December 14, 2017

My View of Scripture (at this point)

Portrait of Matthew, Gospel Book of Ebbo

By Chaplain Mike

Today, I would like to present, for your consideration and discussion, a ten-point summary of my perspective on Scripture (at this point in my understanding).

  • The Bible is from God. It is one of the means by which God has made himself known to human beings. The various books of the Bible were composed and edited and put together under the mysterious method of “inspiration,” by which God worked mostly through normal human processes to communicate his message.
  • The Bible is incarnational. That is, it comes to us in fully human form, taking the words of people written in their own times, from within their own cultures, according to the genres and literary conventions common to their day, and within the confines of their own limited perspectives, to communicate God’s message.
  • The Bible involves a complex conversation of faith over time. The Bible contains multiple voices, a diversity of narrative and theological perspectives, and a development of thought over time. For example, Joshua and Judges present two sides of the conquest of Canaan. Ecclesiastes and Job protest the wisdom tradition represented by a book like Proverbs, which even in its own pages presents several points of view. The “history” of Chronicles presents a different scenario of the same events than we see in the books of Kings. This diversity is only a problem if we expect the Bible to be something it is not—a timeless and perfectly consistent, always harmonizable record that is precise in every detail according to modern standards of accuracy.

St. John, Gospel Book of Ebbo, by Sarah Neurath

  • The Bible came to us through the community of faith. Recognizing that there were human processes involved in the final editing and canonization of the Bible also highlights how God used people to bring the Bible as a final product to the world. The Hebrew Bible was put together mostly during and after the Babylonian exile. The church took nearly four centuries to complete the canonization process for the New Testament. Our understanding of the nature, authority, and message of Scripture must take these human processes into account as well.
  • The Bible is the church’s primary authority (Prima Scriptura). The fact that the church functioned for the first four centuries of its life without a complete Bible means that it cannot have sole authority apart from the church, the Holy Spirit, and the apostolic traditions (the “rule of faith”). For Protestants, at the very least this means we must make a fresh commitment to learning church history, the creeds, and the early Church Fathers for a fuller understanding and practice of the faith.
  • The Bible is true. “True” is a better way of describing the Bible than “inerrant” or “infallible” or any such words that grow out of modern categories. After all, what is an “inerrant” poem? An “infallible” story? The Bible is true because it tells the truth about God, the state of the world, human life and death, sin and salvation, wisdom and foolishness. But most of all because it tells the truth about the Truth himself and leads its readers to him.
  • The Bible is God’s story. Any individual passage or part of the Bible should be read and interpreted in the light of its big picture, its overall pattern and message. The final form of the Bible tells a “Christotelic” story. From “in the beginning” to “in the end of days” the story constantly develops and moves forward to its culmination in Christ and the new creation. This story must always determine our emphases when interpreting its message.
  • The Bible’s central focus is Jesus. The apostles testify that Jesus taught them to see that the purpose of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings is to point to him and his good news, which restores God’s blessing to all creation. The New Testament, of course, tells Jesus’ story and accounts of the apostolic community that experienced and spread his good news. The Bible is not God’s final word, but is rather a primary witness to Jesus, God’s final Word.
  • The Bible does not contain every detail of God’s will for his people’s lives. In the Bible, God gives adequate instructions to guide his people to practice lives of love for God and neighbor. On the other hand, God expects that many implications of the Gospel will be worked out only over the course of time, in and through (and despite!) his people, until the consummation of the age. The Bible is not a “handbook” for living, with detailed instructions for every aspect of life. The Bible is not “sufficient” to answer all of life’s questions. It was not designed to do that, and we risk becoming pharisaical if we try to maintain that opinion.
  • The Bible doesn’t need me or anyone else to defend it. Christians do not need to prove that the Bible is a perfect book, free from “error” (as we define it today) in every way in order to have a secure faith or to present a case for Christ to the world. We need a credible, reliable witness that is self-attesting in its divine truthfulness, beauty, and power. This we have in the Bible.

Comments

  1. I’ve never read 10 statements about the bible that have felt so genuine and true. Thank you for this awesome post. I’m new to tracking with this blog, do you write anywhere else Chaplain Mike?

    • I do not write anywhere else at the moment. Thanks for the encouragement.

      If you want to get a sense about where this site came from, go back into the archives and essays and sample some of Michael Spencer’s posts. I began writing two years ago when he became ill. After his death in April, 2010, I became the lead writer. We are working hard to maintain his legacy and continue his emphases, which attracted us to the blog in the first place.

    • Christiane says:

      After blogging over at a (self-described) ‘fundamentalist’ blog, reading this is a breath of fresh air.

  2. Hi Mike. It’s interesting that you should post this today. John Petty at Progressive Involvement also posted on scripture. Here’s the link: http://www.progressiveinvolvement.com/progressive_involvement/2011/07/ten-reasons-literalism-makes-no-sense.html.

    Peace.

  3. Excellent. And Mike, thanks for all you do. I know nobody can ever replace Michael, but you frequently take a real stab at it. Peace.

    • It is NOT a matter of “replacing” anyone, but of picking up the standard of a fallen comrade and moving on with his legacy and bravery in mind!

  4. The words “progressive involvement” usually make me cringe when used in the same sentence with Christianity. While “Christian progressives” are not tied to an inerrant Bible, they quite often throw the Word of God overboard for more generous words.

    God’s law and His gospel quite often become casualties in the progressive’s desire to save THIS world. And why mention Jesus because the Muslim god and the Budhist way are just as valid as Jesus.

    No. There has to be a middle ground.

    Actually, there is.

  5. Yes, CM, thanks for your ministry with this blog. You are a superb author and no doubt have influenced many towards Christ in their journey. Blessings to you.

  6. Great job! Frequently we try to make the Bible more than it was ever intended to be and try to define it using modern concepts which are often inadequate for that purpose. More time can be spent in hashing and rehashing every jot and tittle than is spent in doing and living as Jesus says. Kinda reminds me of something Jesus said to the religious folks in His day about searching the Scriptures, but really missing what they are saying.

  7. humanslug says:

    Wow, Mike! You somehow managed to put the views toward scripture (that I myself have been moving toward over the past several years) into an orderly, well-defined structure. Unfortunately, these views put me in a lonely position when it comes to my church family — which, as far as I can tell, hold pretty tightly to the view of scriptural inerrancy that presently dominates the evangelical climate. Do you have any advice as to how or even if I should broach this topic with my church brothers and sisters.

    • I’ll speak for myself, Slug. Chaplain Mike will no doubt have wiser insight.

      I am in the same boat with you, though it is not just my church family who is at odds with me, but my own family as well. I have found that trying to “teach” them my views does not work. Those in my circle (at church, in my family, authors I write for, and other friends) are so ingrained in the Bible as a handbook for perfect marriages, spotless kids and weight loss methods that when I try to share with them where we see Jesus in surprising ways in the Bible they just stare at me with glossed-over eyes.

      I see Jesus in so many places. He pops up in movies I watch. He sings to me through songs by Stevie Wonder, Leon Russell, and Leonard Cohen. He surprised me this week by showing himself to me in a book titled Saltwater Buddha. But the best place to see Jesus is in the Bible. And that is what the Bible is given for: to reveal Jesus. That is it. It is not a self-help guide to better living. But how to say that to my friends? I still don’t know how to do that.

      All that Chaplain Mike has written this week regarding Scripture is dead-on. I love the Bible, but it is not God. The Bible is one way the Lord reveals himself to us. It is the authority by which the Church catholic presents Jesus in the sacraments. It is a rich feast of Jesus Jesus Jesus.

      So when I encounter my family and friends holding to the “manufacturer’s handbook” approach to Scripture, I usually remain quiet and smile inwardly, for I know that it is so, so much better than that.

      If you find a good way to share this with your friends, let me know.

      • I am beginning to think ( crimin-eee….. @ 55, fast learner, eh ?) that less said is better. Same with those who are convinced that ______ has it all figured out reg. the end times and what the church MUST be doing yada-yada-=yada… For those who are ‘sold out’ to a particular viewpoint, attempts to sway them are at best a fool’s errand, and at worst a bruhaha without the benefit of the brew. I have a brother very near death who is big into IHOP. Not my cup of prophetic punch, but there is little point talking about it (most of the time). I don’t know if my approach is the ‘right’ one, or if there is even a “right one”. But I’m tired fighting over a bunch of BS. Just-Not-Worth-It.

        GregR

      • He sings to me through songs by Stevie Wonder, Leon Russell, and Leonard Cohen.

        A man I met who was working at a sleep clinic told me he got saved by listening to “Suzanne” through the lyrics to the Jesus verse:

        And Jesus was a sailor
        When he walked upon the water
        And he spent a long time watching
        From his lonely wooden tower
        And when he knew for certain
        Only drowning men could see him
        He said “All men will be sailors then
        Until the sea shall free them”
        But he himself was broken
        Long before the sky would open
        Forsaken, almost human
        He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
        And you want to travel with him
        And you want to travel blind
        And you think maybe you’ll trust him
        For he’s touched your perfect body with his mind.

        I still can’t quite figure out what Leonard Cohen was trying to say with that, or how it fits in with the rest of the song; Suzanne Verdal was a real person he was friends with who really did feed him tea and oranges that came all the way from China.

        As far as I know, Cohen is not a Christian, nor ever has been, but is Buddhist/Zen in his spiritual orientation.

        Yet Jesus reached through this song to a person.

        • I’ve always said, Leonard Cohen is my favourite Jewish-Catholic-Buddhist 🙂

          ‘Cos songs like “Song of Bernadette” and “Joan of Arc”? Devotion to Blessed Kateri Tekawitha? Mentions in all his songs all over the place of Bethlehem and Abraham and Isaac and just look at the lyrics of the much-covered (over-covered) “Hallelujah”?

          That’s a guy who has no problems with an incarnational Word.

          • JoanieD says:

            And “Hallelujah” is a very “sexy” song but it has a religious sound to it and mentions some Biblical figures and stories. So, even though it’s about romantic love and sex, people get inspired by the tune and the overall feeling of it with all that Hallelujah-ing!

    • My advice humanslug – don’t use the work inerrancy.

      They will assume that when you say “I don’t hold to inerrancy” that you mean that “you don’t believe the bible”.

      Instead, find a way to talk positively about what you do believe about the bible.

      • Great advice, Mike.

      • Bingo. Its a divise word. There are too many shades of variations of “error,” it is sufficient to say we believe what it says, or even we believe what it means.

  8. Excellent summary. One thought, however. Infallible as a word to describe scripture pre-dates the Modern period, so why the hesitancy in using this category?

  9. Prima Scriptura….Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Great post!

  11. This is a wonderful ten-point summary, Chaplain Mike. I will save this.

  12. Dragging my big ego into a completely unrelated thread, I would just like to give credit to my confirmation name saint, Martha of Bethany, whose feast day is today (and who right now is looking around at the rest of the Communion of Saints, going “Don’t blame me! You see what I had to work with here?”)

    Julie Davis (of the “Happy Catholic” blog) has a post up about what St. Martha means to here, so in reparation for all I’ve done to drag the name of “Martha” into disrepute, here you go!

    🙂

  13. Hey Mike. I liked your post. It addresses a lot of the misconceptions about scripture that are often found in the tradition in which I grew up (and maybe the one I’m in too?). I wanted to make one comment though about the biblical canon and church tradition. I am totally behind you when you say we need to be more conscious of our historical identity. People often take for granted just how much the “Rule of Faith” and the Creeds set us apart from so many other forms of “Christianity” that have sprung up through the centuries.

    However, when you say “the church functioned for the first four centuries of its life without a complete Bible” this isn’t exactly true. The concept of the canon as a single work (The Bible) may not have been in the consciousness of the earliest Church, but the Church has never been without authoritative scriptures. Some communities may have included an extra book or two, and some may have excluded a book or two, but whatever they had they acknowledged it as the Word of God, or at the very least, the true testimony about Jesus from his Apostles.

    I would argue that early creeds and traditions never set themselves apart from the authority of the Scriptures, but are to be understood instead as the correct interpretation of the Scriptures. The way you put it makes it sound like the Bible is only one of several sources of truth for the Christian. I wholeheartedly believe that our tradition has provided us with authoritative scriptural interpretations (Nicene Creed, Apostles Creed, etc.), but in the end all of these traditions derive their authority from the Scriptures themselves. It is still Sola Scriptura.

    I still thought this was a great post!

    • Jonathan Brumley says:

      What you are saying about tradition getting its authority from scripture could be true once the Church had discerned the canon, but until that happened, it doesn’t follow. The canon we have was discerned by the Church, so the authoritativeness of scripture is all tied up with tradition and the authority given to the Church. The Church didn’t get her authority from scripture, but from Jesus, when He commissioned the apostles to baptize, teach, and forgive sins.

      Paul said: “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” This verse captures how the early Church viewed scripture and tradition, they were viewed at the same level, and not in conflict.

      • I disagree with your initial statement because it implies that the Scriptures did not have authority until the concept of the “Canon” came to full fruition. The Scriptures had all the authority they needed as the true testimony of the Apostles even before they were thought of as a canon. The Church did not collect these books, they received them as the true testimony of the Apostles. The Church’s authority comes through this testimony, and when Paul says to “hold to the traditions that you were taught by us”, the surviving remnant of that “tradition” is the Scriptures themselves.

  14. David Cornwell says:

    “The Bible is incarnational. That is, it comes to us in fully human form, taking the words of people written in their own times, from within their own cultures, according to the genres and literary conventions common to their day, and within the confines of their own limited perspectives, to communicate God’s message”…

    This seems to me is one of the hardest things about the Bible for people to accept. God’s word to us has always been incarnational. Many people have a hard time accepting the incarnational truth about Jesus and thus end up minimizing His humanity. We do the same thing with scripture. For me this adds to the validity of truth and it does not have to be explained away by making it something that it isn’t.

    Jeff Dunn writes “I see Jesus in so many places. He pops up…”. Very true. He pops up the humanity all around us. And the written Word comes to us from very human individuals, not from those who have reached some kind of sanctified perfection, even for a few moments when they are writing. It comes to us from writers who were burdened, sinful, sometimes hopeless, in pain, depressed, in prison. They had family problems galore. They were sexual and sensuous. Yet God somehow used them to convey truth about Himself. And herein lies the mystery that we will never explain, or explain away.

    • ^^^Well said! I also really like what Jeff said too about it being so much better then just a handbook for life or whatever you want to call it. The Bible is about Jesus from beginning to end the point is Jesus. The bible is a tool used to reveal who he is to us and help us better understand who God truelly is.

  15. scottee says:

    Instant classic.

  16. Chaplain Mike,

    There’s been one area throughout recent posts where it seems to me more nuance is required. i’m certainly not the best candidate to spell it out clearly, but i’ll have a go at explaining.

    It seems there’s no distinction made between what inerrancy might mean with respect to the scriptures, and what ‘inerrancy’ has been used to mean by its more extreme adherents. i can think of how the two might be different.

    Did the human authors inspired of God write down precisely what God wanted written down? It seems to me that if Paul wrote down precisely what God meant for him to write, then Paul’s work is “inerrant” in a fairly significant sense.

    Also, does ‘inerrant’ necessarily mean ‘historically & scientifically inerrant’? i don’t see that they are necessarily equivalent. Suppose i want an estimate from a service provider. The service provider comes and checks out the work and then gives me a round number. He does the work, gives me the bill, and the bottom line is $10.23 different than the estimate. i won’t tell him he erred or was mistaken or can’t be trusted, will i? i never asked him for a bottom line, i asked him for an *estimate.* So it’s really not accurate to say he erred or is untrustworthy. Rather, if i tried to say he erred, i would be at fault for inappropriate use of standards or expectations.

    My point is, if a particular author didn’t intend to spell out scientific maxims, then when his words don’t come out like scientific standards, it’s not that i should cry “error!” It’s not a matter of the text being errant or inerrant, rather it’s about my having made a category mistake. The critic who cries “error” or the would-be defender who goes along with the category mistake–these people are guilty of trying to use a protractor to measure the temperature of the water.

    So i don’t see why i need to concede inerrancy on that count. Is the poetry in question inerrant? Sure. The poet wrote down precisely what God wanted written down, and the truth God meant to express through the poet’s words is, in fact, true and not an error.

    How is this a problem?

    –guy

    • It is a problem because that is not how “inerrancy” is defined by its adherents. (Go back and read Michael’s post on the subject earlier this week.) I have little problem with what you are saying, but someone who holds to “inerrancy” as it is defined today would beg to differ with you and me both.

      That’s why I think it is more helpful to use words that allow for more nuance, such as “true.”

      For example, if the Genesis account is what God wanted a person who held an ancient near eastern cosmology to write and he wrote it down in those ANE terms (which I think is the case), then it is still “true” though it may not be scientifically accurate according to what we know today after thousands of years of learning about the cosmos. This view would not satisfy one holding to “inerrancy.”

      • Chaplain Mike,

        There’s an important difference here: Believing that “inerrancy” equates to historical-and-scientific-inerrancy is not the same thing as believing that there are *some* texts in the Bible which the author intended to be an accurate record of history or science. Perhaps a person could be mistaken about whether a passage is meant to be history, but nevertheless that doesn’t means she adheres to the former position about inerrancy.

        The reason i bring it up is that it seems to me you’ve framed the debate in such a way that paints any and all young-earthers as among these ‘dirty’ biblicists. Maybe you don’t mean it that way; but it seems to me a person could hold the very view of scripture you’ve espoused in this essay and still believe in 6 literal days of Genesis 1 or whatever–and that being a matter of hermeneutics, not a matter of what inerrancy means or whether the Bible is inerrant.

        My only worry i suppose is that it appears you leave room for true contradiction. That’s why i brought up rethinking what “inerrancy” might mean. i do take it for granted that God neither lies nor makes mistakes. And i take it the Bible is “inerrant” in the sense i described–people wrote what God meant them to. And it seems like you’re espousing a position that may even run contrary to that. Suppose two passages were apparently contradictory. Do you really think, once we examined each passage in light of audience, purpose in writing, historical circumstance, genre, etc.–do you really think if we viewed each passage through appropriate hermeneutical lenses (and suppose we did so correctly) that a true contradiction would still remain? In other words, do you think God actually inspired people to represent Him in a truly inconsistent way? Do you believe that the Bible in any two (or more) places both affirms and denies precisely the same proposition in precisely the same sense?

        –guy

        P.S. For what it’s worth, i’m also a little leery of what i read sometimes because you seem to grant a lot more general credibility to science than i do. i’m just reluctant to take for granted that our modern wide-scope scientific beliefs are ‘given’ or ‘fool-proof’ or somehow ‘obviously’ right. General, wide-spread scientific beliefs have been grossly mistaken before. i don’t know why i should think our period of history is especially immune. Especially when it seems there’s no true separation from science as a theoretical method of investigation (which has plenty of philosophical problems on its own, by the way), and science as a social institution subject to various social influence. Sub-fields of science do often have their own set of “dogmas,” and no scientist who does conscientious work to challenge those dogmas will be taken very seriously. (And i’m *not* referring to evolutionary biology.) Point being, i don’t feel the need to make it a project to reconcile science with scripture because that project already presupposes a lot more faith and confidence in science than i personally see any reason to bring to the table.

        • Guy, if a “young-earther” is basing his or her position on a so-called “literal” reading of Genesis, I believe they are wrong, period. This is not because science has shown us another model. It is, rather, because their “literal” reading is (in every case I have seen) based on modern assumptions that they are not even aware of and not on an “incarnational” understanding of the Bible. I described that as: “…it comes to us in fully human form, taking the words of people written in their own times, from within their own cultures, according to the genres and literary conventions common to their day, and within the confines of their own limited perspectives, to communicate God’s message.” The creation described in Genesis 1 and other places in the Hebrew Bible is an Ancient Near Eastern creation, complete with a solid covering called a “firmament” on which the sun, moon, and stars are hung, with waters above that sometimes pour through “the windows of heaven” and waters below a disk-shaped land mass that is surrounded by water. Imagine a giant snow globe and you get the general picture.

          Now I believe God meant Moses (or whoever) to write that because, first of all, it spoke to the people of his own day. Secondly, the details of Genesis 1 differ significantly from the creation myths of the cultures around them in attributing all of this to a sovereign God who spoke it all into existence, bringing order out of chaos and establishing his temple in the world, in which humans created in his image were to rule as his representatives. That is a natural reading of Genesis 1 (I wouldn’t call it “literal”—that word doesn’t seem to fit) in its cultural context. I haven’t even mentioned the Biblical context of the Torah.

          The question is, if the Bible is “inerrant,” how is this “story” (it’s actually more like a liturgical text) inerrant? Not because it is accurate scientifically. One does not have to know much about science at all to know that the world is not a snow globe (though it still looks like they describe it to the natural eye). Not because it is accurate chronologically. The six days of creation are literal days, but the things that happen on those days reflect the way in which a ruler would build a temple, not the way the universe came about (light on earth before the sun and crops growing before the sun put the kibosh on that—again, not very sophisticated science). Not because it is accurate historically. This is not a journalist’s reporting of specific events. It is an artistic literary portrayal of God the King establishing his rule in creation.

          I say all of that not to get into an argument over the interpretation of Genesis 1. Please, not that here. But to show you that “grant[ing] a lot more credibility to science” or making “it a project to reconcile science with scripture” is not at all the issue here. It is the nature of the Biblical text that is at issue.

          As for whether or not there could be true contradictions in the Bible, I’d have to say yes. The Bible contains conversations between authors who disagree with each other. That does not threaten me in the least. God uses the whole conversation to communicate his truth.

          • Chaplain Mike,

            You wrote:
            “Guy, if a “young-earther” is basing his or her position on a so-called “literal” reading of Genesis, I believe they are wrong, period.”

            That’s not the point. My point is, even if she’s wrong, that doesn’t necessarily make her a biblicist or a literalist or even an inerrantist for that matter. A belief in young-earth-ism does not necessarily imply belief in any of those positions. Yet it seems you’ve at least set the game board in such a way to appear as though anyone who makes that move must be on that team.

            You wrote:
            “As for whether or not there could be true contradictions in the Bible, I’d have to say yes. The Bible contains conversations between authors who disagree with each other. That does not threaten me in the least. God uses the whole conversation to communicate his truth.”

            Either i still don’t understand you or this is where we part ways. Do you take it that God means for contradictory statements to accurately represent Him in character or knowledge or act or will? Did God inspire people to write down statements that are false about Him? Does God intend through human authors to affirm to readers “it is the case that X” and “it is not the case that X” in precisely the same sense?

            If so, how do we decide between those who disagree which is right? If neither, where do we get true statements about God? Perhaps you don’t understand “inspiration” to include the idea that God endorses what is being written?

            –guy

            • Guy, can you name YEC believers who aren’t literalists or inerrantists? I don’t think so. The two views go hand in glove (especially in our day), even though it may be technically possible to separate them. In earlier periods of history, say before Copernicus, you’d have a stronger argument. I am not the one who has “set the game board.” It is those who hold these positions in our day that link them inextricably together. The Mohlers and MacArthurs and those who endorse their perspectives say it all the time.

              As for contradictions, here is a simple example from God’s commands regarding cooking the Passover Lamb, pointed out by Peter Enns in his book, Inspiration and Incarnation:

              Exodus 12:8-9 says, “That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs.”

              Deut 16:6-7 repeats this command to the next generation, saying, “…at the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name, you shall sacrifice the Passover in the evening at sunset, at the time that you came out of Egypt. You shall cook and eat it in the place which the LORD your God chooses.

              There doesn’t seem to be any contradiction, and there isn’t—in our English translations. However, the word the NASB translates “cook” in Deut. is the word “boil,” the very word God used in the prohibition in Exodus 12. Exodus says, “You must not boil it.” Deut. says, “You shall boil it.” Seems like a small issue to us, yet these were direct instructions for how to properly celebrate Israel’s most important feast. If you want even more confusion, the Hebrew of 2Chronicles 35:13 takes the phrase “__________ in fire” from Exodus and replaces “roast” with “boil,” in an evident attempt to harmonize the two commands, even though no one actually boils anything in fire!

              So-called “contradictions” as well as other kinds of tensions and ambiguities abound in the Hebrew Bible, and I have always found it interesting that the Jewish tradition of interpretation seems to delight in the process of discussing and debating them, often allowing contradictory interpretations to stand side by side in the authoritative texts of Jewish tradition such as the Talmud. As Enns says, “The stress seems to be not on solving the problems once and for all but on a community upholding a conversation with Scripture with creative energy.”

              As for whether God endorses everything he has given us in the Bible, I will quote Michael Spencer again, who said it very clearly. I encourage you to go back and read “A Conversation in God’s Kitchen” for more detail.

              “The conversational model allows for a number of helpful ways of approaching scripture. For instance, it allows a variety of viewpoints on a single subject, such as the problem of evil. Job argues with Proverbs. It encourages us to hear all sides of the conversation as contributing something, and doesn’t say only one voice can be heard as right. Leviticus has something important to say that Psalms may not say. This approach sees the development of understanding as a natural part of the conversation, and isn’t disturbed when a subject appears to evolve and change over time. This model allows some parts of the conversation to be wrong, so that others can be right, and the Bible isn’t diminished as a result.

              “…Scripture is inspired if God has, on some level and in some way, directed its production so that it says what he wants it to say. Human beings may conclude that the Bible is inspired if it demonstrates, in its content and its results, a unity of message that cannot be explained by merely human factors. Despite its humanity, despite its diversity, the Bible speaks to us a message that claims to be from God, and is coherent and clear in its claims.”

          • You wrote:
            “Guy, can you name YEC believers who aren’t literalists or inerrantists? I don’t think so. The two views go hand in glove (especially in our day), even though it may be technically possible to separate them.”

            My only point was that the positions are technically separate. And failing to make a point to acknowledge that frankly just seems uncharitable and can easily just pigeon-hole people in unhelpful ways. It just comes across very “me vs. the bad guys” rather than discussions between brothers who might disagree.

            You wrote:
            “As for contradictions, here is a simple example from God’s commands regarding cooking the Passover Lamb”

            i’m sure you’re far more studied and knowledgeable about such matters than i. So at the end of the day, i’d still just be taking your word for it, or the authors.

            i recognize that among these “biblicists” there is a culture of “witch-hunting” toward those like yourself who have hard and sensitive questions and challenges for traditional views of scripture. i agree with you that is not a good thing. But i implore you to consider that there are also some who are very sincere in their faith who simply cannot go as far as you go and still maintain their belief.

            i can go with you part of the way, as i’ve said. But if i’m painfully honest with you, sir–if i accepted what you’re asking me to accept, i don’t think i could be a Christian anymore. i certainly don’t want that. And i doubt you do either. You may not be “threatened,” but i find it far beyond threatening. Does that make me ignorant? Or mistaken? Or foolish? Or short-sighted? Maybe it means i’m all those things. But that’s where i am. So is there a way you could also write what you’re writing bearing in mind you have brothers with much more fragile faith than yourself?

            –guy

          • Guy, thanks for a good conversation with thoughtful push-back.

            The main point Michael Spencer and I are trying to make is that Christians have become so defensive about the Bible that they have come to feel it necessary to prove we have a “perfect Book.” But my faith does not rest on needing to have a perfect Book. My faith rests on the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible is a credible, reliable witness to him. It does not need to be “inerrant” to be that. And I think a lot of our discussions about the details of that and defending that keep us from keeping the main thing the main thing.

          • Guy, if I could bounce off of something you said:

            “i recognize that among these “biblicists” there is a culture of “witch-hunting” toward those like yourself who have hard and sensitive questions and challenges for traditional views of scripture. i agree with you that is not a good thing. But i implore you to consider that there are also some who are very sincere in their faith who simply cannot go as far as you go and still maintain their belief.

            “i can go with you part of the way, as i’ve said. But if i’m painfully honest with you, sir–if i accepted what you’re asking me to accept, i don’t think i could be a Christian anymore. i certainly don’t want that. And i doubt you do either. You may not be “threatened,” but i find it far beyond threatening.”

            This reminds me of the Law/Gospel tension, and what you said above seems an echo of Romans 14, where Paul tries to wean believers away from a literal, strict interpretation of the Law:

            “One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.”

            and also:

            “5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.”

            When you say that “if i accepted what you’re asking me to accept, i don’t think i could be a Christian anymore,” this painfully illustrates to me the problem of a literalist/inerrantist view of scripture. I believe they have not only painted themselves into a corner by insisting on this, but have confined others to that corner as well–that it’s “all or nothing” as you seem to indicate, the same as those early Christians who insisted on “all or nothing” of the Law (and perhaps Martin Luther too in his insistence so much on sola fide that he refused to see the other side of the coin of works, as in the Epistle of James).

            In Matthew 23 Jesus comes down hard on the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy, their insisting on burdens for others that cannot be borne. This hard-line approach to scripture, this straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel, seems to be what weakens the faith and drives people away, not a relaxed conversational view of scripture that points to God and not to itself.

  17. Wow! Put that one in the bank.

  18. Chaplain Mike –

    I believe this is a well-written summary of understanding the nature of Scripture.

    Have you seen Peter Enns’ recent series interacting with the Chicago Statements of Inerrancy & Biblical Hermeneutics over at BioLogos? Of course, the series is specifically within the confines of understanding our faith and science. But some of the things raised are quite good. He has posted 10 articles thus far, with many to come, I suppose. This is a link to article ten, but links to the other 9 articles are found on the right side of the page, in case you might be interested in browsing.

  19. And now for the democratic opposition (not that there was ever any such thing in Christianity):

    *God is a human invention, a character from Middle Eastern mythology.

    *The Bible is partly folkloric and partly political–imposed by the sword. It is no more “true” than the mythology of any other culture (or Tolkien).

    *There is no “Christian church” in the abstract; there are only individual Christians and their various social structures.

    *The Bible is incompatible with human progress. Even when its bad parts are interpreted away, its underlying authoritarianism betrays most impulses towards the good.

    *Similarly, there is no central meaning of the Bible, only individual interpretations and corporate pronouncements.

    You are welcome.