One big way to fail God and man

dovefailOver on the comments section of my recent post, Are the Bible’s “laws” on homosexuality unbiblical?, two readers made statements which, taken together, should put to rest forever the idea that it’s reasonable to consider the Bible as an inflexible rulebook concerning matters such as … oh, I dunno, homosexuality.

The first comment came from our friend David S, who blogs at Ford’s Words. Said David:

Roberta Kaplan, the lead attorney in the DOMA victory, gave the sermon at Shabbat services two days after the SCOTUS decision. The Torah portion told the story of the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27: 1-11) who challenged Jewish inheritance law that disregarded families with no male heir. In the story, Moses takes their challenge to the Lord who instructs him to change the law so as to include the daughters. Roberta made the point that God rewrote His own law so that it was more just. She eloquently argued that those who view biblical law as fixed and unyielding ignore the precedents laid out in the Bible itself. According to the holy text, God’s law evolves in the direction of justice and inclusion.

To which our friend the masterful Lymis added:

David, that’s a wonderful point. There’s a New Testament rough equivalent as well, when Jesus is reported as telling us that there are truths that Christians were not yet ready for, and that He would send the Holy Spirit to be with us and continue the teaching. [John 14:26: “I have told you this while I’m still with you. However, the helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything. He will remind you of everything that I have ever told you."]

Whether that is interpreted as old ideas being subject to change, or new ideas that hadn’t been thought of still being part of the ongoing revelation of God to man, it still means that the Bible itself says that for Christians, the Bible cannot be the final authority because the Holy Spirit has more to teach.

Annnnnnnnnd whoompeth: there it is.

If you are an anti-gay Christian who believes that the Bible teaches you everything you need to know about LGBT people today, consider the wisdom of trusting God enough to be open to what new thoughts and understandings about that matter He might be trying to impart to you. Jesus, we see, very clearly told us that the Holy Spirit will continue to help and teach us. So we absolutely must not fail Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or God by failing to remain open to that divine truth.

See also: The Pain of the Improving Church

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • charles

    I would say to those who have difficulty with the notion of a dynamic Gospel which is focused on Gods love of his creation-

    God loves a contrite and humble heart, go forth and bless his work on the Cross, and love thy neighbor as Jesus instructed you- Even if you turn out to be in error, God loves a soft spirit who live in a place of forgiveness, and peace. He will forgive you.

    • Lymis

      That’s beautiful, Charles. I will point out, though, that God also loves those of us who are stubborn and hard-headed. He just has to thump us more often.

      • charles

        Lymis- I think if we all don’t admit to being in that hard-headed category, we would be liars…… which is thankfully addressed in mercy triumphing over judgement….

        wouldnt it be cool if the thing people were condemned over was being too merciful? I think that would be really great personally…..

        • Lymis

          I’d be perfectly happy if nobody was condemned at all, and the question was the form each of our individual reconciliation with God might take.

          • http://charlesbmaynes@gmail.com charles

            that works for me…..

  • http://www.facebook.com/LostInSpaceMan SteveCampsOut

    Whump Der it Tiz Indeed! Bill & Ted say it’s “Most Excellent!”

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

    Both are excellent points!

  • Kate

    Umm…how about the NT principle where Christ says he came to fulfill the law not to destroy it? i.e. the law is passed away and the new has come…like the metaphor of new wine in old wineskins?

    • Lymis

      Kate, I agree with you, but I think that’s another one where it’s not really a compelling argument against someone who’s already decided who to condemn. Even if Jesus’s birth, death and resurrection count as some sort of Divine Reboot, people still just pick out the things they still insist on holding onto.

      I can’t tell you how many people use this as the reason why the prohibitions about things like pork and shellfish are wiped away (as well as the Biblical SUPPORT for things like polygamy and slavery), but claim that it goes without saying that God still hates gays, because, you know, God still has standards.

      Things like not murdering people and being nice to your parents are still on the books, so why not the prohibition of perversion (is their logic)?

  • Craig

    Does the Bible express a consistent message regarding laws and sex? Probably not. Does the Bible, in certain parts, encourage morally repugnant views? Probably so.

    How many readers here have come to terms with these answers? Might it be helpful to acknowledge them first?

    • Nicole

      Not quite sure what you’re getting at here, Craig.

    • Lymis

      I have to agree with Nicole, Craig. That can mean so many different things that it’s hard to answer.

      For the most part, here on this site, you’re dealing with people who indeed have come to terms with such issues in one way or another. But many of us have done so without trying to maintain some sort of claim to complete Biblical literalcy – my understanding of how the Bible came to be an its role in my life don’t require me to reconcile its inconsistencies, so I don’t have to constantly focus on them or try to twist other things into logical pretzels or interject stuff that isn’t in the text to try to unify it.

      it’s full of inconsistencies, both internally to the text and to our understanding of the ongoing revelation of God to humanity through time (and, I personally would say, through other religious and secular institutions and traditions that don’t involve the Bible.)

      What are you getting at?

      • Craig

        Are morally abhorrent views about homosexuality in particular “unbiblical”? Probably not. This, along with the general unimportance of the question, is easier to accept having accepted the answers I mentioned earlier. Generally, if we approach the Bible knowing full well that it is riddled with error and contradiction, there’s less at stake in the interpretation of any one passage or in its message as a whole, or in the question of whether a repugnant view is “unbiblical.”

        If not, then likely it would be helpful (at least to me) for others to clarify what is really at stake in these discussions.

        • D. E. Sandberg

          “Are morally abhorrent views about homosexuality in particular “unbiblical”? Probably not.”

          Actually, they are. Those views violate Christ’s law of Love, to begin with, which itself is a paraphrase of law found in Torah. Second, those views produce results that violate not only Mosaic law (murder, slander, for example) but behaviors condemned in Proverbs 6 as the seven things God hates. Third, Christ’s test for false teaching tells us that any belief that produces evil fruit, as the belief ‘homosexuality is sin’ does’, is itself evil and not from God.

          “Generally, if we approach the Bible knowing full well that it is riddled with error and contradiction, ”

          So from a false and egodriven position that relies on literalism while trying to simultaneously discredit literalism.

          • Craig

            D.E., it is perfectly true that if you can’t accept the plausible answers suggested earlier, then it can be much more important to take the line you offer. That’s my point.

          • D.E. Sandberg

            Your lack of civility reflects only on you, Craig.

            Unfortunately, you have no plausible answers either, and you hope that by being insulting, you can soothe your ego.

            I understand. You have a negative prejudice about Christianity that is largely dependent on your negative interpretations and assumptions, and you value the prejudice more than you value accuracy, or civility.

            But I am tired of people who are willing to sacrifice homosexuals, by defending anti-gay theology as accurate, in order to wage their war on Christians.

          • Craig

            I see lack of civility, but it has not come from my end, Mr. Sandberg.

          • D.E. Sandberg

            Yes, it is.

            Here, I’ll quote you.

            “it is perfectly true that if you can’t accept the plausible answers suggested earlier, ”

            That is an ad hominem attack wherein you assert that someone’s character is dependent on accepting your false assertions.

          • Craig

            Oh, you took offense to that? This calls to mind something I recently overheard: “there’s just no polite way to criticize the beliefs to which someone has devoted his life.”

            Are you of the opinion that this statement is true?

        • Lymis

          I think perhaps the dispute lies in the way you define “Biblical.”

          If you mean “is it in the Bible” then one set of conclusions follow. If you mean “is it consistent with the message of God that we draw from our experience of God through the Bible” then another set of conclusions follow.

          I think I agree with your point, while using the words differently. There is some risk of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy if someone tries to claim that the parts we don’t like aren’t actually in the book. On the other hand, there’s value in defining what we think the Bible is FOR and only considering the parts that support that experience – not denying some of what’s in it, but recognizing that many of those things are not applicable to us as God’s children today.

          • Craig

            All fair points Lymis. I think when I am using the term “biblical” I mean more than, “It’s in the Bible” (I wouldn’t be arguing that it is “biblical” to impregnate a woman and then murder her husband). But by “biblical” I also don’t mean “consistent with the Bible or its message.” I find it too plausible that the Bible typically doesn’t express a consistent message on the matters that concern us. I see the parts of Bible endorsing various and sometimes conflicting ideas, ideals, and standards of behavior. I call biblical what gets so endorsed.

            When interpreting these endorsements, we should of course be careful not to over-generalize. So, upon reading some part of the Bible in which Noah’s floating zoo is endorsed, we shouldn’t conclude that the Bible endorses floating zoos for all time and all circumstances. We shouldn’t, that is, conclude that all endeavors to build floating zoos are “biblical.”

            But even with that warning against overgeneralization, I think it is fair to say that parts of the Bible probably do endorse morally inappropriate views about homosexuality. I think this would be much more difficult for me to say, however, if I were somehow committed to the consistency of the Bible’s endorsements.

          • Anakin McFly

            “I think it is fair to say that parts of the Bible probably do endorse morally inappropriate views about homosexuality.”

            Except that they probably do not.

          • Craig

            Anakin, I’m guessing that you are convinced that no morally inappropriate views are endorsed by the Bible, or by any of its parts.

            Am I right?

          • Elizabeth

            Actually, I’d even argue it’s ‘biblical’ to impregnate a woman and then murder her husband. Please see: the Oresteia and Theban trilogies. The NT was written in Greek.

          • Allie

            Since according to the story in the Bible, David and Bathsheba were punished for that by the loss of their first child, I’d argue that it’s “Biblical” that murdering someone because you covet his wife is bad. Which is consistent with the prohibitions against murder, coveting, and adultery elsewhere in the Bible.

            On the other hand, this story presents a God who is happy to kill innocent babies to punish their parents, which teaches what moral lesson exactly? So it could be argued that murdering babies to prove a point is “Biblical.”

          • D.E. Sandberg

            “I’m guessing that you are convinced that no morally inappropriate views are endorsed by the Bible, or by any of its parts. ”

            There’s another ad hominem attack on someone, presented in place of any attempt to actually substantiate your claims.

          • Craig

            Is this a bad or innocuous sense of ad hominem? How is it an “attack”?

    • D. E. Sandberg

      “Does the Bible, in certain parts, encourage morally repugnant views? Probably so.”

      No. Are there passages in the Bible that some people interpret as encouraging morally repugnant views? Yes.

      Is the Bible to blame for those interpretations? No. The people who read into it their morally repugnant views are responsible.

      • Craig

        see above

        • D.E. Sandberg

          I did. You have no argument, just ego.

    • Hannah Grace

      I don’t understand. Of course the Bible is inconsistent and sometimes immoral. It was written by people. It still channels so much truth from God, despite these flaws.

      Am I really that heretical? Why is Craig seen as so rude? What is going on?

  • Ken Schroeter

    Accepting this acknowledges god is not all knowing and perfect, which according to the bible he is. So… which is it? Is the word of god infallible for being perfect or adjustable on the fly for being completely contrived? Epicurus’ Paradox.

    • http://www.buzzdixon.com buzz

      Neither, it’s just that humans are falliable & capable of misunderstanding, misinterpreting, or just plain ol’ making stuff up to suit their very human wants.

      It’s like one of my favorite Aggie stories (Aggie = Texas A&M). A wealthy man invites someone to his house to show it off. They go to the dining room, the wealthy man brags about his possessions –

      – then suddenly runs to a window, throws it up, and yells, “Green side up! Green side up!”

      Next they go to the den. Same thing: In the middle of talking about his house the wealthy man runs to a window, opens it, and yells “Green side up! Green side up!”

      Something in the living room, parlor, game, room, upstairs in the bedrooms: Every time they enter a room, the man opens a window and yells, “Green side up! Green side up!”

      Finally his guests asks, “Why are you always yelling ‘Green side up’?”

      “I got a couple of Aggies sodding my lawn.”

      • Andy

        This Aggie loves that joke.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

          Andy! Hello!

          (We now return you to our regularly programmed blog comments…)

    • Robert

      I had the same thought Ken. The only way I see around it is that we assume that God intended for the law to be imperfect to begin with, and that He knew it would be changed. Perhaps it was a timing thing?

      • Lymis

        That still assumes that the Bible was taken down from dictation, with God looking over people’s shoulder and proofreading.

        If, instead, the Bible is the human documentation of human interaction with the Divine, written down (from long memory of an oral tradition) the best they could to describe what people who had that experience did the best they could to describe it, then error, bias, and cultural interpretations are inevitable and organic to the process.

        It’s not an either/or that God wrote it himself or wasn’t involved at all. Despite the claims of some people today, that’s not the way God speaks to us now. There’s no reason to assume it’s ever been any different. That doesn’t mean God wasn’t working directly in the lives of Abraham, Moses, David, the Apostles, or Paul. It just means there wasn’t a team of documentary journalists on hand at the time.

        The Bible can be inspired without being dictation.

        • Cindy Christ

          I love your post! Very elegant and well stated.

    • D.E. Sandberg

      “Accepting this acknowledges god is not all knowing and perfect, ”

      No. It acknowledges that humans are not all knowing and perfect, and that at any given time in human history or in any given culture, there is knowledge that will not be understood.

      • Janet

        Exactly! Just because humans used to believe the world was flat didn’t ever MAKE the world flat. It was always round; we just didn’t know it. When we gain insight into our human misinterpretations and misunderstandings, we amend our thinking to reflect our new understanding. People during Jesus’s time would not have been able to accept radical new knowledge about gays, women, etc. They weren’t evolved enough. It took many centuries of human evolution to get to where we are today. Jesus accepted humankind where it was during His days on earth, began His teachings there and promised that the Holy Spirit would be with us to help us learn, grow and evolve.

  • http://blueberrypancakesfordinner.wordpress.com/ erika

    whoompeth is my new favorete word.

  • PJ

    Well, yes, but….the New Testament wasn’t yet in existence at the time these words are attributed to Christ. I’m not argument their meaning, but I don’t we can suggest that Christ was referring to “post-Biblical” teaching of the Holy Spirit when not even the Gospels had been yet recorded. At the same time, I don’t think there is a time-frame or set of chronological parameters that Jesus is speaking of, either. No angels being herded onto the top of a pin, here.

    • Nicole

      At the very least, I think he was referring to post-death, or post-ascention. The Holy Spirit was going to teach us more than Jesus could while here in person. At least that’s how I see it.

  • Anne

    My take on Jesus telling us that we were not yet ready, but at a later date would be instructed to know (understand?, points to the infinite nature of Truth. By “infinite”, I mean ever expanding, (as in mathematics), able to embrace and answer whatever “problem” is presented at the time. If we only hold to past circumstances and outcomes for todays truth, then we become stuck in the past which is not relevant to us today. Every day (every moment) is new and comes with fresh ideas ((Truth) to meet the needs of that moment. Our job, in my experience, is to be alert and receptive.

  • Freddy

    I don’t understand. If you don’t want to let God’s word change you, why follow it at all? Are you seriously going to stand before God one day, and look Him in the eye and twist His word the way you are on this website? Do you have any fear of Him?

    I’m not going to argue with you. The truth stands on it’s own. God’s word is Truth and it is unchanging. To put your subjective opinion over His master plan is dangerous. Please just consider what you’re doing and saying. There is no truth here. Please just consider it.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      I’m good. But thanks for your concern. (And I/we don’t twist God’s words. It’s lame of you to suggest we do. We’re as serious about the Bible as you, Freddy. Promise.)


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