Is fundamentalist atheism a sign that our churches are failing? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Recently in the Tektonics section of TheologyWeb, there was a whole thread devoted to someone complaining about an article of theirs being given a screwball, as we call them. It was an article written by her and her husband and a large part of it was written extensively on the topic of masturbation. The idea was that this is a clearly wrong teaching across the board in Christian churches and it’s a way that Christianity oppresses people.
Overly dramatized to be sure, but just false really. Focus on the Family doesn’t even take a hard line on this. Numerous other ministries don’t. When I was preparing to marry, I read books by Christian counselors and writers encouraging that it be done before the wedding night so a man can prepare himself. Some of you might still disagree with that. That’s fine. It’s a side issue. The long and short of it is it led to the apostasy of one of the writers, namely Tanya Simmonds. She sent a message to one of our members daring him to publish it.
It’s been published and now I have my response.
Simmonds says “I was a Christian, on fire for Jesus, many, many years ago. I was young (18) at the time. The Jesus I knew and loved was a few selected passages from the pulpit and Robert Powell.”
Unfortunately, this kind of event happens too often. Am I opposed to people having a passion for Jesus? Absolutely not! What I fear has happened here is an emotional reaction purely without any real in-depth look at matters. Note that the Jesus she knew was based on a few select passages and on a pastor and a teacher alone. What study was Simmonds doing on her own?
Simmonds continues to say “The day came when I decided that it was time for me to read the Bible. As I got into it, I began to shake my head. “No! This can’t be right,” I thought. But the more I went through it, the more horrified I became. This wasn’t the God – the Jesus – that I thought I knew, and who I felt inside me. This was a monster from my very worst nightmares. It had to be a mistake. I prayed endlessly for clarification, but no answer came.”
Personally, I’d read the Bible when I was in Middle School and never had a problem. God judges the world? What’s the big deal. He’s a judge. That’s what judges do. Notice Simmonds’s reactions are all emotional. “The Jesus I felt inside me” and “I prayed endlessly for clarification.”
What’s sad about this is that this is usually what Christians recommend. “You know Jesus is who He said He is because you feel Him inside of you!” “If you want to know what a passage means, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to show you.” No. If you want to know that Jesus is real, study the resurrection. If you want to know what a passage means, study the text. Of course, prayer can be a part of study, but it is not meant to be a substitute for study.
She goes on to say “After I became a solicitor, I went back to university, part time, and studied for another degree, this time in theology. I had an emotional need to learn for myself just exactly what I had got myself into.”
Once again, the emotional aspect. Now there is nothing wrong with emotional wholeness at all, but it sure looks like the cart is pulling the horse in the case of Simmonds. We can at least hope there was real study going on, but only a further look at what is shown will be our information.
As Simmonds continues she says “I know that people get around the horrors of the Bible by either skipping over the passages, or expressly convincing themselves that they don’t mean what they say. I can almost understand that. I wept for weeks at what I discovered. I was heartbroken. My Jesus was gone!”
Actually, I never saw these passages as horrors at all. Yet let’s consider some options.
First off, Simmonds says they don’t mean what they say, assuming that what they say is what is meant to be read by a modern American. Perhaps modern American isn’t the way to read the text. Maybe it should be read in the style of an ancient Jew? If so, it is entirely proper to look at how ancient Jews and people around them spoke. Paul Copan has done an excellent job of that in “Is God A Moral Monster?” My review of that can be found here.
Second, it could be our understanding is accurate and we just have to deal with it. Perhaps it is not the moral tastes of the Bible that are a problem but rather it is ours. Perhaps we could be helped by studying what was going on in these ancient cultures that were destroyed.
Third, it could be that these parts are not accurate even and that Inerrancy is the problem. I do not hold to this position, but I bring it up for sake of argument. It could be that Jesus rose from the dead and the Bible is not Inerrant. If that is the case, you still do have Christianity. You just have a different view of Scripture.
There could be other options. Simmonds had married her Christianity to a modern view of Jesus. It has long been my contention that this view is wrong. It is part of American hubris.
Returning to Simmonds we hear “But I can tell you, in twenty five years of study and debate, I have never met a theology professor, a pastor, or an archbishop who denied that these terrible stories were not as they appeared. Certainly, I’ve heard many attempts at justifications for them, but none that I didn’t find incredibly transparent, unfounded, and completely invalid. That’s all I can say on that. ALL of the experts I have consulted on these issues concurred with my understanding of the passages. They mean exactly what they say.”
All of them? I have on my bookshelf a book called “Show Them No Mercy.” It contains four views of the Canaanite conquest and has each view critiquing each other. They are quite different including one with a thinking much like Simmonds’s that a God of love would not order such a thing. Has Simmonds read Copan? Is she aware In fact, he has just written another book on this topic with Heath Thomas and Jeremy Evans. Is Simmonds willing to interact with these works?
Moving to another topic Simmonds writes that “My studies then moved to the historical origins of the Bible, where the books were written, and when. I was stunned when I learned that they were not written by the people they are ascribed to. I couldn’t believe that Matthew didn’t write Matthew, nor was it written by anyone who could have known him. The same went for Luke and John, and half of the letters of Paul. Mark was the earliest Gospel known to exist, but imagine how jaw-dropping it was for me when I discovered that not only did nobody named Mark actually write it, but that nobody alive on this earth knows, to this day, who this ‘Mark’ was supposed to have been. Imagine my shock at discovering that the final verses (16:9-20) were not to be found in the earliest surviving copies of the original papyrus, but were, in fact, added by another author 200 years later.”
To be fair, there are some scholars who would say that these books aren’t written by their traditional authors, but there are several who would disagree. Simmonds could pick up any NT commentary and find a case made for authorship. Even if the authorship was wrong, the information in the accounts still needs to be dealt with. Has Simmonds done that? Has she considered a work like Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.”?
As for Mark, I just got out my grandmother’s NIV that I keep here with me. What do I see right before those verses in it? “The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.” The information was right there. Why was Simmonds surprised by this?
It would have been better for her to have read something on textual criticism. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking happens all too often. I had a friend who graduated from a highly conservative institution that was KJV-only and was concerned when he found categorical proof that 1 John 5:7 was not part of the original manuscript. Fortunately, this guy has since been doing his own reading and studying and that is the proper response. Were I to recommend a book to Simmonds, it would be Paul Wegner’s “A Student’s Guide to Textual Criticism of the Bible.”
Simmonds continues with “Imagine my greatest shock in all of my studies on this subject when I was shown the historical evidence that the 200 CE earliest surviving copy of John didn’t contain one of the most precious of Christian stories – the tale of the Adulterous Woman (John 7:53-8:11.) I learned that it first started circulating in the late 4th, early 5th centuries, and wasn’t include in the New Testament officially until the turn of the first Millennium.
These discoveries shook me to the core.”
Looking in the same NIV again, I find the same message before John 7:53-8:11 (Only a difference in referents of course). This is not shocking news, but it’s showing that we’re not teaching our young people well. When a pastor preaches on this passage, he should say something about the textual criticism of this passage. Actually, if a pastor is preaching on any passage with textual variants, he should mention those if they’re especially relevant.
Now Simmonds goes for all-or-nothing thinking with ” And then common sense began to creep in. The claims about Jesus in the Gospels are fantastic in nature. They would have been the most ground-breaking news in history. And yet extra-biblical history was silent on him – in deference to some pretty regular mundane stuff about 1st Century Judea.”
Well of course they were! Why? For a number of reasons, as pointed out by David Instone-Brewer in “The Jesus Scandals”, miracles would have been an embarrassment to the general populace. Most of them saw miracle workers the way we see televangelists today. For a look at Instone-Brewer’s book see here and for a link to my interview with him on the Deeper Waters podcast, see here.
The reality is, most people would have responded to Jesus the way we do today. Skeptically. Does Simmonds really think Roman authorities are going to go check a claim about a rabbi working miracles in the backwaters of Judea? Messiah claims were a dime-a-dozen. They’d come and gone. Furthermore, this one was crucified. It is not astounding that so few mention Him. It is astounding that any of them do.
As we look further at this she says “There’s a passage about him in Josephus known as the Testimonium Flavinium that even the Catholic Church recognizes as an embarrassing forgery inserted by the early church father Eusebius in the 4th Century.”
It would be nice of Simmonds to tell us where the Catholic church says that it is a forgery. They certainly admit interpolations, as most anyone does, but they do not say the whole passage is a fraud. For an excellent look at this, see the work of the Bede here.
Moving on she says “There was nothing about the most amazing man who was ever supposed to have lived outside of writings from Christian circles. Christians often cite the ‘Jamesien’ passage as, at least, verification of the man’s existence. But farther down the page, it is easy to find the ending that Christians are always so averse to revealing — Jesus, Son of Damneus.” ”
Unfortunately, the only thing the two have in common is a name. Isn’t that something? No. Jesus, according to Bauckham in “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” was the 6th most popular male name. Consider that for women, one in four of them were named Mary. So let’s see why should I think this Jesus in Josephus is the one in the NT and not Simmonds’s?
First off, this case involves identification by the brother instead of by the father, which means James must have had a very well-known brother. Second, this Jesus is said to be the so-called Christ, not something that would be interpolated by a Christian. Third, there is no reference to the other Jesus being called Christ anywhere that I know of or having a brother named James that was executed by Herod.
Simmonds needs to tell scholars of Josephus why they’re wrong, but notice something important. Simmonds has gone from being on fire for Jesus to denying his existence, a path not taken seriously in scholarship. The emotional effort has gone the other way.
On Tacitus she says “The Jesus passage in the Annals of Tacitus is highly persuasive as extrabiblical evidence for Jesus, although it actually says precious little about him, and contains enough ‘red flags’ to remove it from the ‘solid evidence’ category.”
Yes. Precious little except crucified under Pontius Pilate, something that corroborates well with the NT. There is no evidence of interpolation and Simmonds does not mention any of the red flags. Again, scholars of Tacitus across the board would disagree with her here, and yet she persists.
She finishes that part saying “Horrified by atrocities the Bible says were instigated by God, and with no reason to believe the Bible any longer, I had become a non-believer by the time I acquired my B(th.)”
I cannot say I am surprised. Simmonds started as an emotional thinker and that never changed. Her methodology is still the same. It is only the allegiance that differs.
She goes on to say “You have mocked me in wolfpack attacks, gloated, and made extremely biased representations against me, compiled highly selective, and largely irrelevant statements by me, refused to answer my most significant points, and you have become increasingly bitter towards me the more I have stood my ground against you. Your mockery and gloating has been of the most unreasonable nature. As I have said repeatedly, the Bible is supposed to be for the whomsoever. I have not only read it, but I have studied it, soaring my knowledge of it far above that of the average citizen. You have balked at me because I was not born with the sum total of every single apologetics book ever written, most of which disagree with one another, on many key issues. How can you reasonably expect me to be privy to the obscure theories of the likes of JP Holding, and insult me for that? His theories are not obvious, and not shared by many within the theological community. So why do you think I am a ‘moron’ for not being inside his particular head? Moreover, do you think that the average Joe who picks up the Bible and becomes as horrified as I was, is an imbecile, too?”
Simmonds here fails to mention that she came out with both barrels blasting and plays the victim and plays it very well. It is a quite manipulative approach that fits in line with an emotional thinker. Do we expect her to know every book written? No. No one does. We expect her to have done background study. She says she’s done more than the average citizen. I do not dispute that. Yet that is not saying much. No one is born with this knowledge. I and others have worked for it. Note though the ego she has in a statement like “soaring my knowledge of it far above”
Note also her constant speaking to what is obvious. Obvious to who? A 21st century American? A 16th century Chineseman? A 12th century Frenchman? A 5th century German? A 1st century Jew? Who? Also, I have no reason to think the “average Joe” understanding of the Bible is accurate. Why should I? The Bible is a deep and complex work that requires much study.
Simmonds goes on to say “What you don’t realise is that all along, I have been fighting for the psychological freedom of us all. Christianity is the most sadistic and totalitarian philosophy I have ever encountered. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe that.”
And I can just as easily say I have been fighting for the salvation of us all. Simmonds doesn’t realize that passion does not equal truth. Simmonds is arguing against a highly legalistic form of Christianity to which I say “Feel free! Go ahead!” I certainly don’t want any of that in Christianity, but is it what Jesus taught?
Her line continues with “At baseline, it is an assertion that there is an all-powerful cosmic being who created us all, and gave us each incredibly powerful survival instincts, independent of our own request. He then throws all of the rules in opposition to those instincts, and then demands sullen woe from each of us each time we fail to uphold these cruel directives. I’m not talking about murder, theft, or actions which infringe upon the rights of others. I am talking about the most basic of fundamental freedoms. It expressly states that we have no right to our own bodies, no right to our own individual personalities and interests, and no right to our own thoughts. It asserts that we are under surveillance around the clock, and that we can be convicted for even what goes through our minds, and will be cast into eternal torture, lest we spend our lives beating ourselves up about it (repenting.) This is the very definition of tyranny!”
No. This is fundamentalism. Let’s start at the end. I believe in Hell, but not in eternal torture. Most evangelicals don’t, which makes me wonder again how much study was going on.
Second, I do believe God is always watching. So what? Saying you don’t like He’s always watching doesn’t change that He is. I do not know where she gets this idea about rights being denied. I find I have a great right to be myself. I can enjoy my personal interests and like my personality. Of course, there are ways I can improve and if Simmonds thinks no one needs to change their personal temperament, she has problems. I am a married man who enjoys my sexual freedom within the bond of marriage. I do seek to control my thought life since it affects everything else that I do.
Perhaps the real problem is with Simmonds’s thinking. Could she want to do some things Christianity condemns? Possibly. We all do. That’s because we’re sinners. Yet in all of this she has left out any mention of grace. She has the judgment, but not the mercy, a sure indication of fundamentalist thinking.
Simmonds continues with “Its apparent get-out clause is the insidious concept of vicarious redemption, through a brutal and sadistic human sacrifice (that none of us asked for) where this God transformed himself into a man and offered himself up as a sacrifice, to himself, in order to appease himself. However, the ‘sacrifice’ element evades my understanding, given that ‘dying’ doesn’t usually involve coming back to life within 48 hours, with powers greater than ever, (facial morphing ability, bodily intangibility, teleportation ability, and finally — flight!), and then taking off to the stars to become a God for all eternity. With that in mind, the crucifixion/resurrection scenario comes across as much more of a self-imposed transaction rather than a sacrifice. A wise man once said, “At least when Elvis died for my sins, he stayed dead.” ”
Simmonds has a bachelor’s in Theology and butchers the Trinity like this? No one worth their weight in salt in knowledge of the Trinity would phrase it this way. In fact, the Philippian hymn states that before the incarnation Christ had the form of God and did not became a deity. Furthermore, once Jesus offered the sacrifice to God, God was free to do with it what He wanted. My own writing on this can be found here. It is odd that she complains that we didn’t ask for the sacrifice of Jesus. So what? She complains that God sends people to Hell and then when God does something to solve that, she complains about that too saying “We didn’t ask for this!”
She goes on to say “But even this so-called sacrifice wasn’t good enough given that there are too many predestination passages in the Bible to ignore. Simply laughing out loud saying, “Ha, ha, Tanya is a Calvinist” does nothing to address this issue. I’m not a Calvinist in the least. My opinion is that Calvinism is evil too, which brings me to my next point.”
Let’s suppose this is true. If it is true, then oh well. It is dealt with by accepting it. Reality doesn’t change based on what we like. I don’t think her stance is true, but if it is, then I must deal with it. Saying “unfair!” will not change it.
Simmonds goes on to say “I do not believe that the Bible is representative of the truth because I have no reason to believe that it is. But what if a person does believe it? There is a clear distinction between believing something to be true, and WISHING it to be true. I believe that Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden were real people. I believe that the UK is currently suffering its worse financial recession since the 1940s. But that doesn’t mean that I desire them. To wish Christianity to be true is to wish to live as an abject slave to an unconquerable tyrannical dictator, from whom there is absolutely no escape. The moral, sound-minded believer would not wish for this. Rather, he/she would be traumatized by it.”
Considering the poor study done thus far, I’m not surprised, and if Christianity was what Simmonds says it is, I would also not be surprised to hear she doesn’t like it. I wouldn’t like it either. Yet this is not what Christianity is. Christianity is about God’s solving the problem of evil through the work of Israel most exemplified in the ultimate Israel, Jesus Christ, and his reigning as king restoring the world to rights.
Simmonds again continues with “Christianity, through fear and credulity, enslaves the minds of so very many, forcing them into a position where they must become joyous about sacrificing their fundamental freedoms in deference to it. We live in a democracy that provides freedom of choice. “Find Jesus or he will send you to Hell” is the very antithesis of choice. One cannot morally reside in, and enjoy the privileges laid down by that democracy, whilst simultaneously endorsing tyranny, and using coercive persuasion to pressure others into doing likewise.”
Freedom of choice does not mean freedom to choose consequences. In fact, there are some freedoms I do not have. I am not free to murder. If I make that choice, the police will make a choice to respond. The purpose of freedom is to enable us to be good, and that is a freedom Christ brings. It is not “Choose me or Hell!” It is “You are on death row now. Choose me and I’ll get you out!” If Simmonds wants to know what someone goes to Hell for, I’ll tell her.
You go to Hell for your works.
You do not go to Hell for not believing in Jesus.
Now Jesus is the antidote of course. If you believe in Jesus, God judges your salvation based on the work of Christ. If not, God judges you based on your works, and those most be absolutely perfect. If they are not, then you are guilty of divine treason.
In fact, Simmonds has been railing against the God of Christianity for some time. Is she saying if He was real, she would actually want to spend eternity in His presence? If not, then she is freely choosing the alternative. If so, then why does she want to do that after death, but not before?
Not only that, Hell was not really mentioned in the early Christian teaching that often. In a Jewish milleu where the doctrine was known, it was mentioned often, but in the Pauline epistles, there is hardly anything. It’s a strong topic in modern fundamentalist evangelism, but not in the NT.
Simmonds then says “Deep down, I think you know this, and rather than face it, you find yourselves hell-bent on trying to discredit me at every opportunity. Well, you won’t discredit me, as long as reason prevails in our world.”
If Simmonds wishes to point to what her opponents know, she should ascertain that they do. I know of no such thing. I find her case quite flimsy.
Simmonds “Yes, I have a foul temper! It is the passion within that drives me. Spartacus and Boudicca had a similar temperament, as did William Wallace. All were branded as criminals by those whom they fought against.”
So what? I think of the biblical passage about zeal in accordance with knowledge. Simmonds has zeal. No doubt. She does not have knowledge.
Simmonds ends with “But history recalls them as heroes and legends.
I dare you to publish this essay.
I do not see anything in this essay that I consider a serious challenge and wonder why it was a dare to publish it. I instead see a case study in fundamentalist atheism. Let this be a warning to the church. When we do not teach proper education and study, then young people that fall away become like Simmonds.
Do we really want more of that?