Friday, February 08, 2008

The Bible Tells Me So: Answering a Question

I wanted to take one more post and answer a thought that Thomas+ proposed in last week's post.

Let me start out by saying that I am very grateful to God for bringing Thomas into my life. Starting from Church of the Redeemer meeting at the old Otter Creek building to our association in the Nashville Cohort, he has been someone who provides some good perspective on several of the questions that I've been asking.

The thought that Thomas had was this:

Ultimately, I think Phil's problems have little to do with literal vs. figurative. It sounds much more like he is concerned about the character of God. He sounds like he would prefer a "kinder, gentler" god than the one he sometimes sees in the Bible. I understand that, having felt the same way many times.

But I think he is hiding behind figurative vs. literal. I could be wrong, certainly, but I think this is more about the God of the Bible than the Bible itself.
Thomas is not wrong on this. It's not the only question, but it certainly is a part of it. As I stated in the Old Testament part of this series. It does bother me that the God who is defined as love in the New Testament would call for the genocide of the Canaanites.

However, I don't that it's as easy to separate the Bible from the God of the Bible. If our entire definition(s) of God come from the Bible, then something that I have to deal with is one on hand, the truth of the Bible, and on another, the literal or figurative historicity of the Bible. Where I'm trying to get is maybe to not focus on the literal/figurative section. And maybe this is simply a step that I'm having to go through to a different understanding of it.

You see, my faith has always been lived through the lens of the Bible. And part of that problem is that if I'm honest with myself, I do have a lot of questions about the authors and the literalness of it. And if I begin to doubt the reliability of Scripture, then the natural next step is to doubt the faith that I have gained because of the Bible and the interpretations of it.

So what I'm trying not to is throw the baby out with the bathwater. If my view of Scripture is not the traditional (kind of) literal view of Scripture that I've had most of my life, then how does my faith change? Do I lose my faith? Perhaps some will, but I don't think I will. My faith is too important to me to let a changing view of Scripture and the God revealed within that Scripture subvert it.

I feel like I'm rambling a lot here, but there are some deep-seated questions that I'm wrestling with while trying to be honest with myself (and all of you). I don't know if that clears anything up or not or just muddies the waters more.


Brent said...

Phil, are you reading any books to help you sort your thoughts out? Or are you having discussions with people about this? These are very complex questions that don't have short and clear answers. In fact, I'm not sure that there is anyone who can say what the right answers are. It is an ongoing discussion that you can have with people you know and books you read.

You mention faith and the potential for some to lose it when having this discussion. Do you think that it is more important to continue in your present beliefs or to search for truth? Now, I'm not saying that searching for truth leads to a conviction that the bible is not inspired or that God is who the bible says he is. I'm just saying that each person must ask him/herself why they believe what they believe.

Brian said...

I'm right with you on all your questions, Phil. As the years pass, I find that I'm placing less and less weight on the actual words of Scripture, and more and more on the tenets of the writings. I think we have always (and will always) known less about the meanings writen there than we think we do.

The western church really has no idea about the culture the bible was written for. And actually, we aren't interested in finding out. Churches who say that every word is from God, don't practice it, otherwise we would see far more hats in church, much less pork being eaten and so on. Even by the most fundamental believers, there is a lot of cherry-picking that takes place.

jonmower said...


I think you're conflating several issues. I think someone could be believe that "every word is from God" while realizing that the words were meant to communicate a certain message to a certain audience in a certain context...and that there is some nuance in determining the message for me today. "Cherry-picking" might be the right pejorative term to belittle what many people do, I don't think it is adequate to characterize what I've described above.

Phil said...

Brent, I'm working through some things and I'm planning on meeting with a couple of men that I trust on this issue.

As to your other question of if I think it's more important to continue in my present beliefs or to search for the truth. As you say, I'm not sure that the two are mutually exclusive. There are extremely intelligent people who have maintained orthodox faith (or some level of it).

Thomas+ said...

"Any serious reading of the Bible means personal involvement in it, not simple mental agreement with abstract propositions. And involvement is dangerous, because it lays one open to unforeseen conclusions."

Thomas Merton
as quoted by Megan McKenna in "The New Stations of the Cross"

Keith Brenton said...

Fred Peatross has an interesting and relevant quote from President Clinton addressing the New Baptist Covenant Celebration last week in this post:

"Baptists should focus on the verse in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in which he stresses that it’s impossible to understand everything about God’s will because, in this life, 'we see through a glass, darkly.' "Clinton stressed, "It almost doesn’t matter whether the Bible is literally true, because we know in part, we see through a glass darkly. Humility is the order of the day. The reason we have to love each other is because all of us might be wrong."

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