Tuesday, December 23, 2014

5 Things I Admit about the Bible

So John, I read your latest article, the one with the buzzfeed title, 5 Things you wish Christians would admit about the Bible. Personally I think you should have subtitled it, "You'll never believe what they said, or what she did next upon seeing it..." but it's too late now.
You should know that I see you jocking me, trying to pretend like, you know me. I saw how cleverly you wrote your piece, putting a hook into the nose of the undiscerning orthodox so as to pull them away from Christ later. It's a great article by the way, you masterfully walk the line of sounding like you're just dialoguing or raising awareness while hiding your true stance.
But if 10 years of marriage has taught me anything it's that the loving thing to do is take the garbage out before anyone asks you to. So on behalf of true Christianity, I admit it all.

1. The Bible isn't a Magic Book

You want us to admit the Bible is 66 collected books? Fine by me.
[The books of the Bible are] poetry, history, biography, church teachings, letters, and... have dozens of authors; from shepherds, to prophets, to doctors, to fishermen, to kings. These diverse writers each had very different target audiences, disparate life circumstances and specific agendas for their work; so we don’t approach each book the same way.
Yep. They're also written across three continents over thousands of years. And we also admit that they're singularly focused on explaining the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. How improbable is that? It's like no matter who expresses it, doctors, fishermen, kings, shepherds; or whether you express it in song, poetry, history, letters, Jesus is God. He's writ large on every page no matter who you are, where you're from, or what you do. We confess.

2. We admit we would like to have more

I can't tell you how many times I would like the Bible to have gone into just a little more detail or given me just a little more clarity. Was Abel a shepherd because you told Adam to sacrifice animals to atone for bloodguilt and remember your promise to send a Savior? What were the disciples expressions when Jesus rebuked the waves they were so frightened of? What happened to the man formerly known as Legion, how many people did he lead to you? What was the rest of the sermon Jesus gave while in Nazareth? How beautiful was Delilah? I... oh wait. That's not what you meant. You mean the Bible is full of contradictions until you realize the center of the Scripture is the story of the savior. It's like we are blind in our unbelief until we come to Christ, whereupon the veil is lifted and our eyes are opened to the truth. We admit that too.
Oh wait. No. I think you're saying not everything is equally easy to grasp. Like what Peter says, "Some things Paul writes are hard to understand." Agreed, but that's not really a problem, as Alistair says, "the main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things." In fact Romans 14 teaches us that some things are purposefully not spelled out, because God wanted them to remain a matter of conscience for the believer.
Or maybe I'm wrong again since I'm not exactly sure what you're point is here, (that's probably my fault) but I can say with confidence that just because God doesn't say anything about musical instruments in the early church doesn't mean the Bible isn't clear that we're saved by faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone, as revealed in the Scriptures alone, to His glory alone. And if your point was that the Scripture is silent on secondary issues because that allows it to blast out all the harder how Christ was our substitute who saves us from the wrath of the Father, then we give a hearty Amen!

3. The Bible was Inspired, not Dictated

I'm not sure there was ever a serious student of the Bible who argued that men are nothing more than sock puppets with no internal violations who God used to write down His words. Men were moved as the Holy Spirit carried them, and the result was the very word of God Himself were written down and compiled. I will say you got hung up there on "God Breathed" as if you thought it meant something like "God blowing air across a piece of paper" and forgot that our words are shaped by us literally breathing out. Talking is breathing out remember? But that nitpick aside we are in full agreement of you knocking this straw man down. We admit the same thing and stand shoulder to shoulder with you against the hordes who believe men are nothing more than hungry corpses of rotting flesh incapable of rational thought. Unless you meant this to be the first premise in an argument for disbelief. Something that starts with men were inspired to write the Bible and ends with inspiration is the divine spark of the goddess within each of us that causes us to reach for the stars. If that's what you're on about then we deny that.

4. We All Pick and Choose the Bible We Believe

Oh man so true. I got the ESV Bible I use now from the bottom shelves of the Bible section at The Bible House, which is a local bookstore, and I had the hardest time picking out just the right one. I suppose someone could argue that technically we don't all pick our Bibles, because I'm getting my daughter a kids Bible this Christmas, and that meant I picked it for her, but that's just being argumentative, am I right? I assume that's your point at any rate. I'll keep reading and find out if I'm wrong.
Christians often accuse believers with differing opinions of “cherry picking” from the Bible; holding tightly to verses they agree with, while conveniently jettisoning ones they are uncomfortable with.
Uh oh, not only was that not your point but I'm only in half agreement with you now. While I myself have indeed often accused you emergent types of cherry picking verses and meanings of the Scriptures--y'all seem to like "Judge not lest ye be judged" but then turn around and dislike "If you love Me you will keep my commandments"--I don't ever recall calling those of you with alternative doctrines believers.
The only problem is, each time this assertion is made, the one making the accusation conveniently claims objectivity; as if they somehow have a firm, dispassionate understanding of the entirety of Scripture, without bias or prejudice, and that the other is violating that.
Why yes, that's true. I admit we even do that on purpose, because "no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation" and because we see how accepting the premise of relativism necessarily leads to the conclusion of apostasy. Or did you not notice how your brand of post-modernism has washed out the foundation of truth on purpose in order to allow disobedience to Christ into the fold? Didn't you see how the emergent church is arguing that Truth isn't objective so they could justify their unbelief? Meanwhile us knuckle dragging throwbacks still insist on the foundational truth that Jesus is God and we are not.
But the funniest thing about your call to melt all offensive doctrines down so that we may become a glorious subjective soup is the fact that it itself is subjective. If all truth is relative and we cannot know it given our backgrounds, genders, faith history, etc then why should we listen to your call to stop judging? Hey man, who are you to judge us anyway? Calling a spade a spade and being intolerant of error makes us feel good, why should we stop? You just sawed off the branch you're sitting on. And I think we can all agree that that's funny.

5. God Is Bigger Than The Bible.

I admit it. This cheaply bound tomb in front of me isn't Jesus Himself. I know we may have confused you there by tucking it under our arms and carrying it around places, but I assure you, unlike Catholics who chew up and swallow their God, we are perfectly willing to admit a number of things aren't Him. Books, pets, crystals, baby clothes, TV. Lots of things really.
The words in the Bible point to someone for whom words simply fail. The words are filled with good and lovely things that give us some frame of reference, but ultimately, God is far too big to be contained in those words.
Woah, and here I thought you were going to argue for the necessity of further revelation like a charismatic. "God's bigger than the Bible, and He's still dialoging with us today. That's why you must now do as I say." That would have been a clever play against us Biblical literalists.
But your point was that it doesn't matter how many flowery words, or good things you say about Jesus, what matters is that you truly believe in Him. Ghandi is in hell for refusing to bow the knee to Christ, even though he said he liked Him. We readily admit the truth of such a statement. Many will write such wonderful words about Him, but find on the last day that He still says, "Depart from Me, I never knew you." Well spoken, that was an apple of gold in a setting of silver.
No wait, my mistake. You're point is that God is so big that nothing said about Him could possibly be true. No word can describe Him, not even His own. Uh. No. Just no.

I'll wrap this up by ceasing to cleverly distort your words into orthodoxy and offering a relevant Bible quote: "Why are you persecuting Me? It's hard for you to kick against the goads."
I warn you sir, the living God will not appreciate your unbelief, and no matter how sensible or trendy it sounds now it will not avail you on the day of Judgment. Only the shed blood of Christ will do that.


Mark R said...

Boy, what a smug and unhelpful reflection. It's amazing to me that someone like you can profess to offer definitive truths from Scripture and yet you offer such half-baked interpretations of a relatively simple article.

To simply acknowledge that all interpretations of Scripture are, well, interpretations does not make someone a relativist. Take this analogy: how many numbers are there between 4 and 7? Two? No, there are an infinite number of numbers between 4 and 7. There's 5 and 6 but also 4.04 and 6.779 and an infinite number of other examples. However that's not the same as saying that EVERY number is between 4 and 7 because an infinite number of numbers aren't.

What the author is simply pointing out is that we shouldn't claim our interpretation is THE interpretation of Scripture and any deviation from it is wrong. Given their breadth and diversity, the Scriptures lend themselves to a range of interpretations-- though not all equally valid.

Phil said...

Looks like you missed the whole point of his article Mark.
The Apostle John wrote that we may have assurance for the things we believe. That's faith, and there's a reward attached to it.
The Emergent Guru John wrote these things so that everyone could feel equally good about any Biblical interpretation they choose to have. That's un-faith. Un-belief. There's a punishment attached to that one.

There is only one integer between 4 and 6, and while there are an unlimited number of wrong answers to "what is it?" there is only one right one.

Mark R said...

The fact that you read that article as suggesting that all opinions are equally valid really makes me question why I bother engaging you further.

But, against my better judgment, I'll give you an example to illustrate the point. I come from a tradition that baptizes infants. I hold that position because the case it makes from the Scriptures is compelling. Do I think believer baptists are "unbiblical"? No. I understand that too to be a legitimate way of reading the Scriptures. I simply weigh certain passages and themes more heavily and so I don't find it ultimately compelling.

Does that mean I think all positions with regard to baptism are valid? No. Of course not.

A similar point could be made about a host of issues-- war, women's ordination, the role of government, marriage, end times, on and on. I have strong opinions on all these things. In some cases I would find it hard to participate in a church that holds the opposing view. But do I say their view is "unbiblical"? No, I simply recognize that I read the Scripture differently.

Not all issues are like that. I think the Creeds do a pretty good job of covering areas where the Scriptures are sufficiently clear as to draw lines between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. For the rest, we can expect to have ongoing debate.

Phil said...

Well it looks like you're almost there with that last comment, so that's good.
Yes, as I said in my post, there are silent areas where people who try to be faithful to the Scriptures are going to have disagreements. Padeo vs Credo baptism as you suggest is a great example of that. However in that instance the participants are trying to get as close to the Biblical position as possible. That makes those people family, and although I wouldn't feel comfortable in a Presbyterian church that baptized babies, I wouldn't hesitate to call them brothers.

But that's not what's happening here. What's happening here is something more like women elders. The participants are trying to get as far from the Biblical position as fast as they can, and they pretend like God gave us a gray area in every respect so they can justify their sin. They hide rebellion to God under the fog of tolerance, and demand you not call them to repentance for open and outright sins.
Look at his other article where he defends Rob Bell. Would you honestly say Rob Bell is a Christian at this point? Really?

Don't let John fool you, he's not interested in having an open dialogue, he's interested in moving the boundary marker so others will call his unfaithfulness faith, and his ghastly disdain for Christ love.

Mark R said...

The issue of women elders perfectly illustrates why the original article is helpful. Our denomination went back and forth over the issue for years. It was not a matter of those opposed holding to the authority of Scripture and those in favor dismissing the Scriptures. No, both sides made their case from the Scriptures. The denomination finally decided that both readings were legitimate. That it was a matter of how you weighed the evidence.

What are the passages that I turn to defend women's ordination? Genesis 1 for starters. Male and female both created to bear God's image. Hierarchy only comes as a consequence of the fall. The new creation is a fully realized creation with the holiness of the first one. A holy city as opposed to a holy garden. It will be a restoration of the equality, the co-dominion described in Gen 1. The Holy Spirit that brought about the initial creation is working to bring about the renewed one. Part of the Spirit's work is breaking down sources of division and hierarchy (e.g., Galatians 3). Nothing should trump the Spirit. Biology, ethnicity, nationality doesn't determine your place in the kingdom, your gifts and your role, the Spirit does.

Of course the Spirit would not lead people in ways that contradict the teaching of Scripture. So people opposed trot out their various prooftexts in defense of their position. First of all, none of those prooftexts are as cut-and-dried as some would have us believe. Some, quite frankly, are quite strange. (Why, for instance, does Paul talk about women prophesying with their heads covered and then, interrupting the whole flow of his argument, make this aside about women being silent in church before going back into the issue prophesy again?) Ultimately, regardless of how one interprets them, most of the proof texts appear to addressing particular concerns of particular churches. Given their ambiguity, their particularity, it strikes me as unwise to draw hard and fast lines which restrict over half the human population from fully serving the church in accordance with gifts that they have. In other words, it makes no sense to me to say to the gifted women preachers/elders that I've learned from and served with that they are deceiving themselves. The gifts that they demonstrated in those capacities are not from the Spirit.

The issue around women's ordination is similar to issues around slavery. Does Paul anywhere outright condemn the practice of slavery? No, not really. There are, in fact, passages in which he seems to almost endorse it. "Slaves obey your masters." On the other hand, it is clearly Christian teaching that lead to the downfall of the practice. A community called, for example, to "submit to one another" is not one which is likely to maintain the practice of slavery long.

That said, who was likely the last to come to that conclusion? Slave owners. They were the first to point to isolated verses and say it's biblical.

Mark R said...

If it's any consolation, I thought that letter to Jesus was totally misguided. So at least we have that common.