Why a Better View of Scripture Matters



In the previous post there was a picture of the Bible. Above the Bible was a quotation by Fred Clark that says, “The doctrine of ‘inerrancy’ is often referred to as a ‘high view of scripture.’ It is not. It’s a low down dirty trick to play on the Bible and anyone who tries to read it. Inerrancy is not a victimless crime. It chases some people away from the Bible and prevents others from reading it meaningfully.”

If that quote rings a bell with you as it does with me then it probably is because you have witnessed the spiritual and intellectual devastation that advocates of inerrancy leave in their wake. Theirs is an “all or nothing” mentality that removes the Bible from its correct context and religious intention. The Bible is treated as a supportive document for the certitude of the expressed religious idea. Rather than honestly trying to understand the often complex and intricate Biblical revelation, Fundamentalism substitutes their talking points which they insist are Biblical facts; facts that the Bible itself is uninterested in proving. The outcome is they entirely miss the point the Biblical author was aiming at in the first place. Let me illustrate how this happens with a small book from the Hebrew Scriptures called Jonah.

The account of Jonah, sometimes erroneously referred to as “Jonah and the Whale,” is a good illustration of just how inerrantists miss the point. In Fred Clark’s words “prevent others from reading the Bible meaningfully.”

The book of Jonah is a parable meant to teach a lesson, it was not meant to be regarded as a factual account. In other words this isn’t history, this is religious teaching. That is how the book was meant to be understood. However, for some, this must be more than a religious lesson; it must also be history. Of this the inerrantists are certain. Their great concern then is that Jonah’s adventures must be more than a story to teach an important lesson to the Jews about the universality of God’s love. Thus these so-called “defenders of the Bible” have struggled for years to explain just how a great fish could in fact swallow a human being and deliver him up on the road to Nineveh.

So when we get to the story of Jonah the focus shifts from the meaning of the book to trying to prove the prophet really was swallowed by a whale or a really big fish. I’ve even read and heard sermons citing “real life incidents” of people going through a fish-swallowing who survived. (I doubt all of these because oxygen or the lack thereof make this unlikely.) Sure God can perform a miracle and I believe he sometimes does, but that is not the point of this story. The point is that God turned his arrogant and unloving prophet toward the vilest of people. The point is his love was extended even to the pagan Gentiles of Nineveh. What lessons might the church of today take from this book if they were not so concerned in proving that fish really do swallow people from time to time?

This then is why inerrancy is so problematic; it distracts from the actual message of the Bible. It would be  better to get the point the Bible is striving to make.  In order to do that a better view of Biblical inspiration is necessary.

The Errancy of Inerrancy


I am a Christian minister. Most would, from their point of reference, label me conservative, traditional, main-stream, and orthodox. There are others (far fewer in number I think) who consider me liberal; one who cares little for the traditional and swims upstream continually. Far from being orthodox (holding correct belief) I would be in their eyes heterodox. Now it is one thing to be classified in such a way by the folks you never considered family in the first place, but when these charges come from those with whom you have prayed and broken bread – well that is a special kind of pain.

There are few words that have been more divisive and abuse-filled than the word “inerrancy.”  Do you know what that word means? Well don’t feel bad, most who use that word don’t know what it means either. Nevertheless they use it to check you out. To see if you are one of them; to check if you are in or out. It sounds so good and so certain, yet what does it mean and why do folks like me refuse to play along and just say, “I believe the Bible is inerrant?”

Two reasons: First, I try to love and appreciate the Bible as it was given to us by God. It is the Holy Spirit inspired revelation of God given over a long span of time to a specific people. God spoke in and through them within the contexts of their time and understanding. God did not write the Bible as a direct work, but he is behind its revealed message. The point of the Bible is how God reveals his redemptive love through Christ. Period.

Second, the claim that the Bible is error-less not only in the story of redemption but in everything else is extra-biblical (in that the Bible does not claim that distinction). Let me be crystal clear, the Bible is a perfect revelation of God’s redemptive love to humanity; the Bible is not a perfect science, psychology, biology, geology, history text. Even though I don’t believe the Bible is completely wrong on any of these matters, it is unsustainable to say that it is without error.

The argument is sometimes made, “If I can’t trust the Bible on everything; I can’t trust the Bible on anything.” Well how stupid is that! Of course you can trust the Bible to tell you of God’s love and provision for forgiveness and reunification. But if you want to learn about the age of the earth, the latest discoveries on Bi-Polar disorder, or the DNA of ancient hominids, then you’d be better off consulting different texts. I actually think God would have you do that. So while I trust the Bible I do not worship it. I worship God alone. Remember Jesus’ take on this: “You search the scriptures for I them you think you have life, but it is they that testify of me.” John 5:39

And there we have it. Making the Bible errorless is a form of idolatry. Idolatry, however insidious, is always the sin of putting something or someone in the place that only God should occupy. Traditional Southern Baptists knew this lesson and guarded against it. In the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message under the article on Scripture it ended with, “The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ.” Thirty seven years later that line was dropped. Why? I believe that the forces that wanted to elevate the Bible needed to eliminate every rival, even if that rival is Jesus. Instead of relying upon him and seeking to understand the Bible through him, we now (according to them) don’t need to do that since the Bible cannot contain a single error on anything.

So much more could be said on the error of inerrancy, but let me add this final thought: The insecure in God’s grace naturally seek a certainty that they can control. Inerrancy for them has been a way to control their world, their denomination, their church. But God’s Spirit simply will not be controlled. God is without error; no one and nothing else can or should make that claim.

The Sin of the Certain: Introduction


Well it may be the rain and gloom of late November or the dull ache of a low attendance Sunday following Thanksgiving (expected but never welcomed) or it might be stumbling across yet another well-written though less well-reasoned argument against the “Christian” religion; quite likely it is all of these and a few more factors combining to put me into the contemplative funk that requires written expression. And now that I am here I know that just possibly I will discover a relief not born of resolving any issue, but because I have engaged in the exchange of ideas without fear but with the humble confidence that openly confesses both faith and logic.

I am not rock-solid certain of much. That which I claim to know and choose to believe is limited to a few axioms, what one of my good friends would describe as “rudder guidance” for my life. The top three ideas are these: (1) God exists and though I may struggle to understand him I did not invent him. (2) God loves the world and God loves me. (3) God will make a way no matter what wilderness I am passing through.

Everyone must operate by faith, to one degree or another. It is part of being human. But we are also created (there I go with another faith proposition), we are made by God to probe, to seek, to explore, to learn, to grow, to question. We are made to engage our world, our history, our future, our very existence with vigor and an expectation of discovery. And that fact alone is enough to cause us to wonder.

Elie Weisel once recalled a childhood story that illustrates the beauty of our created nature. When he was a boy returning from school his mother would ask him daily: “Did you have a good question today?” I like that because his mother got something right concerning our humanity. We are always learning, never stuck, never frozen in our convictions to such a degree that there is nothing left to explore.

The reality, however, is that there are those around us whose faith propositions have solidified into certitude. For them there is, about God, no question anymore. And that is why I began this blog in the first place; it is for the rest of us who desire for logic, reason, and faith to co-exist. Nevertheless those who have their minds made up fire off their certainties like shells from howitzers aimed at those hunkered down in the trenches; those of us who can still question and seek to know and understand God. When I use the term “seeking” it is a direct reference to the admonition of Jesus who said, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.”

“There is no God,” and “God is ____ and wants you to do ____,” are both statements of certitude. The Atheist and the Fundamentalist actually have something in common. They have both taken faith propositions and made them unalterable, unquestionable fact. No further exploration is possible or desirable. Now the fact that those of such certain ideas believe diametrically opposed things and are motivated by the notion that if only everyone else would agree with them then the world would be a better place means they think similarly. You see, they know, they are certain, and for them there are no more questions. In their eyes you must be stupid or immoral or both to openly wonder.

That there are those like these, and in increasing numbers it seems, should compel us to ask why. Why now are we being stressed as perhaps never before by polarizing voices claiming to be absolutely certain? I think the answer lies in the vast changes that have altered the course of human history. To note an illustration think how the invention of the printing press changed humanity. Prior to the mass production of the written word most people could only receive their religious information through sermons, morality plays, or even stained glass windows that told the stories of the Bible. Guttenberg changed that. As literacy rose with the availability of books and pamphlets, the world dramatically changed. The Protestant Reformation is but one example of when an invention prompted vast cultural advance.

Now we have a new and even bigger change upon us. The personal computer and the internet have created a huge explosion in communication. Much of it is good and helpful, but some has been dangerous and destructive. Bad ideas, twisted facts, and downright lies move with impunity down the information highway. This is not the only reason, but it is perhaps the most important reason why we are being shaken in every institution, including religion.

It is a natural response in times like these for people of religion to retreat into fundamentalist propositions that cannot be questioned or even altered. Those who attempt to question, to rethink, to reformulate, to re-discover will inevitably be branded as heretics capitulating to “modernity.”

Another response is like fighting fire with fire. It says, “I’m certain that your certainty is wrong.” “You say you believe in God and know exactly what he is like, what he thinks, and what he demands in every case and I respond with my certainty that there is no God.” This illustrates the irony. There is a direct correlation between the rise of religious fundamentalism and the rise of aggressive atheism. Remember that atheism is the conviction that there is no God. Agnosticism, on the other hand, is the doubt that there is no God, but the agnostic does not take the absolute, certain stance of the atheist. I say that because the agnostic is welcome in the trenches with us. As long as there is a seeking after truth and a humility that acknowledges the place of faith and wonder, then I feel we share some common ground.

The entries that will follow this introduction will be designed to try to make some sense of the intractable arguments of the Certain. I will argue for a reasonable faith, but also a growing one that can engage the reality of the changing world with fresh hope from an ancient faith. That faith was never stuck in the mud, but brave and bold as it ventured forward to know God better and to seek his Kingdom. It was always changing and still is. I believe God remains the same, but we are still developing. Life in the trenches is the in between where we can question and grow and embrace faith in new ways. The first chapter will address the way the concept of inerrancy has and is making this whole discussion far more difficult than it should be.


The Church that Explores

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The news is exciting today! I write this following the tremendous announcement made by NASA that flowing water has been discovered on Mars. That means that an important prerequisite to life existing other than on earth has been met. Not that this is the discovery of extraterrestrial life itself, but it is a necessary precursor for such a discovery. And who knows perhaps when briny water is collected from the Martian surface scientists will discover that swimming in the samples are microorganisms unique to Mars? People thinking on this possibility are already saying, “This changes everything.”

Suppose that happens. Suppose that our assumptions regarding life and the universe are challenged in such a way that we will have to reevaluate our theology. Could our understanding of our universe change in such a way that some could even lose their faith in God?

Well I’ve got some good news. First, there is absolutely nothing that is written in scriptures that would be contradicted by a discovery of life beyond our planet. The fact that some may think that is probably due more to the interpretations of those who have decided that such a thing is not possible. Secondly, bear in mind this would not be the first scientific discovery that caused the church to return to the drawing board (or better yet the actual teachings of scripture). The discovery that the earth revolves around the sun causes us no concern today. I honestly do not know a single Christian who rejects that idea because they think that in some way it invalidates the truth of their faith. But such was not the case when the news first broke. Some religious folks were so concerned that they openly repressed the emerging science and even persecuted the discoverers. Now it is no problem, even for the most conservative believer. If the church could get through that, I think accepting the idea of extraterrestrial life is not only possible, but probable.

A better way for the church is to see ourselves as discoverers. We are leaning forward to explore the world and the universe we inhabit. We are not afraid to learn from science about who we are and where we might go. We do not desire a return to a “Dark Age” but to be full of the light that God is giving to us as we move boldly into our future. And as we go forward we do not carry our faith. We go forward carried by our faith. We believe that God is up on all the science and it’s our job to catch up to him.

Courage to Explore: The Challenge for the Church

Image result for uss jeannette voyage

Following my sermon “Kingdom Adrift” where I told the story of the USS Jeanette and her crew (for an amazing story of courage and fortitude I recommend you read Hampton Sides’ account: In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeanette.) The story of their heroic journey seemed to me to have amazing parallels to the journey that the church is presently on. We too are exploring a vast unknown, and no one is completely sure what lies ahead. There are numerous examples throughout Scripture and the history of the Church when it seemed like the world was coming to an end only to discover that God had a way ahead for his people.

As I discussed this with my insightful associate pastor she pointed out that the church today may be very much like the USS Jeanette. Although she was a great ship, she could not take the crew where they needed to go. It took her crushing and sinking before the men could embark on the journey. Are we seeing that too? I wonder.

It seems to me that the most important thing is not the structures of religion, but the God who is with us and those with whom we are travelling. His Kingdom come…

I am more convinced than ever that we are called to be brave explorers of an unknown and uncharted future. The kind of Christian who seeks security will go down with ship. Only the brave inspired by faith will push on.

Don’t Throw Out the Cross!

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Have you heard about the “disfellowshipping” taking place? It is not a new phenomenon, but a practice that from time to time manages to rear its ugly head in the Christian faith. In Roman Catholic tradition the word “excommunication” is a close proximity to what other churches practice when they disfellowship. Both mean the same thing: to throw someone out of the church.

Churches that choose to follow such a practice clearly take their cues from the writings of Paul. At least twice he writes of separating certain ones from the church. Two things should be observed though: (1) The individuals were intentionally disrupting the fellowship of the church. In association with that they also commit some abhorrent acts (such as incest) but the cause for the separation is the disruption, not the fact of the sin. (2) Paul always aims at reunification.

Unfortunately some in Christianity have chosen to apply this practice for as simple a violation as not agreeing with the leadership over an interpretation of scripture. It is also applied very unevenly. For instance one of my relatives living in the antebellum South was disfellowshipped for his drinking problem. The one who led the charge to remove him owned slaves. This causes me to ask which was the worse sin? Which sin was too horrible for the church to endure?

The history of the Church is replete with example after example of how unkind, uninformed, cruel, and dead wrong it has been excommunicating members. It is a way of ridding those from our presence who don’t fit in and calling our actions “righteous” that disturbs me the most. Churches, in “Jesus’ name” mind you, have kicked out unwed mothers, divorced people, drug addicts, and the list goes on and on. This was not because they were seeking to destroy the local church, but because they were seeking God’s grace. And sadly they could not find it.

There is an interesting story in the cross pictured above. It now rests in the fellowship hall of a loving church. I know its pastor and congregation. They don’t wink at sin, but they do believe that the church of Jesus is the place for sinners. They also realize that we don’t all agree on what is sin, so we ought to be very reluctant judges of others and instead thank God that he has forgiven all sin.

Prior to the arrival of that cross it was displayed in another church a few miles away. That church practices disfellowshipping people for “certain” sins. I’m not sure which biblical list of intolerable sins they are reading, but it seems they have it pretty clear in their minds where God draws the line. For instance one young woman was tossed out because she was living with a man to whom she was not married. I do not mean to condone that activity, but only to wonder if that was the only sin that required dismissal.

Now back to the cross. It was made by a Christian who also happens to be a florist. He gave that cross to the church and it originally hung there.The twisted vines beautifully depict the timbers of the cross. I see that as our twisted lives and how they intertwine and meet at the cross. The Cross of Christ is the place where we are all welcome, all forgiven, all cleansed. At the Cross I have a hard time looking down on my brother or sister. There my sin is nakedly exposed and dealt with by God. That is what I see in that cross created by an artist and a believer in redemption.

The florist is also gay. And when that came out the church could no longer accept him. But it also could no longer accept the cross he had created. How could it? Its meaning no longer applied. They threw out the cross.

I take my cues from Jesus here. He told a powerful story that challenges the practice of throwing people out. He said:

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” Matthew 18:10-14 (ESV)

So I might be crazy here, but I just don’t see throwing anyone out of the church, but if I did I might as well throw the Cross out too. But if I want to keep singing the old hymn “There’s Room at the Cross” then I will welcome all.

The cross upon which Jesus died
Is a shelter in which we can hide
And it’s grace so free is sufficient for me
And deep is it’s fountain as wide as the sea

There’s room at the cross for you
There’s room at the cross for you
Though millions have come
There’s still room for one
Yes, there’s room at the cross for you.  

Now That’s a Blog Worth Reading!

The following is a re-blog. I know that is a new word, but so is blog. Anyway, I am so impressed by the sentiments expressed here that I want all my brothers and sisters to read them too. This blog appeared in Knitting Soul  posted by Alise.

As I read this I was reminded of how we need to rethink our Bible experience too. For too long Baptists have fought over the Bible. I fear this has taken a tragic toll on our actually reading the Bible. This Lutheran woman shares her story. Read it and consider it please. Blessings, Chuck

When I was confirmed in the Lutheran church, my parents gave me a lovely leather bound Thompson Chain-Reference, red-letter Bible. My name was embossed on the front cover and the pages were achingly thin and gilded with gold.

I read that Bible every day. I had a bookmark that I used so I could make sure that the many underlined passages were nice and straight. I wrote notes in the margins explaining why the underlined verses were important to me. I would read and I would pray and that cycle would continue.

I loved that Bible.

In those days, I loved THE Bible.

I read that Bible and I felt encouraged in my relationship with God. I found purpose for my life in its pages. I felt the love of God when I read it. Sometimes I would smile at what I read, sometimes I would cry. It was always personal – God speaking to me through ancient words and stories.

These days, I don’t read the Bible very often. I’ll search a passage that’s in my brain to make sure that I’m quoting it accurately for a blog post. I will look up a verse quoted by someone I disagree with to check for the context. But I seldom read just because I want to.

I’ve been thinking about why that is. What happened to the 13 year old who poured over the Bible that turned her into the 41 year old who rarely cracks open her YouVersion Bible app? Why did the Bible speak so clearly to one version of me, and is now primarily a source of irritation?

There are plenty of reasons. Doubt. Disillusionment. Grief.

To read the entire article go to http://knittingsoul.com/2015/08/10/letting-the-bible-tell-me-so/

Amen!!! And happy reading!