument why we should believe that Jesus rose from the dead. It doesn’t mean what meaning he gave it. In fact, the idea that “Nothing will mean tomorrow what it meant today” does not even mean the same thing any more, which leaves us in a kind of hermeneutical limbo. Price drops little cliches like this regularly without really stopping to think about what they mean. They just sound so profound, which they could be. Profoundly wrong that is.
On page 82, Price says that if we claim to know that God is the cause of the universe, then we are destroying the mystery of being. This is simply false looking at the history of science. Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton did not see themselves as destroying the mystery of being. They all believed God created the universe and because they did, they sought to understand it all the more. If having the truth about the cause of the universe is a sedative, then we should stop the scientific enterprise. It would be awful if we arrived at the truth. After all, it is not likely we’ll ever arrive at any definitive truth anyway according to Price.
Amusing on page 87, Price says that literalism is the problem, and I agree. The problem is Price has not abandoned his literalism. He is still interpreting the text literally.
Price makes much about the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ being nonsense. I in fact agree with him. The problem is that he assumes this is the way all people think who are Christians. I do agree that too many Christians are using their personal feelings and saying God is the cause of them and trying to give divine authority to what they say. In fact, I get this from other Christians, such as the excellent book “Decision Making and the Will of God.”
Chapter 9 is one big rant about the flood. Price considers it horrible that it happened. Yes. I do think it’s a shame that day schools are named after Noah’s Ark because this is a story about grace, but also one about justice. It is a shame the world reached such a bad state. It amazes me that the ones who can complain the most about the problem of evil and ask why God doesn’t do anything about evil, complain when he does do something. Price says the problem with Warren is that Warren takes the story literally. So does Price! I, as an evangelical, do not believe in a worldwide flood, but a flood that was global in scope yet localized. This is a position common amongst evnagelicals. You would never know this from Price seeing as he never cites any. It is as if he thinks all evangelicals sit back wondering how penguins got to the Middle East.
On page 117, Price talks about faith making a juxtaposition between faith and empirical evidence. Price is unaware that the meaning of faith biblically would be trust in that which has been shown to be reliable, completely in line with Hebrews 11:1. It makes it hard for me to take Price seriously as doing real research when he presents straw men and makes basic mistakes that are more in line with the new atheists.
Price writes about the jealousy of YHWH in Exodus 34:14 on page 120. I agree with much of this in fact. When I wrote a review of “The Unshakable Truth” by the McDowells for the Tekton Ticker, I wrote about how problematic it is that regularly, this verse is translated as saying God is passionate about His relationship with you. This verse is not a verse about God’s relationship with us, but about His nature towards the people of Israel. God is jealous in that He wants exclusivity from His people and will not tolerate them cheating on Him with other gods. This was an honorable trait in the ancient near east. It is the kind of trait even today a husband is to have for his wife, and a wife for her husband. My complaint with the McDowells was anyone would open up the Bible, see a different reading there, and then start wondering about God. It seems that Price beat me to it.
On page 154, Price brings in the copycat myth with the idea that Christian baptism had much in common with initiation rites of pagan festivities. To this, we say any similarities are not worth noting. It is like saying that Jesus and Hitler had a lot in common because both of them were great speakers. Anyone who gets recognized as a speaker must be a great speaker in some sense. It would be nice for Price to cite some of these examples of pagan baptism however. He doesn’t. It is more likely that he is confusing such rituals as being bathed in the blood of a bull with baptism.
On page 222, Price says we are being arbitrary. After all, we are only looking at the Christian version. I realize many Christians do this. I do not. Price asks us if we feel guilty. Don’t we realize we’re being arbitrary? It is odd that a man who complains so much about fundamentalism arousing feelings of guilt himself seeks to arouse feelings of guilt. Actually, it’s not odd. It’s expected because Price is a fundamentalist himself.
On page 239, Price does make a point about the power of positive thinking. Despite what he might think, I agree with them. Now I am not at all saying that our thinking can change reality. Thinking that I have a lot of money will not expand my bank account. What I am saying is watching what we think can change our attitude to reality. In fact, I get this from Gary Habermas, who highly advocates it. It’s called “Cognitive-behavioral therapy.” Christians like Backus and Chapian have written about this in “Telling Yourself The Truth.” Price seems to think all such thinking is anathema to Christians. Not at all.
On page 273, Price tells us that absolute truth corrupts absolutely. Why is he so opposed to the concept of absolute truth? Does he believe it exists or not? (If it does not, no wonder we do not arrive at definitive truth.) If it does exist, should we not be seeking it? Ought it not to be that which we want?
Interestingly, he tells us that thoughtful individuals come to tentative and provisional conclusions, the kind science allows. I find this interesting since reading the New Atheists, I would think the works of science are written in stone and how dare any of us go against them. I do not say this to insult science, but rather to deal with an attitude towards science that I consider dangerous to the scientific enterprise.
On page 276 Price tells us that we will never mature morally or intellectually as long as I just take orders from some authority.
So does this mean Price is implicitly giving me an order to not take orders?
Sounds problematic again.
For all who really want to know Price, read pages 300-301 in this book. Price talks about how he was not comfortable reading science fiction and was living under a burden of guilt and God forbid he should think about sex. The problem with Price throughout this book is that he takes his experience and universalizes it thinking that it applies to all Christians across space and time instead of realizing his is a modern creation. Price has thrown out the baby with the bathwater. It was not an argument that turned him around, but an emotional reaction.
Honestly, reading this section of the book would be enough to deal with everything.
Amusingly, Price talks on page 309 about psychologizing the text of Scripture. He speaks about people who find a psychological point and present it to the text while the text is oblivious to it. He complains that Warren does this, which could be the case, but so does Price! For instance, Price says on page 210 that death, burial, and resurrection, according to Kant, refer to a response. Kant is psychologizing the text and so is Price. Yet for Price, no one else can psychologize the text but him. He is again just as fundamentalist as the fundamentalism he condemns.
In chapter 38, Price’s whole chapter is about the psychology behind evangelism. He says people do evangelism because they feel guilty and they want people to come alongside them and agree with them. The problem is the same could be said of Price. Could Price live with emotional insecurity, as it seems he does throughout this book, and so wants others to agree with him and share his views? Quite likely. For Price, the thought never seems to occur that some Christians could evangelize because they think they should or because they think Christianity is true, or both.
In fact, in the last paragraph of this chapter, he tells us that since evangelism is self-serving, it is not a surprise it will act this way, which is a total exercise in question-begging. Price may wonder what it will mean when we evangelize everyone. Well as a good preterist, I happen to think that when evangelism is done, then Jesus will return. Hence, 2 Peter 3 says that by evangelism, we can speed the coming of Christ. Price leaves the reader uninformed that Christians have thought about that question.
In conclusion, reading Price is reading a fundamentalist on fundamentalists. Price’s life is not reason-driven. It is just as emotion-driven as it was before.