The Bible: flawed, inerrant, or what?

I have a subscription to “Christianity” magasine, published by Premier Christianity. An article in a recent edition grabbed my attention. Two people gave thumb-nail sketches of their different approaches to the Bible. One was Brian McLaren (from his book, “We Make the Road by Walking”), the other Andrew Wilson (from his book, “Unbreakable: What the Son of God Said About the Word of God”). In order to clarify in my own mind what I think they are saying, and to process my own opinion, I’ll sketch a few notes on the article. Let’s deal with Brian first.

In summary, Brian seems to be saying or implying that insisting on the inerrancy of scripture has three problems.

1. It causes rigidity in the sphere of human experience that values authoritarian structures of control over human expressions of compassion. In support of this he cites the historical suppression of women and minorities as well as the elevation of white, European, males.

2. Jesus and Paul corrected scripture (e.g. Matt 5.21-22 & Gal 5.6), and thus, by implication, we are justified in doing so, given that we have the Spirit and Jesus promised that he would guide us into all truth (John 16.13).

3. Focussing on the innerrancy of the Bible and fighting those who deny it, leads to Christians and the church having the wrong focus. We’re in danger of focussing on the fight instead of Jesus.

Now it’s Andrew’s turn.

I’ll summarise his response to Brian’s position as follows.

1. The historical problems caused by Christians and churches are an expression of human sin and have nothing to do with whether the Bible is innerrant or not. The Crusades, the Spansh inquisition, institutional slavery and the like were caused by people not following what the scriptures teach, rather than by an application of what they teach.

2. No one in the New Testament corrected Old Testament scripture, but instead they revealed it’s fuller meaning and what it pointed towards. Jesus did not say the scriptures were incorrect, but that people incorrectly interpreted them, or did not really know them at all (Matt 22.29). Further, he fulfilled scripture, but did not correct it (Matt 5.17).

3. Taking our eyes off Jesus is a matter of spiritual perspective, and not whether we believe the Bible to be inerrant or not. Our responsibility is to keep Jesus front and centre, and the Bible helps with that because he is the Word (Jn 1.1, 14).

Now it’s my turn to try and make sense of these positions for myself. What do I think, and what can I take away from this debate that might help me in my Christian walk?

1. Andrew is right. There is no reason to think that a different belief in the inerrancy or otherwise of scripture would remove the problems caused by Christians in the ways they interpret and express it in their lives. Jesus knew that the biggest asset to his message was the people who accepted his teaching. They would be the “light of the world” (Matt 5.14-16). He also knew that the biggest barrier to others accepting his teaching could be those self-same followers! They might be hypocrites (Lk 6.42), and they might merely listen to him, but not practice his teachings (Lk 6.47-49). But, again, the problem is not the teachings of Jesus, but whether people actually implement his teachings fully, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Luke 6:46 NIV11. The call to me and other disciples of Christ is to ask the Spirit to help us match our talk with our walk. And to be humble to correction with this is proved to be out of sync. If there is a problem, it is not with God’s Word, but with the heart.

2. Brian is right that the scriptures take us on a journey. It is an exciting adventure for those willing to take it. We are walking with Jesus as he did with his disciples (Mark 2.14, 23 etc.), and we can expect to learn as we walk. In this, he might be helping us to think of the Bible as the living Word of God, rather than simply a scholarly exercise. I need reminding to look for Jesus in the Bible, not just information about Jesus. The written Word is designed to lead to the Word-lived-out in me and other followers of Jesus.

3. I wonder if finding parts of the Bible in need of being “corrected” might be a convenient way of avoiding my own need of correction. The most challenging parts of scripture are always most likely to be the very parts that I would wish were not as they seem. The teachings of Jesus do not always seem “fair” or make sense from a human perspective (love your enemies?!). It is good that they make me uncomfortable.

Perhaps we can learn from both Brian and Andrew. I’m not sure I’ve represented them fairly or fully, but the debate can be useful as long as it helps us consider our response to the Bible, not just our perspective on it. Personally, I don’t have a problem with God’s Word being inerrant (though defining that would be a different article), and I accept it that it is so. But I also accept the challenge to enflesh the Word myself, as Jesus did.

If you have any thoughts on this discussion, please leave a comment below, or email me on mccx@mac.com.

God bless,

Malcolm

Freedom, Colossians 2.16-23

ColossaeStones.001Freedom is an emotive subject. At least, it is if you’ve even been denied yours.

Tonight’s class in Bracknell is focussed on the passage, Colossians 2.16-23. It deals with our freedom in Christ and the issues that can take us on a reverse course back to enslavement if we are not alert.

Part of our evening will be spent discussing the following questions:

1. What are the Colossians being tempted by?

2. Why is it so tempting to them?

3. What is the danger to them?

4. What is the better alternative available to them?

5. What are the better consequences for them?

6. What is the relevance for our lives here in this church?

If you have any thoughts on these questions I’d be glad to hear them. Leave a comment below and let’s work together to remain “free”.

God bless,

Malcolm

A Sickly Sunday

CelticPrayerI missed church today. A bug has got hold of my system and refuses to let go. What to do? It’s an interesting situation, because I’m well enough to walk around and do stuff. But not well enough to talk to people. I’ll confess that I’m pretty good at feeling sorry for myself and often find having a “Quiet Time” a struggle when I’m ill.

Well, the sun beckoned me outdoors. I picked up a book of Celtic prayers I use from time to time, and set up a chair in the garden. The book took me to some set readings for the 1st March (Aiden readings). I’m so glad I spent this time with God, so, since I am prevented from fellowship today, I thought I’d share with you what God shared with me.

The first reading was,

“Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (Psalms 62:1–2 NIV11)

Just what I needed to hear. Especially the word “shaken” which can also mean “totter” in the Hebrew (mot). I needed “rest” in God this morning, and I found it, in the sunshine, with Psalm 62 speaking to my heart. No need to “totter” in my heart even if I am “tottering” in my health!

The New Testament reading was from Ephesians,

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:18–23 NIV11)

I read this passage from my New Greek/English InterlinearInterlinear New Testament. I know a little Greek, but not a lot. However, following the Greek and English together gave me a feel for Paul’s thinking. Two things stood out.

Firstly, the emphasis on “all” by the repeated use of “and”:

“…far above all rule and authority and power and Lordship and every name being named…” Eph 1.21 literal translation (italics mine).

Nothing has been left out. Jesus has it “all” under control. I may not have my health under control, but Jesus is still Lord, and I need not worry about my spiritual health.

Secondly, the emphasis on “fullness” by the way Paul places the words in verse 23,

“..which is the body of him, the fullness of the one all with all filling.” Eph 1.23 literal translation (italics mine).

The translation might not make much sense in English, but the emphasis is there for all to see. Paul wanted to make sure the Ephesians didn’t miss the source of their fullness (see Colossians for more on this topic, Col 1:9, 19, 24–25, 28; 2:2, 9–10; 4:6, 12), and the completeness of it.

I may not be ‘completely’ well, but I share in the completed work of Christ, and am confident in his fullness even as I lack full health at this moment in time.

Finally, let me share with you the meditation of the day. It’s a prayer/poem by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and it expresses what I felt today at the conclusion of my “Quiet Time”,

It is a difficult

lesson to learn today,

to leave one’s friends

and family and deliberately

practise the art of solitude

for an hour or a day

or a week.

For me, the break

is most difficult …

And yet, once it is done,

I find there is a quality

to being alone that is

incredibly precious.

Life rushes back into the void,

richer,

more vivid,

fuller than before!

I hope your time at church today has left you “fuller than before”.

God bless,

Malcolm