Monday, November 4, 2013

"Biblical"

Hey Johnathon, Brad, Joel, and otherwise concerned or non-concerned parties,

There were parts of Miller's blog that really resonated with me - and parts that didn't.  I think that a frustration with people misusing and abusing the Scripture is at the heart of what Miller is saying.  That resonates with me - people try to make the Bible do all kinds of crazy things.  However, just because you can't make the Bible say everything doesn't mean you can't make the Bible say anything.

"I took enough seminary classes to know that in no way did any writer in the Scriptures intend for the book to be a comprehensive manual on how to do relationships, and to assume to is to add ideas to the ones God put together in the book itself."

Certainly, I would agree that the Scriptures, in part or in whole, are not a comprehensive manual on how to do relationships.  The Scriptures DO speak about relationships however.  Perhaps not in a categorized/how-to fashion such as "Love and Respect" by Emmerson Eggerichs, or "The Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman - but they do speak to relationships nonetheless.  I know from Scripture that I must love my neighbor as myself (Mk12:31), count others as more significant than myself (Phil 2:3), and as much as is possible live at peace with my fellow man (Rom 12:18). (just to name a few)  Are these principles to be ignored, simply because they are couched in genres other than the "relationship-how-to-manual" genre?  Of course not.  Scriptures may teach me the importance of having a budget (know well the conditions of your flock - Pro 27:23), and that I should pay taxes (render to Caesar - Mk 12:17) but perhaps I need the help of Dave Ramsey, or TurboTax to help me follow through on obeying Scripture.

"The various and diverse essays of the Bible were written long before we began to interpret historical accounts literally. This book does not read like an article in the New York Times, nor like a modern self-help book. In fact, much of the style of literature the Bible employs (and there are various styles which should be read and interpreted differently) are no longer used or interpreted the same way. These essays, letters, plays and poems were written to cultures that would have read and understood them very differently than the way you and I understand them today."

I appreciate his emphasis on the different genres of the books of the Bible.  And yes, many of the genres are poetical, lyrical, prayerful, post-apocalyptic and not historical accounts.  But some are historical.  I'm not that familiar with the OT historical genres, but the NT gospels are something I've done quite a bit of reading on.  The gospels are theological narratives of the life of Christ, and while their historical standards may have been less stringent - they still posses history.  For example, while the writers may have felt the freedom to re-arrange the order of some events (compare the cursing of the fig tree narratives - Mk11 // Mt21), or not be exhaustive in their quotes (compare the different cross inscriptions), and even have been theologically motivated (see conclusion to John) - they were still concerned with passing down history (see prologue to Luke)  Sidenote: I'd be really curious to know his source that justifies his use of the word "essays" - I'm not familiar with anyone using this term to describe the historical accounts of the gospels. (not sure about Old Testament)

"To be sure, scripture should inform and inspire our social, political and educational systems, but to say we have a “constitution” intended for that purpose is more than a stretch, it’s a naive understanding that often makes the evangelical community look foolish."

Again, this is great so far as it goes.  Miller seems to be attacking entire "systems" set up in the name of being "biblical".  But, what makes me nervous is that he ignores that there are parts of Scripture that aren't there just to "inspire" and "inform" - they are there to command and dictate.  Jesus said that if we love Him, we'll keep His commandments.  Not, if you love me, you'll allow your life to be informed and inspired by some of the stuff I've said.  To be fair, I agree that we cheapen the Scripture when we try to justify every single little decision we make because we're trying so stinking hard to be "biblical".  The Scripture just simply does not speak to EVERY single issue we face.  To use an analogy, the Scriptures does not speak to every little leaf and branch of our lives - but it does speak to the roots and the trunk of our lives.  And of course, the leaf and branches stem from the roots and trunk.  Sidenote: I agree that it's just as inaccurate to be conservatively wrong as it is to be liberally wrong.

"2 Timothy says all scripture is given by God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, and yet it’s doubtful Paul knew when he wrote those words, or any of the other words he wrote, that they would some day be considered Scripture themselves. And to assume he did is to assume something the Bible doesn’t clearly state."

I really have no clue what this has to do with the price of eggs in China.  Frankly, it seems irrelevant whether or not Paul knew he was writing Scripture.  He certainly viewed his writings as authoritative, in the sense that he was an apostle of Christ.  Did Paul know his writings would make it into the canon?  Who knows. An author's awareness that they were writing Scripture isn't a canonical criterion anyway, right?  The NT canon was determined based on a book's apostolic origin (or connection), it's use/acceptance, and it's congruence with Jesus' teaching (maybe more)  Anyway...this is a rabbit trail...not sure where Miller is going with this one.

"Why don’t we just say here’s an idea that makes sense to me and it happens to be supported by the sciences and even the Bible has some poetic, though hardly absolute comments on the subject?"

Um....because not all the Bible is poetic, and sometimes it is an absolute statement.  This seems to be a leap in logic.  Just because some of the Bible is poetic/figurative and wasn't written about science, doesn't mean ALL of the Bible is poetic/figurative and wasn't written about science (or finances, or relationships or you know, salvation).  Also, isn't there an incredible irony here?  We'd rather opt for a "hey, here's my best guess" than, "hey, I think this is biblical".  Granted, both may be wrong - but this ought to drive us to accurately interpret and apply the Bible, not throw it out with the bathwater of crappy evangelical self-help books.  And by the way, I hinted at this above - but what does this do with our certainty regarding salvation?  If the Bible is a how-to book about anything, can we at least agree it's a how-to book about mankind's redemption?

"So what is the Bible, then? In my opinion, it’s a book that is God breathed, which is a mystery and a paradox that makes more controlling teachers insecure. And yet that’s all it ever claims to be.
I miss studying the Bible as a wonderful piece of God-breathed literature. I think when we turned it into a book of rules, facts and absolutes, we killed its beauty. We killed something that was once alive so we could control it and make it serve our will."
I wish Miller would expound a little more on what he means by "God-breathed" - although I guess he kind of does - it's God-breathed literature.  Again, there's an irony here isn't there?  Let me explain, I work in a bookstore that sells things like nice fancy statuettes of athletes with the phrase "I can do all things through Christ who strengthen's me."  I would imagine that Miller would scoff at this "biblical" usage.  However, isn't this EXACTLY where we end up with Miller's mysterious paradoxical beautiful view of Scripture?  If the Bible is just literature - can't I use it however I want?  In a way that inspires and informs?  My relationships? and finances? And wall decor?  To be fair, there are parts of Scripture that are beautiful and wonderful in an of themselves - even if they do not speak directly to my life situation.  There is an artistic beauty to Scripture that can't be missed.  But it that's all we see it for - we're missing something.

In other words, while I can resonate with some of Miller's complaints - I really see no workable solution presented.  As for his question, "So what is the Bible, then?"

This is an EXTREMELY important question.  How we view the Bible directly affects our interpretation, and by default, our application.  Here's where I'm at.....let me quickly add that my position on anything is always "faith seeking understanding".  I don't claim to have, and I don't have, all the answers.  However, at some point you kind of have to have a position on stuff :)  So here's mine......

I believe that the original autographs of the Bible (what the authors/compilers originally wrote/compiled) were "inspired" (breathed by God) and thus without any error regarding the matters about which they spoke. (sidenote: I'm comfortable with the protestant canon)  This must also allow room for the different genres used - authorial intent would be the "true" intent of God.  These autographs no longer exist.  But, I believe that these autographs have been reliably transmitted (through copying of manuscripts) and accurately translated (into, in my case, English versions).  Therefore, I would view the trustworthy English versions (ESV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, NIV, NLT, etc.) as the best (and good) representation of God's Word today.  As such, I am comfortable choosing to submit my life to the Jesus/teachings of the Scriptures as I interpret them.  For example, when I come across an apparent discrepancy in the Bible, I first ask myself the question, am I rightly interpreting this?  Are there any textual variants?  What do the other versions say?  If at the end of this, my original (and apparent discrepant) interpretation stands, I'm comfortable submitting myself to what my English copy of God's Word says because, let's face it, what else am I supposed to submit myself to?  If I won't submit myself to the best (and good) representation of God's Word - what am I going to submit myself to?

Sidenote: Ultimately, my faith is in Jesus - I follow a person.  The Bible then, would be this person's word to me, and so following Jesus and the Bible is a both/and not an either/or proposition.  It's a subtle distinction...hope it makes sense.





3 comments:

  1. By all means there are many different genres in the Bible and each of these were written at different times and speak to different situations. We must know the context and understand the genre to properly interpret and apply scripture. For example I have seen people take 1st Cor 11:34 (If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you gather together you will not come under judgment....) as to mean that you should not eat at church or as part of worship - completely missing the context of proper observance of the Lord's Supper. As for Paul's knowledge of writing scripture I would point you towards 2nd Thessalonians 2:13-15 and Peter's view in 2nd Peter 3:16. At the very least Paul considered his writing to be authoritative and Peter considered it to be scripture as divinely inspired as the OT.
    At the end of the day the scripture is God's special revelation of Himself that points us toward Jesus Christ. If I am truly following Christ then what I do will not contradict the scripture and the scripture will never direct me to do anything against Christ. Just as the Holy Spirit must testify to the truth of Christ and His glory alone. I do not see how you can honestly separate one from the other.

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  3. Oops, originally commented as my wife.....Thanks for your thoughts, Johnathon! I agree that "we must know the context and understand the genre to properly interpret and apply scripture" - and I still think this is possible. It seems like Miller almost doesn't even think this is possible anymore - which is unfortunate, and unnecessary. Thank you for passages regarding Paul's authority. The whole discussion of separating the Bible from Jesus is a nuanced one....perhaps a future stockroom conversation :)

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