Thesis #1

It’s Tuesday. So it’s time to share some thoughts and brew on some questions about Thesis 1 of this humble project Matt and I are engaged in (read his post Thesis #1 here). Just to review, we’re discussing an article, “Learning to Read the Bible Again: 9 Theses on Interpreting Scripture.” Here’s today’s thesis:

1. Scripture truthfully tells the story of God’s action of creating, judging and saving the world.

God is the primary agent revealed in the biblical narrative. The triune God whom Christians worship is the God of Israel who called a people out of bondage, gave them the Torah, and raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. This same God is still at work in the world today. God is not a projection or construct of human religious aspiration. Readers who interpret the biblical story reductively as a symbolic figuration of the human psyche, or merely as a vehicle for codifying social and political power, miss its central message. Scripture discloses the word of God, a word that calls into existence things that do not exist, judges our presuppositions and projects, and pours out grace beyond our imagining.

For ongoing discussion: How is the biblical story of God’s action related to God’s continuing work in the contemporary world? How is the affirmation that God is at work in the world to be related to widespread evil and human suffering?

To start, I see a few things that require affirmation; certain elements of Thesis 1 cannot be overemphasized. First, Scripture is true. We can argue till we’re blue in the face about (in)errancy, but at the end of the day, I have peace knowing that Scripture is true. Unbiased and complementary sources all throughout history tell us the people are real, the places are real, the events are real. (I say “unbiased” with the realization in mind that most historians have to pick and choose what they publish… but it would have to be the biggest conspiracy in history for all these nonreligious writers to collectively reinforce an invented history.) The second big piece: God acts in this world. I have to respectfully disagree with Thomas Jefferson and his fellow Deists when I say God is not the Distant Watchmaker. Woohoo for you, Russell, you might say sarcastically, that sure is a lofty affirmation. But it is! A being acting among us who is characterized by even half of what we know God to be is simply incredible. And I think the theses’ authors are on to something when they mention “the divine imagination.” How crazy that there was a “covenant between the Creator of heaven and earth and an old man named Abraham.” Or one of the ultimate ironies: “the formation of a nation of priests out of a band of runaway slaves.” I mean, left to our own devices, we just don’t come up with stuff like that. As Charlie Murphy said in the “Prince” skit on The Chapelle Show: “I mean, there are some great storytellers in this world, but who the *@&# can make that kind of [stuff] up?” And so God’s design and story being played out (not to mention that it all happens in our midst) is simply amazing! The Bible is not a tool for backing up one’s agenda. Scripture should indeed direct our action, but this whole business of taking the Bible piecemeal, quoting this passage here and that snippet there has just got to stop. I want to note that I know this isn’t always cut-and-dry though. Personally, I do indeed appeal to Scripture when explaining why we should do more to help the impoverished. But isn’t that a broad theme found all across the Bible? It’s in the Torah, it’s in the Minor Prophets, it’s in the Major Prophets, it’s in Jesus’ message, it’s in the Epistles. So just because God once smote some unrepentant practicing homosexuals doesn’t mean you and I are empowered to do so for the rest of time. Basically, the whole of Scripture should be our guide. Can Greenpeacers who destroy private property or extreme right-wingers who act hostilely against the abortion industry honestly tell me that their actions can be found all across the whole themes of Scripture? I personally don’t think so. How can use destruction be a mean to the end of living out our role that comes with being made in the Creator’s image?

Now for the thesis’ accompanying questions… this is where we dialog. So please don’t read my responses assuming I’ve got it all figured out.

  • How is the biblical story of God’s action related to God’s continuing work in the contemporary world? God is steady. He continues to create, judge, and save… just as he has for thousands of years. I think the biblical story is related to God’s presence among us today in that He has given us a pretty good idea of how He operates (don’t misinterpret that as meaning ‘we have God all figured out by now’), and it’s our job to come alongside what He’s up to. We are to take inspiration and direction from the lonnnnng narrative of God’s interaction with our ancestors with the goal of trying to keep up with what He’s doing today.
  • How is the affirmation that God is at work in the world to be related to widespread evil and human suffering? God is indeed at work. Want to know how He’s at work? He’s prodding me. He’s prodding you. “Hey, look at that genocide. Dude, I created those people. That’s not cool. Do something!” I don’t want to appear to take this issue too lightly, but it really doesn’t perplex or confuse me too much. I’ll leave you with a quote from Gary Haugen, former Principal U.N. Investigator in the Rwandan genocide, and now the director of the International Justice Mission: “There’s good news about injustice: God hates it. […] So what’s his plan for action? Surprise: Us!”

4 responses to “Thesis #1

  1. True is such a weird word in relation to Scripture. For me Genesis 1-16 may not of had to happen to be true. I think that some of those stories, are stories about what is true about the world, not that they actually happened. For me it is worth fighting the word inerrancy because the word puts scripture in a light that isn’t meant to have. In some ways people who fight for those understandings of scripture are trying to raise it to status of fourth member of trinity, or even that it basically is God, and I am not comfortable with the text being dealt with in that way. Good post this is going to be fun.

  2. I prefer to use the word ‘truth’ about scripture. It contains truth because for me it seems obvious that some parts aren’t ‘true’ in that they happened as reported. That doesn’t mean that they don’t contain truth.

    Matt’s example of the Creation story is one which I don’t think happened as it is written, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe the account doesn’t contain truth. God created the world. I believe that to be true. I also believe that he did it in the order of the creation story. I don’t think he did it in six days, but six ages. So, for me, the story may not be ‘true’ but is ‘truthful’.

    Anyway, we’re supposed to be talking about how the Bible relates to life these days. Well, truth, as they say, is eternal. If the Bible contains truth then it will be relevant for all time.

    That isn’t to say that we won’t receive new revelations of truth. One of the dangers of a closed canon is that people forget that God is still speaking to us in all kinds of ways. Let’s not forget that.

    As for the second question, I think that God is at work in the world. Left to our own devices the place would be much worse!

  3. I think I see what you both mean. And I think I concur.
    Truth does not have to exist solely in literal writing. The stories of Genesis do indeed convey Truth. That God looked at his Creation and said, “It is good” is definitely not false.
    The more I dwell on Genesis, the more I think I really don’t care about the timeline of God’s creation acts. Call the divisions stages, phases, ages, eons, whatever. (Probably not 24-hour Roman-calendar days, though.) I do believe God spent 6 different blocks of time focused on 6 creating different interdependent “projects” though, and that communicates to me that each one of those categories has value in his sight.
    But really, what the hell does “time” mean to God? I think the reason I don’t care about the timeline is more accurately that when I think about time in relation to God, my head spins. So it seems that we weren’t meant to settle on a definitive answer.
    Funny thing about inerrancy… when a professor that held to it taught its tenets to me, I got the impression that non-inerrantists only wanted to use errancy to discount the Bible’s authority on their lives. And that’s not me. I honestly don’t know if I could cling to inerrancy, but I do know that when God uses Scripture to point out a way in which I suck, I feel convicted to change.

  4. Pingback: learning to read the Bible again « Scream Without Raising Your Voice

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