I love the Bible today for different reasons than I did even 10 years ago. Back then, I would have said I love the Bible because it reveals God’s love and direction for those who follow Christ. Today, however, I love it for a different reason. And the best way I know how to express that, is that it now confirms my experience of God and invites me into the humble posture of searcher and a seeker for God’s infinite love through all the confusion of life and all the confusing passages in the Bible.
I’ve had a number of coffees over the last few years with people who have expressed real concern over the questions I raise in regards to the Bible. I’ve been asked if I believe the Bible is true? Do I take it literally? Do I believe it’s the Word of God? All of these very sincere questions, I’ve discovered, are rooted not so much in whether or not I believe in the Bible, but rather, do I believe as they do in the Bible, or more specifically, as they were taught? The question of, “Do you read the Bible literally?” is essentially them asking, “Why can’t I just read it and take it as is?” The question beneath the questions, is the question of biblical authority and what that authority has in my life and what it should have in everyone’s life who follows Christ?
I was having coffee with someone a little while ago who told me I had simply given them too many questions – the questions being particularly in relation to the Bible.
This person said they just wanted to be able to read the Bible and take it at face level, exactly as it is and believe it.
With great sincerity, they said that my approach to the Bible had caused them to question their foundations of faith. This person had been taught that if the Bible says something to be so, it’s true.
As we conversed, I totally understood the exhaustion they must be feeling, because in very real ways I had through my teaching asked them to consider a new way of experiencing one of their foundational beliefs – that being biblical authority. I believe the Bible is authoritative and without error in its original script. I was raised believing and being taught in a literal approach to the biblical text. I was raised the same way as my friend had been – if it is in the Bible, it is true! But over time, I discovered, since being immersed in the theological world, that this approach to the Bible bred a multitude of contradicting certitudes (not faith) that whomever was the most articulate, compelling and sadly charismatic in their interpretation of the text would win the day and become highly influential, perhaps only in a local church, but often the truly charismatic personalities would affect much of their particular vein of Christianity, and no doubt, with good intent by those individuals.
It was the contradictions, the having to bend the literal reading of the text to fit the new interpretation that evolved my thinking.
There had to be another more cohesive way of understanding the authority of Scripture. This is where, over time, I adopted what Walter Brueggemann calls, “An exegesis and hermeneutic of suspicion.” Simply meaning, that I began to read the text, not for its directives, but for the questions that it motivated, the questions that led me to dig into the original languages, the questions that made me look at the cultural context, the questions that led me into questioning my assumptions.
The effect was that the Bible gained more authority in my life, because it was no longer the answer book that I was faithless to question, but rather a spur or a catalyst that has the power to propel me into the quest, which is where the word “question” comes from. The quest for what I will discover about me, about the world, about others and about God? As opposed to having all the answers about me, the world, others and God.
The shift is massive, and I fully recognise disconcerting. It feels like you are letting go of a foundation; which begs the question, “What is the foundation of our Christian faith?” Is our foundation the Bible? Or is our foundation Christ? It’s probably why I have a bad reaction when I drive past churches that say “Bible-believing church”. I used to know what that meant. I am thankful today I can say with great peace, I am a God-believing person. I’m not saying these two statements are mutually exclusive; I’m just not sure the first one is actually helpful.
And so I end where I began. I understand the struggle and I am thankful for the authority to lead me into the quest that the Bible has in my life.