Another song from my Sunday School days went like this:
“I may never march in the infantry, ride in the cavalry, shoot the artillery.
I may never fly o’er the enemy, but I’M IN THE LORD’S ARMY!”
The song was always accompanied by lots of stomping on our part. It felt like we were stomping on anyone who didn’t agree with us. I’ve seen a lot of spiritual stompers. I’ve been one myself. Maybe still am at times. I’m sure I’ve got some boots close by.
There’s a lot of stomping going on around the topic of the Bible. I was in college and seminary during the Scripture wars. Harold Lindsell picked a fight with plenty when he wrote Battle For the Bible. The book pitted a bunch of evangelicals against one another. Some of the casualties of the war included godly, Christ-honoring, Bible-believing professors under whom I sat.
Back up the church bus! How can they be casualties of Bible wars if they are Bible-believers? Great question. For spiritual stompers it’s not a matter of believing the Bible but a matter of believing certain things about the Bible. “You may be a Christ-follower, you may seek to let Christ express Himself through you, but if you don’t believe as I do about the Bible…” then stomp, stomp, stomp. For instance:
Inerrancy – the belief that the Bible contains no mistakes. The thinking goes like this: “God is perfect. The Bible is God’s Word. Therefore the Bible is perfect.” “Jesus, the living Word is sinless, so it is assumed that the written Word is sinless.” (Does anyone see the danger in that thinking?) Back to Lindsell’s book: He says, “…the Bible is not a textbook on chemistry, astronomy, philosophy, or medicine…when it speaks on matters having to do with these or any other subjects, the Bible does not lie to us. It does not contain any errors of any kind.”
Then we run into statements in the Bible that aren’t perfect. I hate it when that happens. Take this example: Mark 6:8, speaking of Jesus sending out His disciples, says, “He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff…” The same account in Luke 9:3 and Matthew 10:10 has Jesus saying, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff..” So, who got it right? Mark or Matthew and Luke? Did Jesus tell his disciples to bring staffs or not?
This freaks some people out. “All Scripture is God-breathed…” after all. That means the Bible is always right. It is, in fact, impossible for the Bible to be wrong about anything. If it’s wrong about anything, well, it may be wrong about everything. Yikes! Then what do we do?
So what does it mean to “believe the Bible,” “confess it’s true” when we are well aware that certain “facts” don’t fit?
First, questions are good. I know, we’re not supposed to ask questions. We’re supposed to provide answers to other people’s questions. But, sorry, I have questions. So did Origen. Origen was a theologian and respected Bible interpreter in the 3rd century. He read the war accounts of Joshua and couldn’t get a handle on them. “Why would God command His people to commit genocide?” he asked. Others have asked the same thing. His take on it? He concluded that the conquest stories in Joshua are allegories of how we battle the temptations we face. How would that fly in the church today? No matter if you agree with Origen or not, you have to love the fact that he asked questions, that he wrestled with the texts and that he tried hard to apply the Bible to his life and world.
Second, Literal or not? Shouldn’t we read the Bible literally? Sounds right, doesn’t it? Right but not simple. Here are a couple of definitions of “literal:”
1. “It happened exactly this way.” or,
2. “What the writer intended.”
So, for example, what does it mean to read Genesis 1 literally? If you follow the first definition, Genesis 1 is a play-by-play description of how the world was created. If you follow the second definition, it could be a God-inspired meditation on the origins of the universe attesting to the creative power of God.
Tim Keller, who believes that Genesis 1 is a poem, says this: “The way to respect the authority of the Biblical writers is to take them as they want to be taken. Sometimes they want to be taken literally, sometimes they don’t. We must listen to them, not impose our thinking and agenda on them.”
Third, accept the Bible for what it is. Some years ago the late Adrian Rogers, one of the architects of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, was asked for his definition of inerrancy. He answered: “It means the Bible is truth without mixture of error historically, philosophically, scientifically and theologically.” While I have huge respect for Dr. Rogers, he was making claims about the Bible that the Bible doesn’t make for itself.
The Bible does not claim to be inerrant. It does claim to be true. “The entirety of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous judgments endures forever” Psalm 119:160. “True” does not mean “inerrant”. The Bible is 100% true, but that doesn’t necessitate that all of it has to be 100% scientific and historical “fact.” To require the Bible to be “factual” in the areas of history, chronology, science, is to impose on it a 21st century mindset that distorts it.
When you’re dealing with any book, you have to know what its purpose is or you won’t understand it correctly. The main purpose of the Bible is found here:
“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself…And He opened their understanding that they might comprehend the Scriptures.” Luke 24:27, 44-45
The purpose of the Bible is to point us to God’s final Word: Jesus.
Let’s take off and keep off our stomping boots and put on our sandals and walk with Jesus – the Living Word.