Wow, it has been 7 weeks since I posted anything to my blog. I know this because my son is 7 weeks old today and I posted this 2 days before he was born. (Note to self: posting a “part 1” and/or a potentially controversial opinion right before a major life change may not be the best idea.) I can’t remember at this point what triggered me to write that. It had been brewing for a while in my Mac Journal, but something must have set me off to throw it on out there. I was so worried about it afterward, I refused to tweet about it until I had a chance to post the “part 2” – which is right here.
My goal in part 1 was not to tear down Scripture or in anyway diminish its importance for living a truly Christian life. But this doctrine of inerrancy we have created and the notion that the Bible is the final authority on all matters of faith simply do not serve us well, because they place faith in the wrong location and they are ideas we have brought to Scripture, not ideas that have been revealed to us by Scripture.
You may be asking at this point, is he really saying the Bible is not inerrant? So, if Scripture is not inerrant, what is it? If there are errors, how do I know where they are? How do I keep from going down a slippery slope where I toss out anything I disagree with? These are serious questions. This is what makes people nervous. The doctrine of inerrancy was created to protect us against all this looseness. We don’t like subjective, we don’t want relative. We like objective, we want fixed, we want something we can possess.
But The Word of God is not something we can possess. The choice is not between objective and subjective – it’s between one subjective and another subjective. Objectivity is a myth, it does not exist. There is no approach to Scripture that doesn’t come with its own set of presuppositions and interpretive framework. Our interpretations do not amount to apostolic testimony. The Word of God confronts us, interprets us, not the other way around. The Word of God knocks us off our horses on the Damascus Road, interrupts us in all of our religious zeal, and asks, “Why do you persecute Me?”
The doctrines of inerrancy and final authority are only useful if I want to use the Bible to confront you, tell you how to live, lay out what God has called you to do or be. But this is not how we are meant to use Scripture. It is not a tool that helps me pick the speck out of my brother’s eye. It is a mirror that shows me the beam in my own eye. Scripture carries the weight and importance it does, not because it is some magic book I can use at my discretion, but because it is the primary place where God can come and speak to me, revealing traits of His character, confronting me in my sin and/or complacency, calling me to be and do what God wants of me.
This is a radical departure from how many churches and Christians use the Bible presently. Here we put aside our own ideas and ask the Holy Spirit to come and speak to us through Scripture. Here we grow ever more mistrustful of our pet theories, the standard interpretations, the usual way of doing business. Because, face it, we can’t trust ourselves to get this right. Remember the scribes and Pharisees? They were experts of Scripture. They had it memorized, they copied it by hand, they studied it night and day, they gave their lives to it. But they were completely wrong in their interpretations.
Jesus blew their theologies, theories, interpretations, and understandings out of the water. Do we really think we are better than they were? The disciples weren’t, even after living with Jesus continually for three years. So, some 2000 years later, do we have some special ability to understand what Jesus means that they didn’t?
Actually we do, but only this: we have the same Holy Spirit that was poured out in the Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. But this brings us right back to be completely, utterly, always and forever dependent – wholly dependent – on God to tell us what Scripture means. Of course, this requires that we accept the idea that God still speaks to us, and that we listen. And the Spirit only reveals to us what we need to know in the moment, at that time, to carry out the work of the Kingdom that the Spirit has set before us. The Spirit does not give us pronouncements to make over the whole of the Christian church through all time. As Jesus told Peter when Peter asked about John, “What is that to you? You follow me.”
Scripture is an account of God revealing God’s self to humans, down through history, leading up to and culminating in the fullest revelation of God possible: the Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus all Scripture must be read through Jesus (both forward and backward) and thankfully He sent the Holy Spirit to do just that, as Jesus tell us, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
So it’s not up to me to tell you if a woman should be allowed to preach or teach in your church (I remember what set me off in part 1 now). It’s up to the Holy Spirit. Has the Spirit called some woman in your community to teach? Has the Spirit given her a message for your community? If so, then you would be wise not to hinder the work of the Spirit. Did Paul say women should be silent in the church? Yes, he did. Did he mean that as a directive to be obeyed by churches everywhere throughout history? Does what Paul wrote trump the call of God on a woman’s life to teach? Who’s in charge here, Paul or God? Are you really going to use Scripture to work against God’s will? Wow, that’s just what the Pharisees and scribes tried to do.
And it’s not up to me to tell you if a divorced person should be allowed to teach or preach in your community. Did Jesus say divorce was wrong? Yes, he did. Did Jesus say divorced people should be banned from ever teaching or preaching? No, I don’t remember reading that. Again, whomever the Lord raises up, whomever the Father calls, whomever the Spirit empowers to say or do whatever should be allowed to say or do that. If our doctrines and theologies get in the way of the work of God, then we should probably rethink them.
One final almost final note for those of you who have a philosophical bent. I am arguing here against the lie of modernity that we can be the possessors and masters of knowledge, that we can approach Scripture objectively and somehow read it with no filters or lenses. This may lead you to think that I support the post-modern notion that modernity is wrong because multiple readings are valid, that all points of view are equal or have their own worth. To me, that is trading one lie for another lie. With the first, someone else tells me how to read Scripture and how to live, with the second, I decide how to read it and how to live. Sorry, but I don’t trust you or me to get it right.
The only “right” reading of Scripture is the one the Holy Spirit empowers as He communicates the truth of God into lives to heal, transform, confront, challenge, encourage them as the Spirit sees fit. Paul tells us that all Scripture is “God-breathed,” but we almost always fail to see that this cannot be static. Breath by its nature is not static. The Spirit blows where he will. We cannot contain, predict, bottle, or package this. We can, however, quench it, and this is precisely what the pseudo-doctrines of inerrancy and final authority do.
All authority has been given to Jesus, not our pet interpretations of the Bible. He alone is perfect and infallible. “When the perfect comes” in 1 Cor. 13 refers to Jesus, not the canon. Jesus is The Word of God, the revelation of the Father. Holy Spirit, come ever again and reveal Jesus to us, through Scripture, through the Body of Christ, through the poor, through whatever means You may use (we’ll even listen to a donkey). Set us free from our own preconceived notions, confront us, convict us, mold us into the likeness of Jesus. May we not cling to and love the darkness, may we learn to walk in Your light.