How is a Fallible Bible Inspired?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Over the past several months we've been doing a lot of deconstruction work with the Bible on this blog. It's important work because the motivation is one of compassion. We've seen how an unquestioning reading of the Bible has led people to do all sorts of hurtful things to others in the name of God, and because we care about people and love the Bible we need to confront that. Still, even so, it's hard. It takes a toll because, even though we believe we are doing something good, it cuts away at our old beliefs, and that means it cuts us, too. 

Brian McLaren recently compared this process of deconstruction to peeling an onion, 
"Every new conception of God necessarily requires doubting or rejecting the prevailing conception of God... For many, the process is like peeling an onion. First they lose faith in the 6-day creationist god, then in the bible-dictation god, then in the male-supremacy god, then in the european-supremacy/western-civilization/colonialist god, then in the anti-gay god, ... eventually, every layer of the onion is peeled away and one is left with nothing, but maybe some tears.

The fear of being left with nothing leaves many people desperately afraid to question anything, which might be a good definition of fundamentalism. ... The question, I think, is this: what happens after one peels away the onion and faces the possibility that there is nothing left"
With the Bible the question we are left with is this: After we strip away a hurtful unquestioning way of reading the Bible, what does it then mean to read Scripture as scripture? If we lose the "God said it that settles it" approach, in what sense can we say the Bible is inspired if we don't mean "everything it says should be followed without question."  Is it just a "human book" or is there a way to find God in there, just as we find God amongst the mess of our own world?

Jesus said that all of the law and the prophets were summed up in two commands: Love God, and love others as you love yourself. That's not just a summary for Jesus, it is at the same time the aim of Scripture: The Bible is intended to lead us to love God, others, and ourselves. That's the ultimate aim and purpose of the Bible as Jesus saw it. If we are reading in a way that leads us away from love, then we are reading wrong. That was the mistake of the Pharisees, and continues to be the mistake of many Christians today. If we see that our interpretation is causing hurt, we need to pay attention to that and make a course correction.

Seen positively however, the purpose of Scripture is to lead us to love, and since God is love that means first and foremost the  purpose of Scripture is to lead us into an encounter with God's love. Scripture is therefore not our master, it instead is our servant leading us to God. Scripture is a vehicle meant to bring us into an experience of God's love that shapes us, making us whole and deeply alive, setting us free. Being loved forms us, and then spills over into every area of our lives as we show others (including the people we don't like or respect) the same love and mercy we have known. 

Here Scripture takes on the role of a servant which brings us to encounter God's living Spirit. It acts as a window to the divine, as a vehicle that leads us to Christ. Not Jesus in a book, but the living risen Jesus known through the Spirit. In that sense the Bible becomes a sacrament, that is, it becomes a means for us to encounter the divine.  
Scripture is therefore not "inspired" in the sense that it is a static book of eternal laws that are beyond question, rather it is inspired when it is read by us so as to lead us to love. It is inspired when it becomes a sacrament leading us into an encounter with the divine, an encounter with the risen Jesus, leading us into a life-transforming relationship with God. 
The word "inspired" literally means in-spirit-ed. That is, to be indwelt by the Spirit. Without the spark of life from God we have no life in us. In the same way, apart from the Spirit the Bible is simply a dead letter. The Bible is therefore inspired ... in(Holy)Spirit-ed ... when we learn how to read it in a way that leads us to meet the one who is love, who is truth, and who is the way. That is what a devotional reading of Scripture needs to look like, what it means the read Scripture as scripture. That is a truly evangelical reading of Scripture because it puts the focus on the gospel, the good news of God's kingdom impacting our lives--both on a personal and societal level. That's a way to read the Bible that keeps God at the center, rather than making a book central, or more truthfully making our interpretation of a book central.

So in the end, when we let go of the unquestioning Pharisaical way of reading the Bible that has characterized fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism, while we lose our own certainty and instead need to be a little more humble and aware of our limitations and potential towards sin (even sin in the name of religion!) what we gain is a way to read the Scripture as a sacrament that can lead into a life-changing encounter with God and Love and Life.

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32 Comments:

At 1:04 PM, OpenID christianonthefrontline said...

"The word "inspired" literally means in-spirit-ed. That is, to be indwelt by the Spirit. Without the spark of life from God we have no life in us. In the same way, apart from the Spirit the Bible is simply a dead letter."

I like that, really mirrors God coming in human form in Jesus (thank you to Peter Enns for the starting point on that) Thank you for this post, it gives me more to consider in my "just what am I supposed to do with the Bible" journey I'm on

 
At 2:12 PM, Blogger Jeremy Myers said...

Love it. I often thought that love is the litmus test of our theology (and of the way we are reading Scripture. If we are not learning to love others more, then we are probably wrong in our theology and our understanding of the Bible...

 
At 4:48 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

"Love is the litmus test" I like that!

 
At 12:57 AM, Blogger Avigdor said...

Dear Derek. I am a gay Messianic Jew and live in a committed relationship with my partner Raphael. I really enjoy your blog and always eagerly anticipate new posts. Your latest blog was particularly inspiring and I wanted to thank you publically for your insights and 'labour of love' in publishing this blog. It is deeply appreciated. Shalom & Kind Regards. Avigdor Kuhn

 
At 9:16 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 9:22 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7:38 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Thanks Avigdor!

 
At 7:40 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Hey Sam,
Where did your comments go? Are you re-formulating them? I read them before you removed them and thought they were fine.

 
At 12:47 PM, Blogger Ryan Myers said...

Derek,

I think Brian McLaren's analogy of peeling an onion is a poor one. It assumes you can take the God who is love and make evil stick to Him, like so much gauze wrapped around and around until you can no longer see what's at the core. But I think the only way to worship a god of domination and favoritism (like the gods of classical mythology) is to start with something entirely different from the Father of Jesus. If your starting point is a god of money and power and fear, it only makes sense that after peeling away all of the layers there would be nothing left but tears. I made this transition a couple years ago, leaving behind the god of Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" and turning to the Father as portrayed by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son. It was not so much a matter of peeling away layers or removing veils, but of stepping off the yellow brick road and onto a different path altogether.

As for calling Scripture a sacrament, I definitely see where you're coming from. But I think continuing to call Scripture "inspired" is muddying the waters. If you believe that God did not "inspire" the written words of Scripture (as most of us know the term) but instead inspires us as we read it, I think it's misleading for you to continue calling Scripture "inspired" since the object of the inspiration is not Scripture. It seems that you're co-opting the terminology of the Christian majority so that you can avoid what would be a heavy charge in the eyes of that majority. Is there a danger in simply calling it what it is?

 
At 10:05 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Ryan,
I can certainly sympathize with wanting to "call things as they are." However I think a very strong argument can be made that the understanding of inspiration that I am putting forward has very old and deep roots. As Stanley Grenz documents in Renewing the Center this was how Evangelicals understood inspiration for centuries prior to the birth of fundamentalism in the early 20th century. So I don't think I'm re-defining the term, I think fundamentalist biblicism has misused the term, and so I'm just stealing it back.

 
At 6:14 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 6:15 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

Sorry Derek. I didn't like how it all sounded, and it didn't fully or even constructively encapsulate the growing sense of disturbance I'm feeling with your ideas about just how God interacted with humanity to produce the Bible. I agree with the idea that the Bible is, like every other divine work, deeply relational. No hasty wavings of the wand here - it gives witness to the painfully slow work of God accompanying humanity over generations, but that is the only way for growth and change to really stick.

But the devil's in the details here. While I feel comfortable with the idea that inspiration is distinct from inerrancy (the latter commitment being a fundamentalist formulation of inspiration in the 1900's) - I don't agree that inspiration is totally in the receiver and not in the text. In that case, the Bible is no different from any other theological book we read, from which we receive insight and inspiration from the Holy Spirit. I think God did want the Bible to be something more than that.

 
At 7:58 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

"I don't agree that inspiration is totally in the receiver and not in the text."

To be clear, I am not saying that inspiration is in the receiver (i.e in us) as opposed to the text. I would instead say that inspiration is in the Holy Spirit. That's a big difference.

"In that case, the Bible is no different from any other theological book we read"

I do think that the Bible is unique. My experience is that the Spirit uses the Bible to communicate love to me like no other book. The biggest way that the Bible is unique from other books is that it is where we find Jesus (and through the Spirit where we meet and know Jesus). Jesus is our starting point, and all those other theological books (assuming that they are Christan theology) are derivative from that starting point. I know Jesus through the Bible, and everything I write is building upon that foundation.

Does that address your concerns? What would you want to add?

 
At 9:56 AM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Derek writes: "Here Scripture takes on the role of a servant which brings us to encounter God's living Spirit. It acts as a window to the divine, as a vehicle that leads us to Christ. Not Jesus in a book, but the living risen Jesus known through the Spirit. In that sense the Bible becomes a sacrament, that is, it becomes a means for us to encounter the divine."

What a wonderful Orthodox (and fully biblical) understanding of the Scriptures this expresses!

How interesting also (perhaps, Derek, you were aware of this as you wrote?), that the Eastern Orthodox commonly describe the Holy Icons as "windows to Heaven." It is in precisely this same sense. The 7th Ecumenical Council of the first millennium, undivided apostolic, catholic and orthodox Church ruled that the veneration of the "Holy Icons" in the Church was properly part of the fully orthodox and catholic apostolic Christian faith contra the "iconoclasts" because the Icons are material expressions and reminders of the full Truth that God, Who is invisible Spirit by nature, took on flesh (the material) in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, therefore, it is appropriate to use matter (wood and paint) to depict Him who became visible in His Incarnation as a Human Being. A statement that was made that summarized their ruling was that "Icons do with color what the Scriptures do with words." It is also the Orthodox teaching that the Gospel accounts are a "verbal Icon" of Christ.

 
At 2:52 PM, Blogger Sharktacos said...

Grace, thank for your comment. One way to say this might be: art helps us connect to God. For some that's through music and song, for others it's through images or story. Art can thus be a sacrament. Art speaks the language of the heart.

 
At 8:03 PM, Blogger Ryan Myers said...

Derek,

But if the Bible is not directly inspired (written by men who were prompted/guided by the Holy Spirit), how do we know if Jesus is being accurately portrayed in the Gospels? How do we know we've found him?

 
At 9:28 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

I'd say that we can recognize that we have found Jesus, that we have found Truth, found Life because we experience that life in us, because we experience God's love and grace, and it changes us.

When I experienced that it made me come alive, it turned my whole world upside-down to know I was loved, that I was not alone. It was like finding home. Like finding the one who I was made for and by. So in encountering that Life, I recognize the inspiration in their words which lead me to the living Jesus through the Spirit.

In that sense I have no problem affirming that the NT authors were inspired in that what they were writing was not only important for a letter they wrote to some church a long long time ago in a city I've never been to, but also for me has become how I connect to and meet that same risen Jesus they wanted the whole world to know.

That's way bigger than just being factually accurate. Lot's of things are accurate but we would not say they are inspired... the phone book, a dictionary, a history book. The inspired part is how it connects us with the one who is Life and Love and how it leads us to loving and truly being alive.

The Bible is inspired when it is read in a way that leads to God. It can be picked up by an atheist and just be as lifeless and as dry as a stick. It can be read by a Pharisee and be used in a way that is really hurtful. Or it can be read in a way that leads us to l meet the God who is love, and to in turn live a life of Jesus-shaped love.

 
At 10:09 PM, Blogger Ryan Myers said...

When we find that Truth and are changed, how do we know what we are experiencing is actually God's love and grace? I know several people who have destroyed families in the name of God and they firmly believe they experience God's love and grace.

And don't converts to all religions make the same claim?

 
At 10:52 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

It's hard to respond without knowing more about the context of what you are referring to specifically. But my first impression is that "destroying families" does not sound like it is exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit. We know from the fruits.

 
At 7:18 PM, Blogger Ryan Myers said...

We're talking about the kind of Christians who oppress women, beat children, and turn away from the poor in the name of God. We all know them. I used to be one. And I, like the rest of them, truly believed I walked in the love and grace of God.

As for knowing by their fruits those who truly are inspired by the Holy Spirit and have been changed by the love and grace of God, the Mormons bear more fruit than most American Christians.

 
At 8:01 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Well, love is not a feeling, it's a verb. The standard of looking at the fruits is something Jesus proposed. Paul made it more specific by listing the fruits of the Spirit. It seems like a really good criteria to me, so I'm sticking to it. The mark of true faith, and also the mark of true interpretation of Scripture is borne out in the fruit.

A similar idea is in the parable of the sheep and the goats where those who did "the stuff" were the one's Jesus said "well done, faithful one" to and those who did not he said "I don't know you." If that mean that Mormons are sheep and we are goats, then I guess that means we better get our act together and start bearing fruit, right? Paul says the exact same thing in Romans 2:

Now you, if you call yourself a Christian; if you rely on the Bible and boast in God... if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the Bible the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who boast in the Bible, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the New Atheists because of you.”

So then, if those who are not baptized keep the Bible’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were baptized? The one who is not baptized physically and yet obeys the Bible will condemn you who, even though you have the written text and baptism, are a lawbreaker." (Romans 2:17-27 NDV)

 
At 5:56 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

this is a good discussion! Derek, in your new blog post, you mentioned a Proverbs verse that advocating beating/flogging as a way to "cleanse" the soul.

now this is exactly the crux of this discussion. How do we take a verse like that, plain as day, and interpret it aright?

your approach, Derek, is to rework (or restore) the definition of inspiration by centering it in the work of the Holy Spirit, and remove it from the text altogether. but as we discussed, I remain unconvinced that this makes the Bible different from any other great theological work. The Holy Spirit might be at work in me as I read Gustaf Aulen's "Christus Victor" - but is it the same as the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as I read Scripture? How is Scripture, then, more sacred and authoritative?

another author who responded to your blog talked about progressive revelation. yet another author suggested being more serious about context. together, progressive relevation and attention to context lead to the idea that we need to be more attuned to how the Hebrew ear would have heard many of these texts, more sensitive to the idea that God had to meet people where they were and move them an inch at a time towards His real heart. He didn't want sacrifices or wars - He wanted love and compassion, but people had to be ready to hear it.

maybe the approach to all these is "both/and" not "either/or". Derek - you asked me what I would add to your ideas. what I would add is that perhaps progressive revelation (or trajectory hermeneutics, as you might call it) is the overall paradigm. but i think it's dangerous business trying to remove ALL inspiration from the text. can a text not be inspired, and yet not be read in hurtful ways?

 
At 11:22 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

Samurai,

To be clear, I do not have a problem with saying that the author's of the NT were inspired or that the text is inspired. The question is what that means practically?

I am proposing that in order to connect with the inspired text we need to be connecting with the Spirit (that is, it is not the words themselves that are somehow magical, it is the Spirit who inhabits those words, who was working through the writers, and who also must work in us so that the text leads us to love (shown in the fruits of our life). It cannot be that the text apart from the Spirit is just the "ultimate law" with no need for the Spirit and for our openness to the Spirit.

Thus inspiration cannot simply mean "read this text as it is and it will always be an eternal law" which is how infallibility/inerrancy is understood. If inspiration does not imply this "frozen in time, law from heaven" quality, then what does it mean? If we simply affirm inspiration without any idea of what it means then that is not meaningful. So if we do not mean it in the fundamentalist modernist sense of a perfect book beyond question, then what do we mean?

I'm proposing a meaning connected with the Spirit. That is, it is not centered in us nor is it centered in the human author, nor in the text (translated printed words), rather it centers in the action of the Spirit active at the time of the writing and continuing to interact now.

A second thing I would add is that what makes the NT different from all other Christian books is that all those books are derivatives from the NT. The NT is the closest source we have to those who met the incarnate Jesus. The goal is that we would also meet (the risen) Jesus. We write theology having met Jesus, but the NT thus serves as a sacrament and primary source in a way that no other book can simply by virtue of the fact that it is the closest to the source that we have.

 
At 7:51 PM, Blogger ofgrace said...

Thanks, Sharktacos. I would say for the Orthodox, when viewed through the discernment of the Holy Spirit, all of life is a sacrament. The Holy Icons, part of the art of the Church which also includes the narratives of Scripture, the poetry of the Psalms and Orthodox hymnody, its sacred music, etc., is sacramental in a special sense in that these instruct us in the Church's proclamation of the nature of God and His redemption of us as His Creation (the Church as His New Creation). This instruction is a vehicle of the grace of the Holy Spirit which helps to develop in us this discernment to see the way in which all of creation is a sacrament revealing Christ.

 
At 6:15 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

Thanks Derek. I'll have to chew on that for a while. Obviously, if we are not to apply verses like the Proverbs one that calls for beating/flogging as a way to cleanse the soul (either literally - as in physically beating someone - or figuratively, as in verbally or emotionally flogging someone) - then there has to be some way of reading the Bible apart from the inerrant one.

Many theologians have called Jesus the New Israel (what Israel should have been all along). Others call him the model of perfect obedience to God. Still others the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.

If that is true, then Jesus is the culmination of everything we should have been doing - which means Jesus is the lens through whom we should look back in time to judge what God was trying to tell Israel all along. God was relationally trying to bring Israel to the full glory revealed in Christ. Ergo ... progressive revelation, or in simpler terms, God in relationship with humanity and meeting humanity where it was at any given time.

Now when the text says that God ordered Israel to kill everything that breathes, using this relational lens, I surmise that God probably didn't exactly say that. First, there is no archaeological evidence that such a widespread massacre occurred. Second, later books in the OT speak of nations still extant (without explanation or reason given) that supposedly were marked for extermination earlier on. Third, if Yahweh is the same God that said "love your enemies" and the same God that died for the evils of humanity instead of destroying them in violence - something doesn't quite add up here.

So what we do conclude? That the Bible is "wrong"? No, I would conclude that probably some sort of fighting/warring occurred. I would conclude that the inspiration of the text, the main point of which was to speak against idolatry and entreat for the worship of Yahweh alone, was in God trying to bring Israel one step closer to intimacy with Him by turning them away from thinking of the world as a frightening and insecure one possibly ruled by multiple gods each with their own agendas (as many nations in the Near East/Fertile Crescent believed) to a God that cares for them, fights for them, and sticks it out with them. I think that's where the prophetically inspired author of the text heard God's voice aright.

I can surmise reasonably that the Yahweh who was going to later die on the Cross for humanity hated and grieved over whatever warring and violence occurred even it wasn't the wholesale extermination that the prophetic author claimed in his own human zeal to convey the importance of monotheism and obedience - especially when His human prophets claimed He commanded it.

The text, I believe, is inspired. But not in the sense that it accurately portrayed ALL of God's true heart and will - but part of it. It was the beginning of the relationship and story. The command for obedience and monotheism was there to lay the groundwork for the relationship. But people continued to not fully understand, or grossly misunderstand, the will of God until He appeared, this time as Jesus.

But alas, the relationship continues. Many of us still struggle to understand, even after seeing the incarnate God himself. But the incarnate God fully revealed what monotheism and obedience should really look like. Not as revealed in destroying people who we think are too evil to exist, or too idolatrous and dangerous to be left alive. But to love them just as God loves us. To live as forgiven people - we, who are no better off than any other race or nation in the world.

What do you think guys? Am I way off the mark here?

 
At 3:07 PM, Blogger Ryan Myers said...

I think viewing the differences between the OT and the NT in terms of "accuracy" is problematic because it creates too sharp a divide between two very interconnected texts. They're so interconnected that if you cast too much doubt on the OT, it leaves the NT without legs. Most notably, it leaves us without the prooftexts used by the apostles -- and Jesus himself -- to prove that Jesus is the Christ.

And if we remove direct inspiration of the text from the picture, the NT becomes no more authoritative than the Book of Mormon, which also describes Jesus creating a Church.

It seems that either way we're treating our beliefs about Jesus (which happen to be correct) almost as if they're merely coincidental with what we find in the NT.

I think one problem we're having is that whenever words like "accuracy" or "inspired" are used we think of them as synonymous with "literal" and "rigid" and "fundamentalist." But I don't think it has to be this way.

Here's the framework I've been trying to use: If we know that Jesus's Way is not merely in our hearts but is in fact a political reality (a command to practice nonviolence as an end to the way of empire), AND if all the writers of Scripture were inspired by the Holy Spirit (not a verbatim or even stylistic inspiration, but an inspiration of theme or content, which includes the troublesome commands to commit acts of genocide), what assumptions must we hold to keep the Father from being a schizophrenic monster?

Some may not want to engage this idea because it may seem uselessly hypothetical. But since we're talking about the God of paradox (fully God and fully man), of both/and (a sovereign God giving us complete free will), I think it's worth considering.

Maybe we can try it as a thought experiment?

 
At 10:17 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Ryan,

I'm not sure what you mean by "accuracy" perhaps you can clarify? It is not a term I would use.

Also to clarify from my perspective: I am not saying that the Bible is not inspired, I am saying that IF we do not wish to define inspiration in fundamentalist terms (because it leads to justifying humans committing acts of violence, harm, and oppression in God's name) then the question becomes: How DO we then understand inspiration?

I have proposed an understanding based on both the authors and us interfacing with the Spirit with the acid test of love being the fruits of correct interpretation.

Along those same lines, while I appreciate the idea of paradox, and have written on it frequently, this should not be construed as saying that God is both good and evil. God is only good. Genocide is not good. It is evil. There's really no way around that.

Now if we needed to maintain that all of the Bible had one consistent perfect message then this would get us in a pickle because we would have a God who seems loving in some places, and abusive and monstrous in other places. However what we instead have is a multivocal Bible that presents different perspectives. Some give us a picture of God that looks a lot like Jesus, others give us a very different picture of a God that looks nothing like him. We need to learn to sift through that, and separate the wheat from the chaff. We need an understanding of inspiration that takes into account the fact that we have a multivocal Bible, not a univocal one.

 
At 10:37 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Samurai,

"The text, I believe, is inspired. But not in the sense that it accurately portrayed ALL of God's true heart and will - but part of it. It was the beginning of the relationship and story."

Yes, I think this is exactly right. In fact I think everything you said in your comment is spot on.

I would add then that we need to continue to take things further in that same Jesus-shaped direction today. So while the NT made a huge step forward in terms of forgiveness, compassion, and enemy love, we need to continue to take those things further than they were able. That means we have organizations like Compassion International and Bread for the World who care for the poor in ways that are far beyond what Jesus was able to do even with miraculously feeding the 5000. It means we abolish slavery, and it means we keep working to reform the broken messed up stuff in our world, like our broken prison system or the way we trust so much in violence and war to solve our problems.

We have a long way to go, but the way to go is to keep moving forward. When we can recognize that forward movement in the Bible we can see that we too are joining them in that movement, and that's an exciting storyline to be a part of.

That also means we can view them sympathetically (they got stuff wrong and so do we) without justifying their missteps (as conservatives do) or whitewashing over them (as liberals do). I think that is a healthy way to see them, and a healthy way to see ourselves.

 
At 9:09 AM, Blogger Samurai said...

thanks Derek.

As an aside, I would say probably that while we are agreed on a great many things, the place where I'd begin to diverge is in how you propose handling the multi-vocal nature of the OT.

I agree it's multi-vocal, but I'm less strongly persuaded that we should divide them neatly into majority vs minority (with minority being the good guys), or that we should choose some and reject others.

None of the voices are all good or all bad, and I think God is speaking through each voice with varying levels of concordance with the glory of the revealed Christ.

 
At 3:32 PM, Blogger John B. Eppler said...

What a great discussion. I have nothing to add.
I am only on chapter 4 of your book and find nothing I disagree with. It is well done and gives some much needed order to my own jumbled opinions on such matters. I do hope to find your answer to two questions the discussion above has cast some lite on.
1. From the content of the discussion alone I remain unconvinced that God has not used violent justice, what I call evil to accomplish His will, before Christ and will not again.
2. I also hesitate to agree that because the Bible is inexact, inexplicit, incomplete, and even incongruent that it should be judged an errant document.
I have come to hold many similar practical conclusions you're articles express yet rather than reading the Bible as an errant document I instead see it as a necessarily abridged document. (Abridged meaning narrow in scope yet retaining all of the essential basic content God intended.
As I said I have not read all of your book yet and plan to do so with my heart and head opened to the truth contained there. Pray for me as I seek to understand.
Thank you for writing, Healing The Gospel,
John

 
At 11:08 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

"I agree it's multi-vocal, but I'm less strongly persuaded that we should divide them neatly into majority vs minority (with minority being the good guys)"

What I mean by majority and minority narratives is that there are major themes-- what you could call "moral visions" -- and there are minority voices which protest these majority narratives and present a different moral vision. In this I am looking at the broad sweep of the OT and identifying the major and minor themes of the OT and how they interact. I don't think that this is really very controversial (provided that one accepts the multivocal nature of the OT). It is simply a more detailed description of the nature of those multiple voices and how they differ in moral themes and in how often they appear (majority being the one that appears more).

As far as "we should choose some and reject others" the question is what are we accepting/rejecting? What I am focusing on is the moral vision. I am not saying we should reject a book or a person, I am saying we should identify a moral vision and decide whether or not we are going to have that moral vision be normative for how we will live and act.

For example there is one moral vision that says "foreigners will corrupt you and you should kill them or cast them away." This moral vision appears repeatedly in the OT and is a major theme. At the same time there is counter-voice that says "foreigners can be good and you should shelter them." Because these moral visions conflict we really have no alternative but to choose between them. That forced choice between conflicting moral visions happens constantly in the OT, and I am convinced that it is intentional. That is, the counter-voices are intended to be a protest against the other moral vision.

With a book that presents us with these conflicting moral visions we must decide what course we want to have shape us morally.

"None of the voices are all good or all bad"

I can see this being true in many cases. However it is difficult to maintain this with things like genocide (or at least a genocide fantasy). If we think of someone who committed genocide in recent history, say Pol Pot for example, and then say "well he also had some things about him that were moral too" I think most of us would find that pretty unconvincing. So while I am perfectly willing to recognize the many good things, at the same time I think it is deeply important that we face the dark parts of the Bible and not say that something is good, or not so bad, when it is something that we would in any other context see as a moral atrocity. It would be morally dangerous to do this. We need to face it, just as we face the dark parts of our own lives.

 
At 12:01 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

John,

"1. From the content of the discussion alone I remain unconvinced that God has not used violent justice, what I call evil to accomplish His will, before Christ and will not again."

I'd say generally that there is a vast difference between saying that God commits evil to accomplish his will, and saying that God works for good in the midst of evil. Like Joseph says to his brothers "what you intended for evil the Lord meant for good." God thus turns bad stuff into good, turns ashes into beauty.

For example we could experience a tragedy, say the death of a loved one to cancer, and come out the other side feeling even more loved by God. "In all things God works for our good" Paul says. But that does not say that God causes us to get cancer, or to be raped, or have our child get hit by a truck, etc.

Now, the OT does say in many places that God causes evil, causes famine, sickness, and the ravages of war as a punishment. The NT sees this more as the work of the devil. In the OT the concept of the devil is virtually absent, and so they attribute everything to God's hand, including evil. In the light of the NT we need to be careful not to attribute the work of the devil to God. God is love. God is light, in God there is no darkness, no evil.

"2. I also hesitate to agree that because the Bible is inexact, inexplicit, incomplete, and even incongruent that it should be judged an errant document."

Yes, I would agree with that. I purposely said that it was fallible rather than errant. Errant means it has errors. It does, but most of them are trivial. Fallible means it can lead us down a path that is immoral. I would say that some messages of the OT, if we were to embrace them and have them shape us morally would lead us to promote things that we would today consider immoral such as polygamy or slavery.

Now, I do think it is possible to read the Bible in such a way that it leads us to be deeply moral. I think Jesus read the Bible that way. But it is also possible to read the Bible and use it to justify profoundly immoral things. Many American Christians in the past read the Bible and saw it as justifying the institution of slavery. History is full of examples of that. Because of that we need to articulate how to read the Bible as Jesus did in a way that leads us to love, and not to read it as the Pharisees did (and as many Christians do today) so it becomes a weapon.

That's why I say that the Bible is "fallible" because the idea of "infalliblity" says that if we just read the "plain meaning of the text" this will always lead us down the right path. That has worked for you and me I think. But history shows that lots of people have read the Bible in that "plain way" and used it to justify bad things like slavery. So what I am wanting to do is ask how we can read the Bible in such a way that it leads us to love others, and not in such a way that it leads to hurting others.

 

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