When I was in college, I was one thesis away from being a religion major. I took the thesis class, did the research and even wrote the paper. I just didn’t turn it in.
I graduated with an English Literature major. I didn’t need the double major. I wasn’t satisfied with the product, so I didn’t turn the paper in.
I’ve recalled these things before, but I haven’t really addressed the subject of that thesis paper. It was biblical inerrancy.
I recall the religion major that fell short now, and the topic that derailed it, following some comments that NT (Tom) Wright made to Justin Brierley on the podcast, Ask NT Wright Anything (episode #8, I believe). I chose the topic, of course, but I felt I bit off more than I could chew.
It turns out that there may be another reason the topic was so difficult for me, a new believer at the time. NT Wright sheds some light on the subject.
I am continually impressed by the persistence of misconceptions about Christianity, even in the United States. The US is considered by many (still) to be a “Christian” nation. Most people may identify as Christian in the US, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we all understand the basic tenets of the faith. Maybe it’s an example of familiarity leading us to assume things that aren’t necessarily true. Following I address just four very basic assumptions that seem to be prevalent in the modern American world that are not consistent with the Christian perspective that is revealed in the Bible. Continue reading “Four Misconceptions about Christianity”→
For instance, when Jesus said he is the vine, he obviously didn’t mean he was a plant. We have to use some common sense and understanding to determine when the text is intended to be metaphorical, and when it is meant to be literal. Sometimes, it might even have both literal and metaphorical meanings. We can’t rigidly assume that the Bible must always be taken literally if we are serious about understanding it.
Some people think that either the Bible must be taken literally, or not at all. This is a false dichotomy. We don’t read other literature that way. Frankly, when we approach the Bible in that way, insisting that it be read literally, we are doing the Bible a disservice, and we are failing to take the Bible seriously enough. We are insisting that the Bible speak to us the way we want to be spoken to, rather than trying to understand what the Bible is saying on its own terms, not ours.
Some people urge Christians to take the Bible literally. I don’t think taking the Bible literally is taking the Bible seriously enough. I think it’s a far more important matter to take the Bible seriously.
Consider John 1:1-3
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
John Lennox, the brilliant Oxford mathematician, relates a conversation he had with Peter Atkins, the prolific atheist scholar. When Lennox referred Atkins to John, Chapter 1, Atkins called Lennox naïve to believe that God has lungs, a voice box and a voice. Of course, that isn’t how Lennox (or anyone who takes the Bible seriously) understands those words at all.
A literal reading of John 1:1-3 clearly misses the point. No one believes that God has lungs, a voice box and a voice. Rather, God is so “Other” from us that we must use devices, like metaphors, to conceptualize God. Metaphor conveys meaning in ways that meaning cannot be conveyed literally.
People often misunderstand what it means to read something “literally”. Lennox suggests that understanding the metaphor is reading the Bible literally. The metaphor is the literal meaning that is intended.
We have to take the Bible very seriously in order to understand this and to see the actual meaning that is there. When we read the Bible always “literally”, we are not taking the Bible seriously enough! (Not to mention that no one actually read every verse of the Bible literally, not even the literalists!)
Since I was in college and first read the Bible in a world religion class, I have found the Bible to be uniquely layered in its meaning and personally intimate at the same time. It was like no other book I read, and still is.
I read the Bible for the first time in a World Religion class, so I read it in light of and comparison to the other major world religion texts. In that comparative study, I found the Bible to be exceptional in its depth of meaning, intricacy and nuance.
My religion professor took the position (I later found out) that all roads lead to the top of the same mountain. He didn’t favor one text over another, least of all the Bible. He presented all the texts to be read on their own merit, letting them “speak for themselves”.
This is the way I approached them. I was a seeker, not knowing where truth was to be found, but assuming that all world religions contained nuggets of the ore. I viewed philosophy and great literature the same way, seeing them as deposits of truth to be explored and mined for their value.
I have to say that I found myself becoming a bit of a skeptic about science. I now understand that the skepticism would have been more appropriately leveled at scientists, who often acted (and apparently believed) as if science has a corner on truth and that all truth should be viewed through a scientific lens.
I have since learned that this “scientism” is a caricature – an exaltation of science beyond the scope and limitations of science and what we can and should expect of science. Science is the study of the natural world – matter, energy and motion. Science cannot tell us why we appreciate beauty, for instance, or even what beauty is.
But, I have also learned that science is beautiful in itself. Science unveils some of the most beautiful and wondrous facets of the universe we live in. That we can even “do” science is beautiful and wondrous in itself!
Following is an interesting interchange between physicists about science and the Bible. I hope you enjoy it as much as a I did.
This is a continuation of observations in regard to a podcast interview of self-described agnostic, New Testament scholar, Bart Ehrman, by the atheist, Sam Harris. In the first installment, I focused on Ehrman’s personal story about “losing his faith” as he transitioned from high school to Moody Bible Institute to Wheaton College to Princeton Theological Seminary. Along the way, he went from fundamentalist to agnostic. In many ways, though, he never left his fundamentalist view of the Bible.
Ehrman says that he began to shed his fundamentalist views as he learned the original languages and began to read scripture in those original languages. He describes how his rigid, nonintellectual reading of the scriptures began to crumble as he discovered issues with the Bible that didn’t allow such a strict interpretation of a text considered to be inerrant.
As the interview progresses, Erhman relates that he used to believe in a literal rapture, alluding to the Book of Revelations read in light of 1st Thessalonians (being caught up in the air). Erhman comments, “I not only believed in the rapture, I knew it was going to happen in the late 80’s” (followed by a hearty guffaw). He goes on to describe that his loss of faith was a long process, but the “rapture was one of the first things to go”.
This was Ehrman’s fundamentalism, but “the rapture” is hardly a point of “doctrine” on which even fundamentalists agree, let alone the rest of the believing world. The verses in the Bible from which the idea of a rapture has been formulated are few, and they are wrought with difficulty in the interpretation, like the visions in Revelations and other apocalyptic writings. Many speculations have been suggested, but the whole idea is quite ancillary to the central tenets of the faith.
A person certainly doesn’t have to believe in the rapture or in any particular formulation of the rapture to believe in God or to have faith in Jesus Christ.
We often get the peripheral things inextricably intertwined with the essential things in our minds, and it’s hard to untangle them. This is the danger of placing too much importance on peripheral things, especially peripheral things with as little biblical support as the rapture: when the peripheral things begin to unravel, they are likely to begin to unwind the essential things if we have bundled them too tightly.
Rigid and wooden fundamentalism is brittle for that very reason. It’s an all or nothing way of looking at scripture that cements secondary things into the primary framework of our belief system. We have to hold on tightly to the whole thing to keep the faith. When we allow any part of it to come unraveled, it’s likely to unravel the whole thing. The issue isn’t with Scripture, however; the issue is with the approach.
While non-Christians may provide many explanations as to why they discard the Bible, the actual reason they don’t believe is that God hasn’t spiritually awakened them. Scripture is very clear on this. “Jesus said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and […]
I am reblogging this piece to comment on my own experience, which is something I know many believers relate to. It’s the before and after story of those who know what it means to be born again. Before that time, the Bible seemed to be dead, and after it came alive!
Being born again is experiential and relational. It’s relational in that the experience is intimately connected to God and the Bible, His revelation to us handed down from people who had similar, relational experiences with God. Our relationship and connection with God can be measured, and one of the measuring devices is the Bible.
The writer of Hebrews says that the word of God is living and active. This is the experience of the one who has been born again. The Bible comes alive. When this happens for the first time, it is an experience like feeling the wind whip up. We can’t see it, but we know it.
Paul says that God’s Spirit testifies with our spirit. This is the intimate, relational experience we have with God, though we often confuse it with feelings. Feelings come and go. The spiritual connection is there regardless of the feelings; sometimes it’s there in spite of the feelings!
But, even those who have been born again, can fall away, chasing after feelings and things that distract our attention from the One who loved us with the sacrifice of shedding his glory to become one of us, proving that love to the point of death for us. The Spirit is a still, soft voice, easily shouted down, crowded out and left behind. But He is persistent. Thankfully!
The surest way to connect, or to reconnect, is open the Bible and do it often. Jesus said that man doesn’t live by bread alone, but every word the proceeds from the “mouth” of God. The Bible is our lifeline.
Sometimes our experience wanes. Like a marriage, we lose the spark, but we press on in the commitment to which we have given ourselves. The feelings come and go. The spark will come and go, but out commitment is the constant. And as we devote ourselves to God in prayer, the preaching of the Gospel, reading of the Bible, fellowship and repentance for our shortcomings, we regain that connection that we sometimes “lose” in the crowded, preoccupied and loud recesses of our hearts.