Have you ever walked away from an argument and wondered how you reached the territory where the argument finished? Sometimes in the heat of conflict, an argument is diverted to matters which are irrelevant to the topic at hand, and unhelpful to the relationship in which the context arose. The problem is, matters raised in the heat of the moment have a habit of hanging around and shaping the relationship much more than the original point at issue.
One suspects the “Battle for the Bible” which emerged late in the 19th century is a case in point. The increasingly shrill tones of this debate have clouded the deeper issues about the relationship of the Bible to christian faith, the understanding of our history, and in shaping our journey into the future.
Many christians find themselves in an uneasy relationship to Scripture. It’ apparent sexism, homophobia, justification of violence and genocide, politically incorrectness, and intolerance towards other faith traditions lay the groundwork for an uneasy relationship, particularly in the light of an argument which states that “every word is inspired”. Some attitudes engender the notion that the Bible is apparently anti-intellectual. On deeper reflection, it seems that many of these accusations have also been leveled at the church, and may mirror the decline in the credibility of the church in wider society. What are we to do with the Bible? Are the only alternatives to believe every word or to ditch it?
The debate about the inspiration of scripture has sidelined us into believing that the Bible is some sort of rule book for life, or an answer book for every one of our problems. We study scripture as though it were a scientific test, in which analysing its DNA allows us to manipulate life to reflect is essential character. Many of the claims made about scripture in recent times are not ones which it makes of itself. Reflect for a moment on this oft-quoted passage: “All Scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (1 Tim 3:16)
Scripture’s ultimate purpose seems to be to make us complete human beings. As we wrestle with the stories of those who have gone before us, we are engaged in a complex challenge of living in ways which bring good into the world. Anything else, it seems, is secondary…
February 22, 2004