12.26.2017

Taking the Bible Seriously

For anyone who has any intersection with the Christian faith (and of course even many who do), the Bible holds some level of authority.  And yet much of what passes for our giving the Bible room in our lives is halfhearted at best and incoherent at worst.  People are obviously free to make their own decisions about what is important and what they consider to carry moral weight.  But it is striking to me that on matters of such eternal gravity - the purpose of our lives, the existence or non-existence of absolute truth, the destination of our souls - many of us are shockingly inconsistent and careless.  Consider the following, fairly common ways people relate to the Bible:

"It's a collection of stories that represent the wisdoms of a particular faith tradition."  This is a popular viewpoint, and one that at first blush seems pretty shallow but actually has some legitimacy to it.  For if you are an atheist or an agnostic, then on the one hand you ascribe little spiritual weight to the good book, but on the other hand you understand that it has held up over time as a touchstone of moral truths and life lessons and therefore it's worth something. 

"Some of it still holds up, but the rest of it has passed its expiration."  The ol' pick-and-choose approach, in which religious texts (the Bible and others) are a big buffet from which we can graze on things we like and hold our noses at things we don't. 

"La la la la la la la." (Said while holding fingers in ears.)   The Bible has some weird, controversial, and unpopular things in it.  Some of us respond by trying not to think too hard about those passages. 

"It is the absolute truth, and I and everyone else needs to live by it - no exceptions."  This often has the effect of being dogmatic and unyielding, which if we're talking about absolute truth then there's some legitimacy to that.  But it also often has the effect of coming from and leading to a spirit of self-righteous blindness, which is sadly ironic and not at all honoring to God. 

So what do I think is a consistent, coherent, and God-honoring approach to the Bible?  Well, for starters I covered this ground last year in this post.  I'll only restate that context is everything when it comes to any historical account, and this is most certainly true of the Bible.  We may still disagree about interpretation even after we've taken a deep dive into the social, political, and linguistic context of key texts.  But if, instead of diving deep, we've lazily and shallowly jumped to conclusions about what the Bible says without considering the entirety of the book and the context in which different parts of it were written, then we haven't done justice to it, irrespective of whether our conclusion is to scornfully dismiss it or strictly adhere to it.

I of course believe that it matters what conclusions we draw from the Bible.  But I believe it also matters, irrespective of what conclusions we draw, how seriously and consistently we are digesting the book.  Wherever you have landed or will land, I hope you'll give that consideration.
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