Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Map for the Way

So, what can be done with this complicated human creation, the Bible? Is it inspired? Is it the word of God? I would say “yes” and “yes.” Is it the only way that God has communicated with humanity, or ever will? To these I say “no” and “no.” How do I know these things? I don’t know, and neither does anyone else, we only have our beliefs. Even those who say that the Bible is the only true, complete record of God’s instructions to the human race that is free from any and all errors in relation to any and all doctrines necessary for salvation, only do so out of a belief that that is true. I can’t put that amount of faith into a human creation. The facts that the books of the Bible were written by dozens of people over centuries; that a good portion of the earlier books were first passed on through oral tradition; that original texts are not extant; and that different groups of believers believe that different texts belong and others don’t all lead me to the conclusion that the Bible can’t live up to the extremely high expectations of those who claim it is inerrant. On top of that, there is the circular reasoning of arguing that the scripture is inerrant because it says it is. I could say that this blog is the word of God, filled with true doctrine that is free from error. If someone were to post a comment pointing out reasons not to believe that, all I would need to do is point to the fact that the blog itself stated that it was inerrant to prove the inerrancy of the blog. Doesn’t make too much sense does it?

On the other hand, the fact that the Bible even exists today as an intact, generally agreed upon text considered holy by a vast number of people is reason to believe that it is one of the greatest efforts in all of human history to attempt to speak about the relationship between the human and the divine. This is a grand story telling marvelous truths. Read as a whole, the Bible speaks of a divine plan in which God shows exceptional love to some rather unlovely sorts (i.e. people just like you and me). It also clearly shows that this God chooses underdogs and consistently makes a preferential option for the poor (you can hardly turn a page without reading about caring for the widow, orphan and/or sojourner). Some of the stories are riveting and awe-inspiring; what greater liberation story is there than the Exodus? It is in the details where things fall apart; not so much because of the details themselves but because of our tendency to nit-pick and lord over one another.

Jews have always had a wonderful tradition of struggling with the holy texts. They interpret and re-interpret and listen to each other’s sides, living with the differences in interpretation (this is the Talmudic tradition). Christians have not typically followed suit. We have a long tradition of excommunication (and even executing) heretics. But when we read the Gospels, we see Jesus move away from the law as restrictive, replacing it with the grace to live life abundantly. He calls for the giving of the full measure of our lives. If we are serious in our discipleship, following Jesus as revealed in the scriptures, then we won’t have much time at all for finding specks in the eyes of our brothers and sisters since we will have to pay to much attention to being lumberjacks getting the logs out of our own eyes.

The Bible may be only a human creation, but it is the creation of humans just like you and me, who longed to know God and to be godly in their living. It is a book that I can relate to. It is a book that inspires me to be better than I can imagine being on my own. It is also complicated enough that I am forced to use my God-given rational mind to understand it. It is also challenging enough that I know that I need to be among the gathered faithful to live out the life it calls me to. To follow Jesus is to follow “the way.” I need the Bible as the map, my mind to make choices, the wisdom of those who have gone this way before, and the company of fellow travelers to share the burden of the journey. All the pieces are necessary and the most important one is the one that is missing at the time.

19 comments:

Hollands Opus said...

I would say it is only your belief that we only have beliefs. Your epistemology almost sounds entirely Humean or Kantian, or Hickean in a more contemporary sense. We cannot God as he actually is, only as we experience Him.

It also seems to me that you rule out the possibility that God could use fallible humans to communicate his revalation. But that too sounds odd, for why would one need to be perfect to repeat another person or commnuicate that other persons mind? That we a re fallible does not mean we will screw up in everything. Indeed, to apply that to scripture would be to insist that everyone that wrote the scripture was incapable of scribing what God had revealed to them.

None of the reasons you offer for questioning inerrancy are sufficent to overcome claims to the contrary, as if compelling. As you likely knww, the scribing of OT texts was a rather micromanaged, at times brutal process that featured checking and rechecking.

In the NT, large communites of earliest believers held the stories in check. Also, given the shortage of materials to the averge Joe, much memorizing was done. Anyway, my point is that none of the objections are sufficient to controvert the claim.

Also, the claim is that the originals were inerrant and inspired - not the copies. So we have variants and oddities that account for nearly no compromise in doctrine. And as mentioned, no one really questions the integrity of the texts within the scholarly circles - there it is meaning and application and sometimes higher criticism that is brought to bear.

At the end of tha day, your position seems to be that the book is entirely human in origin, and yet it reveals God's plan. But if it is waht you say it is, how can it even be a map or anything else of use? Also, there are holy books that wholly contradict the scripture. Are they to be followed?

What does Paul mean when he pronounces an Anathema on any other gospel?

You see, there are some things that cannot be accepted by your thesis. The propositoin that scripture is purely the product of man flies in the face of a different reality - Jesus approval of the OT, fulfilled prophecy.

Given what we know about from scientific inquiry, we also need to rule out a number of religions that insist on the eternality of the universe and that all is an illusion.

You are right about Jesus, but then you cannot really know that with any certainty - for maybe Jesus is the made up part. Also, we see Jesus affirming those same texts and condemning the Pharisees. As a recovering Pharisee, I can assure you Jesus loved them too! Jesus also had no intention of doing away with but fulfilling the scriptures, much of which intergrate seamlessly with the NT.

Jesus also warned about false teachers and anti Christs. So as followers we pursue with our MIND and with deeds. In part, that includes defending the theology passed on to us by Jesus, even to the point of death which was common in those earlier days.

I see noone in scripture or the church being martyred for doing good deeds. People were killed for thier beliefs - for claiming Christ as Lord over Ceasar, for questioning the Pharisees. I never say anyone put to death for giving bread outside of some theological context denying the same.

So, while you have some good points about the abuses, you have not made the clai mthat scripture is inspired any less likley.

That is my short answer!
Hollands Opus

David J said...

At this point I am choosing to opt out of this conversation based on the level of scholarship and argument here. As a layman with quite a bit of catching up to do, it serves mme better to watch and learn.

mkz said...

Wow Ian, is this how you see the Word of God? I have a hard time seeing the details of Scripture fall apart in the reading. I also do not believe that so many people, over so much time, could possibly construct so seemless a craft that still endures against the polluted tide of human nature without the assistance of a far greater mind than even the idea of evolution would ever allow us. It`s possible that all the arguments of reason and fact will never make a strong enough rope to pull you out of the vast expanse you are in. Maybe I am so newly saved that I can`t see the fractures in the hull of Truth in Biblical docterine that you do. But if you have developed cataracts on the windows of your soul Ian, try a dose of regression therapy.
Dust off the wayback machine and hold on firmly. What did the Word say to you the day you were saved? When you begged The Lord Jesus Christ to save you from yourself, and the damnation you were headed for, The Holy Spirit entered you, displacing tears of joy. Through those tears you read God`s Word, understanding for the first time. Do you remember? All I can promise you beloved brother,is since that moment many things have changed, but the Truth and Soveriegnty of The Bible is not one of them.

Ian said...

OK, folks, remember that the point here is not to convince others to change their minds so much as to explain ourselves to each other and try to understand our differences while finding whatever we have in common.

I understand (or at least I think I do) that HO and mkz are concerned about my very salvation because of my view of scripture, but trust me that I (and millions of others) are faithfully pursuing God with this alternate view of scripture.

That said, a couple of responses:

*HO, I'm not talking about the transmission of the text, I am talking about the original texts. I don't think the view that the human authors were simply transcribing the words of God enjoys much popularity, so most people seem to agree that the texts are a human creation. Within that context, we ought to be able to see a wide variety of meanings for inspiration.

*HO, am I right in understanding you to say that we cannot know God as God is, but only experience God? That is, do we agree on that? And if that is the case, I'm not sure I get your point. We didn't get far discussing epistemology on your blog and I'm not sure that this entry will be the place for the discussion either, but we will see, perhaps the discussion does need to go in that direction.

*It may be subtle, but I would suggest that the scripture points the way toward God and God's plan more than revealing it.

*Dave, please don't leave the discussion, your thoughts, your opinions, and yes, your feelings are important here.

*mkz, my salvation is ongoing, working it out with fear and trembling as the scripture suggests. I never had one singular moment, but have been a Christian all my life, so I can't do as you suggest. I am pleased that your experience of God has been so radically life-changing. You'll have to trust me when I say that my on-going relationship with the sovereign God changes me constantly.

mkz said...

Ian, I am not trying to sound bellicose but (I am not concerned so much for your salvation, as it`s not something you can loose once gained.) I`m just trying to figure out how you view God, in light of the fact you don`t believe His Word is His Word. This does, as a brother concern me as you are presumably teaching other people about a god who did not write the Bible, I am assuming you preach sermon from. Do you see my confusion?
Another question, while different people will find different inspirations from Scripture, to be sure, do you feel the popular opinion of some, or many about who ultimately generated the original text of The Bible makes it less than the Truth of Gods` will for us? I am trying to grasp why anyones` opinion would matter to a soverign god. Are we to assume by this you question Gods` soveriegnty as well as His Word?

David J said...

Okay, Ian. Tag, I'm back in. What I seem to gather from HO and Mkz is that you're not supposed to question anything about the Bible that may seem questionable from our finite understanding of who God is or more precisely what God should be like.

I think we are somehow ingrained with a an instinctive ability to draw conclusions from words, behaviors, actions and deeds.

Mkz, it's clear that God listened to Abraham as he spoke about the destruction of Sodom. God even co-sponsored a wrestling match with Jacob. Why would a sovereign God bother with us? I have no clue.
But clearly he is involved in the affairs of men. And that should give us great comfort and not be a reason for further divisions among Christians with differing views on how to interpret the Scriptures.

Hollands Opus said...

Dave, you are using scripture to say that scripture should not divide us. It is inescapable. I am not sure what question the bible means. It seems all I do from the moment I rise to the precious few momens of rest is to consider what the bible says, and how does that fit , etc. and how does this persons thought refine or contradict or complement my view.

The bottom line, and this addresses Ian's question is that God is onjectively real and has revealed certain unquestionable things about who God is. God id triune, God is everlasting - and a littany of "attributes" as revealed in his word. So yes, Ian, we can know God as God is in as much as He has revealed those things. And of course, Jesus is God in a way that only God is God. What I was suggesting Ian, is that your understanding of God seems inferential based more on subjectivism than objective reality.

When the Pharisees drew wrong conclusions, Jesus would say things like, "you kow niether the scripture nor the power of God". No, you are not a pharisee!

The scriptures indeed are a dividing line, and well they should be. If I may follow Ian's lead here, we do have many options as to how to read a map. You and I may interpret differently and end up on opposite shores.

Ian, I did not intend to argue for dictation when I mentioned the biblical authors. They were communicating truth, grounded in God and guided along by the Holy Spirit so that mankind could know the mind of God on a wide range of things. I think we agree somewhat on that. And of course, the several authors have various styles and nuances in keeping with thier individualities - but God supervened on those limitations to ensure that His will is accurately communicated.

Or, it takes God to reveal God to those equipped by God for the revelation of God!

Yikes, I like that!

Epistemological assumptions are constantly part of our tacit awareness, and perhaps may indeed need to be articulated.

Ian said...

HO said "Or, it takes God to reveal God to those equipped by God for the revelation of God!"

This is a fascinating sentence. It reminds me of other similar comments elsewhere about the need for God to understand God's word. This strikes me as almost diminishing the importance of the Bible, since it seems to indicate that it cannot stand alone. HO's comment sounds like Calvinist double predestination (perhaps it is your intention). But it also strikes me as a form of neo-gnosticism, i.e. one must have the secret knowledge to gain salvation. It may be distinguishable from the gnosticism of the first century by the claim that God willingly reveals the knowledge to any human and thus it is not the exclusive claim of current believers, but I still can't help but see a parallel.

David J said...

HO, I was making the point that in the Bible there were places where God listened to us and actually reacted.

To your point about questions, I think it's a rather healthy practice to examine what men write and think about the Bible. There is a psychological principle called "groupthink" which I have no doubt you are well aware makes for a very sterile and closed approach to critical thinking. Luther, who I'm actually not that fond of, was one who certainly challanged the prevailing groupthink of his day. Others have come since to continue to challange. It's not about one specific question, but many. I obviously have a shallow understanding of my faith according to all the litmus tests that are designed to frame my relationship with God. These are issues of the heart that are entirely driven and determined by the will and desire of the seeker.
I seek to "use" Scripture and whatever other means God gives me to find common ground. Ian's journey and conclusions seem very reasonable to me. And I think it's crucial that we examine each others' conclusions carefully before we formulate our own understanding. For years I've only considered one set of possibilities. For me to "arrive" (which I think is probably unlikely) I will explore many avenues of thought. Even though I've been a Christian for quite some time (I think), there is much I don't know.

Hollands Opus said...

No, on the contrary, the revelation is not based on some secret knowledge only available to a few. I am talking more along the lines of Paul, "the natural man does not recieve spiritual things, for they are foolishness to him". Job said, "I had heard with my ears but now I have really known." We cannot know God's mind except through his revelation and the intellectual and volitional barriers that we inherit from Adam and Eve (we can know good and evil by ourselves without God) must be removed for internalizing those and for relationship with God.

Almost anyone can understand what the words of scripture say. But to embrace the same as God intended requires spiritual action by God in regeneration. You and I may disagree how that happens. Some think that the atonement made that optional for everyone. I do not accept that. But I can see why some hold to it.

But Gnosticism goes beyond mere special knowledge - it also decries the physical as bad, which is why Gnostics always denied that Christ came in the flesh. Gnosticism is just plain ugly.

As far as double predestination - that is a term I cannot get comfortable with. And Yet I entirely beleive that God does not do the same saving work in everyone in the same way.

Dave and Ian
if you are comfortable that there is more than one way to God (in the salvific sense), then you step outside of orthodox, creedal Christianity. Perhaps you did not intend that. Perhaps you have no issue with that. But the claim seems irrefutable. Now of course that would not mean you are not "saved", but that you have embraced a theology and concept of God not in keeping with historic, creedal Christianity and the Chrsitian church is obliged to exclude from participation in that body, those that deny its major tenets.

I think we need good reason to do that (i.e. allow more than one way ot God), and I think that can only proceed from a biblical analysis which demands departure from those early creedal affirmations and allows for inclusion of apparantly contradictory beliefs.

These are strong assertions by me. Please understand that by exclusion from the Christian body I do not suppose one to be outside of Christ, as I think I have argued for. That doesn't make me better, smarter, more spiritual or less for that matter.

I am of course, open to correction if I have not alienated you altogether!

Hollands Opus

mkz said...

I think, as harsh and devisive as it may seem, that OP has a valid point here. Simply put, If you ascribe to being a Christian, you need to follow Christ. All we know of Him outside The Holy Spirit is in The Bible, and it tells us that faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. If you disect the Scriptures, removing what you don`t like or don`t want to understand, what you come away whith is only a partial truth. Partial anything is always somewhat unsatisfying. Then to make this partiality whole, you need graft things on that are your own ideas, or someone elses other than Gods`. What you end up whith is an amalgam that is not Gods` Word, not truth to anyone, except the self or those that agree with your estimations, and certainly not Christianity as the author of the faith would recognize it.

David J said...

mkz, I think what atleast I'm trying to say (I can't speak for Ian) is that if certain Bible passages contradict the teachings of Jesus, or they have serious overtones (like killing your kids, or genocide, or slavery-which by the way was the South's main argument for the practice during the civil war) we need to examine the context and then find the proper interpretation.

That's what we do anyway. We always interpret the Bible using reason and experience. It is far from not obeying Christ to ask daily for God's will in deciphering of this Word. Ohterwise I might kill someone who have my own concubine.

David J said...

I meant and have my own concubine..gotta learn to type!

mkz said...

I don`t feel I ever suggested that daily asking for Gods` (will?) guidence in deciphering His Word would be disobeying Jesus, but to edit out of our faith what we find disegreable in Scripture certainly is. Revelation 22:18-19.
Honestly, I cant type either. I do a glorified 10 finger hunt-n-peck, mixed with a liberal backspace staccato that gets louder the faster I try to go!

Hollands Opus said...

Agreed David,
word meaning does not change from person to person. The words have a very precise meaning in thier context and genre, and we can always know what a particualr verse says.

SO there is no "what it means to me" or "what it means to you". The application will vary from person to person.

And the South should have known better. That was case of the good point you have made about making scripture say what you want. All they needed was the word slave to appear and there was there justification. And the diferences were actually important as mkz has pointed out in another post.
Hollands Opus

Ian said...

Sigh, so much thinking, so little time....

Forgive my brevity...

HO, my point about the comparison to gnosticism was the comparison of the "something extra" needed. I understand that Gnosticism contained all that you point out. The point remains that God's intervention is necessary for an individual to have proper understanding to your way of thinking. I am thinking a lot about that point and will likely work up another blog entry on that topic at some point.

I'm also glad to see the use of the term "orthodox, creedal Christianity." For the record, I (and many other Christians today) am not an orthodox, creedal Christian. I have no problem be told that I'm not orthodox or creedal (the United Church of Christ is a non-creedal denomination) but I refuse to accept the label of non-Christian, thus the quest for common ground (we can easily name many differences). Thankfully, we are continuing to discuss through the potential dead ends, instead agreeing to disagree...so far, so good!

Also, I see a need to post yet another blog about multiple salvific ways to God. What does that make now, three topics I've promised? Sorry, you'll just have to remember that patience is a virtue!

Hollands Opus said...

Indeed Ian, on all counts. I shall look forward to the discussion of other salvific ways. And if we end up agreeing to disagree at some point, then there are many other theological and intellectual and spiritual heights to be scaled.

I appreciate the blog.

Gregory said...

I don't know how blogs work... so you may have already moved on.

My view of scripture is this: The Bible is the collection of stories about the people of God wrestling with what it means to be the people of God. It comes in a variety of forms: myth, letters, histories, songs, bumperstickers.

I don't believe that God sat down at one point and said: "Ok, folks, pens at the ready..." and started talking. If so, why did She stop? When?

Scripture is the recorded evolution of faith and understanding, of attempting failing and trying again, of asking, pleading and sometimes getting an answer.

I want to also make one other point, in response to mkz's parenthetical. Salvation is not something earned, nor indeed ever lost. God's power--through scripture, and radio, and the Sunday comics--points us toward wholeness. Wholeness within ourselves and wholeness with each other and wholeness with God. To that end, I don't see salvation as 'gained.' We are always saved but more often God is in the process of saving. It is ongoing.

Ian... how'd I do with my first blog entry?

Ian said...

You done good, gregory! I appreciate your comment about salvation=wholeness. I just had a conversation irl with one of my fellow bloggers on just this topic. It is yet another "deserves its own post" topic. I don't know if anyone is still following this thread, but your comments should spark it up again (I may need to draw attention to it). Thanks for joining the fray!