I don’t have a love affair with the Bible.
There we go. Got that out of the way.
Some of you will say, “Oh, that explains a LOT!'“ Others will say, “What a relief! I thought I was the only one!”
In my continual quest to be as authentic as possible about my faith journey, I thought the Bible would be a good topic to explore.
If you’ve read any of my other writings or listened to my music, you’d know that I’ve been greatly influenced by writings in Scripture—even though I’d never claim to be a theologian or any kind of expert. I don’t know Greek or Hebrew—though I have close friends who do!
I believe the Bible is the best way to learn about who Jesus is, and how he lived to point us to his Father. To me, it’s a book of Hope. A grand love story that points to redemption, healing, new life, and wholeness—things I don’t believe we have to wait until Heaven to experience, but that we can experience now.
The Bible has been an incredible source of wisdom and comfort to me over the years. It’s full of insight into how we can live together in harmony, and work to bring God’s kingdom to life. It’s also a book with contradictions and a lot of super duper weird stuff. Do the contradictions or weird stuff make me think any less of the Bible? Probably—I certainly don’t idolize the Bible like some people seem to do, even though I was raised believing I should.
In spite of my lack of expertise, I’m well aware of how people’s differing views of the Bible create dividing lines, even between Christians (even between family members), as if Jesus didn’t pray for us to be one, like he and his father were one (John 17:21 - one of my favs). Unity might have been Jesus’s intentions, but it certainly isn’t the intention of many folks I see on Facebook.
It’s as if the more people can double-down on the rightness of their behaviors and beliefs, the easier it is to point out how others aren’t measuring up to God’s true intentions. (See my post on “What It’s Like In A Cult” if you’d like more of my thoughts on this!)
What Is Inerrancy and Is It Important?
The term that floats around churches is “inerrancy,” when referring to the Bible. Biblical inerrancy literally means that the Bible is incapable of being wrong. Churches will claim their belief in the inerrancy of every single thing in the Bible, and point out how other (misguided) churches are picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to believe in order to sate their own desires.
I was a part of a church split that I didn’t realize was over biblical inerrancy—with the primary topic of discussion being the Bible’s view of homosexuality. One group was all in on the Bible’s inerrancy (claiming it’s an abomination!), the other group said that we might not have the whole story (perhaps the “clobber” verses have been interpreted incorrectly!). I followed my friend, the pastor of the new church split, not knowing I was also following the double-downers. (In case you’re keeping score, this was another church experience of mine that didn’t end well.)
If it is true that it’s impossible for the Bible to be wrong, then wouldn’t it make sense that we all would read the same verse and interpret it the exact same way? In reality, there is no one singular interpretation of Scripture that everyone agrees on. So either we’re incapable of understanding a perfect document or the document might actually have some confusing, perhaps imperfect, elements to it! (For extra insight into which Bible translations see the light of day, go behind the scenes of the Christian publishing world and you’ll see how different publishers align with particular denominations to package and market their specific interpretations.)
As it is, we have tens of thousands of Christian denominations that have landed in entirely different places on how a particular verse means one thing and not another. Where is this unity that Jesus prayed for going to come from?
I really like what pastor Josh Scott wrote in his fascinating series “Five Misconceptions About the Bible”: “I think inerrancy is actually a low view of scripture, because it ultimately seeks to fit the Bible into what we wish it was, instead of hearing it in all its uncomfortable challenge.”
Does Josh lay down the definitive diagnosis of the Bible? Or is he misguided, and a false teacher, like some have accused him? My take is that he’s a super smart guy, who has studied a lot more than I have, and has cast a vision for the Bible that is way more compelling than those who illogically say that we must believe all the Bible says because it says we should—the ultimate “Because I said so!” excuse. But this new vision requires a letting go of certainty, something many Christians have also been taught to deem as utmost in importance.
Josh Scott writes: “Perhaps the reason we resist letting go of inerrancy and infallibility is because what we lose in the process is certainty. Certainty has been the drug of choice for so long in the Christian faith, and it’s difficult to move away from the momentary comfort that it can afford. Yet, the good news is that when we come to terms with the reality that certainty is an illusion, even an idol, we can enter into and participate in the Mystery that God is. Then we are free to wrestle, doubt, trust, and add our own pages to the story. Then we are free to love and value the Bible for what it is, not what we’d like it to be.”
This vision cast, and where I’ve also landed, is a way of seeing the Bible as filled with great truths that transcend the importance of the veracity of the minutia. This vision believes we can see the character of God better by understanding the context in which it was written, and sifting through where cultural and political involvement (i.e. agenda) has affected how we interpret the words in its pages—in effect, changing God’s love into something that must be earned, rather than simply received. I will live the rest of my days creatively expressing this grand (albeit controversial) vision where God’s majesty and mystery, goodness and grace, are magnified exponentially and freely given.
How Can We Find Unity?
Obviously this is just my opinion—so take it for however many grains of salt you’d like. Some Christians don’t believe that unity is what we should be aiming for, but rather, they prefer seeing the world and all that’s in it as divided into sacred or profane, good or evil. I’m choosing to see the world as beautiful, redeemable, and already more unified than my eyes can even see. I’m choosing to look at other people as my brothers and sisters in God’s family, even if they don’t know it yet. I’m choosing to continually look for the things we all have in common, rather than the things we don’t. I’m choosing to believe that most of us are simply doing the best we can with what we’ve been given. And that means extra heapings of grace and mercy for every situation.
I believe unity is going to come from each of us knowing how loved we are by God, our Creator, and seeing each other as equally and magnanimously loved as ourselves. Then we can start seeing each other as being in process—that no one of us has it all right or all wrong. That all of us have some portion of our understanding of God and the Bible right, and probably a good portion of it wrong. This is basic humility—the foundation for being able to see the beauty in others and the world. Admitting we don’t have it all figured out allows us to move through life with a grace and forebearance for those who look different, act different, and believe differently than us.
One of my all time favorite teachers, Henri Nouwen wrote: “Can we free ourselves from the need to judge others? Yes, by claiming for ourselves the truth that we are the Beloved daughters and sons of God. As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, what we have, and what other people think about us, we will remain filled with judgments, opinions, evaluations, and condemnations. We will remain addicted to the need to put people and things in their ‘right’ place. To the degree that we embrace the truth that our identity is not rooted in our success, power, or popularity, we can let go of our need to judge.”
I’m convinced this kind of humility, rooted in the knowledge of our being the Beloved, will allow us to see how imprudent it is to let differing definitions of words or modern translations of ancient texts keep us from living in unity with each other.
For God so loved the whole world and everyone in it…and not just the ones who read the Bible a certain way. Let’s show the world that being loved by God and choosing to share that love with others can lead every one of us to a place of peace and unity we’ve only dreamed possible.
Tell Me About The Message
If you’re like me and have struggled finding a particular Bible translation that your heart connects with, I would recommend The Message as a starting place. It’s not an “official” translation, but it brought the Bible to life for me, filling familiar verses with new passion and vibrant personality, written in a very conversational tone. Want to read a brief conversation I had with its author (and another of my spirtual heroes) Eugene Peterson? Please visit here…
Oh Mark, I really connected with this one. I learn so much with your writings. Thank you.
Reading this and applying lessons from our study of N.T. Wright's "Surprised by Hope" takes me to the same place as you seem to be. We are all beloved children of God, whether we know it or not. All He wants is for us to follow the example of His son, Jesus, and love one another - no matter who or what they are or believe.