Saturday, 30 April 2011
Being a 'biblical' Christian?
I've been reading Rachel Held Evans - her blog article on 'Discussing the Bible: Seven Rules of Engagement' from which I wantonly pinched the opening cartoon. Think she has some very sound words and it looks like the beginning of a good conversation....
Something that drives me quietly nuts is the term 'bible believing Christian'. Or, perhaps, more to the point, the misuse of that term.
Perhaps the key word in the phrase is 'believing' - and the inference from the term that there is only one way by which belief, or understanding, of scripture can be held... and that 'truth' is something that is limited to literalism.
I believe truth is much broader than that which can merely be put in a bottle and measured... truth is more than just 'fact'.
The move [in some quarters, not all] to a literalist interpretation of scripture is a child of the post-Enlightenment - born from a need to somehow 'prove' one's faith via the medium of fact. This seems to me to be an oxymoron, particularly if one takes note of Hebrews 11: 1 on the nature of faith - faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
For what it's worth, my own understanding of the bible is that it is an amazing collection of inspired, God-breathed books.
Each book having its own integrity, each written in distinctly different genres - from poetry, to history, to legalities, to ritual -
each written at different times, in different circumstances, in different places, and for differing audiences...
yet all, somehow connected by an understanding that as a gathered collection, they reveal a story of an ongoing, always developing relationship both vertically and horizontally.
Vertically, as in the relationship between God and human beings and vice versa;
horizontally as in relationships of all kinds between human beings - from the way we conduct our business relationships, to the way we conduct friendships, to the way we conduct our romantic and sexual relationships.
The Church of Scotland in 'The Articles Declaratory' - the constitutional bits stating who we are, and what we're about - states in Article One that it 'receives the Word of God which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as its supreme rule of faith and life'. I think the wording of the statement very wise: it does not go into a debate about whether one is to believe literally or otherwise. God's Word is contained in the scriptures... and I wonder, by going down a solidly literalist hermeneutic, is there an attempt to try to pin God down - to contain God in the scriptures? And does this lead to a kind of 'bibliolatry': a pocket-sized bible becoming 'God in my pocket'? The bible being used as a weapon to proof-text folk into submission to what might just be a cultural understanding of how to interpret scripture?
And are we all, whether literalist or other, as guilty as each other for perhaps taking a 'pick and mix' approach to scripture as and when it suits our arguments?
I think big dollops of wisdom, humility, openness to listening, and kindness are probably in order, as opposed to beating each other over the head with the bible.
And even as I write this, I'm very conscious of feeling that I have trashed the viewpoint of someone who may be inclined to a more literal viewpoint re. scripture. If so, God save me from a 'my way or the highway' approach... help me engage in constructive conversations, help me keep listening, and help me avoid the temptation to place labels all over people. As someone once said: 'labels are for jars, not people'.
At any rate, I'll be fascinated to see how the conversation develops...