We have seen a lot of commentary this past week as we have all read different folk’s reactions to the Communiqué from the gathering of the Primates in Canterbury Cathedral the week before. A lot of our differences can be boiled down to how we individually feel about the Bible, our approach to scripture. Earlier this week, my on-line acquaintance, Pastor John Pavlovitz, posted an essay on his blog Stuff That Needs to be Said, entitled 10 Things This Christian Doesn’t Believe About The Bible. You can perhaps imagine that the essay attracted a lot of attention from his followers & detractors. At this writing there are 310 comments to the entry. And those are the comments that he has allowed trough moderation. At a scan the majority support what he has to say. He lets folks comments through moderation who disagree with him, as long as what they have to say isn’t bouncing off the walls! Without further delay, here is Pastor John;
Whenever Christians talk about their faith with other Christians or with non-Christians the Bible is there, either as an overt discussion topic or as part of the background noise in the room. Many followers of Jesus assume that everyone believes everything about the Bible that they believe about the Bible, which makes for some very messy miscommunication and far too many disastrous conversations.
More and more Christians are gradually coming to new conclusions about the Scriptures, or they are finally putting words to things that they believed for years but felt they couldn’t express in the past in their faith communities.
If you’re a Christian, these words may not speak for you entirely (or at all) but they are things that at this stage in my own spiritual journey, I do not believe about the Bible—and I’m guessing I’m not alone.
1) I don’t believe the Bible was dictated by God. The sixty-six books comprising the Bible were composed by flawed, imperfect, emotional, very human beings who never claim to have been fully possessed by God or robbed of their faculties as they wrote. This means that however virtuous or well-meaning or inspired they might have been, they can’t help but have brought some of themselves into the writing.
2) I don’t believe the Bible explains the time and manner of earth’s creation and population accurately. The Creation accounts in Genesis are not scientific writings designed to instruct, as much as they are poetry and song meant to inspire. They should not be read as a literal explanation of the fashion or timetable of what Science clearly tells us were the far older and more gradual evolutions of life than a literal Biblical translation contends. Genesis 1 and 2 are a who story, not a how story.
3) I don’t believe the Bible accurately represents women for the time in which we live. The Old and New Testaments were written predominantly, if not exclusively, by men during a time when women were essentially marital property, with their status and moral worth often linked to marriage and to childbearing. These stories by the very nature of the context of their creation, carry cultural biases that need to be considered and challenged today, especially regarding the role of women in ministry leadership and gender roles in general, where the Bible has too often been an impediment to progress.
4) I don’t believe the Bible has much of consequence to say about gender identity and sexual orientation. I don’t advocate consulting the Scriptures for an accurate understanding of matters of sexuality for the same reason I wouldn’t want a medical text from the same time period guiding a surgeon taking a scalpel to me. What we now know is simply far more than we knew then about how the body works, and to ignore that would be foolish. The advances and discoveries over time that increase our understanding of our brains and bodies (which God enables) need to be respected and acknowledged by people of faith.
5) I don’t believe the Bible provides a unified, consistent message regarding marriage, war, violence, or sex. The Bible’s many authors have a great deal to say on these and other matters, but there can hardly be a single harmonious Biblical ethic found regarding any of them, no matter how much we would like this. For example, sometimes in Scripture violence is strictly prohibited, sometimes it is tolerated, and other times explicitly commanded and aided by God. So cleanly summarizing the Scriptures on this and many topics is all but impossible.
6) I don’t believe the Bible is without error. The very nature of its verbal origins, its decidedly human authors, the wide time expanse of its writing, as wells as its long and convoluted collation process, all mean that while The Bible can contain great truth, it cannot be as pure and pristine as it would need to be to be called perfect or without inconsistencies or inner conflicts.
7) I don’t believe the Bible is the only source through which we hear or experience God. Rather than a Sola Scriptura perspective, which makes the Bible the ultimate, singular resource for encountering and understanding God, I believe as the ancestors of the faith believed: that all areas of life speak the language of the Divine; nature, prayer, community, reason, and the Holy Spirit’s direct voice to each of us. The Bible is one of the many facets of God’s likeness.
8) I don’t believe the Bible should guide our government. Because it is as vast and complicated and cloudy as it is, it is irresponsible to try and superimpose the Bible on our civil system, as our government (like all governments) does not represent or serve people of a single faith tradition. The Bible is properly used as a guide to nurture a Christian’s individual spiritual journey and life within their chosen faith community. It should not be a mandated measuring stick for any nation’s people.
9) I don’t believe the Bible can be objectively interpreted or evaluated. Not only did the Bible’s numerous authors bring some of themselves to its passages, we too bring ourselves to them as we read, study, and interpret them. All of our biases and desires and histories and personalities shape the lens by which we view them, and they shape those who write and preach and teach us as well. Any objective truth they contain is therefore all but impossible to claim sole ownership of and practically speaking, beyond grasping.
10) I don’t believe the Bible is worthy of worship. The Scriptures are a tool for approaching God and for trying to put into words ideas that are far beyond words. They are a way of orienting ourselves in the world, of helping us to grow spiritually and to engage our faith. They are not Divinity, and cannot and should not be made into an idol to be blindly worshiped, especially when that worship reinforces or justifies discrimination, bigotry, or injustice based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, birthplace, or income level.
Having said all of this, none of these statements erase the deep love, affection, and respect I have for the Bible. I have found its words to be inspiring and challenging and encouraging in my spiritual journey. They have been an integral part of my faith life; a source of guidance, a cherished prayer partner, a place to find myself in the greater story of God and humanity. I have encountered God in reading and studying the Bible, but I have also realized its limitations and the way that it has been a source of pain and damage for so many when those limitations are ignored.
To many the Bible is an all-or-nothing proposition (you either view it as completely true or completely worthless) but I believe that it, like God, is far more complex and nuanced than that. Though many Christians will make efforts to argue me put of these points, they are simply conclusions I have come to at this place and time, after decades of study and reflection. They are not statements of fact I desire anyone else to agree with, they are my personal convictions—which is the point of the piece itself. My exploration has yielded these opinions regardless of the difficulties they cause. It would often be much easier to see the Bible simply as “God’s clear answer book” with every topic neatly dealt with, but this is reality for me and for many like me.
I realize too, that to many Christians these beliefs may be irreconcilable with their idea of what a true Christian is, but as someone who understands Jesus to be the face and image of God, and whose life I seek to grow as close as I can to emulating, I can only tell you that it is the truth of my journey in these days.
BONUS: 11) I don’t believe the Bible should be used to defend the Bible. Many readers will note that I do not quote Scripture in this piece, which is intentional and largely the point of the piece. So often Christians respond to questions or challenges regarding the Bible by quoting the Bible, which is often received by the listener as someone saying, “I’m completely trustworthy and honest—just ask me!” I believe the statements made above can be respectfully, thoughtfully, and intelligently engaged without needing to begin throwing isolated verses at one another like stones, or at least I hope they can.
BTW, this is very much how I feel as well!
The main image, The Gutenburg Bible, was originally posted to Flickr.com and was uploaded to Commons using Flickr upload bot on 09:49, 3 April 2010 (UTC) by Gun Powder Ma. On that date it was licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.