I was recently called to task for preaching the Deity of Christ. Simply stated, that’s the Doctrine that God actually existed in human form as Jesus Christ. It is a belief taken to the Nth degree by some Biblical writers. The book of John and Colossians, to name only two, flatly state that the spirit that lived as Jesus Christ also created all things.
When it comes to preaching, I use the Bible, and when it comes to the text, I calls ’em as I sees ’em.
I can hear the applause of fundamentalists everywhere die down as I continue. To accept every word of the Bible does not mean that I buy every restriction Paul allegedly placed on women. (Allegedly because it looks like some of those restrictions were written by Paul only to quote rumors and letters, as evidence by the seeming contradiction when he subsequently addresses and refutes those same quoted passages.) Accepting every word of the Bible gives me no assurance of knowing the details of creation. (Who knows what happened before that first “day”, when darkness covered the face of the deep?)
I accept that the Bible is true and divinely inspired. I also accept that just because someone in the Bible actually said something, that doesn’t make said statement true, reliable or applicable today. Let’s face it, the Bible is by and large a history of humans behaving badly and misunderstanding God. Unfortunately, reading and accepting it as true is too often a different act from studying and learning from it.
And while I’m on a rant, let me point out that accepting every word of the Bible does not mean that I agree lockstep with others who claim that same level of faith in scripture. Some of their more extreme views can only be formed by failing to read scripture carefully and thoroughly, failing to accept the corrective commentary provided by Jesus Christ Himself, and failing to obey the commands of Jesus on how we are to think, live and treat one another.
Having started with a Fundamentalist’s literal acceptance of scripture, I proceeded to read it in order to know what this was that I was willing to literally accept. That being accomplished, I was surprised to draw conclusions so dramatically at odds with those being taught as “Bible-based.”
This view puts me in the line of fire between religious liberals and conservatives. Liberals preach forgiveness and social responsibility — and also scriptural skepticism with outright rejection of unpalatable or unbelievable verses. Conservatives preach judgment and personal responsibility — with unquestioning scriptural views and dogmatic interpretation.
(Apologies to self-declared liberals and conservatives who take offense at my generalizations. I’m talking tendencies, not absolutes.)
Christians who find themselves at odds with conservative fundamentalists are too quick to surrender Biblical ground. If the Bible inspires you to call that Christian, they say, then something is wrong with the Bible. Using the Bible to disobey Christ is surely one form of taking the name of the LORD in vain.
Conservatives, on the other hand, might say you liberals (usually inflected as a slur) can’t call that Christian because the Bible says this.
But there’s another possibility — perhaps the Bible IS the inspired word of God. When it says Moses, Joshua or David said that, then Moses, Joshua or David said that — but Jesus said this, so this is Christian. That is important, that is historical, that is interesting as something men said to or about God, but this is what Jesus said, and He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. “You have heard that it was said” — and indeed it was said! — “but I say … ” and Jesus clears up where God stands on the subject.
What? Is Jesus saying that the Bible was wrong? No, but He is making it obvious that the Bible was and might still be unclear to modern hearing or understanding. He is making it obvious that even if every word is true and inspired, every word is not equally important to living in the Kingdom of God. He is flatly saying that we live by the Spirit, by the Living Word, and not by the selective mimicking of some random slice of scripture.
I hope I haven’t offended anyone, but I might have offended everyone — Fundamentalists for my challenge to their exegesis, and Liberals for my salute to scripture.
People who don’t read the Bible think doing so will make them like most people who claim to “stand on every word of scripture.” People who stand on every word might truly want to please God, and people who don’t might nevertheless want to please God. Both camps are dead wrong on one topic or another — so I accept that I, too, might be mistaken here or there. It is good and right that all of us let Scripture challenge us. It is also good and right for us to challenge one another’s understanding of Scripture, and to accept these challenges with humility and Christian love.
Am I a dinosaur for thinking the Bible is divinely inspired, true, and important for Christian living? Knowing that I feel that way tells you nothing about my opinion on anything else. All I know is that if you feel that way, please don’t jump the shark to conclude that you have perfect understanding and are therefore right in everything you say and do. And if you quote scripture, then you must, simply must, accept any challenge found in the Gospel accounts of the teachings of Christ. He’s the Alpha and Omega, the Cornerstone, the Creator — and the One who is authorized to judge our translation, interpretation and application of scripture.
“You have heard that it is written, but I say … “