You know what? I am pretty convinced of what the Bible says on a lot of issues. Very convinced on a lot of issues. Such has come through major study of the Scripture, reading of commentaries and books on particular theological topics, discussions with other Christians, cultural upbringing, church background, and probably a whole host of other reasons. I am dead-set on its teaching in many areas.
But, as of recent, I am beginning to understand more and more that when I say, ‘This is what the Bible says,’ whether or not I recognise it, I actually mean, ‘This is what I believe the Bible says.’
I have recently written about how, many times, we need to have the lens through which we view the Bible changed, or at least see some corrective measure come to our lens. It’s hard to admit, but we really need to allow for such.
Now, the problem here is that I can easily be accused of entering in to the relativistic nature of a post-modern generation, which, for some, has negatively invaded the church (at least in the western world). And, you know, such a caution is warranted. There is no doubt that our day is filled with extreme relativism, not willing to recognise any epistemological foundation of truth. And with the internet today, including the blogosphere, everything is game, which, for some, might mean that nothing is game.
There is somewhat of an epidemic going around.
But I am not up for joining any relativistic bandwagon that pervades much of the individualistic thinking of western society. Of course people need space to be who they are as individuals created in the image of our good God. But I believe in an historic church, I believe in orthodoxy (right belief), and I definitely believe in orthopraxy (right practise).
Still, within the framework of much of evangelicalism, there is an extreme sense that we have it all figured out. We know what the Bible teaches on such and such a subject. But, really, what we mean, or should mean, is that we think we know what the Bible teaches on a given subject.
And here is something important to remember. I am not even asking that we all change our beliefs overnight. First of all, change takes time and, secondly, it might not be necessary to change our belief. But, when our confession and attitude is situated in the belief that we are 100% certain of all things biblical and theological, it will not help us listen to those with contrary beliefs within the body of Christ. And, God please forbid that it becomes a barrier in actually hearing God.
Author and theologian Kenton Sparks has these words to say in his scholarly essay entitled After Inerrancy: Evangelicals and the Bible in a Postmodern Age:
First, our attempt to discern the aims, intentions and ideas of a biblical author will not provide “determinate meaning” that guarantees we will get Scripture right. Just as my serious attempt to understand what someone else has said in a conversation can fail, so my attempt to understand Scripture can fail. So our pursuit of the biblical author’s aims and intentions is one important goal for reading Scripture; it does not provide a target that we can actually see and strike with our arrows of certainty. We simply don’t know if we’ve actually understood the text well. Nevertheless, we can achieve a sufficient sense of confidence in our understanding of Scripture, even a sense of certainty, that allows us to “run with it” in our attempt to understand God and the human situation. (emphasis his)
These do not come from a man who embraces relativism as his core foundation. From what I can tell, Sparks is committed to the authority of Scripture and would affirm every historic, orthodox confession of the church. So please don’t pull these words out of context. But he is challenging the more dogmatic approaches to Scripture, or at least our dogmatic approach that we know exactly what Scripture teaches in regards to every theological and doctrinal subject.
Within the context of Spark’s 21-page essay, I believe these are very wise words. As I said, I suppose that, if these few sentences are taken in and of themselves, people will pick them apart. Thus, I would strongly encourage people to read the short essay.
And what I find more and more a reality amongst evangelicals is our unwillingness to confess that we might not see Scripture clearly, that we do see dimly into a mirror (1 Cor 13:12). This does not mean we simply chuck out any study of God’s word or making any foundational statements as to our beliefs, both primary and secondary. But it challenges us to approach Scripture humbly and to converse with our brothers and sisters of differing views with humility. This is a challenge, for me just as much as you. But we have got to better embrace such humility as evangelicals.
And many of the things we get heated over in the 21st century (and much of church history) are not part and parcel to the historic, orthodox church. Sure, some deny the divinity of Christ or the personality of the Holy Spirit or other very essential things to our faith. But the heated discussions, many times, revolve around things such as women’s roles, the nature of how sola Scriptura works itself out in the life of believers, Christians and science, etc. At least those are some of the biggie, non-essential issues of today. And the worst thing is that that people turn these into essentials of the faith claiming that, if another does not agree with a particular view, then that person or persons are considered outside the fold of Christ. Such is absolutely terrible!
So, though it is quite ok for us to make statements that the text does teach such and such, even with secondary issues, we must heed the call to utilise such words with humility and grace. We must recognise that, in the end, this is what we believe the text teaches. It is the text which is God-breathed and authoritative. Not our interpretation.
Now, some might argue for the perspecuity of Scripture, or for the clarity of Scripture, and thus there are no questions about these issues. But I believe such an argument collapses under a simple dose of real life. Of course I believe Scripture is clear in regards to its ultimate message of salvation-redemption as summed up in Jesus Christ. But all we have to do is start reading a few commentaries to see we must use caution with such a blanket statement about Scripture’s clarity in all places. How many views are there on particular passages and theological topics? And all of these from solid, evangelical, humble seekers of Jesus Christ through the Scriptures.
So, plenty of us, like myself, are convinced of what the Bible teaches on both essential and non-essential issues of the faith. I am convinced the Bible teaches that all gifts of the Spirit will continue throughout this present age. I am quite certain that women are not restricted from church leadership roles. I lean strongly towards the belief that Genesis 1 is not present within Scripture to tell us how long the creative process took. But, in all reality, this is what I believe the Bible teaches on these topics. In my fallenness and frailty, though hard to admit many times, I might just be completely wrong on these aforementioned issues. [And now I sense the heads nodding up and down.]
Hence, this is what I believe the Bible teaches on these topics. Therefore, I might just need to see my lens corrected. And you might just need the same as well. Is it too hard for us to make such a confession? It is. But I believe it healthy to move towards a humble place of being willing to make such a confession.