biblical literalism: take a picture, it’ll last longer

A friend of mine took these photos of a sunrise over Good Harbor Beach, Gloucester, MA. In his words, “I turned it from a nice color picture into a black & white, high contrast print with little detail or nuance of meaning.  I did this as a parable of what is being done to Scripture by those who insist on a strict literalist interpretation.”

My friend’s comments illustrate two important points.

  1. I do have friends. So there.
  2. A picture is worth 1000 words–1000 of my words, anyway.




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  • Brian P.

    There are different types of aesthetics. Some value clarity, some accuracy, some contrast, some richness. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. According to postmodern Evangelical philosopher James KA Smith, as human beings are motivated and oriented not so much by what we think, but what we love. As a deconverted Christian and person freer than I’ve ever been, I often look both back and forward to different types of Christians and Christianities with this question: Do I want love what that person loves?

  • Michael

    Both are excellent points that we need to be reminded of often.

    In seriousness though, I like the metaphor, but I am afraid that it likely does nothing but stir the pot, making no true gain in helping literalists to understand why they are mistaken.

    • Can you point to anything that doesn’t just stir the pot? If you can’t, I would suggest that new techniques ought to be tried until we can find something which is more effective than what is currently known. 🙂

  • Lise

    Wow. This does say it all….

    But of course I can’t leave it at that…. I would also add that this is why art is so important as an interpretive lens. Creativity expands perspective, increases complexity and infuses the text with meaning. Not to mention the fact that our Lord is the Master Creator and that so much of His book is poetry. Thank you for this wonderful post!

  • Lise

    PS – I saw this quote this morning in the book, “Hearing God,” and it seemed to relate. “The open secret of many ‘Bible-believing’ churches is that only a very small percentage of their members study the Bible with even the degree of interest, intelligence or joy that they bring to bear upon their favorite newspaper or magazine.” Dallas Willard

    • To what extent is this due to Christians being no different from the surrounding culture, or if only certain Christians (often leaders) appear different, and they are so ‘holy’ that it seems an impossible target? To how many current-day churches could this bet written?

      Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more,

      The Bible becomes much more exciting when one realizes that reading it can produce fantastically good fruit. But how would one believe this unless that very process can be seen and emulated?

      • Lise

        I would agree with you that not knowing how to read and comprehend texts (Bible or otherwise) isn’t unique to the Christian culture. We have to be taught how to do this – i.e. Teens often hate their high school Shakespeare class yet if taught the plays properly and as performance, kids fall in love with the Bard. And yes, what wonderful fruit can come of the Bible if its messages are well emulated. Thanks!

  • Bev Mitchell

    I’m currently reading Alister McGrath’s fine biography of C.S. Lewis. A comment he makes on Tolkien’s role in Lewis’ conversion fits your helpful illustration well.

    “Tolkien helped Lewis to realize that the problem lay not in Lewis’s rational failure to understand the theory, but in his imaginative failure to grasp the significance. The issue was not about truth, but about meaning.”

    • Lise

      What a wonderful quote. And yes, this fits.

  • Richard

    I live in Rockport. Nice photo.

  • Wow! I like this. It certainly illustrates a ‘flat’ reading of the Bible.

  • ctrace

    “[S]trict literalist interpretation” doesn’t describe much of what you are going against here. Do you mean the Reformation era’s grammatical-historical (literal) hermeneutic that focuses on Christ in every part of the Bible? Do you favor a more allegorical/mystical reading associated with the Middle Ages? Are you saying anything that isn’t a modern, historical-critical method of one type or another? When the Bible says Jesus is a rock, there’s aren’t any people going around thinking Jesus is an actual rock.

  • Andrew

    Biblical Literalists worship the Bible, i.e. a book. Quite a different thing from worshipping God. When you worship a book, you cannot allow even the slightest criticism of that book. And that is incredibly difficult and maddening when you have a book as flawed and man-made and ancient as the Bible. The end result is making yourself AND the Bible look incredibly inane.