A Surrender to Reason

I met Gary Hudson when he was the pastor of a small church he ran out of his home that he shared with his wife and daughter, and I was assigned to Mayport Naval Station near Jacksonville, Florida. I attended his church until I left for my next duty assignment. He struck me as passionate, sure, and dogmatic about his faith. We maintained a short correspondence later. Recently, I became curious about what had happened to him and searched for him. I was surprised at what I found.

Gary is now a guitar luthier and owner of Folkstone Guitars, Inc. in Tallahassee, Florida (http://www.folkstoneguitars.com/index.php). He loves what he is doing now, but had been a Baptist pastor for 25 years having resigned in 2008. A couple of years ago he wrote a book titled, “Surrender to Reason: New Testament studies that disputed faith” which is dedicated to all the people he influenced to believe in the Christian gospel. I contacted him and obtained his book. Having read it, I asked if he would agree to be interviewed generally about it and related topics. He agreed and I would like to thank him for his time and effort. Here is our exchange:

Question: Your difficulties with the Bible began with Matthew 23:35* and the question of whether this verse had conflated two Old Testament prophets, thus exhibiting error. This textual problem has been recognized for centuries and Jerome (347-420) even commented upon it. My question is, so what if there was a textual mistake? Must the Bible be completely and literally true for it to be a Divine text? Can it not be “Divinely inspired” but written down and translated by fallible humans? Many Christian sects believe this to be so.

Answer: Yes, it could have been divinely inspired and still contain textual errors. This is a.k.a. “limited infallibility.”  The point was that I could no longer subscribe to the doctrinal statement of my church and group, i.e., that the Bible is “inerrant” or “infallible” as originally written.  And we would expect only a careful and technical scholar like Jerome to have noted the difficulty. The author of Matthew, who should have known better, made the error nonetheless. As for limited infallibility, it subjectively maintains the Bible as having its teachings or doctrines inspired and fails to demonstrate how or why we should regard such teachings as having any more than human origin.  

Question:  Did you ever consider leaving your church and group for a different Christian denomination that was not so strict on Biblical infallibility?  If not, why not?

Answer: Yes. We visited several SBC [Southern Baptist Church] liberal Baptist churches in Jacksonville. We also considered an Emerging Church group and visited one of their churches in Tallahassee. But the fundamental question of the gospel itself as presented in Romans was occupying my studies at this time shortly after leaving the ministry. These studies led me to question the presentation and defense of the gospel itself in the New Testament and to reject its foundational, philosophical, and Old Testament “support.” I have attended the Tallahassee Unitarian Church over the last ten years a few times and have delivered a few public talks there at their invitation. I still have some close friends there but am not interested in attending the services on a regular basis or becoming a member. I don’t attend church at all anymore because I have absolutely no need, desire, or requirement to do so.

Question: What do you consider to be the origin and then the purpose of the biblical text?

Answer: The question cannot be asked in general without being specific about which biblical text or texts, since there are various origins and theories regarding different books and entire sections of the scriptures. There is no “THE origin or THE purpose of the biblical text.” But like most established religions, the attempt is to tell the story of where we came from and explain why good and bad exist. Unfortunately, these were our first stories and not our best or most accurate.

Question: What is your opinion of the “already-and-not-yet” school of thought regarding Old Testament and New Testament foreshadowing, foretelling, imagery, and prophecy?

Answer: There is no prophetic fulfillment, literally or spiritually. Literal fulfillment is the nature of nearly all prophetic statements in the Bible and is written after the fact in most instances, and spiritual fulfillment is highly subjective.

Question: The bulk of your book focuses on St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. You take great umbrage with his reasoning. But is it correct to analyze Romans almost as a legal brief? When we consider that Paul was trying to spread Christianity (a small sect of Judaism) to non-Jews, as opposed to James and the Jerusalem Christians who were intent on keeping the Judaic law, do we not see it more as a persuasion piece to a particular audience? If so, does this impact your analysis?

Answer: There is no doubt the Book of Romans is intended as a persuasive piece and certainly has been, e.g., the Reformation. But I did not file any mock legal brief against Paul and wouldn’t know how to since law is not my background. I used the tools Paul himself appeals to for his own thesis, i.e., the Old Testament and reason. The stories from the Book of Acts certainly make clear that Paul was trying to spread Christianity, and that he appealed to reason with the Gentiles and to the OT with the Jews, and he in fact addresses BOTH groups in Romans, not just the Gentiles. My Romans section documents dozens of instances where the apostle took the OT out of context historically and theologically, and, where he did not reason clearly nor accurately.  My analysis of Romans was a critical, grammatical-historical exegesis that made some illustrative reference to law.

Question: Do you feel you have applied the same forensic approach to your writing on pp. 9-11 (discussing looking for truth and, especially, the role of “reason”) that you have applied to scripture?

Answer: Yes, as I would expect for anything I put in print.

Question: I was surprised to read that you still read the Bible today, and that Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth) is your favorite book. It is mine, too: https://dispatches.tk/2011/10/29/a-time-for-everything/. After so many years of immersing yourself in the Bible, and the memories it must kindle, why do you still enjoy reading it today?

Answer: For the same reason the Bible is enjoyed and studied by scholars of classic literature. You don’t have to believe Shakespeare was divinely inspired to enjoy the reading. The Bible has many truthful philosophical statements but its contents must be read and processed critically. The Book of Proverbs is loaded with great advice in life, and I not only read it but quote it to others when it can shed appropriate light on issues. Still, this would not and does not make the Bible of divine origin.

Question: You were a pastor for over two decades and influenced many people in that time. The change in your life must have had a profound impact on both you and them. Is there anything you would like to say about that?

Answer: There’s enough stated in the Foreword and closing chapter about the impact on me. As far as I can tell (because many I don’t know the status of since we have lost contact), most of my influence on others to become believers has remained unabated while a few have been enlightened by the book.  I have mailed many free copies to those who have remained in contact over the years.
From the Foreword: “Some evangelicals try to say my Christian conversion was not genuine because if it was, I would not have departed from the faith they subjectively hold dear. Unwilling to accept equally life-changing testimonies within other religions, evangelicals will claim these experiences prove nothing while maintaining only Christian conversion as genuine. It’s just another one of their inconsistent ways to excoriate me when they cannot deal with the facts on the biblical text. An argument often used is to attack me personally another way, and say I am ‘bitter’ or ‘angry at God.’ Rather than face the facts on the text they resort to ad hominem. So, this book is not about me but about issues with the biblical text. It must be said that many Christian believers I came to know over the years are wonderful people. Some remain my friends even though they know I am now a skeptic. This book is not an attack on any of these good people, nor necessarily on the ministry itself and its leaders personally.” (Page 10).
From the closing chapter: “I have accepted reason as my personal savior. It has freed me from religious delusions to see the real world around me. It has made me unafraid to question the canons of Christian belief and think more independently. If God does exist and if I am his creation, he would expect me to properly use the brain he gave me and may even hold me accountable for so doing. Even Christian apologists say, ‘All truth is God’s truth,’ and if there is a God, it could not be otherwise. Therefore, I embrace the truth wherever I find it and wherever it may lead me.” (Page 101).

Final thoughts or ideas you would like to convey?

The book was written primarily for the benefit of those influenced by me in the ministry and to help facilitate a frank, factual, and reasoned approach to the New Testament and its claims for the Christian gospel. My current career in life has kept my mind occupied with my business and making guitar music. Before I drifted age-wise too far away from those ministry years, I wanted to put on paper many of the key thoughts and issues while fresh in mind from my New Testament studies and publish them.

*“That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.” King James Version