Many conservative fundamentalist Christians would use my title to describe a book. Ok, maybe not just a book, but THE book. After all, that’s what bible means – book. So when my most conservative friends use this phrase, it is generally used as a way to define the authority with which they view the Bible. In most cases, they go even further to mean a particular English translation of the Bible. If you live in the particular part of Alabama where our family currently resides, with the quantity of very conservatives Churches of Christ, they probably even mean the King James translation in particular.
Many of the liberal Christians I know balk at this phrase. They rebel against it. They reject it. In some cases, they have this reaction because there is some part of the Bible with which they disagree. In other cases, they have been hurt in some way by someone who used the Bible as a club to attempt to get them to submit to God’s will (which usually happens to agree with their will at the time). I hope that some of them react to parts of the Bible where they see conflicting pictures of who God is, and that causes them to think that this book just can’t be that perfect, so they think there is no perfect word of God that hasn’t been offered through some sort of imperfect human filter that has somehow corrupted it.
I want to say clearly and distinctly, I believe in the inerrant, infallible word of God. But I don’t believe it is a book. I believe that word is a person – Jesus of Nazareth, whose story is told in many of the books we have in the Bible. I believe that word has existed since at least the beginning of time. And most of all I believe that Jesus is the unmitigated word of God – unfiltered through any imperfect human being, and we all have access to him (it) through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
This does not, however, mean that I believe we should throw out the things the Bible says. It means that any teaching, written or spoken, should be examined through and tested against what we know about Jesus and what he said is important. It means that we should view the Bible as Jesus’ story – that, just as Jesus said, all of scripture points to him, bears witness to him, and is fulfilled by him (not thrown away). It means we should read and listen to the words of the Bible because Jesus studied many of those words, and the ones he didn’t study are the Body of Christ’s attempt to preserve the essence of Jesus’ teachings and bear witness to other teachings that have been revealed through the Holy Spirit since Jesus’ coming.
I know there are uncomfortable things in the Bible. I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that the thought of God commanding the slaughter of every man, woman, child, and animal anywhere gives me pause. I would be lying if I said that any number of the Old Testament laws didn’t seem silly to me. I would be ignoring something that all of my conservative and liberal Christian friends like to fight over, if I didn’t say that the verses thrown around as evidence of God’s disapproval of complete gay love didn’t bother me.
If you are interested in wrestling with these and other difficult issues in the Bible, you could start with giving a listen to a couple of sermon’s I’ve heard recently that I found helpful:
- Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, just started a new sermon series Sunday about wrestling with the Bible. The first sermon addresses the concept that it might be ok to question things that are in there and work at making sense of it all. You can watch or listen to it here.
- Greg Boyd, Senior Pastor of Woodland Hills Church, preached two recent sermons, God’s Shadow Activity and the Shadow of the Cross, where he attempts to get at a new way of looking at the conflicting views of God in the Old and New Testaments. I found them to be mind blowing and enlightening.
You might want to listen to these more than once. The time was definitely worth it to me.
No matter what you might think about the concept of an inerrant, infallible word of God. I pray these words I’ve written have been helpful to you and that God has somehow spoken through them. I pray they will invite you to read and listen to the words of the Bible, seeing in them the revelation of God’s true word, Jesus Christ. And finally, I pray you will be moved to want to follow him and that you will be blessed.