“The Bible is Diverse Because Life Is”: Rachel Held Evans Continues her Review of “Inspiration and Incarnation”

Yesterday Rachel continued her discussion of my bookInspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament (Baker, 2005). Here she focuses on chapter 3, “The Old Testament and Theological Diversity.”

Rachel has done a great job getting to the heart of my book, understanding it, and explaining it to others. If you want a good, quick, overview of the book, Rachel’s reviews are a great place to start.

The main thing I am trying to get across in this chapter is that there are diverse theological voices in the Bible, and nothing is gained by trying to minimize this fact.

If you believe God inspired the Bible, you really need to conclude that God likes these diverse voice to be there. (John Franke makes a similar point in his Manifold Witness: The Plurality of Truth.)

Too many, it seems to me, come at it from exactly the opposite direction. They judge the Bible on the basis of how they think God–who is assumed to speak not in “diverse voices” but one voice–should have inspired the BIble and then spend a lot of energy finding ways to make the data fit the theory.

The diverse voices of the Bible are not simply different; they can also challenge each other. Books like Job and Ecclesiastes, among others, are what Walter Brueggemann, in his Theology Of The Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, calls Israel’s “countertestimony” to challenge Israel’s “core testimony.” (In my Ecclesiastes commentary, I use the term “counter voice” but I mean the same thing.)

These diverse voices reflect the diverse times, places, and circumstances of the writers. What we see in the Bible, then, is not a book that asks us to look past the diversity as an obstacle in order to allow the unity to shine forth. Rather, its diverse voices must be respected and valued, for they all have something to teach us in our own diverse times, places, and circumstances.

Rachel’s review covers more of the chapter, and I invite you to read what she has to say.

one big reason why so many young people are giving up on the Bible--and their faith
Two Sons: My Journey with God & The Bible
get to know me: my approach to interpreting the Bible, in 5 words
another article on inerrantist biblical scholars and "protective strategies"
  • Ronald Taska

    So, the Bible has myths and discrepancies as described throughout this website. Yet, somehow these myths can be understood because God inspired these myths, as well as inspiring the recording of historical events, and these discrepancies can be understood because God allowed humans to tell His/Her story, resulting in human errors in the texts, and so on and so forth. I would genuinely like for all of this to work out, but the mental gymnastics, and the mental spinning of evidence necessary for it to work out, are so extensive that one has to, at least, raise the question of whether or not the Bible is really the Word of God, and, if so , how do we know this? This is a serious not an “evil” or sarcastic question. Thanks.

  • James

    Michael Polanyi speaks in scientific terms of the need to rise from the level of sensory perception and observation to the level of theory where reality begins to connect and make sense. We have to do that too in our approach to God’s Word. Thankfully, God knows most of us aren’t able to operate in the stratosphere of academia so he leave a lot of nuggets of truth on the ground for us to harvest to our heart’s content. Remember too, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit after his departure to lead us into all truth. Scripture is a mutifaceted diamond and we should awake to it with wonder every day.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think you can expect clear answers – let alone definitive ones (if such a thing were possible) – any time soon. Biblical scholarship is charting new waters than no one ever dreamed could exist a generation ago. The advance of modern Biblical scholarship (a mere handful of centuries) is relatively recent in the history of Christianity (two thousand years). This, combined with the fact that the Modern Age is ending (many of the principles of the Enlightenment, for example, are being called into question, and how we conceive reality and think about the universe along with it) will only further add to the complications. Changing ways of viewing Scripture and the definition of Biblical inspiration are challenging enough; but questioning our entire conception of truth, reality, the “Universe” and spirituality, gifted to us over the last 500 years of Western thought, will render any demand for clear answers an impossible one. Judging from what I’ve said, I wouldn’t be surprised if these questions occupied Biblical scholars for generations before a cognitive ‘framework’ can properly form. In fact, it is very likely that these new approaches represented by Sparks et al. will ignite a Second Reformation, splitting Christianity just as the first Reformation split the Western Church.

    Basically, what I’m saying is this: we’re not going to untie this Gordian knot any time soon – so don’t hold your breath!

    No, your question is not “evil”. It is honest, and you ask it with great courtesy (which is very refreshing). However, I think you should be careful with how you use the word “myth.” Again, one must be careful for falling into one’s own presuppositions when looking at another culture. “Myth” comes from the Greek word “mythos”, an ambiguous term with a range of meanings, one of which denotes a story or account. Greeks often used accounts/stories to explain truths which cannot be stated explicitly. Plato himself never wrote straight philosophical treatises, but only fictional dialogues (albeit between mostly real historical characters). I think Plato once wrote to an acquaintance (I forget the exact reference – I can look it up if you like) that he never wrote straight treatises because humans can only ever ‘skirt the rocks of knowledge and truth.’ In other words, ratiocination is not the only path to truth: some truths can only be ‘felt’ by instinct, and never seen directly. One should bear this in mind when examining the accounts contained in the Bible. The Bible has much wisdom, but that wisdom may not always come directly to us. Sometimes it takes a lifetime of contemplation, and then work of our instinct, to get a ‘flavour’ of the truth that is wrapped around – rather than hidden in – certain passages of the Bible. In fact, when anthropologists talk about “myth”, they are not talking about an untrue account, like a journalist mistaking an event on Monday for one on Tuesday. Rather, they are referring to an account that contains much human wisdom and communicates those ‘instinctual’ truths. Whether these events happened in a period of human history – which is what we mean by ‘true’ – is beside the point. Our concern for this kind of ‘truth’ is an Enlightenment expectation. Some passages in the Bible (I would say many) do not have such an expectation.

    I hope this reply has been useful. God Bless!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X