It doesn’t mean much to say one believes the Bible. Just consider all the conflicting and often awful stuff said over the centuries, and even recently, by those claiming biblical authority.
Not surprising, there are many people who reject the Bible without ever reading it because of its widespread misrepresentation by those seeking some divine cover for their misguided thinking and self-serving misdeeds.
If fact, no widespread act of injustice and discrimination throughout the history of this nation has lacked the backing of those with a firm finger wedged somewhere in the Bible.
But here’s the real truth about the Bible: One tends to come out where one goes in.
That truth is easy to test: When is the last time someone changed his or her mind about a passionately held opinion concerning a contemporary issue as a result of actually reading the Bible?
Such entrenched perspectives are rarely changed and, when so, usually grow out of relational experiences that then lead to revisiting the Bible in order to align newly selected texts with the newfound conclusions.
Often the Bible gets abused in order to justify abuse. Attorney General Jeff Sessions provided a prime example just recently.
Nothing rings more hollow than, “But the Bible says…” The Bible says a lot of things and can be manipulated for just about any cause one desires.
And cocksure believers who manipulate it the most for their own purposes are those who claim the highest allegiance to the Bible and often misrepresent their interpretations of holy texts as being clear, perfect and beyond questioning.
However, the Bible is not clear about much other than the big stuff that those who claim the highest allegiance tend to diminish: God is love. Everyone is made in the image of God. Jesus is lord. Grace is wide, but following Jesus is hard. The greatest commandment is to love God with all one’s being and others as oneself.
The Bible is no catalog or rule book that can be read thematically and followed succinctly. To treat it as such is to use the Bible for a personal purpose rather than to seek divine direction.
Rather the Bible is an odd assemblage of varied ancient literature with inspiring and often surprising accounts of God’s revelation that culminates in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, as the fullest revelation of God, Jesus is rightly the lens through which all truth is to be interrupted and measured.
It is wise to use great caution before claiming (or accepting the claims of others) a distinctively biblical position on many social issues today that are not specifically addressed in the Bible. Too often we seek justification for our opinions rather than fresh revelation.
And, honestly, those on opposing sides of a hot topic tend to take the same approach: That is, to embrace a position with which one feels comfortable, and then construct an often shaky biblical case for the predetermined conclusion as if that provides some godly legitimacy.
That’s why the term “biblical” has little meaning within modern discourse. It usually refers to the opinion of someone who claims allegiance to the Bible whether such a conclusion resembles the actual life and teachings of Jesus or not.
Therefore, it’s amazing how often (such as in the case with Sessions) the proclaimed “biblical truth” is completely at odds with Jesus who somewhere along the way got pushed aside.
And let’s face it: Most so-called group Bible study (in Sunday school classes, coffeehouse gatherings or elsewhere) is primarily ideology sharing — that begins with reading a few Bible verses and quickly asking, “What do you think?”
An honest search for fresh biblical insights — with mind and heart changing capabilities — is much rarer than quick proof-texting of one’s predetermined perspectives and values.
Little serious exploration is given to what a biblical text meant at the time of its occurrence and how its truth might rightly transport to one’s contemporary Christian living in a very different time and place.
However, with a good dose of humility and the guidance of God’s Spirit, the Bible can indeed be a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths — but not if we treat it like a steppingstone to the divine justification of our personal predetermined preferences.
And how might we know the difference? Perhaps by noting if we ever come out of the Bible at a different place than where we went in.
-Superb scholarly, yet applicable, Bible studies by Dr. Tony Cartledge are available as short-term series (including Patriarchs, Matriarchs and Anarch, a new 13-week study in Genesis) as well as inside each issue of Nurturing Faith Journal. Both the series and the journal are available at nurturingfaith.net — along with daily religion news, thoughtful blogs, excellent books and inspiring experiences.