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Honouring the Bible

Over the last couple of weeks, it may look as if my blog posts have been hammering the Bible; the very Scriptures which are known and loved by billions all around the world – including myself.

But nothing could be further from the truth. As with all my posts that might appear critical of the Bible, I am simply trying to demonstrate the problems that occur when people – we everyday, ordinary humans – use and interpret the Scriptures in ways they were never meant to be used or interpreted.

You might rightly say, ‘Who are you to say that people are reading it wrongly? Surely they can read it how they like! Who’s to say what’s right and wrong?’. And I would agree. No one person or organisation has the monopoly on all the Bible’s meaning and truth.

Rather than demonstrating the futility of it all, instead it actually illustrates God’s wisdom in giving us such a broad book from which to draw our own spiritual conclusions. God hasn’t set it all down in black-and-white; if Scripture interpretation were that easy or if it was really that ‘plain’ in its meaning, then we would not have 40,000+ Church denominations, all of whom would claim to have the correct revelation and all of whom would call themselves Christian. So, here’s a piece by Richard Murray that hopefully wraps up the thoughts and ideas of the last few posts, on a positive note:

“Let’s avoid Bible bashing.

“It’s certainly okay to bash carnal man’s way of WRONGFULLY READING the Bible, but never the Bible itself.

“Don’t worship it either.

“But do honor and respect the supernatural promises it carries, the blood of the martyrs who died so that you could have it, and, most of all, the wondrous narrative imbedded in it which reveals the life of Jesus Christ through anointed “allegory,” terrific “types,” brilliant “shadows,” miraculous “metaphors” and spiritual “symbols.”

“Better yet, rescue the Bible from literalists by learning to read it by the Holy Spirit, the way the early church fathers did. You won’t be sorry. There is MORE to the Bible than meets the eye, not LESS.

“We have to be careful to not have a theology based on resentment. What you have resentment TOWARD, you will not be able to receive truth FROM.

“Don’t resent the Scripture.

“Revive it!”

–  Richard Murray

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An Excellent Series on the Bible

I was a regular reader of the blog ‘The Evangelical Liberal‘, written by a chap called Harvey, although he hasn’t published much for a while. Anyway, I have found that I agree with much of what he writes; in fact, I find that he often actually puts down on [virtual] paper the exact same things I am thinking, but I have to admit that he expresses them much better than I do!

Fairly recently, Harvey has published a series on the Bible and the way we read and interpret it.

You know I prefer to do things that I see Father doing (John 5:19). I believe that in this day, God would have us read and believe the Bible through the ‘lens’ of His Spirit; this is as it always should have been. And I believe that of all the ‘Great Deceptions’ that people claim will happen, none is greater than the rubbish that is spouted by many people who call themselves Christians (and I am no judge of that) but abuse the Bible terribly, corrupting its message to others. Fair enough, they can believe what they want, but to impose those beliefs on others too, usually for monetary profit….think televangelists, and you will know the sorts of people I am talking about.

And, after pulling the Bible apart, as it were, do we find that the Bible is still useful? Is it true that if one part of the Bible is wrong, you might as well throw it out or use it as a doorstop?

In this series, then, which is reblogged here with his permission (thanks bro!), Harvey examines, in a number of articles, the ways in which we look at the Bible. Please do listen to the Spirit as you read this blog. And if you hear Him speak, as always, do not harden your heart.

Rethinking the Bible – an intelligent introduction to the series

Bible posts Round-Up – where he provides links to articles he has written before on various Bible issues

The Bible – The Good Book, or a very bad book? – a “…look at the worst stuff in the Bible and the terrible uses Scripture has sometimes been put to”

Is the Bible the Inspired Word of God? – A fascinating article on a fascinating subject

Is the Bible inerrant? – This is the real crux. Is the bible ever wrong?

The Bible – truly perfect and perfectly true? – Ideas on perfection

The Bible – a question of interpretation? – Making sense of it all

Sola scriptura – is the Bible really all we need? – Is the Bible alone sufficient?

What does the Bible really say about inerrancy? – An epilogue giving an analysis of the ‘inerrancy’ proof-texts

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Confused by the Bible?

My online friend Dave Carrington posted a real gem on a Facebook group we are part of, and I wanted to share it with you.

As background, let me explain that many Christians, myself included, were always taught that when reading the Bible, we should ask the Spirit to tell us how that particular passage* relates to us today, and how to apply it in our daily living. While this is an admirable sentiment, it can be extremely confusing because the Spirit may not be speaking through that particular passage you have been given/randomly turned to/whatever on that day, and so we have to try hard to wrest some sort of meaning from the passage even though that’s not really on today’s menu. As I have said before, the point at which any given Bible passage becomes the Word of God is when the Spirit makes it real and relevant to us now, and sometimes it might be that He’s just not saying anything through that particular passage at that time. In those circumstances, either ask for guidance or simply go and read something else. The truth is that while the Bible is indeed an incredible book, or indeed library of books, it is not a magical grimoire of spells and incantations to enable us to summon our god like some sort of spirit. And it can be confusing for some people when the things they expect from a ‘plain reading’ of the Bible simply don’t happen. You see, God is a person, not a book, and certainly not a vending machine, and He speaks as He wills; we can’t force Him ito our schedules! In these times, Christians are indeed re-awakening to the significance of the Bible, but under the much more relevant aegis of sensible, intelligent and spiritual interpretation under the Holy Spirit, and discarding the old ‘one size fits all’ approach. It’s so much better, because God gets more of a chance to use the Scriptures to speak to us personally, rather than generally.

So with all that in mind, let me pass you over to Dave for him to flesh out those ideas:


“There are things in the Bible 1) that have eternal significance to a universal audience. There are things 2) written to specific groups for specific reasons at specific times. There are things 3) that are historical alone, and things 4)that are not at all literal but allegorical in nature.

“Of course we can learn and gain certain wisdom from ANY of these by the Spirit of God- BUT when we don’t understand the base difference in these writings, we will a) be confused about our own life, b) confused about our relationships with others, c) confused about the nature and character of our Loving Creator/Father, and d) trying to apply things to our situations that have absolutely no application in our life whatsoever.

“If you’ve been taught that everything in the Bible applies to you currently or is somehow tied to future events in your life… then you have been taught in (confusing) error. And if so… you are not alone.

“Sometimes we don’t know just how confused we are until the scales are removed from our eyes and we can see TRUTH that SO greatly changes our vision awareness & perspective, that we are now able to see things that were always ‘there’, but were blocked (in our awareness) by things not meant to be there at all.

“Holy Spirit is moving some obstructional things that have hindered our vision and were never supposed to be there… so our awareness can be changed to behold the things that are; The things that are true.

“The Awakening. It’s here. You’ll see.”

– Dave Carringer


*Note: ‘Passage’, not ‘portion’. I really can’t stand it when people refer to a Bible passage as a ‘portion of Scripture’, like it’s a cake or a bag of chips…and like there’s not enough to go around…

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For My Inerrantist Friends…

“For My Inerrantist Friends: Why Appeals to Inerrancy are Totally Ineffective in Discussion”

One of the most refreshing Christian blogs ‘out there’ in the blogsphere is Jesus Without Baggage. I know the author will be reading this – hi Tim! – but it’s true. Tim writes with a perfect blend of incisiveness, perception and gentleness, without judging and without condemning even those whose ideas he has issue with.

Anyway, less of the hero-worship 😉

The doctrine of Biblical inerrancy claims that the Bible (at least in its original form, whatever that means) is completely without error or fault.

In this blog post, Tim writes on the problems with using inerrancy as a valid argument, and he raises an excellent set of points, which are well made and well explained. The article also dovetails nicely with his article on ‘Proof-Texting’, which I shared some months ago.


 

For My Inerrantist Friends: Why Appeals to Inerrancy are Totally Ineffective in Discussion

Frequently, I receive comments from those who disagree with me—and this is as it should be! I enjoy dialog with those who disagree with me because I never learn anything if I only talk with people who already agree!

However, it is often impossible to have real dialog with some inerrantists because their main arguments are based on inerrancy, and no response contrary to inerrancy is satisfactory to them. If we cannot discuss an issue without appealing to inerrancy then it is no discussion at all for those of us who do not accept inerrancy.

I, myself, used to be a committed inerrantist. But I no longer am so appeals to inerrancy have no persuasive value to me—at all. And it seems that inerrancy is the only argument some inerrantists have. I think the only place where appeal to inerrancy works well is when both discussion partners share the same presupposition of inerrancy.

Now, I do enjoy dialog with inerrantists, just as I do with anyone else, as long as they can argue from other points; but if they cannot defend their positions without appealing to (or assuming) inerrancy the discussion just can’t go forward. The issue at hand is no longer the stated topic but, instead, becomes inerrancy itself. Of course we can talk about inerrancy–but it is its own topic.

Unless we get beyond appeals (or assumptions) of inerrancy we cannot deal with the issue at hand, as I recently discussed in a previous article.

I’m not being stubborn, I am just saying that appeals to inerrancy are ineffective arguments to me. So argue from a different direction.

blog Bible Inerrancy

The Inadequacy of Proof-texting

Proof-texting forms a lot of the argument for inerrantists. I love discussing biblical passages, but simply presenting a biblical passage as an argument, as though it is sufficient proof within itself, gets us nowhere.

And sharing a biblical passage without comment is of little value. Do you think I haven’t already read that passage—usually times without number? Do you expect me to be surprised by it? If you are going to use a biblical passage for support, then explain what you think the passage means and how it is pertinent to the conversation—without reference to inerrancy. Otherwise the proof-text is just hanging out there taking up space.

Context is very important, and stand-alone phrases and verses lifted out and offered without context do damage to the context.

Even less useful is making a statement followed by chapter and verse references alone without including the text or indicating what it says. If a dialoger doesn’t provide the text, or a link to the text, then I am not likely to look it up.

Accusations Inerrantists make as Arguments against Progressive Believers

Progressive believers encounter a number of common accusations from inerrantists. These accusations often come when proof-texting doesn’t work but are sometimes used a first response.

1. A very common accusation is that progressive believers are cherry pickers—choosing what they like and neglecting what they don’t like. This is simply not true—not for me anyway. As I have questioned beliefs I had been taught (which were all based on inerrancy), I worked hard examining each belief to determine if the proof-texts used for it were solid and to consider alternative perspectives.

Now, I think some people ARE cherry-pickers, there are cherry-pickers on both sides, but I don’t think this is the norm. Nor do I think most believers conveniently choose what they like and ignore what they don’t like. Rather, I think for the most part believers on both sides sincerely believe what they say.

2. A similar accusation is that progressives make the Bible into whatever we want it to be. I can say that reading the Bible without assumptions of inerrancy is not such a shallow exercise as this; it is a lot more work! An inerrantist can simply read a passage without regard to context or genre and decide what it means. Progressive believers must dig deeper.

3. If you can’t trust the whole Bible how can you trust any of it? I approach the Old Testament as Jewish national literature which forms a big part of the cultural background of Jesus and his audience. It is much like reading an American Literature book. We will likely find the Declaration of Independence, a Martin Luther King piece, a story from Huckleberry Finn, Jonathan Edward’s Sinner’s in the Hands of an Angry God, and perhaps Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe. All of these are important to the American heritage, but if we find inconsistencies do we throw out the entire collection?

The New Testament is the story of Jesus and his impact on his earliest followers. I look at each part of of the Bible individually, analyze it according to what it is, and use the results of scholarship.

4. You need to read the Bible! I guess the assumption is that if I read the Bible I must come to the same conclusions they do. I was ‘saved’ in a fundamentalist church when I was 7, and by the time I was 9 or 10 I began reading the Bible voraciously. I am now 63 and I pretty much still do that–along with commentaries and other biblical tools. So that’s over 50 years of fairly intense Bible-reading.

5. You didn’t answer my question. What inerrantists usually mean is that I didn’t answer their question to their satisfaction, so they often pose the same challenge over and over even after it has been addressed. Because, to an inerrantist, everything eventually boils down to inerrancy; and any answer inconsistent with inerrancy is unsatisfactory.
These are not arguments; they are only accusations.

Let’s Dialogue!

I like talking respectfully with inerrantists. So, if you are an inerrantist and want to talk about issues—let’s talk! But be aware that appeals to inerrancy will not be effective.


Click here to go to the original article

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Should We Worship the Bible?

In blog posts in the past, I have written about how some believers seem to put the Bible on a pedestal, above God. I’m sure they would deny that, but that’s what it amounts to. God is constrained by what the Bible says (or appears to say) about Him.

But consider very carefully: if in any way the Bible is given superiority over God, then that can be thought of as Bible worship; a kind of idolatry (setting something up in the place of God), or, more specifically, what’s known as ‘Bibliolatry’.

It’s worth considering personally and individually how you place the Bible. If it’s above God; if what God is and is not allowed to say is dictated by the Bible, then that is Bibliolatry. And it’s serious – serious in that if you persist in this idolatry, you will be missing out on most of the joy of the proper Relationship with God that is yours as a birthright.

So, think about it carefully.

But don’t dwell on it too long, because focusing on ‘sin’ is one of the easiest ways to take your gaze away from the One to Whom it should always be directed, namely Jesus.

Anyhow, less of my goings on. I wanted to share with you another great piece by Mike Douglas, which covers this very subject. Over to Mike:

“The Bible shouldn’t be worshiped. It should help us seek the One worthy of worship. Much of this post is inspired by a similar blog by John Pavlovitz in March 2015 combined with my thoughts in my words. I am indebted to him for it.

The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.

“You’ve heard that phrase before. You’ve read it on bumper stickers. It’s an odd mantra that often describes the odd relationship some Christians have with our Bible. Many of us have made The Bible the single pillar of our faith, but not all of us have a complete grasp on what it says.

“We’ll agree without question that it is filled with words from the mouth of God, and yet we can’t really be bothered to crack it open all that often. We so crave a Bible that we can use quickly and neatly to support our various arguments and discussion points, but that Bible doesn’t exist.

“That doesn’t mean the Bible isn’t true, or divinely inspired, or “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” It just means that it is not a simple book and should not be treated like one.

A Problem

“Rather than admit the problems we face in understanding the Bible, too many Christians simply hide behind some reactionary, line-drawing, black and white, all-or-nothing rhetoric. The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it. But we often come to our positions without ever taking the time to truly understand what the Bible says. To name a few: same sex attraction, politics, war, racism.

“That’s because the Bible has become for many, something to be worshiped, rather than something to help us seek the One worthy of worship. The Trinity is now Father, Son and Holy Scripture. We’ve come to see the Bible as the destination of our spiritual journey, rather than essential reading on the way to the Promised Land.

“You can see this everywhere; Facebook, and on talk shows, and from pulpits. Many use the Bible like an oversized power tool that we couldn’t be bothered to consult the manual for.

Ouch! I know. But show me I’m wrong.

And we can’t disagree. If we do, the other is obviously wrong and must be criticized vehemently. And the rest of the world looks on shaking its head.

For Jesus followers, we must accept that those who have come to a different conclusion about the Bible, often have done so through the same study, reflection, and sincere desire to know the very heart of God that we have.

THE Problem

“The real problem, is putting the Bible on the same level as God; something the Bible itself never asks us to do. It is not, as we so often say, “The Word of God” from John 1:1, JESUS IS. Look it up!

“Additionally, we’ve decided that The Bible speaks everything that God ever has or ever will say, and that He’s said it exactly as we’ve determined, translated, and believe it to be. In other words, by elevating the Bible to the same level as God, and by leaning on our own understanding of its 66 books, we’ve crafted a God that seems to think a lot like we do, vote like we vote, hate who we hate and bless what we bless.

“Ouch? Sorry. But then again…

“The question we need to ask ourselves as modern believers, is whether we really trust God to speak clearly and directly to someone, independent of the Bible. Sometimes it seems we believe that the words of the Bible are, as it says, “living and active “, but believe that God is not. The inevitable outcome of thinking the Bible is the last and only word, is a God who is no longer living.

“If we read the Scriptures like the will of a dead relative who is never coming back, then yes, we will cling to them as the sole voice through which He speaks. However, if we trust in a Jesus who is alive, and in a God, who is present through His Holy Spirit, we can be confident that His voice is not confined to 66 books.

“Regardless of how much we trust and revere it, the Bible can never be God

“And it doesn’t need to be.

“God is God, and the only one capable of being so. The Bible and God can never ever be the exact same thing, and if we can’t honestly admit that, we’ll never be able to have meaningful discussion about either.

“So, what do we do with the fact that the Bible is not God?

“The number one use for the Bible is to introduce us to Jesus. To see what He has done for us and see the model He left for us to follow. That model is Him. As Bill Johnson says, ‘Jesus is perfect theology’. That means, simply, for your theology to be correct, it must be reflected in the life, words, actions and love Jesus demonstrated while on earth.

“Then, and only then:

  1. We cherish it, as a photo album of the family of faith we come from.
  2. We dig deeply into it, finding the treasures to be found there.
  3. We study it, until we can clearly see the character of God.
  4. We strip away time, tradition, language, and culture, to find the truths that transcend time and apply to our lives. That’s often different than literal truth.
  5. We see the faith, the character, and the mistakes of those who’ve come before us, to help us as we walk this journey.

“As Christians, we should read, respect, and when convicted, obey the Bible, but we should never worship it.”

Original post can be seen here.

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Lee O’Hare on the Bible

Here’s the brilliant Christian writer and pastor Lee O’Hare, writing about the emphasis of ‘the Bible over Jesus’, which is a prevalent point of view in mainstream Evangelical thought (although most would deny it!):

“The foundational and essential problem with the popular theological system of modern fundamentalist/evangelical Christianity which gives us so many doctrines and passionate beliefs that are so contrary to the message and Person of Jesus (such as penal substitutionary atonement, belief in a “hell” of eternal torture, a perverse emphasis upon the wrath and justice of God over His love and mercy, etc.) is that they have deified and actually worship the Bible as the ultimate standard of all Truth and they bow down before and submit their hearts and minds to a crass literal and flat interpretation believing every word and phrase therein to be the very “Word of God” regardless of how it may directly contradict what Jesus (who is the only true Word of God) taught and revealed about the true character and nature of God.

“In short, they have traded the worship and surrender of their lives to a book rather than to the Lord of Life Himself, Jesus Christ, the true and only Word of God– the very One who alone is the visible image of the invisible God and the “exact representation of His being” (Col. 1:14, Heb. 1:3), the One who said “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 1:14). This is nothing short of idolatry — the worship and deification of a thing, i.e., a book written by men, rather than the true and living God.

“Please do not take this to mean I do not greatly love, appreciate and value the Bible. I do, in fact, believe it to be inspired and it is the primary and essential way we learn about Jesus. But the point is to remember that it is the scriptures that testify of Jesus and not the other way around. HE is the focus and the purpose of all that is in the Bible. And unless we read and interpret it through the interpretive lens of who He is and what He has revealed about the Father we will take away images and portrayals of God that are completely unworthy of Him. As long as I am reading the Bible through the interpretive lens and filter of Jesus Himself it has an awful lot of truth to reveal to me.”

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What Sort of Bible Would You Like?

Yes, I love my Bible. No other book that I have read (and I have read many) speaks to me about God better than the Bible does. And yet, I am aware of its limitations. As we have seen in this series, the Bible is not God, and should not be revered to the point of being idolised – the line between these two states can often be quite blurry.

But the main thing for me is that this enigmatic, ancient, complex, terrifying, encouraging, feel-good, feel-bad, feel-terrible, uplifting, edifying. life-changing tome can be interpreted in so many ways. I personally use two main Bibles; here they are, a 1939-printing King James Version and a 2008 – printing NIV which uses the better 1979 translation.

I also use a copy of The Message. The idea behind all these different translations, for me, is that I can get a better handle on the meanings of many passages of Scripture without having to look at the original Greek; however, I can also do that if required, having had a classical education.

But that’s all about translation. It’s a different beast entirely from interpretation and application. What does this passage mean, and what does it mean in my life today? Sure, translation is an important part of interpretation, but to me the key is this:

We cannot read the Old Testament (or even the New) while ignoring the life, teaching and example of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

In other words, we need to take into account what Jesus said, did and demonstrated about God’s nature, and interpret the Bible – and especially the Old Testament – in that light; through a ‘Jesus Lens’, if you like. You see, there are so many contradictory and conflicting ideas of the nature of God in the Bible that we often don’t know which way to turn. Which of these two apparantly contradictory passages is ‘correct’, if either? Jesus, then, is the standard by which we must weigh all of Scripture. (This, I feel is what 2Tim 2:15 speaks of when it says about ‘rightly dividing’ the word of truth – although I appreciate that this passage may not necessarily be referring to the Bible per se).

Here, then, is Jeff Turner on this very subject. This is a reprint of a recent Facebook post of his; he is well worth following on Facebook and his insights are always excellent. I don’t know how he does it. Well actually I do, but I’m not telling (it should be pretty obvious, really!)

Over to Jeff:

Would you like a feminist Bible? I could give you that, using only the Bible.

Would you like a misogynistic Bible? I could give you that, using only the Bible.

Would you like a gay-affirming Bible? I could give you that, using only the Bible.

Would you like a gay-bashing Bible? I could give you that, using only the Bible.

Would you like an anti-slavery Bible? I could give you that, using only the Bible.

Would you like a pro-slavery Bible? I could give you that, using only the Bible.

Would you like a pro-child sacrifice Bible? I could give you that, using only the Bible.

Would you like an anti-child sacrifice Bible? I could give you that, using only the Bible.

Would you like an angry, violent God? I could give you that, using only the Bible.

Would you like a loving, forgiving, non-violent God? I could give you that, using only the Bible.

The point? We can paint any portrait of God we desire, and only ever dip into the pallet the Bible provides us with to do so. The raw materials are there for us to craft any image of the divine we’d like to, and to therefore justify any action or attitude we’d like to. One will not have to necessarily go “against the Bible” in order to craft a certain image either. Yet one person’s image of choice contradicts another’s, and both were able to craft their respective images without ever having to go “against the Bible.” Both will have piles of proof texts to help prove their points, and neither will have to have taken them out of their contexts.

Humans, left to interpret the Bible on their own, will do so to their own hurt, as we have seen thousands of times throughout history. The Christian has the responsibility, not of simply reading what’s on the page and assuming its 100%, inherent truthfulness, but of reading every statement, prediction, prophesy, and exhortation in light of the God who is revealed in Jesus. I may be able to “prove” that God is pro-violence using only the Bible, but I will never be able to prove such a thing using Jesus. And so on and so forth, ad infinitum.

The Christian’s interpretive lens must ever be the person of Jesus, or we are just one more group using their sacred text to create the God that they wish was, regardless of what God actually is.

Here is the link to the original Facebook post.

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Is Your Bible an Idol?

Here’s a great piece about idolising the Bible above God. It’s from the ‘Unfundamentalists’ blog, and is written by Darrell Lackey:

“The Bible is not God, nor do symbols on a page contain God. God is not hiding in the ink or paper molecules/atoms of the Bible. God existed before the Bible. Every time we read or quote a passage of Scripture in an authoritative way, it doesn’t mean God is speaking either to us or through us. It simply means we are reading symbols on a page that represent meanings, which we then interpret. Whether or not we truly understand the meaning or purpose of those symbols is something else entirely. It’s possible I am idolizing my understanding of those symbols, rather than worshipping (or even interpreting correctly) what they may be pointing toward.

“A person could memorize the entire Bible. They could quote a Scripture verse for every problem, argument, or issue at hand. One could study the Bible deeply every day, for a lifetime. One could do all this and never know the God of whom it speaks. One could do this and be a mean, angry, and selfish person. One could do this and never lift a finger for another human being. One could do this and be nothing more than a judgment machine, handing out judgments, opinions, and confident assertions about the world and everyone else.

“How do I know this? Because I’ve experienced it. I know some of these people. I stopped being impressed by people who’ve memorized a lot of Scripture a long time ago. Why? Because I knew too many of them who were awful people.

“Bible knowledge will never substitute for a relationship with the subject of that book. Imagine a woman named Susan. Suppose I have a book about her life. I could read all day long about Susan and memorize much of the information. I might even fall in love with the Susan I read about.

“However, it may be the words, the description, the sense I get from the book in my own mind that I’m actually in love with. Not Susan. I’ve fooled myself. I’m actually in love with my knowledge of Susan—my mental picture of her. I might think to myself, other people know things about her too, but not as much as I do. I love how much I know about her (see the problem there?).

“However, unless I actually met Susan and spent time with her and got to know her personally, outside that book, I DO NOT REALLY KNOW SUSAN.

“An anticipated response: “But if the Bible is the primary way to know Jesus, if he reveals himself, his thinking, his desires, what he wants from us, in that book, isn’t that what is really happening—we are in fact meeting and knowing him through this book?”

“First, note how this type of response situates the person contextually in a time (modern) and place (America/the West) where the Bible as we know it is common and readily accessible—as if our time and location (a short blip on the radar screen of history) was the pinnacle of wisdom on the subject. The response forgets the first Christians (or the Hebrews before), who did not have what we think of as the complete Bible today. In fact, such would not exist until several centuries after Christ. And guess what, they still knew Jesus, they still knew God. Jesus did not need for a complete Bible to be present before he communicated with his people.

“The first Christians had the Hebrew Scriptures and the Apostle’s letters in circulation, but this was not a literate culture—most could not read. They came to know Jesus through the spoken words and lives of others, not primarily from a book or Bible as we know it.

“As Australian systematic theologian Geoff Thompson has noted:

‘…the fundamentals of Christian faith were already in place in creeds, liturgies and summary statements of faith before the extent of the Christian Scriptures was settled. It was not the Bible which produced Christian belief. Rather, the Bible emerged in the process of clarifying the details of Christian faith. In other words, it was because you believed certain things about Jesus and God that led you to believe certain things about the Bible.’

“Even in its complete form, regardless of how we think the Bible is inspired or authoritative, it is still not God. The reader, the interpreter is not God. Our thoughts, views, and opinions about what we think the text means, are not God. Our vocal or quoted expressions of the text, are not God. Our typing out a verse of Scripture is not God. Our theological frameworks are not God.

“Second, such a response completely eschews the ancient mysticism of the Church and the idea that experience, intuition, reason, communal teaching, acting, and the liturgical inhabiting of the faith were also ways in which God as Trinity “spoke” and communicated with the Church, apart from the Bible or written forms.

“And just a side note to all this: Fundamentalist Christians (and some evangelicals), when the Church is discussing same-sex attraction, marriage, abortion, the death penalty, gender roles, or any other complicated issue where there is respectful disagreement on both sides, if you think merely quoting a Scripture verse somehow settles the matter, then you are incredibly shallow and, frankly, ignorant. If you really think the people in those discussions weren’t aware of those verses, then I feel sorry for you. It means you are a child who has wandered into an adult conversation.

“Too many fundamentalists (and many evangelicals) make of the Bible, and their understanding of it, an idol. They worship a book and their knowledge of it. Their “relationship” is with a book, rather than with the one of whom it speaks. Christian: Don’t make of your Bible an idol—don’t be an idol worshipper.”

Here’s the link to the original article

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Deceived by God’s Word?

I think it’s fair to say that many Christians today believe that the Bible is a set-in-stone, non-negotiable document that is open only to the narrowest of interpretations and even then only by people who are ‘qualified’ to do so. Although, in practice, this is not actually the case – there are likely almost as many interpretations of Bible passages as there are individual Christians – still there are those who insist on their own interpretation being the only correct one.

Personally, I believe that if there is only ‘one correct doctrine’ (about anything) then God would have made it a lot clearer in the Bible than He did. By its very nature – many voices speaking of their own experiences of God – it can never present a unified voice on any matter, really.

Jesus had the same problem in His discussions with the ‘religious elite’ of His day. Even in a society where ‘robust’ (i.e. argumentative) theological discussion was actively encouraged, indeed taught, He came up against entrenched opinion and interpretation. Which, I suppose, is fair enough, given that most people like to have answers to Life’s Big Questions, where actually those Questions take a whole lifetime to glean even a sliver of understanding of their answers. You could say it’s part of human nature to want to be secure in our answers, where actually little such security exists outside the Relationship with God, where our security is in Him and our questions and answers will not disrupt that security in any way.

Anyhow, here’s a great piece by Russell Croft, expressing a lot of this sort of thing:


“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” — Colossians 2:8

There is a lot of fear in various Christian circles today that people are being deceived by false gospels that are not grounded in God’s word. It is a very heartfelt sentiment, one that is genuinely concerned for the fate of fellow believers and non-believers alike.

From this perspective, the answer is to stand on the word of God, to hold it sacredly, to believe that it is the ultimate God-breathed truth, useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. We should not waver from the truth revealed within its pages and should always consider the whole counsel of scripture whenever preaching or debating the gospel. God’s word is God’s word, from beginning to end, the literal, infallible revelation of God to man. Anyone who abandons any part of the holy, inspired scriptures has been deceived and has believed a false gospel that threatens to lead others astray. One cannot argue with any part of the scriptures or consider alternative understandings of what they literally say without falling into heresy.

Revolution of Belief

Perhaps this is why the leaders of ancient Israel wanted to keep Jesus quiet. He would often take the scriptural understanding of the day and turn it on its head. In a culture that promoted robust discussion and even allowed for disagreement on scriptural interpretation, Jesus still ruffled too many feathers and rocked too many theological boats.

Jesus abandoned many of the well held positions among the religious people of his day. Instead of paying back the scriptural eye for an eye, Jesus told his listeners to love their enemies and forgive their debts. He admonished people for their methods of tithing, praying, and worship. He walked among the outcasts, the lepers, the prostitutes and sinners, telling them they were entering the kingdom of heaven before the others who had excluded them. He taught that God accepted and loved everyone, not just the upright Jew, but the unclean Gentile and the evil Samaritan. His was a message of Grace that had no room for religious striving or elitism under the law. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

So what was Jesus doing? A disregarded sacrificial system of spiritual duty lies wasted on the road to Calvary. His mercy is freely given to those who sacrifice him to their god of control, ending the old covenant based on human responses to God and ushering in a new covenant, where Jesus took on our responsibility and showcased God’s mercy, fulfilling both the human and divine sides of the ledger once and for all. Salvation or spiritual wholeness in this new covenant is based solely on what Jesus did, not on any attempt on our part to enter the kingdom of heaven.

A Conflict of Covenants

Here’s the problem: a literal, unmoving interpretation of scripture combines and confuses the old and new covenants, presenting a belief system that allows Jesus to do the initial work of salvation, but that must be continued by our ability or desire to maintain wholeness–or holiness–through repentance, prayer, tithing, worship, and belief. The old covenant is elevated to a position of equal importance to the new covenant, and appears to still supersede it in many ways. Scriptures declaring God’s goodness, love, and forgiveness of all humanity are accepted, yet overridden by passages portraying him as full of wrath for those who don’t accept his love.

But what if there was a way to hold the entirety of scripture in tension? To find the ways in which Jesus and the new covenant don’t necessarily abolish the old covenant, but fulfill it for us so that it is no longer a requirement? What if there was a way of rest, of faith and of trust in God to bless us, not because of what we do or believe, but because of what Jesus believed about us and did on our behalf? What if we really did have the fullness of Christ dwelling in us because of the reconciling work of the cross, which we just need to trust in, in order to see? A holiness that wasn’t dependent on ritual or repentance, but an already given, unbreakable union with Christ, which once recognized, leads to all kinds of love and selfless action that the old covenant could only hope to inspire.

Relying on Christ

Of course, we can still hold on to human traditions masquerading as old covenant practices. We can try to pull God down to earth or open heaven for some new blessing or spiritual breakthrough rather than relying on Christ, thus denying the fullness that has already been given through God’s grace. We can still hold to beliefs that we are only OK once we’ve said the magic words and dedicated our lives to denying certain aspects of human life. We don’t even need to call ourselves “Christian” to do so.

Or we can rest in the new covenant and allow Christ in us to provide the outworking of our faith. A faith that is really his faith, since it is Christ in us that provides the gift of faith in the first place. A faith in love. A faith that knows, even in the midst of doubt or suffering, that we are OK, because we have a God who loves all his children and a high priest in Jesus interceding for us, even if we are unable or unwilling to pray for ourselves. A faith that places the old covenant in its right place, as something that was fulfilled by Jesus on the cross and as something we need not fulfill ourselves today in order to remain within God’s blessing.


An excellent piece, I reckon. I hope it blessed you and maybe gave you some food for thought 🙂


Here is the link to the original article

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Christianity vs. Biblicism

Here’s a superb piece by the renowned Christian thinker and pastor, Brian Zahnd.

During my ‘Dark Night of the Soul‘, one of the things that Father God set me free from – in this case, quite forcefully – was the idea that the Bible is the be-all and end-all of the Christian faith, and that its ‘authority’ trumps even that of the Holy Spirit. This is one of the fruits of ‘Biblicism’, which Brian describes in his piece below.

Here’s the piece, which I think is well-written, balanced, gentle and informative.


Christianity vs. Biblicism
Brian Zahnd

(This is my foreword to Keith Giles’ excellent new book, Jesus Unbound.)

As modern Christians we are children of a broken home. Five centuries ago the Western church went through a bitter divorce that divided European Christians and their heirs into estranged Catholic and Protestant families. The reality that the Renaissance church was in desperate need of reformation doesn’t change the fact that along with a reformation there also came an ugly split that divided the church’s children between a Catholic mother and a Protestant father. In the divorce settlement (to push the metaphor a bit further) Catholic Mom got a long history, a rich tradition, and a unified church, but all Protestant Dad got was the Bible. Without history, tradition, or a magisterium, the Bible had to be everything for Protestant Dad — and Protestants have made the most of it. For five hundred years Protestant scholars and theologians have led the way in biblical translation, scholarship, and interpretation, giving the Christian world such notables as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jacob Arminius, John Wesley, Karl Barth, C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, T.F. Torrance, Walter Brueggemann, Stanley Hauerwas, Fleming Rutledge, Richard Hayes, N.T. Wright, to name a few.

But with Sola Scriptura as a defiant battle cry there always lurked the temptation to place more weight on the Bible than it could bear, or worse yet, a temptation to deify the Bible and make an idol out of it. This has become increasingly true among the more fundamentalist clergy and congregations who are suspicious of higher education and unwilling to read their Bibles with the help of biblical scholars the caliber of Brueggemann, Hayes, and Wright. So while pretending to “take the Bible as it is,” the fundamentalist reads the Bible through thick lenses of cultural, linguistic, political, and theological assumptions — interpretive lenses they are unaware of wearing.

This has led to the thoroughly modern and peculiarly Protestant problem of Biblicism. Biblicism is an interpretative method that reads the Bible as a “flat text” where every verse is itself “the word of God” and carries the same authority as any other verse. Biblicism, in effect, attempts to make the Bible the head of the church. Where Catholics err in seeking to give ultimate authority to the Pope, Protestant Biblicists err in seeking to give ultimate authority to the Bible. What Christians are supposed to confess is that Christ alone is the head of the church. The risen Christ said to his disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto me.” With his wry British wit, N.T. Wright reminds us that Jesus did not say, “All authority in heaven and on earth is given unto a book you chaps are going to write.” The irony of Biblicism is that for all its claims about giving final authority to the Bible, in reality Biblicism enables the individual reader to remain their own private authority. So if you don’t like Jesus’ explicit call to an ethic of nonviolence, you can always appeal to the wars of Joshua and David to countermand the Sermon on the Mount. This is how you use Joshua to trump Jesus. Perhaps the most clever way to ignore the commands of Christ is to cite an opposing chapter and verse. By reading the Bible as a flat text and selecting the corroborative proof-text, you can gain a biblical endorsement for nearly anything — including wars of conquest, genocide, women held as property, and the institution of slavery. This abuse of the Bible has a long and well documented history.

One of the chief problems of Biblicism is that it fails to make the vital distinction between the Bible and Christianity. Christian faith is a living tree rooted in the soil of Scripture. We cannot remove the tree from the soil in which it is rooted and expect it to survive; but neither are we to think that the tree and the soil are the same thing! They are not. Put simply, the Bible and Christianity are not synonymous. Yes, they are connected, but they remain distinct. Scripture is the soil; Christian faith is the living tree. They are connected, but they are not the same thing. So if the Bible assumes that slavery is both a tolerable and inevitable institution (see Ephesians 6:5), even explicitly stating that slaves are slaveowners’ property (see Exodus 21:21), that doesn’t mean this is the Christian ethical position on slavery. Christianity is not a slave to the Bible — Christianity is a slave to Christ! Out of the soil of Scripture grows a mature Christian faith that is not only able, but required to oppose all forms of slavery in the name of Jesus. Rooted in the soil of Scripture, Christianity is capable of growing an ethical bough of justice called abolition.

Since the canon of Scripture is closed, the soil of Christian faith is unchanging. But that doesn’t prevent the living Christian faith itself from growing, changing, developing, and maturing over time. Of course, how it grows and changes will often be a matter of fervent debate within the church; and the deeply fractured nature of the church compounds the complexity of this problem. Nevertheless, to understand Christianity as a living tree rooted in the soil of Scripture enables the church to grow in new and redemptive ways within God’s moral universe. To say that Christian faith is forever rooted in Scripture, yet distinct from Scripture, is both conservative and progressive. Conservative in that it recognizes the inviolability of Scripture. Progressive in that it makes a vital distinction between the living faith and the historic text. But to claim that Christian faith is one and the same with the Bible is a fundamentalist mistake that is ultimately untenable. For example, I’ve seen Biblicists backed into a corner trying to defend the Bible by saying, “sometimes slavery is a good thing.” This is Biblicism at its worst.

The ancient orthodox alternative to modern heterodox Biblicism is to say what the church has always said: Jesus Christ is the true Word of God. The Bible is the word of God, only in a penultimate sense. The Bible is the inspired, canonized witness to the Word of God who is Jesus Christ — the Word made flesh. Only Jesus Christ is the inerrant and infallible, perfect and divine Word of God. We come to accept the Bible as authoritative in the ongoing conversation about Christ that is Christian theology through the witness of Christ and the church — not the other way around. Without first appealing to Christ and then secondly to the church, we can’t even account for how the Christian Bible came into being. The risen Christ commissioned the church to bear witness to the gospel throughout the world. In the course of obeying Christ’s commission the church composed, collected, and canonized certain writings that became the New Testament. But we don’t start with the Bible; we start with Jesus and the church. Why? Because Jesus is Lord, not the Bible. Christians worship Jesus, not the Bible. Jesus is the head of the church, not the Bible.

In reading Jesus Unbound: How The Bible Keeps Us From Hearing the Word of God, some readers will regard Keith Giles as controversial. I insist this is not so. Giles’ approach to the Bible is not novel or modern — it’s the orthodox way the Church Fathers read the Bible in the formative centuries of Christianity. It’s modern fundamentalist Biblicism that should be regarded as controversial and ultimately rejected as heterodox. But I also understand that a Biblicist approach to the Bible is the default position inherited by most American evangelicals, which is precisely why Giles’ book is so helpful, so timely, and so important. So as you begin your reading of Jesus Unbound, be assured that you are on solid ground — and keep your Bible close at hand, because as a lover of Scripture, Giles will refer to it over and over again. Both Keith Giles and Jesus Unbound are firmly rooted in the Bible.

BZ

(The artwork is the 6th century Christ Pantokrator mosaic in Hagia Sophia.)


Click here for the link to the original article


Since this is based on an American article, the links to the book in the article go to Amazon.com. For the book on the UK Amazon site, click this link.

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