October 19, 2017

Believing the Bible: A Place To Start or Stop?

Let’s say you’re sitting around talking with a group of friends, some of whom are Christians and some aren’t.

A subject comes up; for example, marriage. People share their stories, their thoughts, their accumulated wisdom.

After a moment, one of the Christians present begins to speak. He speaks longer. His tone is different. He’s quoting verses…and more verses.

There’s a sense of finality and authority to this talk. You can sense a reaction, even before anyone says anything.

Some present are annoyed. Some are angry. Some want to move on to a topic as far away from the Bible as possible.

Then another Christian speaks. This person validates that the quoted verses are crucial and important for Christians to understand. But this person raises questions. She interacts with the scripture AND with the comments of the other participants. From ideas in the verses- like submission, for instance- she asks the group to explore what submission might mean in a non-abusive context?

The room relaxes a bit. This Christian wasn’t authoritative. She wasn’t ending the discussion. She was continuing it. She was curious. She didn’t have all the answers, but still had questions. She wanted to listen to others; to hear their insights and experiences.

Somehow, this second Christian seemed to think Christianly, but to think differently. The scripture was the beginning of her thought process; a place to launch out from, not just a place to stop.

Of course, when the evening is over and everyone is walking out to their car, the first Christian stops the second, reads her more verses and suggests she may not be a Christian.

(I know….that was ugly. I’m sorry.)

Here’s my thought. It seems that for some people, the Bible is the end of the thinking/exploring process, while for others it is not the end, but a place from which to continue learning, thinking and exploring. For one the Bible is a very short anchor; for the other, a kind of map.

One kind of Christian seems to feel that the Christian life is “lived” by accumulating Bible passages and talking about them frequently and loudly. (Yes, blogs were made for this kind of person.) This is called “honoring” the Word of God and “living the Godly life.” As a long-time observer, this looks less like living the Christian life and more like turning it into a particular kind of activity that bookish, obsessive, aggressive types are very good at.

The other kind of Christian arrives at the Bible, gains bearings, affirms truth, then launches out into the many different worlds that are part of human experience. They aren’t accumulating verses or listing them in long diatribes, but they are living in such a way that the meaning of the Bible’s message is put into practice.

The other day, a young earth creationist challenged me, as they have done many, many times before. The challenge is always the same: why don’t I take the Bible as seriously as they do? (I’m an old earth/old universe guy.)

Now, by “taking the Bible seriously,” they mean get to the answers by getting to the verses, establish the meaning of the verses and stop there. If you go any further, you’ve abandoned the authority of the Bible and are making a dangerous mistake.

But what if the creation passages are a starting place for my own encounter with the world? Can I study science and still say I believe those passages? Can I believe them if the record of God’s creation leads me to believe in an old universe? Does a person have to stop with the Biblical material at its most literal and then only affirm science that affirms those verses?

I don’t think so. I believe that thinking and living Biblically is far more than stopping at passages and saying “this far and no more.” I prefer to say “This is my map of what matters most in creation, and from here I will read the record of creation and rejoice in what God has made.”

I’m not going to worry if a conclusion seems to bring me to more questions or to a need for more study and more light. I won’t make my faith and my experience into an “either/or” where I have to ignore my mind to believe God’s Word. I’m not going to act like I have arrived ahead of everyone else because I believe Genesis 1-3.

I especially won’t believe that God wants me to know the Bible, but not know literature, relationships, beauty, work, sacrifice, science, art and service. I will approach all those things as a Biblically thinking Christian, with a grid of God and the Gospel giving cohesion and hope to all I experience and encounter.

I want to suggest that “Bible study” that amounts to an obsessive concern with what the Bible says and no more is not the way we live the Christian life. If we know God and the Gospel, we should raise our sails in the winds of human experience, creativity and discovery, expecting God’s truth to be there as well.

I experience this frequently. I will teach a poem or story and realize I am in the Biblical world. I will sense in human brokenness the Biblical story. In a thousand ways I see the face and compassion of Jesus. In explorations and discoveries I see the marvel of God’s power and detail in creation.

None of these thing take the Bible away from me. I take the Bible with me into these parts of my life. I take the Bible, its “map” of reality and truth, its message of hope and most of all, its Gospel of redemption, resurrection and a new world begun in Christ.

Is the Bible a stopping place or a starting place for Christian thinking?

Comments

  1. Dave D:

    >You have publicly slandered my name…

    Actually, you didn’t use your name till this post, so that’s a fail.

    Nothing he said to you was personally insulting, but what you said to him was. You’re free to disagree.

    Moderating my blog comments isn’t slander. I’m the umpire. You can argue balls and strikes as long as I want to put up with it.

    But no one came to the game to listen to the argument.

    ms

  2. “Benji — I looked — don’t know why — but I looked.”

    God Bless you surfnetter,

    Benji

  3. This site is really nice
    ——–
    pharel
    The Bible