Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Taking the Bible Seriously

In laying out some of the issues involved with "Biblical literalism", I am first off, trying to sort things out for myself. As a Christian and as a modernist I often find myself having my feet in both worlds. On the one hand, it's curious to me why most modernists (a description I think applies to most lefty activists, bloggers, and academics) don't seem more interested in the Bible, or at least in the questions of how we got here, why we're here, and where we're going. If modernism and the intellectual tradition are concerned about pursuing truth, it would seem to me that the Bible would be at least one source I'd be interested in. And as a modernist and intellectual (in the sense that I believe intellectualism is a positive and valid attribute for a society to have--not that I am intellectually brilliant), I approach the Bible at least partially from this perspective. So, I wonder why more modernists don't take the Bible seriously. I believe there are some who do. But the tendency seems to be to dismiss it alltogether. This is unfortunate as I don't think ignorance works whether one is a conservative or liberal. It inhibits a broader range of discussion that I think could be very fruitful and illuminating.

On the other hand. On the other hand, as I have argued previously, the Christian community has not been the most forward looking, humanity embracing project over the past centuries. Undoubtedly, this social-political track record has not put the church in good stead to be taken seriously by "non-believers". But of perhaps even more consequence, is the paradox that the "faith" community has itself not really taken the Bible seriously.

What do I mean by that? That's a pretty serious charge to make against a community that claims the Bible as its guide.

What I mean is that the church through the years has been inclined to approach the Bible from the perspective that the truth is already known, that this truth is defined by the particular denomination one is a part of, that this church's purpose is to lead others into its own understanding of scripture, and that this understanding of scripture is necessary for salvation. That is, my church, our church, is the sole possessor of truth. This is a somewhat simplistic summary, but I think it holds in most cases. To the extent that this is the church's posture, the Bible can't be studied in any meaningful manner, since the conclusions one is expected to derive from such a study are those that already fit the church's set of creeds and doctrines. In this sense, Protestant denominations are very much like the Roman Catholic church they claim to be protesting. Both systems proclaim themselves as the diviners of Biblical and world truth. The laity and outsiders can read the Bible, or make certain deductions about life from other sources, but ultimately, only the church through its ministers and officials can define church doctrine, and with it, characterize the nature of God.

The argument takes an even more illogical, circular nature when it comes to evangelism. Christians in the pews, and "non-Christian" believers are told (explicitly or implicitly) that the Bible is to be approached with reverance, in an open minded manner, with a willing spirit. Only then can the Bible's seemingly contradictory statements or other "oddities" be understood. A popular Christian quotation is from the writings of the apostle Paul which says that in words to the effect that "spiritual things are spiritually discerned". Only if you are Christian, or willing to be Christian can you understand the Bible and Christianity. But surely this approach and attitude could be asked of any belief system, whether it be Mormonism, Roman Catholocism, Marxism, or Darwinism. Such an approach it seems to me uses the Bible more as propaganda than as learning instrument.

What's the alternative? Bishop Spong, who I cited in previous posts, has come to the conclusion after a long career of study that Christianity as currently constituted is based on an erroneous understanding of the Bible and that a new approach, which negates much of the doctrine we as Christians have held dear for centuries, is needed.

I'm not there yet. But I do think Christians should reconsider the Bible and begin to ask some of the questions I have been posing. We should be willing to go beyond doctrine and creeds to embrace a different approach to the study of the Bible. This new approach I contend shouldn't approach the scriptures with "reverance" any more than one would approach any other historical writing. Nor should the study of the Bible be done to provide security for any particular denomination. For the Bible to be taken seriously means to say that the Bible should stand or fall on its own accord, not on the basis of a handicapped score system that a priori provides it with greater validity than other sources or systems of belief.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You Suck