I Take The Bible Too Seriously To Take It All Literally

I Take The Bible Too Seriously To Take It All Literally January 2, 2014

This quotation is often attributed to Karl Barth, but it is verifiably the words of Madeleine L’Engle. Blog reader Eric Funston kindly made the image with the appropriate attribution and shared it on his blog, That Which We Have Heard and Known.


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  • Too bad she also deviated from the Faith.

    • What makes you think that? As far as I am aware she remained a Christian, and was never a fundamentalist. And fundamentalism is itself a deviation from the faith, of course. So I am not sure what you are referring to here.

      • Fundamentalism is not the only deviation, nor the worse. In fact, it was, and is, a reaction to an even worse deviation, namely liberalism (called modernism in Romanism). Just to cut short the doctrinal debate to go for the fruits, she did condone immoral behaviour in youngster literature, and thus we can judge not herself, but the fruits of her theology.

        For me it was sad. I did like the initial childrens’ books, and was saddened when I saw where they were leading and that I would not be able to recommend them anymore.

        • That is a significant accusation. What immorality are you referring to, and what did she write as an author that indicated to you that she (as opposed to one of her fictional characters) condoned it?

          • Just do a cursory Google search if you like — in one of her (wonderfully written) teenagers’ books, _A house like a lotus_, the protagonist engages in fornication (nonmarital sexual intercourse) and it all comes well for her, not out of repentance but just because it is nice and she loved the guy. Obviously it is a low view of sex and of love, and a short term perspective. It also happens not only to be a deficience in morals, but a violation of God’s law… sad.

            For instance, see the Good reads comments: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2811.A_House_Like_a_Lotus

          • Ah, so the problem is people having sex without being unhappy? Presumably from a Biblical perspective the man in the story ought to have paid the girl’s father an appropriate price and then married her to complete the story in a Biblical fashion?

          • Sorry, I thought you asked in good faith. I hope your love of immorality does not do too much damage to you and yours.

          • I am sorry to learn that you consider anyone who does not share your assumptions, and who points out the problematic relationship of those assumptions to the Bible, to be acting in bad faith and to love immorality. I hope that your attitude does not do too much harm to you and yours.

          • No, I do not. And no, you did not guess my assumptions correctly. And no, you did not point to any problematic relationship of my assumptions to the Bible. You just assumed I am a literalist fundamentalist and proceeded to an ad hominem attack on a straw man.

            There is such a thing as selfrighteousness, and it is not good.

          • No, you are making assumptions about my assumptions. If you say that your judgment of her telling a story that involves sex as condoning immoral behavior involved no self righteousness on your part, I will try to believe you, despite the evidence you have provided thus far to the contrary.

          • Which assumptions? You did assume I was a literalist, which is demonstrably false.

            I do not have to prove my heart to you. I just said it is sad she condones immoral behaviour. It wouldn’t be sad if I did not love her writing before that, but that is quite to the contrary.

            You have lots of evidence, but it seems you have trouble discerning it.

          • You cannot be a literalism. You could potentially be a literalist. But if you look at the comments, you will see that the only person who mentioned literalism (other than L’Engle in the quotation) was you. And so again, you seem to be assuming that I am assuming things.

            You seem to be trying to pick a fight, but I’m not sure why. Could you perhaps back up a bit and explain your odd behavior on this blog? Were you recently arguing with someone else, and thus perhaps came here expecting to be met with a similar environment?

          • Thanks for the irrelevant correction.

            Your strawman attack was directed to literalism.

            From what should I back up? It was you attacking me, not the other way round.

          • I gather that English is not your first language, and so that may be part of the problem. The request to back up means to go back to an earlier point in the discussion and explain how you got to perceiving it the way you are now. You seem to have misunderstood something I said as a form of attack. Could you kindly explain what you are perceiving as an attack, and why, so that I can understand what you have misunderstood?

          • It is not, but that irrelevant correction was about a type, not misuse of the language.

            When you asked ironically if l’Engle should have made the character in the history follow Old Testament practice — what would make obviously, absolutely no sense at all —, what was that but a strawman attack?

            I assume you know you can’t just write to teenagers portraying something bad as something good, and yet assume they are wise enough to steer away from evil.

          • Would you kindly explain why you consider it worth discussing the details of the book with someone who hasn’t read it? The link you gave does not give the impression that the book is as bad as you suggest it is. But simply saying that someone “promotes immorality” without giving any specifics is atrocious behavior on your part, and I am sure you know it. Accusing someone of immorality in what is itself an immoral manner is hardly a good way to begin a level-headed conversation, is it?

          • Well, ‘gives the impression’ is hardly the objective standard you seem to be measuring me with. Then, different moral sensibilities arise. I am not discussing the book; I am pointing that, in throwing literalism out, she threw also moral standards.

            You seem to have misread me. I never accused her of immoral behaviour, but of having condoned immorality. You can search other reviews, or even the book itself and judge for yourself. It is popular enough to be probably readily available at a public library near you.

            Yes, my initial post lacked any specifics. I readily provided them in the level I think a blog warrants. Feel free to make of that what you will.

          • It sounds as though what you mean is that her lack of literalism (it isn’t clear that she once embraced it and then discarded it) correlates with her not having your moral standards. That is scarcely a serious condemnation unless you are going to take the time to demonstrate that your moral standards are superior to hers. Starting off by making insinuations without specifics is scarcely the way to go about doing that.

          • I do not assume once she was a literalist; I sure was. Yet, she clearly rejected it in a sense, as your quote shows. Thus my language.

            Yet the Bible, read without any literalism, still proposes moral standards l’Engle worked against, and thus deviated from the Faith.

            She might have better moral standards than mine for all I know. I just think it sad (and yes, in a way even evil) she felt her Bible reading commanded or allowed her to misguide youth.

            I posted a provocation, and provided specifics. Make of that what you will.

          • I find it sad that, despite your Bible reading, you feel free to condemn her because you apparently sin differently than you think that she does, and that despite your Bible reading, you seem unaware of the distinction between the moral views of the Bible’s authors and your own.

          • I never condemned her; God may do that to me, or to her, or to both or to none. What I said is that she left the Faith, assuming once she held it.

            I wonder how you got the impression I am unaware of the distinction. The Faith has always been about applying principles, not the letter, keeping in mind the differences in circumstances, culture and, above all, convenants.

          • What is your evidence that she left the faith? If you do not know that she was ever a Christian then you must really know nothing at all about her!

          • newenglandsun

            Admittedly, I haven’t read much of Madeleine L’Engel save for listening to “A Wrinkle In Time” on tape and about half of “A Ring of Endless Light” in the fourth or fifth grade (maybe even the sixth, can’t remember).

            Are you sure she’s actually making an effort to glorify sex? If all you’ve read are the reviews, then who are you to make an adequate judgment on what she holds to sex? She was an Episcopalian so at worst, she’s fine with monogamous homosexual, sexual expressions. But Episcopalians go no further than that.

          • I read _A wrinkle in time_ and _A swiftly tilting planet_. I was looking forward to buy and read all the rest and have my boy read then, so I searched for the whole series and was disappointed by all the reviews. Unfortunately, the ones I then read left no doubts, even with extended excerpts.

            I would love to learn otherwise. I might still read the rest, but for now I have enough to read, and I do not like voting with my dollars for such a subversion of the Faith. Also, my wife would not be happy if I bought even more books, given we barely have space in our apartment. I loved _Walking on Water_, too.

            I should note that Episcopalian view is minoritary and cismatic, and rejected by most Episcopalians in the World (and History).

            Just to make it clear, I do not know what went on her head. Sure it is not such a cheap view of sex as, say, that by Jude Blume . Yet is ends up being demeaning, at the end. Perhaps one day I will end up even buying and reading _A house like a lotus_ (such books are not readily available in libraries in Brazil); for now, all I read about it discourage me, and the excuses I read for it sound as poor as the attacks by liberals here on us evangelicals and neocalvinists. But, believe me or not, when I first posted my provocation I did not realise I was in this hate the fundamentalist fest.

          • Ian

            I did not realise I was in this hate the fundamentalist fest.

            You appear to have a persecution complex.

            James pointed out that you made an assumption about Ms L’Engle’s spirituality based on your view of what constitutes proper sexual ethics, and a particular view of how writers should portray behavior that you consider to be deviant. Both of those features are highly problematic and deserve to be challenged. Drawing attention to the absurdity of both, and your conclusion of her spiritual health on the basis of them, as a way of asking you to defend them, is quite normal and proper.

            You seem to have been unable to tell the difference between disagreeing with you, and being attacked. Which might be a language or nuance thing, but isn’t helpful.

            An over-active persecution complex is a problem with many Christians, who simply cannot cope with the idea of others disagreeing forthrightly with their views. I’ve no idea if this is the case with you, but it often goes with an inability to distinguish between God and one’s interpretation of God. It shuts down honest discussion.

          • Not really… just read less than charitable comments, no only by James but by several other people, for instance on Tim Keller — on the same issue. Then I remembered how Rachel Evans could be courteous to all kinds of religious people, provided they were not evangelical conservatives, and how she dedicated a whole book to a strawman, and rememebered myself it is a pattern … so, good bye…

          • Ian

            And the “you’re all for tolerance unless someone disagrees … so I’m going” trope doesn’t help. That just adds a nice air of entitlement to your attitude.

            Rather than flouncing around like a drama queen, how about actually addressing the points that were raised.

            On what basis do you judge someone’s spirituality by their attitude to premarital sex. On what basis do you conclude that someone who disagrees with you on that topic must have abandoned true faith. On what basis have you decided that authors have to inflict bad consequences on their characters for immoral behavior.

            If you’re really so tender that you can’t communicate in the face of “less than charitable comments”, then I don’t fancy your chances of ever having a meaningful discussion with someone who disagrees.

          • newenglandsun

            For the most part, I would agree with you that some of the things in TEC are heterodox and out of line with the historical Christian confession, however, that does not make Madeleine L’Engle a terrible author. Learn to give credit where credit is due. You don’t see me assaulting Mark Noll for being a heterodox Calvinist now, do you?

          • I never assaulted her. I said she left the Faith. I said I love her writing, but I cannot recommend it for being morally objectionable.

            There is a big distance between Calvinism, Arminianism and even Romanism, and condoning immoral behaviour. Even from a liberal perspective .

            Thank you for your more balanced writing, NewEnglandSun, but I am really tired. Godspeed.

          • Andrew Dowling

            That you are making all of these pronouncements without having actually read the books yourself is pathetic . . .