God’s teachings are clear that…

If your position on any “issue” begins with “God’s teachings are clear about…”

I implore you to enter 2013 thoughtfully and prayerfully considering:

“God’s teachings are clear about…” only works as a trump card if we believe that the bible is the inerrant, unfiltered, literal/factual word of God.

I can still be a Christian if I understand that the collection of texts we now have as the canon were written by fallible men in particular historical contexts, laden with their own limited and prejudicial world view, then later filtered by men laden with their own limited and agenda-laced world-views as the ultimate tool of power over the masses.

As I assent to the complex and problematic origins of the book we now call The Bible then I can begin to relate to the text in a deeper, more faithful & humble, complex & intelligent way that acknowledges that:

1. We humans struggle mightily to comprehend That Which Cannot Be Understood – and the bible is a perfect example of humans screwing up over and over again as they try to figure out their relationship with The Ultimate.

2. The Holy permeates far more than our limited world-views and cognitive ability can discern. No matter how smart we think we are, no matter what someone smarter than us (even if “they” are Calvin, Luther or Wesley) has told us – our view of the Infinite will always be unbelievably limited.

3. God is still speaking – through our beautiful and broken work in quiet and cacophonous ways. Sometimes through texts, sometimes through people, sometimes through tragedy and sometimes through triumph. Rarely can we understand a single syllable of what is being said.

And no, to those who like to throw out the straw-man “so I guess that means we are free to write our own version of bible”

To claim that The Bible is the literal, infallible word of That Which Cannot be understood is:

A. a relatively new concept that is not consistent with historical Christianity

B. the easy way out that does not require us to think with the brains and hearts given to us by God

C. denies the movement of the Holy Spirit in the world today

D. creates of the Bible an idol above Christ

E. ignores the fact that The Bible has been redacted and re-written and re-canonized as humans have seen fit over the centuries

E. heretically claims that one can know the mind of God once and for all

Questions are holy. Certitude is specious at best.

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199 responses to “God’s teachings are clear that…”

  1. Kimberly, I have just one quick comment (sorry I’ve come across this post a bit late). I notice a common thread in your post, and in your replies, which seems summed up in this statement of yours in a reply above: “Really, I believe that nothing is certain…” Which certainly is a common sentiment today, and while I acknowledge a *partial* truth in such a statement, it simply cannot be completely true. But perhaps you already recognize this: for example, are you really *certain* that you are *not certain* about anything? Think about it… You can’t have it both ways: you can’t emphatically assert with such certainty that we can’t be certain about anything — it’s a self-refulting position. One cannot reject all dogma without being dogmatic. So there must be some certainties, otherwise we cannot know anything, or even meaningfully communicate with each other.

    I mean no disrespect, and by no means seek to dismiss the many thoughtful aspects of your post — but I am fairly certain you can see the apparent philosophical and logical problem I am pointing out. The most dogmatic person is not the smug believer who asserts his religious beliefs in the face of all evidence to the contrary; it is the hard agnostic or skeptic who denies the possibility of any real knowledge, in spite of the obvious self-contradictory nature of such an assertion. I doubt that you fall into that boat (at least I hope not), but you invoke a principle that would lead you there if you let it. In the words of G.K. Chesteron, it is the “thought that stops [all] thought,” and that is the one thought that ought to be stopped.

  2. Kimberly,

    We “discussed” matters a few weeks ago on your blog. I was respectful, even though I do not agree with your progressive theology, and you told me I was respectful. However, you called me “narrow” and arrogant, and belittled my orthodox Catholicism. Your remarks about the Papacy border on anti-Catholicism. But when I read this column, I had to respond. Some of your comments are misleading, and others are flat-out wrong.

    For example, “God’s teachings are clear about…” only works as a trump card if we believe that the bible is the inerrant, unfiltered, literal/factual word of God.” Although many fundamentalists do believe this, Orthodox Catholicism believes that the Bible is inerrant, but NOT unfiltered nor literal in every sense. What makes it “inerrant?” The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, acting throughout history, PROTECTS the meaning that God intended. Claiming that the Bible was written by “fallible men in particular historical contexts, laden with their own limited and prejudicial world view, then later filtered by men laden with their own limited and agenda-laced world-views as the ultimate tool of power over the masses” is a denial of 2,000 years of Christian history and Sacred Tradition. This flawed statement denies the role the Holy Spirit has played since the beginning of Christianity, and is equally prejudicial. Yet you claim that traditional Christianity “denies the role the Holy Spirit plays in the world today.” Both of those things are wrong. Your own statement is also arrogant and narrow.

    You say Fundamentalism runs the risk of making the Bible an “idol,” but your own theology ignores Christian history, and basically creates God in your own image. The claim that “the Bible has been redacted and re-written and re-canonized as humans have seen fit over the centuries” is not really accurate…but what of “progressive” Bibles that rewrite passages that are too “orthodox” or not “inclusive?” Your progressive beliefs ALSO have also “redacted, re-written and re-canonized” Scripture and Christian theology. I agree the Fundamentalist worldview is wrong, and many of its adherents are poor examples of Christians. But all of us are flawed people, as I am willing to admit. But your own belief system is equally flawed…do you really believe that the Holy Spirit would allow Christian beliefs to stay the same for 2,000 years and then do a 180 degree turn? Although it’s true that no one can know the mind of God for all time, it IS true that He and His laws don’t change. Other Christians can disagree with you but are still Christians too!

    Mark N.

  3. What if I were to say it is clear in the NT that Jesus has come to free us from OT laws? It’s not quite: ‘God’s teachings are clear that’ but it is ‘The Bible is clear that’…

    Your views??

    One little caveat was that I did happen to state, in my view (and many other Christians) at the beginning of this statement…

  4. Kimberly,
    I just discovered patheos and your insights on faith. This column is so straightforward yet powerful and I intend to share it with my faith circle. So many times, this discussion devolves into the lowest form of discourse though at the highest volume level. Scripture resonates with me because of what it says about my life here and now. It is not static. That means scripture can’t possibly say the same thing to everyone. I do believe one thing we can count on God’s steadfast love.

    • Thank you SO much John, I am incredibly grateful to be on this journey with folks like you! I hope you will stop by once in a while to share in the conversation 🙂

  5. Thank you for a good essay Kimberly. I was raised to believe in the theory of biblical inerrancy in a fundamental way. However, I never truly accepted it. These days I find myself wondering whether the way America is divided between peoples with unyielding views has an origin in the ideas of biblical inerrancy. If so, there is more to this issue than chit-chat about theology. I wish I could express this better, but as we tear ourselves apart, I can’t help but feel this is really important…

    • Doug,

      I may not entirely understand what you are trying to say but what I feel like is tugging at your heart is something that concerns me deeply as well. All this time debating theology would be way better spent serving the world. The sick, poor, oppressed, imprisoned, widowed, orphaned, abused, exhausted world. I am frequently plagued by the certainty that I am merely playing with the tinker toys of theology while others (like those at the Open Door in Atlanta for example) are actually doing the heavy lifting of a life following Christ.

      That is until someone who has read my fumblings from across the globe writes to say how much they needed to hear what I said in just the way I said it.

      We all have our parts to play in kingdom building, my tools just happen to be paper and pen, screen and keyboard.

      That said, we eventually all have to stand up, get off the porch and get our hands and hearts dirty in the world.


  6. This is only anecdotal, but in my experience when a person says “According to God/the bible/scriptures….” can be translated to “I believe this”. And that’s great and all, if a person believes in whatever. But what flabbergasts me is that some people will expect me to treat their opionions like fact, which they (of course) aren’t. I respect the idea that everyone is entitled to their opinions, but I do not and will not respect an opinion itself just because it its crouched in religious language tropes. I also think some people use those phrases as cop-outs. If you don’t like gay marriage, or the fact that I as a woman am equal to any man in inherent worth, then just say it. Using one’s concept of the divine to justify one’s bigotry or ignorance just demonstrates how bigoted and/or ignorant a person is. Just my $0.02.

  7. Like a drink of cold refreshing water.
    I needed to read this, me in my fishbowl world of fundamentalism.
    I will be back for more! Bravo!!

  8. Thanks for this article, Kimberly. This whole concept of the bible not being infallible is 2 days old to me. Which when i think about it, is a little slow of the mark. Are you (or anyone) able to help me with 2 things
    a) where can I read/learn more? Recommended authors, blogs etc
    b)if we can say that the bible is fallible, how can we be certain of anything within its pages at all??


    • Jane,

      Thank you so much for taking a moment to ask your question (and for your courage on your journey).

      There are so many great resources you can find to help expand your understanding.
      On this post of mine many of the names have links to the author’s who can offer you some insight – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/2012/12/not-that-kind-of-christian/

      This book and theologian is a nice place to start too – http://books.google.com/books/about/Reading_the_Bible_Again_for_the_First_Ti.html?id=V_JZ_w2G4RoC

      I hope you will hang around here and share in the conversations that percolate!


    • Oh, and as to certainty – no, we really can not, it seems except that there seems to be a tremendous struggle for us to relate to God and that God seems to love us and want us to love and care for one another. But really, I believe that nothing is certain and I know that is a little scary, as mysteries often are, but I believe that the mystery makes it all the more holy.

        • I hope I may be so bold as to make a suggestion. This may seem off the wall, but give it a try. Isaac Asimov wrote a 2 volume work titled Asimov’s Guide To The Bible. Choose the Old Testament volume or the New Testament volume. It explains the Bible without attacking it, and as you read, you will find explanations of many things which the theory of biblical inerrancy does not satisfactorily address. Good luck Jane, these books supported me when I was a struggling teen back in the 1970s!

  9. For me, the only clear thing in the Bible is to love God and love your neighbor. If you do those two things (really, truly love God and love your neighbor, not just give lip service to the idea), you won’t go wrong.

    • Indeed Joel, those seem to be the most central of everything we are to glean from the text and yet we (and by we I mostly mean I) seem to miss the mark over and over.

  10. You can be a Christian with the views stated above, but with the advancing of modern learning we do gain a greater degree of certitude. Through the work of scholarship we become more certain of what the first Christians believed, not less certain of what they believed.

    • Modern learning only makes clear that there is more mysterious than is clear in the universe. We can know what people have written but we can never truly know what people believed in the secret recesses of their hearts.