To introduce this, I am going to go ahead and soften the blow. I have thought a lot about publishing this, mostly because I know how I react to it every time I read it, and I can only imagine what others will think. None of my articles are supposed to be scholarly, they are just my thoughts about my beliefs in flux. I would like to do an in depth study eventually, with tons of references to other scholarly books and articles, but for now, I am just throwing out general ideas that others may not have considered, and some that I just thought were interesting.
The name of this blog is the Heretic’s progress. The word Heretic comes from the Greek “To Choose” or “Able to choose”. I am presenting you, the reader, and myself, the author, the opportunity to choose whether to believe what I have written as true. One of my goals is to present ideas contrary to common belief, thus giving you the option to choose between the belief you have, and another option. If you don’t believe, then don’t. But if it makes you think about it, then I accomplished what I set out to do.
And please, if you want to burn me at the stake during the first half of this article, at least keep reading to the end. Too many disregard the redemption of things by giving up at the first part. If you gave up with the part where Jesus died, where would that leave you? (More on that subject in an article to come.) Enough of my back peddling:
I was driving my car back to West Virginia with a good friend of mine, when it struck me.
I doesn’t matter to me if the Bible is true or not.
It was such an incredible thought that I said it aloud. My friend respond with an “Okay” and didn’t ask for any follow up. Inside though, I was ecstatic. It was one of the most freeing moments I have ever experience in my life.
I no longer had to defend the Bible. I no longer had to find excuses for it. I no longer needed it for the way I lived. I didn’t need it to dictate who I was. All of which implies that that is exactly what the Bible did for me before.
If I was with a good Christian and I mentioned that the Bible didn’t matter to me, I imagine I might get chewed out. That’s understandable. I probably would have done something similar a couple years ago. I would probably tell me that I was abandoning the Faith, and that I was throwing away God’s gift to us in the Written Word. But God’s Word stands on its own; It doesn’t need me to defend it.
The biggest part of what I am trying to say is that my Faith in God is not dependent on the Bible anymore. If the Bible turned out to be historically wrong in one point, or a complete work of fiction, it would not change my belief in everything else.
Shortly after finishing this road trip, I wrote this parable:
Once upon a time there was a church that was living faithfully according to God’s Word, and listening dutifully to what their Pastor preached. It was a sad and woeful morning on this particular day, for the Pastor had to deliver the worst news in all of history, to his congregation. The Bible, was a work of fiction.
After the fainting women had been revived and the outraged men settled down, the Pastor began to explain in great detail how this great discovery had come about and how all around the world, this would no doubt be the topic of ever Church’s sermon, for with something so upsetting, how could anything else hope to be discussed? His explanation of this tragedy and the proof of the Bible’s fictitious nature was undeniable. As the Pastor spoke, trying to encourage his flock to stay true to God’s plan for their lives, little by little, one person at first, and then in groups, the congregation left, no longer bound to listen to a religious rant about a life built on a work of fiction. As they leave, some storm out, refusing to believe the proof explained to them, and shown to them right before their very eyes; Others exit the Church, abandoning their Christianity altogether; But in the back, alone, sits a old red neck.
The Pastor steps down from the front of the empty Church and walks to the last aisle where the red neck sits and He asks the old man, “Why are you still here? Hasn’t this shaken your faith as well?”
The old man yawns, and then replies in his thick drawl, “Naw. I never really had that much faith in the Bible. I spent too much of my time believing in God.”
The Pastor is astonished, “Are you telling me that you don’t read the Bible?”
“I’m telling yew that I can’t read, period.” the Red Neck answered.
“But you were one of our deacons; one of the most loving, caring, Christ-like men I have ever met. How can you have never read the Bible?”
For the Old Red Neck in the story, the most important thing the Bible ever did anyway, was tell stories. True, Fictional stories. Because that’s what a good story, Fiction or Non-fiction does, it points to a higher truth than itself. Case in Point: The Hobbit. The entire book is focused on a non-human, set in a mythical world of magic and dragons, yet at the end, the character of Bilbo Baggins shows the truth of human nature, the issues we deal with, and what matters most to us regardless of the fact that he isn’t human, and lives in a separate time and place then our own, just like the Biblical accounts of the Old Testament. Are you telling me you know exactly what its like to be a Shepard in Israel in 1000 B.C. or are you just drawing parallels? The distance between your world and the world of the biblical characters might a well be fictional. The Hobbit is true, but its not real. It doesn’t have to be.
Andy Stanley preached on the topic of Biblical inerrancy and belief in his message “The Bible Told Me So”. This message caught a lot of flak for seemingly denying the inerrancy of scripture, when in fact and in my opinion, he contradicts the whole point of his message by trying to prove again that the Bible is accurate. In the message, he gives a fantastic culmination of historical dating in order to show that the early Church does not have the New Testament, and instead, relies on word of mouth, and straight-up belief in their Resurrected Savior to fuel Christianity. Had he stopped there, I would have had no complaints other than his use of the word Millennial (I already have an article waiting to be posted on this
.), but Stanley then returns to prove the facts of his case, and facts are what lost the battle in the first place.
The point he did make quite well is still that the early church survived without the Bible; their faith didn’t hinge on it, so why should yours. Even if you get past the early church, and end up in the Medieval era where most people were illiterate, the Bible was often read in Latin, which the average man didn’t speak. So how were they even considered Christians? Simple: Church tradition.
And if you don’t like taking your belief on the word of mouth, then by all means throw the Trinity out while you’re at it, because the only reason we have that is word of mouth from the people that knew Jesus. That’s why its a Church Tradition, but not actually in the Bible. Sure, we see three God-Heads, but that’s easy to say if you are already looking for it. Get a non-Christian to read any of those verses that “prove” the Trinity is in the Bible and see what you get. This doesn’t make the Trinity any less true, but it changes why you believe it. I believe in the Trinity because that’s what all of the Disciples saw when they were with Jesus, then they told everyone in the early church, and they told the next generation, and so on and so forth until you get to modern day and someone told me. (Then, once you hear about it, you can’t un-see it. The Trinity is kind of like a mental virus in that sense, like from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. No doubt that I will write on that later as well.)
This belief in the Biblical texts to be perfect really only seems to be a recent development dating back to the Enlightenment era, when Theologians felt threatened by the scrutiny that Religion came under.(I have a thick reading list to eventually get to the bottom of that.)
So where do I stand on the subject of the Bible? The Bible isn’t the only truth. Math books have truth in them that the Bible does not contain, and yet they are still true. Truth is not an exclusive right to the Bible. So there is truth out there that is not the Bible.
If you had the biggest and oldest collection of essays and stories about God and his people, and more importantly, stories that depict the character of who He is, would you not want to read that? Why would I not want to pour over it and scrape it for every last drop of information I could get on the Lord my God? I would put money down that most Christians do become Christians because of what they read or heard from the Bible, so don’t think for a moment that the Bible is not the single most life-changing text in my entire life.
Heck. Jesus even used it from time to time.
The Bible’s value isn’t as a book, because it isn’t a single, solid work, but a collection of different stories, accounts, and even genres that add to the narrative of the Christian faith. The key word is that they add to the Faith, but they shouldn’t be a substitute for your faith.
The early church didn’t have the Bible, but they had Jesus, and those who directly interacted with a bodily Jesus. Nowadays, we only have the people who met the people (etc.) who talked with Jesus. The most tangible method we have to learn about Jesus is through the writings of those who knew him. That’s a pretty direct connection!
For the many people have not had God audibly speak to them, or Jesus Christ himself appear in front of them, the Bible is the Word incarnate more than anything else. I have no fantastic reason for my response, but my gut reaction, is that we should, ourselves, become the Word of God incarnate, not the Bible. Not that we just abandon it, but that we should act as if we are the next narrative to be added to the collection that is the Bible.
Now that I’m starting to take the Bible as more figurative than literal, it has become a whole new book. I had stopped reading my Bible for anything more than a text book in College, but now I actually want to go look at it again; to see with new eyes what it has to offer. I’m actually joyful now, that I can come back to that which I had abandoned, and find it all over again.
And you know, the reason I think I stopped placing my belief in what the Bible said was because my belief had shifted to who God was in my life. It had transformed from belief in the written word, into belief in the Living Word. I think I realized that the Bible was written for me, and that I was not made for the Bible. But that’s just a thought.
P.S.- Did you ever have that light on the road to Damascus for your spiritual journey? The moment of clarity when something just fell out from under you, and you were surprised you didn’t fall as well? Please, tell me what yours was, or what you think I should do about mine.