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Proposal: Christianity

I committed to the Christianity site proposal because as a skeptic, I'm interested in understanding the why's behind beliefs in Christianity. In other words, I'm more interested in "why do you believe in the Bible" rather than "where does the Bible teach this principle." The types of questions I would want to ask would be questions like these:

  • Why is the Holy Bible considered a divine work?
  • How do Christians differentiate divine inspiration from regular thoughts and feelings?

Would these types of questions be on-topic for a Christianity Q&A site? Would they be welcomed?

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I am a Christian and I believe a general Christianity Q&A site will be very challenging to moderate because of the question of authority. To put it simply, not all Christian traditions rely on the same set of authority for answering questions of faith.

To give you an idea of what a moderator would be facing, here are some accepted authorities in general order of how universal they are:

  • The ancient creeds—in particular the Nicaean and Apostles' creeds. One or both of these are accepted by all Christians. However, there are religious movements (not naming names) who call themselves Christian, but either don't accept the creeds or don't seem to take them seriously.

  • The books of the New Testament. While the canon has been set since about the 2nd Century, there are still people and movements who add or subtract from the standard list. I suspect that soon, if it hasn't already started, there will be Christians suggesting adding various Gnostic writings to the canon. Major theologians have at various times suggested removing books (most commonly James).

  • The Hebrew Bible. While there is minor controversy surrounding the canon (most Christians don't accept or rely the books of the Apocrypha, hence the name), there is considerable controversy about how Old Testament applies. Most Christians believe that Jesus established a covenant that supersedes the covenants God made with Abraham, Moses and the nation of Israel. For that reason, it's usually not strictly applied. But sometimes the kosher rules and so on, are held to apply by certain traditions.

  • The Holy Spirit. Theoretically, the Holy Spirit is an accepted authority by everyone who accepts the creeds and the New Testament. One the other hand, and this connects directly with your second question, some traditions hold that some manifestations of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Bible no longer occur and others hold that additional manifestations are common. Finding common ground on this authority, sadly, has been nearly impossible.

  • Church tradition. I'm showing my bias by putting this item so far down the list. Some traditions have traditionally held that ancient church traditions can override even scripture in certain cases, if you get my meaning. Other traditions find little additional authority in church fathers because they were guided by some combination of the creeds, scripture and the Holy Spirit, which are all still available to us.

  • Church authority. When you boil it down to root causes, almost every church division results from disagreements over who has authority within the church hierarchy. At this level, nearly all appeals to authority will produce more heat than light. Basing a Q&A site on one particular of these authorities (such as Roman Catholicism) seems like it might work, however.

  • Personal conviction. In our post-modern world, personal conviction has become a source of authority, not just within Christianity, but in most "religious" topics. Personally, I'm convicted that most examples of appeals to personal conviction are attempts to avoid conviction that arises from one of the other sources of authority. (Yes, I see the irony here.)

If a Christianity site is established, I strongly suggest searching for an agreeable set of authority which is laid out clearly in the FAQ or such. The list above minus the last 2 or 3 items may be a good start. Another approach would be to adopt the position C. S. Lewis took in Mere Christianity, a recent statement of our common belief.


As a more direct answer to the type of questions proposed in this question:

I believe that either the site would need to establish a framework for answering questions or the questioner must provide a framework that they would agree to. For instance, the Greater Catechism asks:

Q: How know you [the Bible] to be the word of God? 

A: By the testimony of God’s Spirit, working faith in my heart to close with that
   heavenly majesty, and clear divine truth, that shineth in them.

For some, the authority that answer appeals to is valid and for others, it isn't. But within it's own framework, it's a valid answer.

Another framework might be to ask how the particular books of the Bible became be seen as divinely inspired works. That would put the question in the framework of history and church tradition which might provide more satisfactory answers.

The later question could be answered if the framework of the Bible or the authority of some particular church were chosen, but would be a poll if no more specific framework than personal experience existed.

  • Thanks for your very thoughtful answer. Do you come to the same conclusion as @Dori that such questions as mine would be counter-productive on the proposed Christianity site, then? I suppose if certain givens are laid down in a FAQ, questions like mine could be avoidable. – Jacob Jun 7 '11 at 20:55
  • @Jacob: I commented on Dori's answer and I'll address your questions more directly in this answer momentarily. – Jon Ericson Jun 7 '11 at 21:32
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We will have to hash out these issues early in beta, but I can offer you my experience regarding the ONLY way these sites can remain viable as a Q&A.

At it's very core, a site like "Christianity" is a site FOR Christians, or at least a site for (quote, unquote) "committed Christians and 'experts' in Christianity." It's not like we're going to be checking credentials at the door, but this site is NOT there to discuss broader issues of religious belief, nor do the participants expect to be challenged on why they believe what they do. That is not the purpose of the site.

If you are one who disagrees in matters of belief and opinion in these matters, then the site is not for you.

It's not that far of a stretch really, if you think about it: We don't let PC fans challenge the Ask Different community asking "Why don't you just use Window?!"; People who think video games are a big ol' waste of time don't frequent Gaming SE; Jewish Life & Learning is to discuss Jewish practices, not issues; We don't let the classic "religious wars" reign in Stack Overflow.

If you are more interested in "why do you believe in the Bible" rather than "where does the Bible teach this principle," I would suggest that this will not be the site for you.

  • 1
    Thanks; if this is the community's consensus, maybe that should be added to the site's definition. Currently, it's labeled as "Proposed Q&A site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more." Being one of "those interested in learning more," it looked like questions of faith might be accepted. – Jacob Jun 7 '11 at 18:11
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    At the same time, "those interested in learning more" are free to participate, as long as they remember they are "interested in learning more". Meaning, don't claim to be here to learn more, and then supplant actual cited consensus. Don't come and say "God doesn't exist". That's not useful at all. However, at the same time, I don't want to discourage people from learning more, as it is in my best interest to provide that information. Again, it's the possible issue of one wanting to learn more acting as an expert on alternate philosophies. – Lee Louviere Jul 7 '11 at 22:04
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The answer to your second, seemingly more contentious, question sounds like something St. Thomas Aquinas would ask about. And I'd imagine any question he proposed from the Summa Theologica would be fair game on a Q&A site about Christianity.

In fact, this question sounds very similar: http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1012.htm#article10

Note, this is not proposed as an answer which would be inappropriate here. But only to further the discussion as to whether or not questions from the Summa are all fair game in a site about Christianity.

  • I'm sorry you see it as contentious; if Christians claim that their faith is valid due to the Bible and that the Bible is true because it's manifest to them through the Holy Spirit, then understanding how Christians determine differentiate divine from regular feelings is essential to understanding their faith. I'm thinking that this site won't survive if people are overly touchy and see challenging questions as being contentious. – Jacob Jun 8 '11 at 15:52
  • @Jacob, no I don't see it as contentious at all. I got the feeling from Dori and Robert's answers though that they did. – Peter Turner Jun 8 '11 at 15:55
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Ultimately the second question would fail to pass the test because SE "is not a forum."

Answers like that are personal answers.

Now, you may rephrase and say, "Are there any examples of how people in the Bible discerned divine communication over thoughts?" And that can be answered. In fact, referencing Samuel is a good start.

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