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 with Genesis 1 assisting it).
It isn’t as easy to “listen carefully” to the Holy Scriptures as some preachers say but it was and is the task that devoted and fervent believers felt and feel they were called to and it became for them, “faith seeking understanding” from the Holy Scriptures.
But we became “wise” as we ate from the “tree of knowledge” (Genesis 3:6) and the gifts God gave us as humans—gifts like intellect, reason and rationality, creative imagination and literary skill were used against God and the Holy Scriptures.
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 but 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 for support when it agrees with your rational and cultural/social convictions. It’s a “wise” move that. It’s the move the “bold” Enlightenment thinkers took when they appealed to “Jesus” while dismissing what the Holy Scriptures say about Him—while dismissing what the Holy Scriptures say He said about Himself. Schüssler Fiorenza laments that the Bible is not going away soon and is a world-shaper so it’s still important to use it when it supports one’s social/religious convictions. That way fervent believers might think you really think highly of the Bible—that you might even think it is somehow “the Word of God” when in fact you believe it’s only the convictions of ancient religious people shaped by their culture and their intellectual limits and is utterly false in who knows how many ways.
But with the new-found wisdom we feel rationally and socially comfortable. We like letter D, stop there and call the P’s and Q’s extreme. Then it dawns on some of us that we’re not appealing to the Bible we’re really appealing 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 reconfiguring 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 plausibility from a cultural anthropologist here, a linguistics specialist there or a gifted philosophical 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—the god Sophia or a worshipper of the god Sophia, as some are telling us)—what if He is irrelevant?
GB Caird in his Language & Imagery of the Bible 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 become an expert in 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 C relies on D 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 experts and 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, that 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 empires and movements—none of these is new to God or 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 rejoice at a happy ending.” Habakkuk 2:1-4; 3;16-19.
It shouldn’t surprise us if every now and then we hear of some teacher/preacher throwing his/her 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, everything He (is alleged to have) said.
Good luck with that.
If Jesus is dead, said the currently much-maligned Paul, “We have nothing to preach! Nothing to believe! We’re still in our sins, without hope that is real, our beloveds along with numberless faith-filled believers have perished and of all the people in the world we are the most to be pitied because we have been the most duped.” Then he tires of the hypothetical and shouts out:
“BUT NOW IS CHRIST RISEN!” and our response is:
“He is Risen indeed!!!!!”
And that’s more than enough!!!!