Phyllis Tickle talked about how the church has a rummage sale every 500 years and gets rid of what it doesn’t need and holds to what it does. It happened at the fall of Rome around 500AD, the Great Schism around 1000AD, the protestant reformation in 1500AD, and now we are at another 500 year mark. Things are always changing but with the world becoming a smaller neighborhood through technology we are experiencing major shift, and so is the Church. Not just geographically as the Christian faith has experienced a sharp decline in the west and major revival in the east, but also in the kinds of questions it’s asking.
One question seems to be, what IS the Bible? Have we missed the mark on what the Bible even is? Is it a different kind of work all together than the protestants thought? What has been the fruit of the Protestant approach to the Bible? The fruit of Sola Scripture? Did it create more unity or more division?
I’m only an observer on the macro level but I can speak about my journey a bit and a few thoughts that shook me at first but eventually gave me peace.
And The Ground Shook:
For me it started with a simple thought. It struck me as overly convenient that I happened to be born into the tradition that views the Bible clearly and interprets it accurately. With the incredible diversity to interpretation and practice, was I really born and raised in the group that got it most correct? If so, why isn’t this group more alive in their faith and why do they spend so much time defending and arguing for the accuracy of their view? Things only got more complex from there.
Slowly, over years of study and reflection a different view started emerging. Mainly these thoughts came off the pages of the Bible itself. Here are those thoughts without their backstory because some of them might be helpful to a few of you… Pretty much as I recorded them on the notes app over the last season.
1. The Bible isn’t something to be believe in but an invitation to a wrestling match. The very name Israel means to struggle with God. Struggling with God is at the core of the people of God. He wants that kind of relationship.
2. Perhaps the Bible does more to demonstrate a trajectory than establish a permanent set of values. It does more to demonstrate how to change than how to be. It says more about the journey of faith than the destination of it. Scripture was never intended to be a destination point but an arrow that shows the trajectory of what God is doing in the world. The way to live in faith as a member of a Jewish tribe in the time of Moses was extremely different than what it meant to live as a Christian in the first century under Roman oppression. God may not change in his character but he constantly adapts to context. God is unchanging in his character but that does not mean he is stagnant in his approach. It does not mean he is inflexible when dealing with modern issues. If anything, the Scripture shows us how accommodating he can be as he works with communities to pull them forward. The Scripture is a history of God partnering with polygamists, violent warlords, coward, murderers, adulterers, slave owners, chauvinists, idolaters, and others like us.
3. The Old Testament is a record of people struggling to understand God or follow Him correctly. The gospels reveal Jesus Christ as the accurate representation of God. The rest of the New Testament records people struggling to fully understand Jesus and the implications of His work and trying to do so. I relate to the Bible because my life looks similar… perpetually failing to understand God and trying to do so because of the connection I have to God.
4. The Bible harnesses the wisdom and experience of multiple generations through every style of literature. Although it takes place in a world and mindset we could never comprehend, it is the best tool we have for understanding the human condition and what is needed for growth and change.
5. When reading Scripture we’re not reading objective reality but perspective reality. Perspective reality is the only kind humans have. You’re seeing how those people understood and explained their perspective of their experience with God. Just like us, the authors of the Bible were “seeing through a glass dimly” and operating on their best understanding. That understanding was not stagnant but is ever moving forward. Just as they thought the world was flat and we know it is not, all understanding moves from being more flat to being multi-dimensional. We do not see more clearly because we are so much smarter and more sophisticated, but as Scripture shows, God is consistently meeting people and communities where they are to pull them forward.
Many will read that and think I have strayed off the path but the important question is… Which path have I strayed from? I would say I have strayed off the path of making claims for the Bible it never makes for itself. From treating it as something it’s not. From asking questions it isn’t trying to answer and forcing it to share my concerns and values. I am trying to accept the bible as it is and not what I want it to be. As Pete Enns puts it, “God let’s his children tell their story.”
With all of these problems I still love the Bible and hold it to be the most important work recorded human history. It is, dare I say, inspired… even divine. How about God breathed… and I don’t find that to be a contradiction with my above statements. The Bible is full of the most influential writings in the history of the world. The best evidence of it’s authority is the fact that millions have been changed by it’s words. It continues to challenge and grow people to this day. The history of the Bible’s effect is the best evidence of it’s authority. Still, the Bible’s influence on me is the only real evidence I need that it is in fact… sacred.
This is a short summery of some thoughts we shared on the Different Together Podcast. Check that out and share your thoughts and opinions for our follow episode as we go deeper.