So a preacher says, “The Bible is a book on a journey.” I don’t think I have a major quarrel with the wording. But I’m old enough now to observe the shift of “authority”. It used to be, “the Bible.” That is, the Bible carefully listened to. It used to be the Bible listened to as the place where the authority of God (and there is no other authority!) is peculiarly though not exclusively expressed (note Psalm 19). I’m pretty sure it’s many of us who are on a journey rather than the Bible.
The Bible “carefully listened to” was and is not an easy task but it was the task that devoted and fervent believers felt they were called to and it became for them, “faith seeking understanding” from the Holy Scriptures. We became “wise” and the gifts God gave us as humans—gifts like intellect, reason and rationality, creative imagination and literary skill—now serve interesting ends.
But thought that even our rational capacity could be corrupted and we could logic our way to become fools even while we could make logical arguments to vindicate our logic. Before one knows it A requires B and B requires C and C necessitates D and that logic is unassailable then we find ourselves at T and sense that something is wrong. But we got to T via unassailable logic and there’s no going back so we travel on to WXY and find we’re saying things that make no sense. Some of us then pick out a place where we feel comfortable, maybe U and call anything more than that “extreme”.
That move works well in some ways. It allows one to stay “in the game”—the Bible game, I mean, the religious, moral game I mean. You can still appeal to the Bible (the way the “bold” Enlightenment could still appeal to “Jesus” and dismiss the rest) but at the point you feel rationally comfortable. You like letter D stop there and call the P’s and Q’s extreme.
(Some years back in his History of Philosophy Bertrand Russell told us that John Locke made empiricism creditable but inconsistent and David Hume made empiricism consistent but incredible. It seems that Locke got to a point where he saw that that philosophy couldn’t be followed all the way, just embraced all he could and walked away. Hume kept walking and destroyed causation on which all science is built but that’s where logic led him. He did confess that he got tired of the entire never-ending enterprise every now and then and went off to play backgammon with his friends to get away from it. I hear some of that going on in theology.]
It dawns on some of us that we’re no longer appealing to be Bible but to ourselves. We find ourselves dismissing Paul with words like, “Paul is just another fella with religious and theological opinions—some of them good and some of them not at all good.” I’ve come across some of us who thought Paul tried to make his case for change, failed to do it and settled for a status quo that he knew was wrong and against the gospel he preached.
I don’t have all the answers for ANYTHING but I am persuaded that we underestimate how sly, and smooth, and plausible and persuasive evil is. It comes whispering to us that we’re entirely re-configuring the Bible on the basis of good sound logic and heartfelt honesty. But what if this thing that breeds in the dark, that feeds on the corruption of the mind and throws us morsels of truth and gobs of pleasant plausibility from a cultural anthropologist here, a linguistics specialist there or a gifted theologian somewhere else and we end up with a certain mindset made up of bits and pieces thrown together from a hundred different quarters and Jesus Christ Himself (whatever “He”or “it” He turns out to be)—becomes irrelevant?
(Nobel Prize winning theoretical scientist, Steven Weinberg, wonders why a number of his fellow scientists use language about nature that is nothing more than “religious coloration”. Why not just that entire charade and speak plain atheism (he’s atheist). I wonder the same thing about a number of theological/religious types. Why not simply say the Bible is a collection of religious opinions and put it on the same shelf as the Upanishads or the Doctrine & Covenants or any other collection of religious musings and opinions?)
GB Caird in his Language & Imagery opens his book confessing he is “an amateur” in the area in which he now writes but goes on to say that’s how it is with everyone because no one can fully grasp more than a couple of areas in a lifetime. He’s right, of course. Scholar A relies on scholar B in another field and B relies on C and we the rank and file rely on a wide scattering of opinions woven together by preaching-amateurs we pay good wages to—thinking they’re firm believers in what they preach. Not long ago I heard a university professor explain what Walter Brueggemann has done for Churches of Christ. Bless me, if you could make that case stick I suppose you can make anything stick.
I have no deep laid concerns about the future of the Church that is the Body of Christ. When the smoke cleared after Her war with the Roman Empire John shows her as beautiful, indestructible (with walls 1400 miles high) and with God dwelling in Her. Rome, the Empire Structure, I mean, had its authority and power from the Dragon (Revelation 13:4) was just another satanic expression of what is anti-God, anti-life and anti-human, as was Pharaoh and Assyria and Babylon. Ancient or modern, military, social, cultural, economic, literary, political or whatever—none of these is new to God nor to His People, those who in their pain or confusion, even when they gasp with Habakkuk at what they see and hear and fear, they will still wait at their post until they hear God say “Those that trust, those that are trustworthy will live that way and they will live, rejoicing in a happy ending.”
It shouldn’t surprise us if every now and then we hear of some teacher/preacher throwing his Bible on to the lower shelf, believing now it has nothing to offer that can’t be got somewhere else.
But then there’s that Jesus Christ.
Maybe everything will work out okay if we dump everything said about Him and everything He (is alleged to have) said.
Myself, I wouldn’t bet on it.
I know this, if Jesus is dead…………….