The other night, I went to a lecture by John Shelby Spong, an Anglican Bishop and popular author.
The title of Spong’s lecture was this: ‘The Bible is not the solution – it’s the problem.’
In one point I agreed with, he criticised those that pick their most favourite verses here and there from the Bible; but then he did precisely that in his lecture – except the verses he picked here and there were his least favourite…
I would like to suggest what I see as a spectrum concerning views of the Bible. At one end, you have Spong’s view on scripture, and at the other end you have various teachers of what I like to call ‘biblianity’. It may not be a perfect analogy, because I think the issue is more complex and multi-faceted than a simple spectrum can show, but it may be helpful.
What I’m talking about here, has to do with what I think are false choices being presented everywhere you look. The obvious example being the false choice between worshiping the Bible (hailing it as pure, un-defiled and able to do your laundry) on one hand, and on the other hand treating it as a ‘sinful’ thing, perhaps useful for gleaning a few nice sentiments or putting under a short leg of a table.
I don’t want to use the phrase, ‘middle ground’, as that conjures up images of compromise, but there is certainly a third option other than those two.
Directly or indirectly, we’re talking about the Bible’s trustworthiness. Can we trust the Bible? Spong would not hesitate to say, ‘Not at all.’ Most Christians would say, ‘Yes.’ Now, I agree with the latter, but I want to comment on what this ‘trusting the Bible’ might look like…
The problem is the vagueness of the question – ‘Can we trust the Bible?’ A better question is, ‘What can we trust the Bible for?’ To forgive my sins? As a flotation device? I certainly trust the Bible, but what do we mean by this?
-I don’t trust the Bible to cook my food.
-I do trust the Bible to tell how to eat responsibly.
-I don’t trust the Bible to teach me how to play guitar.
-I do trust the Bible to tell that music is a gift from God.
-I don’t trust the Bible to explain dark matter in the universe.
-I do trust the Bible to tell that the heavens declare His glory.
-I don’t trust the Bible to explain micro-evolution and macro-evolution.
-I do trust the Bible to tell that God is the creator of all things.
-I don’t trust the Bible to make my website look cool.
-I do trust the Bible to say when to turn off the computer and sit face-to-face with others.
-I don’t trust the Bible to fix my car.
-I do trust the Bible to tell us walking might often be a better option for many reasons.
-I don’t trust the Bible to contain secret codes that the Bible itself says nothing at all about.
-I do trust the Bible to tell us about life.
-I don’t trust the Bible to be a spooky magic trick kind of book.
-I do trust the Bible to be a down-to-earth real kind of book.
-I don’t trust the Bible to provide convenient proof-texts to randomly affix to life.
-I do trust the Bible to provide wisdom and orientation to all of life.
The Bible that Spong hates is the same Bible of biblianity. It is a Bible that was handed down on a cloud, leather-bound and ready for quoting-battles. Ready to be chopped up into bits and stuck ‘on billboards and backs of cars’ (from the lyrics of Derek Webb). Ready to be defended by ‘deep-sea-fishing’ (term from Hank Hannegraaf) code-finding methods. Ready to be worshipped.
I don’t love that Bible of biblianity. I love the actual Bible. I can trust it. Not to answer any silly question I wish to ask of it, but to answer the most important questions.