What Can We Believe About the Bible?


I mentioned on Monday that I'm blogging on various publications (books, articles, pamphlets, etc...) for a project that Tripp Fuller (www.homebrewedchristianity.com) is helping run.

The first pamphet is entitled:

A Program of the Center for Process Studies
by Judith Boice Casanova
John B. Cobb, Jr.
William A. Beardslee
& Joseph A. Deegan

The pamphlet opens with "Two reactions to the Bible," first: It All Has to Be True. This view posits a rather stereotypical stance on literalists (or inerrantists). We get a brief story about a kid named Phil, who doesn't get anything from his college professors, and found "the meaning of life" in the Bible, alone in his room. He doesn't have to ask himself tough questions or wonder what to think: the Bible lays it all out, plain and simple. "I don't have to worry about Science!"

Second view: One Book Amoung Many? This is embodied in "Marilyn," who learned how to think freely in college, and came to see the Bible as one book among man ancient books that represents human wisdom. Over time, after exploring avenues of philosophy, history and self-help, Marilyn began gravitating back to the Bible. She says, "I don't expect it to be true all the way, and I don't expect it to agree with modern science..." but Jesus, she says, is the core of the Bible. Jesus is an absolute truth, despite her altered understanding of the Bible.

Phil accepts biblical authoritarianism.

Marilyn manages to find a core of truth in the Bible.

These highlight two overarching views: LITERAL and LIBERAL.

You can guess at the general content of these identifiers.

Next we read about The Bible as a Book of Liberation:

"The most important way of hearing the Bible today is to let it speak as a record of the struggle of God and human beings for liberation. This is important because it is what poor, oppressed people are finding in it."

Hmmm... is that identifying another overarching view of Scripture? Or is the pamphlet itself making an argument for liberation? It continues:

Most of the readers of this booklet will not be from among the poor and oppressed... if we see ourselves in the story of liberation which the Bible tells, we shall have to ask ourselves how we can live differently, so as to take part in the story of the liberation of life to which the Bible orients us. (p. 10)

I have a deep appreciation for Liberation Theology. Understanding the needs, priorities and perspectives of oppressed and marginalized people groups is a huge necessity of recognizing Jesus' own context and set of priorities. But Liberation Theology doesn't seem to be the core of this pamphlet (the reader is merely teased with a brief treatment). It seems that the pamphlet really comes to a sort of conclusion on page 14: A PROCESS POINT OF VIEW ON THE BIBLE.

The process view does not "settle the question of how" to view Scripture, but it attempts to give us guidelines to intelligently and honestly approach the question(s).

Things we must consider in "process thinking" (which inevitably becomes "Process Theology")...

  • Investigate the role of the past - historical, cultural, political and even geopgraphic contexts and settings...
  • Discern the leading of God - process theologians believe God is a part of everything that happens. Is God being trusted? Believed? Are some getting in God's way? Role of the Holy Spirit...
  • Understand the influences of 'creatures' - Worldly influence and human decision affect everything that happens, as well...
  • Recognize the fallibility of human efforts - Only God is infallible. Humans who claim inerrancy are refusing to "let God be God" and refuse to acknowledge the limitations of "creaturehood"...
  • Interest means more than accuracy - More important than accurate information is how we are impacted, drawn in, and opened in understanding and insight to the world around us...
  • Biblical authority - Process theologians do not approach the Bible just as any other book or ancient document. They relate to it in the same way we relate to our own lives and pasts - personally, intimiately. The whole of Biblical witness is important, even those thought to be innacurate, because they reveal the whole spectrum of human understanding and interaction with scripture...

One major idea this pamphlet's conclusion tackles is the idea of God's "all-inclusive, unilateral power." It asks: doesn't unilateral power automatically (by its nature) cancel out other powers? Does it make sense to suggest that God's ultimate power subsequently disempowers us, completely? Which would take away free will, among other things (like tangible reality, percievable cause-and-effect, etc...) and render humans inconsequential.

God's creative (cooperative?) power is then related to proceses like evolution - emerging complexity in organisms, leading to more power allowed toward the autonomy of the created thing.

I liked the way the pamphlet ends: "one thing that is particularly remarkable about this book is that again and again it exposes human pretenses and especially the pretenses of those who claim a special relation to God. It does not absolutize itself..."

Ultimately, I found the caricature-based introduction of the pamphlet a little pretentious and condescending. Of course, in my experience, most religious pamphlets come off this way. I can picture dozens of Baptist and Assemblies of God "evangelism" brochures meant to convey a theological or salvific truth.

Can we really convey the depth and complexity of salvation (much less Biblical Authority or Process Theology) in 20 short pages? I would answer, 'no' (I've got little room to talk about depth: I write a blog).

On the other hand, this could be a useful discussion tool, especially for small groups dealing with particular subjects. The final page offers questions for discussion and then directs the reader to five books I assume expand on some of the pamphlet's central ideas.

Ultimately, what I found important was the reminder that there are more "options" than this or that: conservative or liberal. However, the "Liberal" view of Christianity was not well-differentiated from the "Process" view. In fact, as a recovering fundimentalist, I can see all sorts of reasons I could have thrown out the whole brochure as liberal, itself. But maybe that's a danger, no matter what. If some folks are unwilling to consider expanded views of Scripture, then even the most tactful arguments can fall flat.

More generally, I think that easy stereotypes (yes, I'm guilty of using them) are as dangerous as shortened, fast-food versions of deeper truths, philosophies and theories. We have to tread very carefully when condensing truths into small, portable, bite-sized pieces.

On the other hand, I have a few more of these pamphlets to discuss in the coming days, and I think I like a few of them better...


nate said...

Personally, I find scripture to be elevated to heights far too lofty in Christian, namely protestant, circles.

We expect the Bible to be self authenticating, but in scripture, this idea is never found...what a circular argument. Other ideas are circular...Sola Scriptura, the authrority of Scripture.

Christ never spoke the words, "the books of the new testament are going to be Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, etc...," nor did he ever say, "The words that will someday fill the canon are to be your sole authority for interpreting right from wrong."

i am sure Christ foresaw the slow changes that would take place in language and culture over 2000 years...changes that would cause ineptness in understanding scripture (i.e. literal/figurative mentioned above.)

I know I strayed a bit from the purpose of the post, but this is what came to mind. I enjoyed reading it!

Peter said...

Nate, I'm ecstatic to see your name here again! Hope you're well - you've been missed on the blogosphere (although I confess I forgot about your Beer Blog!).

I think you're very brave and very right in your summation of Christianity's obsessively narrow box for Scripture's purpose and place in our lives.

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