What is the Bible?

It is my belief that many of the divisions and debates within the Christian community can be funneled down to one simple question.

What is the Bible?

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How one answers the question determines so many other things that it is important to take the time to consider this question.

In my experience, whenever I am in a discussion with someone who disagrees with me, I often find that it is rooted in a different way of answering this question. For example, many who argue in a literal six day creation most often believe the Bible to be inerrant, while those who believe in evolution view the Bible differently.

Most know this, but the Bible is not a book, it’s actually a collection of books written by well over 40 different authors (many of which we do not know of), and written well over the span of a millennia. This means that there are many different genre’s within including: myth, poetry, history, wisdom, narrative, parable, prose, and some really obscure stuff called apocolytpic literature found in Daniel and Revelation.

There are many ways to answer this question, but I think most of them can be placed into three primary categories – each one also as a wide spectrum within.

1. The Bible is the inerrant Word of God.

This is the view I grew up with, and because of this it is the one I am most familiar with. As I mentioned above, people with this view have many small nuances, but most who hold to this view would see the Bible as without error.

Where they do not agree is whether the Bible is without error in it’s current English, the original languages, or the original writings called autographs – it gets very slippery here because a large number of people hold that the original writings are inerrant, but we don’t have any of the original writings (what we have are copies of copies of copies of copies etc).

Now, when pressed on issues like grammar, punctuation, etc. these people tend to lean away from thinking all of these things are without error, but are rather mistakes made by humans as they copied these texts.

These people tend to read the Bible literally. In other words, they believe in a literal Adam and Eve, a literal Noah, ark, and global flood, they usually believe Jonah spent three days in the belly of a fish, etc etc. They will tend to take any evidence that suggest certain aspects of the Bible to not be historically accurate as a threat – something they will defend vehemently.

When some suggest that the Bible contains historical inaccuracies and the impossibility of reading everything in the Bible literally, they tend to think that Satan (again a literal demonic being) is trying to blind people from the truth and that scholars and scientist are themselves  deceived, are deceiving others, or both.

2. The Bible is one big myth.

Many in this category see only two options: option 1 or option 2.

Many people will often think that either the Bible is historically accurate or it cannot be trusted. They may even have respect for the Bible, as a sacred writing for a religious community, but often view the Bible as a bunch of made up fairy tales.

In my experience, most people in this category tend to focus on the irrationality and inaccuracy of the Bible to show that it is just old stories made up by people who lived hundreds of years ago. They will point out that the Bible is archaic, old, outdated, and…come on…we live in the 21st century people!

3. The Bible is inspired by God

This is a very nuanced approach (as they all are), but overall people who hold this view tend to believe that God was working and continues to work through the Bible – it is inspired in ways other books are not.

These people believe that the Bible is not a scientific textbook, but is more accurately a faith book.

These people teach that the Bible is not always historically accurate, but also understand not everything must be historically accurate in order to present truths. They also understand that much of the Hebrew Scriptures were passed down orally for centuries and they were far less concerned with be perfectly historically accurate as they were in learning and retelling their stories while conveying the deeper truth within – whereas those of us who live in the 21st century often think of a picture or photograph (which shows every single detail), it is more accurate to think of a painting – both are true, but they do not show the exact same thing in the same detail.

These people think science and faith can go hand in hand, and are not afraid when science suggest that the way we interpret the Bible may be wrong.

These people also see that the Bible is not one singular voice, but rather a plurality of voices, each one bound by their culture, cosmology, worldview, etc. The Bible actually contains different perspectives and even different ways of seeing things – they would argue that this is to be expected in a book that has been written by so many different people spanning so many years.

Where do I stand?

I would fall into the third category and if I was asked what the Bible is I would respond by stating:

I think the Bible is a collection of books written by humans as they interpret the divine.

Inspired by God, written by man.

Because of this, we see human fingerprints all over the Scriptures. Some perspectives found within are more accurate than others. I do believe God was working through the limited understanding, cosmology, and consciousness of each of the authors – just like I believe God is still working through each of our limited understanding, cosmology, and consciousness.

In the pages of the Scriptures I see the divine pulling humanity forward into a greater consciousness, a greater awareness of what is right and what is wrong, how to live a fuller life, how to better take care and love others, how to live more economically and sustainably.

This way of thinking shapes the way I see the world at this moment.

I believe God is pulling us forward into greater consciousness.

The invitation is, will we enter into the growing expanse, or will we fight against it?

 

 

 

Why am I still a Christian?

In 2007 David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons came out with a book that I still think is applicable today called Unchristian.

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Using research from the Barna Group, this book showed the statistics of how people view Christians in America. Here’s a list of the ways many viewed (and I think accurately continue to view) Christians:

Hypocritical

Antihomosexual

Judgmental

To pushy – proselytize in ways that turn people off

Sheltered – I think specifically anti-science and narrow minded would qualify here.

Right wing politics – overly political, tied to partisan politics.

I resonated with this in two ways. First, this was becoming the way I also viewed many Christians. Second, because when I got really honest, I have been all of these things and something was shifting within me.

So, for a while, and from time to time since, I have thought about throwing out the word Christian and calling myself  – a follower of Jesus   – or something else (maybe just spiritual).

But, at the end of the day, I was raised and still very much am a Christian.

I think the struggle is how to be a Christian without the above labels.

While I am certain I am still hypocritical and judgmental at times, I have become open and inclusive of my LGBTQ friends, I am very open to the ways science guides us as we learn how the world came to be,I don’t view the Bible as inerrant, and right wing politics is…well…a little scary at times (this is true of either side to an extent).

In fact my change in these areas has led me to numerous encounters where people think I am falling off the wagon, heading down the road to relativism, forsaking the truth, replacing the authority of the Bible, and worse some suggest I am no longer Christian.

So, my question then is;

What does it mean to be a Christian?

I have done a fair amount of reading church websites online, and often I will find a part titled beliefs. Usually there is a long list of things that people who attend that church believe in which supposedly make them a Christian.

The problem is, what if you cannot check all of those things off?

What if you think some of (or many?) of the places where they believe to be really clear, you see as muddy and unclear? What if you disagree and see things differently? How many points can one disagree with and still be welcome there? And if I am still welcomed there and yet I don’t believe all of the stuff, can I still help serve and lead?

So, back to the question…what does it mean to be a Christian?

Well, in the first century, people who followed the ways and teachings of Jesus were called followers of “the Way”. Eventually they were called “Christians”, which was a derogatory term given by others to suggest these people who were followers of the Way were trying to be little “Christ’s” – imitators of Jesus.

I believe that to be a Christian means to be one who follows the teachings and life of Jesus.

In other words, I try to imitate Jesus.

When the temptation arises to throw out the label of Christian because it means different things to others than it means to me, I am reminded that I am actually trying my best to imitate Jesus – of course I am failing miserably most of the time.

While I am often tempted to distance myself from many of the people who label themselves Christians, when I read the life and teachings of Jesus I am inspired!

Who could be a better role model than him?

What did Jesus teach and do?

Jesus taught his followers to love others, forgive others, to show compassion and mercy when others don’t deserve it, to challenge those in leadership positions who live hypocritical lives and who look out for their own selfish agenda’s. Jesus taught us to trust in God, even when we are not sure how things will pan out. Jesus taught us that sickness is not the way God wants things and evil should be combated. Jesus taught us to welcome the oppressed and marginalized and to speak out on their behalf. Jesus taught us to work for peace in self sacrificial and non violent ways while we subvert the institutions that keep the elite in power and others in poverty.

Who struggled the most with these teachings?

The religious leaders of the time.

Why?

Because he was suggesting a very different way of being and living in the world. A way that serves others, embraces the outsiders, and while it can work within religious institutions, the way of Jesus can just as easily work outside of these institutions. In fact, he even taught that oftentimes these very institutions can work against this (e.g. Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath).

In essence, those who struggled most with Jesus were those who had clear definitions of who was “in” and who was “out”. These leaders were the sole interpreters of truth and the gatekeepers of this truth, and Jesus was breaking down all the walls -suggesting that those who they claimed were “out” were actually “in” and those who claimed were “in” may not actually be. One can quickly see why this would be an affront to some.

The crux of the teachings of Jesus was that you will know his true followers by the fruit that they bear – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control. You will not know them by what they mentally assent to, or what they confess or say they believe – it’s the outside that matters because one can pretend or hide the inside, but our external actions actually reveal what’s inside…ouch!

Instead of a long list of beliefs one must check off, I think it is more accurate to ask ourselves if others see us as people who are self righteous, bigoted, homophobic, hypocritical, unforgiving, gatekeepers who tell everyone whether they are “in” or “out”,

or

Do people see Jesus in us?

John 13:35

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

LGBTQ inclusion – my personal journey

Last week a second mega church came out for full LGBTQ inclusion (You can watch a video of the pastor of Eastlake Community Church in Seattle here – it’s a wonderful video totally worth the watch).

Time magazine recently came out with an article titled How Evangelicals are Changing their Minds on Gay Marriage.

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It’s pretty hard to overstate the importance and effect of the great shift that is going on in the Christian world. Of course it has caused massive debates and splits among families, friends, congregations, and even church denominations.

I was taught that gays and lesbians are living in “sin” and should be confronted with this truth. In my church tradition (and many that I was surrounded by) the LGBTQ community were thought of as another issue and reason for the relativism and decline of morality in American society.

I am fully open and affirming and believe that all LGBTQ people should not only be welcomed in our churches, but their marriages should be blessed and they should be allowed into all levels of leadership within church.

How did I get here?

It’s a long journey but I will try to highlight the major points.

First, I was on a personal journey where I began to ask questions and wrestle through many of the assumptions, doctrines, and worldviews that was passed down to me as a child. I came to very different conclusions on a number of issues which I think lead to an openness to question and wrestle through homosexuality.

Second, I met with a gracious friend who challenged many of the assumptions and reasons given to me as to why homosexuality was wrong. While I knew my journey would eventually take me to engage with this, this shoved it into the forefront and I could not longer ignore or postpone it’s importance.

Third, I read through and researched the half of dozen Scriptures that have been used to teach homosexuality is wrong. I realized several things. Jesus never spoke about homosexuality. The few Scriptures (and it’s amazing how few there are) that are translated into English as homosexuality have nothing to do with two adults in a committed relationship of fidelity. There’s a lot I could go into here, but the first century had no context for a committed, adult, same sex relationship. Sure they had a context for male prostitution, adult men raping young boys (pedophilia), and same sex relations outside of committed relationships most often in the form of an act of worship to a god, but they did not, and could not fathom what we currently know as homosexuality in the 21st century.

Fourth, I took time to listen to those on both sides of the debate (and in many areas in the middle). I did this by reading books, articles, blogs, and listening to the very real struggle of those who have endured years of shame, guilt, and oppression by people including the church. I’m lucky and thankful that I live in a time where information is much more available than has ever previously been. I learned that science shows that same sex attraction is not just a choice (I’m sure I did not willfully choose to be attracted to the opposite sex). I also learned, to my own shame and guilt, of how destructive the church has been to so many esp in the form of reparative  therapy (conversion therapy). I heard story after story of those who were taught that same sex attraction was wrong and tried to fix it, pray against it, and go through months of different counseling and therapy sessions which did not change them. If it really was a choice, why would so many willingly go through hell? It just didn’t make sense.

Lastly, I sought forgiveness for the ways I had been a part of shaming and excluding people from the church. I had done this in many ways, but I know there was at least one person in particular that I treated in a very self-righteous manner.

In the end I concluded that I cannot be certain about a whole lot of things, but I am personally under the conviction that God loves and accepts everyone, including people in the LGBTQ community completely as they are and invites us to do the same. I committed that if I err, I would err on the side of love, compassion, and inclusion since these are the main ways I see God and want to reflect this to others. I also witnessed the ways that God and Scripture were used to shame, guilt, oppress and exclude these people from God’s love, and reflected upon the ways I had been a part of this as well. In all of these ways it just seems to be to be so contrary to the way and teaching of Jesus.

I will not exclude people – this includes anyone who is queer. I will be a part of a church that not only blesses same sex marriages, but also allows anyone in the LGBTQ community into leadership and service at the highest levels of the church. Since this journey started, I have met many wonderful people in the LGBTQ community including fellow seminarians, friends, leaders, and pastors who are doing some wonderful work in the world. If this is you…you inspire me!

In the mean time, I think we should be full of grace to those who differ on this.

It is a difficult process to think through and complex in nature, especially if you are like me and were taught homosexuality was wrong all your life. I hope we can lay aside name calling from both sides (e.g. bigot, heretic, anti-christian, homophobic, self-righteous) and allow God’s spirit to work in the lives of our friends. I think we should still push this forward as it is important and causes so much pain and grief, but we should do so with grace and humility and not anger or hatred. If you are on this journey and still not sure what you think, my encouragement to you would be to continue on the journey (it takes time). Explore all angles. Read books, watch interviews, look at science, the Scripture, and the reasoning behind it. Talk to your LGBTQ friends, if you don’t have any, find someone and listen to their story (this above all else, will be the most helpful).

May we have love, grace, and compassion with others as we journey into the future.