Faith Meets World

Reflections on faith in a messed-up but beautiful world

Category: Scripture (Page 3 of 11)

Jesus or inerrancy: take your pick

Bible“Inerrancy” is a word you may not actually hear spoken all that often in evangelical churches. But make no mistake: the belief that scripture is and must be without error underpins an awful lot of evangelical theology and lies not far beneath the surface in many churches.

While there’s no universal agreement on precisely what is meant by biblical inerrancy, there is at least one documented explanation in the form of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Since my purpose here is not to examine the whole notion of inerrancy, I won’t bother to reproduce the whole thing (if you’re interested, you can read it here). But I would like to quote the statement’s final two points:

4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.

5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.

In case you find their wording obscure, allow me to translate these two points into simple language: the Bible contains absolutely nothing that is mistaken; and either the whole Bible is absolutely true, or none of it is at all reliable. That’s right, folks: it’s an all or nothing deal.

I used to believe in the inerrancy of scripture, but I don’t any more. For me, it’s really important not to. The reason? Well, to put it bluntly, I think you can believe either in the inerrancy of scripture or in the God fully revealed by Jesus, but not both.

Let me try to explain.

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Projecting onto God

Greek god

It has come to my understanding that how we perceive others is often in large part a function of our own internal state rather than a reflection of objective reality.

Let me give you an example to flesh this out.

Sometimes I’ll ask my wife “What’s the matter?” and she’ll give me a puzzled look and answer, “Nothing, why?” This has at times been a source of frustration for her in the past, because through my persistent asking “What’s the matter?”, I’ve given her the impression that there must be something wrong when, in fact, nothing was wrong at all. I’m gradually learning to be more careful about asking this kind of question; or, rather, to take a step back and think about what’s going on before I ask it.

What is usually going on here?

Often, what’s actually going on at such times is that I am, for some reason or other, in a state of inner discontent which I then unconsciously project onto my wife. Perhaps I’m feeling anxious, insecure, angry or fearful about something. I’m probably not consciously aware that this is how I’m feeling. But because it’s what’s going on deep inside, I look for some external object on which to fix my anxiety, insecurity, anger or fear. And the nearest external object usually happens to be my wife.

To put it simply, if you’re often angry, you tend to expect others to be angry too; if you’re often fearful, you tend to see others as potential sources of fear; and so on.

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The Bible clearly says

Cat BibleOver the past year or so, Facebook has become a place of wide-ranging theological discussion for me. Of course, as a medium for serious, in-depth discussion, it has its disadvantages and limitations; but thanks to others of like mind, I’ve found it to be predominantly a source of life and stimulation.

Being active in theological debate on Facebook has taught me a lot, especially about things like taking time to think before speaking, giving others the benefit of the doubt and working hard to communicate clearly and unambiguously. It’s also brought to my attention certain recurring arguments that many Christians regularly trot out in defence of whatever position they’re pushing, one of which I’d like to briefly highlight today. And hopefully demolish.

If I had a pound for every time in the last year that I’ve heard or seen someone say “But the Bible clearly says…”, I’d be well on the way to funding a more generous pension for my later years.

I have a number of issues with arguments beginning “The Bible clearly says…”.

First, it is not borne out by two thousand years of history. If the Bible clearly said anything much at all, surely the world would not now have something like forty thousand Christian denominations, many of which claim to have the correct interpretation of scripture. Similarly, if the Bible was anything like as clear as this statement claims, there would have been no need for the academic study of theology and the accompanying theological debate that has persisted through twenty centuries and shows little sign of abating even today. This alone ought to be enough to kick “The Bible clearly says…” into touch as a credible argument for anything.

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Getting God wrong

Abraham sacrifice

I’m convinced we’ve often got God wrong.

Now, given that we are small, finite creatures and God is the infinite creator, this should come as no great surprise. However, I’m not talking about getting God wrong in small and relatively inconsequential ways; I’m talking about getting him so fundamentally, utterly wrong that the God we think we understand and worship is as different from the real God and Father of Jesus as chalk is from cheddar.

You may think I’m coming on rather strong here, and I am. But I feel entitled to do so, because this is personal: I have myself got God wrong for a great many years. (Again, I’m sure I continue to get him wrong in many ways today — to claim otherwise would be arrogant in the extreme; but hopefully the ways in which I get him wrong now are less grievous than the ways in which I’ve misconstrued him in the past.)

One of the main ways in which I think we get God wrong is by thinking that he required the life of his son Jesus as a sacrifice in order to forgive and redeem mankind. This is, of course, often taught as a (if not the) central tenet of the Christian faith, so to question it may seem shocking to you. But let’s let the scriptures speak for themselves and see what they tell us.

“For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.” (Psalm 51:16, NRSV)

In this verse from David’s famous psalm of repentance, we see that David, who is referred to in Acts 13:22 as “a man after God’s own heart”, seems to have understood that sacrifice was not something God required, approved of or was remotely pleased by.

It seems to me we have two options here.

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Full and final

Bible crossA short post today (something I attempt fairly regularly but rarely succeed in achieving).

Let me begin with a bold statement:

The Bible is not the full and final revelation of God.

That statement ought not to be shocking; the only reason it is shocking is that our theological education is generally so poor, shallow and distorted.

Here’s why the Bible is no good as the one and only, definitive source of understanding about God: you can use the Bible to support just about any view of God that you want to. Sure, you can use the Bible to paint God as a loving, compassionate Father; but you can also use it to depict him as a vengeful, two-faced, bad-tempered ogre. However you want to imagine or describe God, you can find verses and passages in the Bible that will help you make your case.

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Guide our feet

By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.

(Luke 1:78-79)

Judgmental Jesus

Cast the first stoneToday I’d like to take the liberty of tinkering with a well-known text from the gospel of John. I’m sure you’ll get the point.

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.

The Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No , Lord”, she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Not this time, anyway. But you’d better not do it again, okay? Just because I’m not condemning you this time, don’t go thinking you’re off the hook. I suggest you watch your step from now on, because at some point my patience might wear out. Remember, even when you think I’m not around, I’ll be watching you. I’m giving you a big chance here; don’t let me down by blowing it.”

(Adapted from John 8:1-11)

[ Image: Jean-Louis Mazières ]

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