A Moderate Approach to Liberal and Conservative Thoughts on the Scriptures or (A Friend’s Most Important Question)

This is for all my theological friends that enjoy conversations. This is a little speech written by a friend of mine here at Johnson for his faith community. The theme was, “Your Most Important Question.” His thoughts were worthy of conversation, dialogue, and perhaps debate. I ask that all remain friendly and kind if conversation does proceed from such a touchy subject. He has allowed me to share this and leave his name out of it for now. So enjoy my friend’s thoughts on the Bible:

My Most Important Question

Good morning. For those of you who do not know me, my name is *** ***** and I am the summer intern here at ********* I am a 21 year old senior at Johnson University and I have been a part of the community here at ********* since the fall of 2009.

My most important question is about the Bible, specifically its authorship and inspiration. I always thought I understood the Bible pretty well. I mean, it all seemed pretty easy in Sunday School. However, the older I became the more I questioned and examined what I believe about the Bible. I soon realized it wasn’t that easy to understand at all

I have been attending church since I was in the womb. God blessed me with a wonderful family who loves him and a family that taught me how to love God. So because of that I’ve been in the church all of my life. I went to youth group, camps, and big Christian youth conferences when I was younger. I was just your prototypical dorky kid in youth group.

When I was growing up I had these grand plans for my life which included meteorology, being a lawyer and then finally I thought I wanted to teach. However, after attending a Christ in Youth Conference my freshman year in high school, I decided that I wanted to enter into the ministry.

So in the fall of 2008, I started attending Johnson Bible College…now Johnson University to prepare for a career in ministry. I wasn’t sure specifically what kind of ministry, I just knew I wanted to do this with my life.

In the last year, more so the last few months, I have been doing some thinking about how I view and interpret the Bible..and it has caused me to wrestle through some hard questions about how to see the Bible…and as a result my approach to the Bible has changed

Growing up in the church I was taught that the Bible was the authoritative word of God.

I was taught that it was inerrant. That it was infallible and that it was inspired by God.

And as 2 Timothy 3:16 says, that it is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

I believed and accepted this because it was what I was taught and I trusted the sources that this information was coming from. However, I never really understood what all this meant because I had never worked through the meaning for myself.

I believe that how we see something affects how we read it and how we interpret it. What we bring to our reading of a text or document affects how we read it. All of us, whether we use reading glasses or not, read through lenses.

For the sake of simplicity, I am going to say that there are two ways to read the Bible, that there are two lenses at which to read the Bible through.

Conflict about how to see and read the Bible is a major issue dividing Christians in our country today. Each denomination has their own certain slant and beliefs about how to read certain parts of the Bible. This conflict usually divides Christians into two groups often labeled “fundamentalist” and “liberal.” Separating these two groups are two very different ways of seeing three foundational questions about the Bible: questions about its origin, its authority, and its interpretation.

The first group believes as the church has traditionally taught that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible Word of God. They believe the Bible comes from God, as no other book does. As a divine product, it is God’s truth, and its divine origin is the basis of it’s authority. For these Christians, the Bible is to be interpreted literally.

The second group of Christians are less clear about what they believe about the Bible. They think that some parts of the Bible cannot be taken literally. This second group is often uncertain what it means to say that the Bible is “the Word of God” or “inspired by God,” and they are unsure what “biblical authority” might mean.

I never would have considered myself to be a “fundamentalist,” and now since my view of the Bible has changed I don’t consider myself to be a “liberal.” So, what am I? I don’t know. Maybe I have created my own group.

The issue that I first dealt with about the Bible was authorship. Scholars question the traditional authorship of many of the books in the New Testament. For example, we really don’t know who wrote the gospels. The authors of the texts don’t name themselves. Church tradition actually ascribed the names that we associate with each gospel.

Scholars also believe, and I now agree with them, that some of the texts in the New Testament were not written by the people we think they were. By comparing writing style, theology, and vocabulary, scholars think that Paul only wrote seven of the texts in the New Testament that bear his name. The rest were written probably later, after Paul’s death by other people in Paul’s name which was a common practice of the time to write in the name of a famous figure.

After accepting all this, I had to wrestle with the question of the Bible’s reliability. Could I trust the Bible if it wasn’t written by who I thought it was? How can the Bible be inerrant and infallible if Ephesians or 1 or 2 Timothy wasn’t written by Paul?

The questioning of the Bible’s authorship also led me to question the inspiration of scripture. The inspiration of scripture is understood to mean that God guided the writing of the Bible, directly or indirectly. What scripture says, then, ultimately comes from God.

I became really confused about what I was hearing about the scripture’s authorship. Some of these letters were written by Paul and some were not. And we can’t be sure who wrote this gospel, but we’re fairly certain this person wrote that letter.

I had been taught that the Bible was God’s word, that it was a divine product.

Well then, who wrote Romans? Was it Paul? Was it God? If scripture was “written” by God, then how was it done? Were the writers mysteriously led by God to write what they did? If so, does that still happen today why can’t I do that.

I found it hard to believe and accept the traditional view of inspiration knowing what I did know about the Bible’s authorship.

The alternative to seeing the Bible as a divine product is to see it as a human product–as a human response to God…the product of two ancient communities. This is the lens through which I now see scripture. The Old Testament is the product of ancient Israel and the New Testament is the product of the early Christian community.

What the Bible says is the words of those communities, not God’s words. I know that sounds controversial, so let me explain myself. What I mean by that is that I don’t believe God communicated to the authors the exact words he wanted them to say. I don’t believe that God took control of Paul’s hand and wrote his letters for him.

Scripture emerged from authors who were a part of God’s community and the books in Scripture arose out of particular circumstances and were written by authors with intent and agenda. Those individual authors interacted with one another to carry forward the story of God putting his family back together.

To see the Bible as a human product does not in any way deny the reality of God. In all of this questioning about scripture, I never questioned my faith, I never questioned the truthfulness of what is in scripture. I just had a lot of questions about how the Bible came to be.

Just because I accept that the people who we think wrote certain books in the Bible did not, and because I don’t hold to the traditional view of inspiration does not mean that I reject that the Bible accurately conveys the will of God and the teachings of Jesus

I am not devaluing scripture when I say it is a human product. I see the Bible sacred not in origin, but in status.

The Bible is sacred not because of some mystical, mysterious involvement from God. The Bible is sacred because of its value, because of what it means for us.

For us, the status of the Bible as sacred scripture means that it is the most important collection of writings we know. These are the primary writings that define who we are in relation to God and who we are as a community and as individuals. This is the book that has shaped us and will continue to shape us.

To me, seeing the Bible as sacred in status and not in origin also leads to a different way of seeing the authority of the Bible. Rather than being an authority standing above us telling us what to believe and do, the Bible is the ground of the world in which Christians live.

The biblical canon names the primary collection of ancient documents with which Christians are to be in continuing dialogue with.

Scripture, N.T. Wright says, does not exist to give authoritative answers to questions other than those it addresses.

Some questions and issues of scripture only applied to the time they were written, others still affect us today.

Wright goes on to say that one can deduce from Scripture appropriate answers to such later questions, only that we have to be careful and recognize that is indeed what we are doing.

In the modern period, the Bible has almost been elevated to a position of worship.

The Bible is not an object to be worshiped it is the lens through which we see God. It’s important that we put our faith and trust in God and not just the lens through which we see God.

I still think the Bible is holy, and I still think it is the Word of God

And a word is a means of communication, involving both speaking and hearing. A word is a means of disclosure; we disclose or reveal ourselves through words. Words bridge the distance between ourselves and others; we commune and become intimate through words.

The Bible is a means of divine self-disclosure. It is a record of God’s interaction with his creation. It is God’s way of revealing himself to us. It is God opening himself up to us and saying, “Here I am!” And it contains the stories and traditions that reveal the character and will of God.

By no means do I think that I totally understand the origins of scripture and how to understand it, but I’ve wrestled through these questions about the Bible and I have come out the other end of the tunnel and my faith is still strong. This is how I see the Bible now, as a lens that helps me see God.


About Joel

Joel is a 32 year old currently residing in the southeastern United States. His interests lay in philosophy and theology. He is a writer for The Christian Watershed.

2 thoughts on “A Moderate Approach to Liberal and Conservative Thoughts on the Scriptures or (A Friend’s Most Important Question)

  1. "When I was a child…" I'm sure you are familiar with those words. Yo have wrestled with the issue of the origin of Scripture, and, counter to what the early Christians and Israelites understood, you have come down in favor of the modern answer. No matter how you flowered it up at the end, in the end, you deny the inspiration of Scripture, and make it the equivalent of the Book of Mormon, the Quran, and the Bagvhad Gita. Having said that, you say that your faith is still strong. Faith in what, the Fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, and the neighborhood of Knoxville? What do you believe about salvation, if the Bible is of human origin? Humans are fallible; why should the Biblical proclamation of salvation "by grace through faith" be more accurate than the Islamic call to right deeds, or the Buddhist thoughts about Karma?You deny the essential natuire of Biblical inspiration, then try to salvage the situation with a nice rosy "Kum-Ba-yah" that says that you think the Bible is sacred because we like it – well, Mormons like Pearl of Great Price – is that sacred also? How about "Message to the Black Man by Elijah Muhammad, on what basis is that not sacred?You put your trust in atheistic scholars, who deny the divinity of Christ, the authority of Scripture, and the certainty of the proclamation of the Gospel, but say that they have given you an accurate knowledge of God by their interpretation of Scripture. What if THEY are wrong? What if Polycarp, Eusebius Pamphilus, and Athanasius, among others, were right? You will have hitched your trust to a house of sand."All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." Either those words are true, or they are not. You will serve one of two masters, and you will reap the harvest of what you sow. Do you know more than those who were taught by the apostles, who passed on the teachings of the apostles to others, who were much closer to the source than Crossan, and who knew that the writings they had received were sacred, not because they liked them, but because they were "God-breathed?"

  2. well, this is not my writing nor my full stance on this issue, but i will pass this along to my friend that wrote it. but what atheistic scholars are you talking about. He mentioned NT Wright and that's the world's top NT scholar not an atheist.

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