Invited to Question

Invited to Question February 14, 2013

I love the Bible. For some of you reading this that might seem strange; for others, you might know what I mean. But I do want to clarify.

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.

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  • mike h

    From a fellow Questor, my faith has also shifted from the text to the One who inspired it. The old saying, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it” no longer has allegiance. The Biblical text requires us to be like Jacob wrestling with the Angel. It’s not easy and we may limp away crippled. But, the blessing is real.
    Thanx for this post.

  • Well said, sir. The understanding of context in the Bible is such a touchy subject with some of the mainstream church-goers that I know. What I don’t get is why wouldn’t you want to understand the context of why these things were written? Why are the people who profess to live by the Bible afraid to understand it more?

  • Louise Dotter

    Might I suggest that questing is what SCIENCE is all about. I mourn all the intellect and time dedicated to bible questing when there are SO many urgent real world questions to be investigated!

  • Hi Louise
    Thanks for your comment. I agree there are so many important real world issues to address. But science is only one of veins of questioning that need our immediate attention. Science is limited to the finite world and so much of our earthly experience draws us to question the infinite, or the realm of the soul. I think the bible invites us into the quest for more compassionate way to live, love, give and participate in solutions for real world issues. Thanks again

    • Nick Gotts

      True, science doesn’t deal much with the infinite: that’s the business of mathematics.

  • Jane

    This is just perfect for me right now. I’ve just started this whole thing. Foundations are shaking. I know the bible is not what I thought it was, but I’m finding now that I have so many questions about the bible, it’s hard for me to take it seriously. But I know I want to. Just don’t know how. Need to dwell on this some more. Thank you.