I wanted to write about this because it is a topic that keeps coming up in my reading and conversations recently. The book The Becoming of G-d emphasized the mystery of God and knowing Him through encounter. It talked about the bible as the stories of peoples’ experiences of God. However, it didn’t cross the line of saying that the bible is just a storybook.
The next book that I reviewed, Salvation Boulevard, was basically an apologetic for atheism. It approached the bible the way an accountant would approach an audit. From that calculating perspective, the author determined that the facts were out of balance and declared that therefore the bible isn’t true.
In some congregations, the assumed christian position on the facts of scripture is guarded with pitbulls and there is no acknowledgment of mystery, ongoing revelation, and the possibility that there are factual inconsistencies within the details of scripture.
Can one admit those inconsistencies and still believe that the truth of scripture is solid and foundational and that the word of God is alive and active, revealing Truth to our hearts?
Thinking on these things, one night I had to get up in the middle of the night and write down my position on the authority of scripture. This is what I wrote…
I believe in the narrative view of Scripture – that in its entirety, it is the grand narrative of God’s story. The individual books, as Scot McKnight describes, are like wiki entries within the bigger story. Overall, I see the Bible as the redemptive story of God’s people and their experiences with Him.
To interpret the Bible as a legal document or textbook tends toward distortion of details and a twisting of the big picture. When I hear, for example, of ministers attempting to apply prophetic scriptures to current events, I envision the kind of contortionist you might see in a circus, a freakish twisting into something completely unnatural.
The application of Old Testament stories and practices to current events often produces strange doctrine. The random cut and paste of New Testament verses to create proofs and arguments also produces strange doctrine and practices.
There are factual inconsistencies throughout the Bible. These inconsistencies often are due to an incomplete understanding of what the Spirit was saying to and through the writer at the time of writing. Frequently, the inconsistency is due to an inability to understand the setting and context of the writing of particular Scriptures.
Personally I believe completely in the truth of the written Word of God. I also believe that because of the lack of certainty in the interpretation and understanding of specific details, it is pointless to argue obscure details.
My approach to things that seem contradictory or inconsistent is simply to acknowledge that I don’t understand that particular passage or concept, yet. And I’m okay with not having everything nailed down to the letter. It gives me room to grow into the truth as God reveals it to me through His word and through the community of believers.
There are unarguable foundational truths that can and should be agreed upon. I am equally uncomfortable when the boundaries of orthodox creedal truths are dismissed. However, too often adjectives like scriptural, biblical, and truth are used as weapons to defend non-essential positions and add the weight of God’s approval to opinions.
The truth that is continually revealed and that must be sought within the Scriptures is the truth of who God is. While we should have a solid understanding of who He is according to what is already revealed in Scripture, it is also true that we do not yet fully know Him.
This puts me to the left of the nitpicking inerrant, sola scripturists and to the right of the wishy-washy, the-Bible-is-just-a-nice-story liberals.
My middle ground…
(or “why I am a conservative, postmodern, emerging/missional believer”)
- I hold a narrative view of scripture, allowing for factual inconsistencies and misinterpretations.
- I believe in the mystery of ongoing revelation of the nature and person of God and know Him as the Way and the Truth through relationship and encounter rather than through a forensic grid of doctrine and prooftexts.
- I realize that postmodernism is the predominant worldview and culture of the people outside of the church today, and I understand that this is the culture in which I live.
- I attempt to live a life poured out for others as an outflow of the life of Christ within me because I believe that is what it means to be a follower of Christ.
So what’s the bottom line?
Is it possible to believe in the scriptures as true, alive, and active without embracing an inerrant position?
Is it possible to believe in a narrative view of scripture without relegating the truth of God’s word to the realm of non-authoritative fables?