I am learning so much from Sarah as a writer and a thinker. Where I would be quick to say, “And if you think that, you’re stupid” Sarah approaches things with humility and gentleness. She never writes off her past or old ways of thinking, but puts them all into perspective as we grow and develop our faith.
Anytime we talk about the Bible, we are entering into murky waters because there are deep-rooted assumptions we hold about the Bible. Many of which need to be challenged, but challenging them is incredibly difficult.
Because of this, before I begin this post, I want to just state a few things I affirm:
First and foremost, I believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Following Jesus is a particular way of being and acting in the world, and I do not think we can find life without Jesus (although I may mean that differently than you think).
I also believe Jesus is the truth. Which means truth is real and knowable, but it is located in Jesus.
I believe the Bible to be an authoritative book that communicates the Word of God to us. One of the things I miss most about being in ministry is preaching. And I love preaching because I love digging into the Bible and discovering how this ancient, weird book speaks to my life today.
So as you read the rest of this post, please refer back to these affirmations. Many times, when anyone challenges ideas about Scripture, people are too quick to say: You don’t believe in truth or the Bible as authority, etc. etc. etc.
I believe these things. But I think we need to be more nuanced in what we mean when we say them. Most of this post is my own beliefs, but it seems Sarah and I land on the same page. So I am weaving her in too, and I will try to note when I do so. But her chapter is better than this post, so go read it. 🙂
Allen and I had a really good conversation about this very issue a few weeks ago. I was reading a book by a brilliant scholar, theologian, missiologist (which I didn’t know was a thing) and anthropologist. The book title alone proves that this guy is smarter than me, and the whole book was about truth and how we know things and engages deep philosophy. All of which is a lot of work to even wrap your mind around, but the book is incredibly insightful and helpful.
Until we got to the Bible….
All of the sudden, all the rules changed. His assumptions and the things he had been saying no longer applied because we were talking about the Bible.
And this is no chump off the street with no more than an email address and a blog. This is a serious researcher and scholar. The issues with the Bible are entangled with our very understanding about God. And it shows up in how we talk about the Bible:
In the example I am using, the author spoke of the Bible as The Word of God (a big point in Sarah’s chapter),The Authority, The Truth.
The problem is, these are words we reserve for Jesus. Jesus is THE Word of God. Jesus is THE Truth. Jesus is THE Authority.
The Bible isn’t.
When we make it out to be the authority, truth, or Word of God we elevate it to an idol.
Because the best idols take really good things and put them in Jesus’ place.
And when we elevate the Bible to Jesus’ position, it becomes heresy to say the Bible isn’t the word, the authority, and the truth because it is an attack on God.
But when we let the Bible be something that helps point us to the word, the truth and is an authority (see this post for a more detailed discussion on this), it takes on a whole new life. It becomes beautiful again.
Borrowing from a Shane Hipps metaphor, think of the Truth of God like the wind. In order to catch the wind we need a sail. The Bible is a sail. And, as far as I know, there are few sails as good as the Bible for catching the wind….when we put the Bible in its proper place and use it correctly.
Which means we need to think deeply and critically about it and we understand that it is not a book that floated down from heaven in completed form, but is a beautiful and diverse expression of how God was working in the times and place of the people we encounter in the pages.
It also may mean we need to let God slowly, and maybe even painfully, tear down the idol we have erected of the Bible.
But as we keep talking about, this is how God works. We tear something down so something better can come in its place.
Neither the idolatry of the Bible nor throwing the Bible out as a totally irrelevant and worthless book is helpful when we talk about the Bible. We need new conversation. Because when we tear down our idol and allow the Bible to be an authoritative way to point us to Jesus, we can recapture its beauty, nuance, diversity, and power as this mysterious compilation of voices helps move us deeper into the life of Jesus.