Dr. Arend Hintze and I had a conversation on Atheist Central a few months ago about whether or not theology is logical, and we decided to continue it on our blogs. Although this is a fascinating subject to me, it occurred to me that a blog post titled, "Is theology logical?" would probably bore most people to tears, so I decided to take it in a more relevant direction (hopefully you don't mind, Arend). Have we outgrown Christianity, and what role does logic play in making that determination?
The issue of whether we take the Bible "literally" often comes up, but this is a misleading question because nobody takes the Bible completely literally. For example, when we read John 6:61, where Jesus says, "I am the living bread that came down out of heaven," none of us (I think) pictures a winged loaf of bread soaring down from the sky. We all know that it is symbolic, and a literal interpretation would be incorrect. The correct way to interpret it would be to look at it in the context of the whole Bible, and if we do so we will understand the deeper meaning, that Christ is our spiritual sustenance. In the Old Testament, he was the manna the Israelites ate in the desert, and in the New Testament, he is the bread of Holy Communion. But Deuteronomy 8:3 and Matthew 4:4 tell us that bread is just symbolic: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." We live physically by food, but spiritually by the word of God.
The correct interpretation of that verse was not literal; it was symbolic. And we interpreted it in light of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament--in the context of the whole Bible. We didn't just take it at face value.
So the question really should be whether or not we take the Bible seriously. Is it the inspired word of God? That is, do we think it's objectively true or do we dismiss what we don't like or understand?
That is fundamentally a logical question, because if we don't think it's true, why do we believe it? There is absolutely no reason to believe something false, and the Bible makes significant statements of fact. It says that Jesus was the Son of God and that he rose from the dead. Furthermore, it claims that he is the Way and the Truth and the Life--not just a Nice Idea.
A while back I read an interview of Christopher Hitchens where the interviewer claimed to be a Christian. But she didn't really believe that Jesus was the Son of God or that he had risen from the dead, so Hitchens had to break the news to her that she was not a Christian. And I relate more to his logical thinking than to her mishmash of vaguely Christian ideas. As C.S. Lewis said, "Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important."
So for Christians to pick and choose what to believe in the Bible is not logical because it implies that it doesn't contain objective truth. And if it isn't objectively true, we might as well reject the whole thing.
Is the alternative to take everything literally? No, because not everything is intended to be literal, and some things may be both symbolic and literal, with an emphasis on the symbolic. The New Testament is a fulfillment and interpretation of the Old, which foreshadows, typifies, and prophesies Christ. If we read the whole Bible we will understand the context and interpretation of many difficult parts. There is an objectively correct way to interpret everything and we can find it if we read the Bible, letting the Holy Spirit instruct us.
The question often comes up whether something in the Old Testament actually happened, and although I generally assume that it did, logically that is not the important thing (nor can we prove or disprove it). When Jesus said in his parable, "A certain man had two sons . . ." we don't immediately start asking, "Is this really certain? Who is this man? Are you sure he didn't have three sons? Why no daughters?" Some will even say that if something didn't happen exactly the way it's portrayed in the Old Testament, God lied. But that is a false dichotomy, because a literal interpretation might be incorrect, like the "living bread out of heaven" example. The Bible is exactly the way God wants it, but we have to read it correctly, without logical fallacies. Logic has been defined as "a tool for distinguishing between the true and the false," so of course we have to use good logic while studying the word of God. And when we do, it makes a lot more sense.
If a particular interpretation of the Bible is self-evidently inconsistent with reality, we have two options aside from rejecting the Bible: We can pretend that the problem doesn't exist or we can take that as a clue that our interpretation might be wrong. To me the latter option is a greater expression of faith than the former, because it says that the Bible can withstand our most rigorous and honest scrutiny and will only bring us into a deeper and more consistent understanding of it. The former attitude is to shrink back from what such scrutiny might reveal. How can we insult God by doing that? Hebrews 10:38 says: "But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back My soul has no pleasure in Him."
The word of God has to be fundamentally logical if it is true, and it has to make more--not less--sense the more we grow up intellectually. This is why nobody seriously considers the primitive polytheistic religions when they are searching for truth. Holding to a childish faith after we reach adulthood is like trying to squeeze into the clothes we wore as children. We will look ridiculous and it will garner us no favors with God. 1 Corinthians 14:20 says: "Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; yet in evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature." And mature thinking will, with the help of God, bring us ever closer to the true meaning of his word.