“The Bible is true, and some of it actually happened.”
I considered adding a poll to this post, allowing people to express how the above quote makes them feel. I’m still not entirely sure who is reading this blog and it would be interesting to see how many people are made a little squeamish by this quote.
But there was a time when I would have been.
This quote is usually attributed to the recently deceased theologian Marcus Borg, though by his own admission he borrowed it from a Catholic theologian whose name currently escapes me. And I share it because it, more or less, reflects my current thinking on the Bible.
I say more or less because as soon as I say it, I want to offer some pretty heavy qualifications. For example, the above quote functions, under an implicit cultural assumption that the Bible historical accuracy and truth are one in the same. Even in rebuttal of that notion, the quote still navigates on those terms. It’s like granting that Star Wars and Star Trek are products of the same genre before arguing over which one is better. You’ve missed the point before the debate even begins.
And I’d push back on the notion that the Bible intends to convey much history at all. Or at the very least we would need to seriously qualify what we mean by history, acknowledging that the way history worked thousands of years ago when the Bible was written is a bit different than what we mean by the word today. If the Bible means to convey history, it does so indirectly insofar as it is a product of the historical situation in which it was written.
Confused yet? Angry? Worried? Intrigued? Some combination? Either way, I’d encourage you to stay with me here.
Look, this isn’t a post I was necessarily excited to write. And there are a few reasons for that.
First off, I’ve been pretty restrained on this blog so far. I told you I “believe” in evolution and most everyone I heard back from sort of shrugged their shoulders. It’s a topic that a few people get really hung up over. But most don’t. And yet, it was important to my story and so I felt I needed to start there.
Then I told you why I wasn’t a Calvinist anymore. That topic seemed to resonate with quite a few people (my page views skyrocketed). And while I think it’s a topic worth continued exploration (and I do plan on returning to it), my rejection of Calvinism – at least in it’s most popular form – is not a terribly edgy position to hold.
I’ve intentionally started things off by keeping it pretty safe. In part that’s because I’m still finding my voice after having to do a fair share of self-censorship in the past. In part it’s because I’m hardly a finished product. I’m still learning new things every day. Regardless, I find I’m wrestling with the tension over how much of this blog is simply me telling my story, and how much is an attempt to argue for the positions I now hold.
And so the first reason why I was hesitant to write this post is because it represents my first foray into what will likely be significantly more challenging content. Not more challenging to understand. But more challenging for many readers to remain open to.
My first few posts went after conclusions; this one begins an attack on foundations.
You see, if the opening quote (and clever post title) wasn’t a clear giveaway, in the next few posts I’m going to ask some hard questions about the reliability and authority of the Bible.
Which actually brings me to the second reason why I had some reservations about going down this road. There is simply no way I’m going to be able to do justice to this topic over a series of blog posts. I won’t be able to address every concern, answer every question, present every argument, or ease every fear.
It has taken nearly a decade for my views to get to this point. That journey involved a lot of thought, a lot of prayer, and most of all, a lot of reading. It still does. The prospect of capturing all that in a few thousand words over the course of a few days is rather daunting.
But I’m going to tell this part of my story anyway because it’s the key to so much of what comes next (not to mention my ability to revisit the topics that have come before). My journey really only makes sense against the backdrop of what I do or don’t believe about the Bible.
So with my disclaimers firmly in place, and if you’re not too unsettled by what I’ve confessed so far, allow me to spend the rest of this post laying the ground work for what’s coming next.
Let’s start with something that, for some, will be a little provocative. I reject the notion that the Bible is inerrant. By that I mean that I reject the belief that the Bible is without error. And no the qualification that only the original manuscripts are inerrant doesn’t solve anything for me. I reject inerrancy full-stop.
But, and this is a big but, I also reject the way the argument over inerrancy frames what is even at stake over the affirmation (or rejection) of such a doctrine. I don’t think it does justice to the Bible we actually have. And so my second provocative claim is that I actually think I have a higher view of scripture than those who affirm inerrancy.
(Egads! What could he possibly say next?!)
Next, let me add that I still think the Bible is divinely inspired, but I’m careful to qualify exactly what I mean by that. Let’s just say I don’t refer to the Bible as the Word of God. But, before you get your torches and pitchforks out, I have no real problem calling it the word of God. Does that help?
In what I hope will be something of a lifeline to those hating life right now (or at least hating everything that I’m writing), I’m still willing to call the Bible authoritative and I still think it is foundational to the Christian life and faith.
But, and here you can get back to the pitchforks, much of what is taken for granted as historical in the Biblical narrative I believe to be mythical. And I use that word – mythical – very intentionally.
Now, before you unsubscribe and leave me to my pagan ways, let me add that I believe the biblical authors (and there were more of them than people usually think) knew that much of their narrative was mythical – and/or embellished, redacted, or allegory (noun: a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one), and so in making that claim I am not compromising the Bible’s claims to truth.
I think I’ll call it there so that anyone who made it this far can take a moment to breathe, call loved ones, and and spend a few hours watching The Prince of Egypt to cleanse your eyes of what I’ve written.
(Gasp! Did he just foreshadow that he’s going to attack Moses?! Too far sir! Too far!)
If I haven’t scared you off and you want to see how deep this rabbit hole goes, then join me later this week as I begin to unpack some of the bolded statements above.
And in the mean time, don’t forget to join the conversation by sharing the post and, more importantly, sharing your thoughts!