Monday, March 06, 2006

Understanding Scripture Discussion

The comments on my last post ended with a discussion about understanding and accepting scripture that I feel was left hanging. This is a critical issue for any Christian. So, I post excerpts from the last few comments to spur further discussion. Intricately involved in this issue is faith, which was also a discussion point in the last post. I will start off with a definition of faith that I penned in a journal entry.

Faith: that part of our belief that supercedes facts, contradictions, doctrine, law, and emotion--that part beyond anything knowable. -- Tony Arnold, 9/21/2003

Now let me seque into the discussion of understanding scripture, keeping the above comment on faith as a back drop.

Brent wrote: My conclusion (as well as that of many other Christians) is that the texts which we have today are a compilation of interpretive writings. What I mean is this: Those who wrote the originals were not "inspired" miraculously so that people 2,000 years later would know the truth of the events during the time of Jesus. The Gospels are a collection of writings which present the early Christian traditions that existed at that time (30-90 years later). The Gospels are not recorded history, but history interpreted. Scholars now surmise that many early Christian writings are forever lost. . . . It is not surprising that Constantine was sick of all the schisms in Christianity and decided to call the first council to get everyone on the same page. Unfortunately it was too late. By the 4th century too much damage to the various Jesus traditions had been done.This isn't DaVinci code stuff here. This is information that historians have discovered over the last 2 centuries (expecially the last 20 years).

Phil asked: Brent, if what you say is true, does that keep Scripture from being something that can and/or should be followed?

Brent wrote: To view scripture as something to live by or follow is fine as far as I'm concerned. However, when selected ancient writings are classified as Scripture ... and deified so that individuals can claim to "know the Truth," those followers will be exclusive, judgmental, arrogant, and condescending toward the rest of the blind world. In my opinion, that is not the love of Christ. It is triumphalism.

Phil asked: So how do you [we] decide which parts of Scripture are worth following and which aren't?

Brent answered: The best answer seems to be through the collective community. This is the best (in my opinion) but more difficult approach. Personalities clash and opinions differ across spectrums ofinterpretation. ... I must add that I don't think that the Bible is something that can be figured out. An open-minded community shouldn't set out on a mission to decide which books of the Bible to keep or throw away, which Gospel is the most accurate or who's interpretation of a passage is the best. No. It may be healthier for the community (local as well as worldwide) to simply take a humble position and learn from one another instead of pointing fingers of condemnation at dissenters. If this isn't done, Bishop Spong may be correct - Christianity may die.

Please do not mistake a link for your investigation purpose as an endorsement or denouncement of any one person or viewpoint. These are very real issues being wrestled with in the Christian community and each Christian needs to have a firm understanding of their belief and faith.

The only comment I will make at this time is that I am completely confident that Christianity won't die. Christ already died in order to defeat death and He rose again. Christianity cannot die for this very reason. Now, that comment may spark enough discussion within itself. So weigh in everyone--on faith, on scriptural authority, and/or on the viability of Christianity.


JMG said...

I left my long comment at the other post, but I'll say here that I don't think Christianity will die. I wish, however, that some of the bad aspects of Christianity would die--the arrogance and bigotry that sometimes is manifest among Christians, the lack of patience and understanding for those who don't completely agree with the "mainstream," the lack of true love that should exist.

Tony Arnold said...

I wonder if there is even such a thing as "mainstream" Christianity?


jettybetty said...

You have to have faith somewhere--either historians in this case--or what I would call the New Testament.

People have thought Christianity would die (and have been trying to kill it) for 2000 years--and it hasn't happened yet.

Wasn't it C. S. Lewis who said either you must believe that Jesus was who he said he was or he was a lunatic?

JMG said...

JB, it all comes back down to interpretation. What if I believe that Jesus didn't say what the "mainstream" believes he said?

Tony, when you step out of the mainstream, you become painfully aware that it exists.

jettybetty said...

JMG--I know interpretation is a big issue--I read stuff on the internet all the time that is *Christian* agenda and opinion--but it's not mine. I suppose it will always be an issue.

What I believe is that I am to be what I understand God wants me to be through His words in the Bible. I don't have control over every interpretation and whim of other Christians. We all sin--including me. I do make choices for myself--and I want those to honor God with my whole being.

JMG said...

I don't have control over every interpretation and whim of other Christians.

That's right. But what does it matter what those interpretations or whims are if those who claim to be Christian are emulating the lifestyle that Jesus commanded for his followers? That's my whole beef with the "mainstream." There just isn't much tolerance for beliefs that don't fall into line with the "accepted" teachings of the church. Docrinal adherence is more important than actions towards others.

In regards to the topic of scriptural authority, I'll be so bold as to say that many Christians have made the bible into an idol. The words as they appear on the page have become sacred unto themselves, and any questioning of the different possible meanings of the words--either the English words or the original Greek or Hebrew words they were translated from--constitutes, for many Christians, a lack of faith.

Tony Arnold said...

Jettybetty: Lewis said Christ could not be just a good, moral man or wise man and teacher. He was either who he claimed to be, a lunatic, or liar.

JMG: I still question whether there is really a mainstream element. What you might be experiencing is more of a regional or localized "mainstream", but those might differ greatly from other regional mainstreams, especially among Christians in other nations. But then again I might be wrong. It is just that I have seen so much variation within what I know you would call the mainstream.

One example: the majority of Church of Christ and Baptist Christians love George Bush because he is a "Christian" president. However ol George ain't CofC or Baptist. I wonder how tolerant they would be of his views and religious background if he was running in their immediate circles. In the past they would have said he is not saved because he isn't CofC or Baptist. Pretty ironic isn't it? Selective acceptance at its worst.

What you said about making an idol out of scripture is true. Randy Harris, who many would consider mainstream although the "mainstream" might not consider him to be so, challenged just that--that we have made scripture equal to God to often. He said the only thing we can point to and say, "ah God", is Jesus Christ.

For reference of Randy's statments see Idolatry In the Modern Church Post

JMG said...

I guess when I say "mainstream" I mean something bigger, such as adherence to the doctrine of the Trinity--which seems to be the main test of whether one is Christian or not. I've not been to a church of any denomination where the Trinity isn't emphasized.

jettybetty said...

I guess the way I see it JMG--you believe what you with honest and open heart see the Bible teaching--the mainstream (whatever that is) can be wrong.

What I was trying to say earlier was--what I believe will really impact a lost world is not who is right on Bush or the Trinity--it's living a sacrificial life of discipleship (loving my enemies, forgiving as Christ forgave, and sharing my resources freely). I think that's what can speak to an unbelieving world.

Tony--thanks for clearing up the quote--I never can remember things exactly and in this case--that really helps!

JMG said...

I agree JB. Sacrificial discipleship is what should be the Christian's main focus--it's what Christians can definitely agree on just by looking at Jesus' lifestyle and what he said.

Tony Arnold said...

JB wrote: ...what I believe will really impact a lost world is not who is right on Bush or the Trinity--it's living a sacrificial life of discipleship (loving my enemies, forgiving as Christ forgave, and sharing my resources freely). I think that's what can speak to an unbelieving world.

Great JB! Much shorter and better put than my ramblings. Dr. Camp would be proud! :-)


Purgatory Penman said...

Thank you, Tony, for your helpful responses, words of encouragement, and your recommendation of my blog to others. I cannot tell you what it means to me. Just know that your compassion has reached a fellow Christian soul in the time of his greatest need. Now, if I ever begin to feel discouraged, I can think of my newfound brothers and sisters in Christ and know that I am being prayed for and can still contribute something that may be helpful to others. Always, you and your family will remain in my thoughts and prayers until that glorious day. J. Wallace

Tony Arnold said...

I am thrilled you have been blessed. I pray that it continues.


Danny Sims said...

Do we make idols?

Look no further than the bronze serpent Moses made in the desert. We forget that the Hebrew people made an idol of it, worshipped it, and Hezekiah had to smash it into pieces years later.

Jesus brings it up in His talk with Nicodemus, saying the Son of Man would have to be lifted up and that those who believe in Him would have life.

What symbols of salvation have we made idols of? How about...

Ever seen a little plastic Jesus?
Scripture (though I'd argue it's not a symbol but a carrier of salvation)?

The key of course is to identify any false worship in ourselves and then live in loving relationships with all the idol worshippers and let them see the real thing in us. It's easier to intellectualize all this, but those who do are as irrelevant as those who totally miss the point in the first place.

Tony Arnold said...


You mention communion and batiptism in reference to idols. I assume you are saying we have made idols of them and that you are not saying they are idols themselves.

Can you expound on these points for clarification please? I would agree (as does Randy Harris) that Christians in certain doctrines and at times have made idols of these activities, but I don't feel they are idols of themselves, but how they are used. There is a big difference. The latter premise would say that the practice of baptism and communion should be abolished.

Now I don't want to over-intellectualize here (not sure if that was subtle slap in your comment :-) ). Seriously, if this blog seems to to be over-intellectualizing, I want to be openly made aware of it, because that is not it's purpose.

Thanks for posting and I mean that.


Brent said...

Someone please explain what it means to "over-intellectualize" something.

This phrase seems to be a recent (5 years or so?) development within evangelical Christianity that seems to be countering any discussion which attempts to use the mind to know certain things about various aspects of life.

It is quite peculiar to me that Christians used to approach things quite intellectually. Volumes on systematic theology, college classes on Christian apologetics, books such as "The Case for Christ" and "The Case for Faith" and magazine articles written by Christians to Christians so that they could KNOW why God exists and why Christ is the only true path to God seemed to dominate discussions about the Christian faith. This is not the case now.

I bring this up because it appears (to me at least) that a new perspective on Christianity and Scripture has hit the streets in the last 10 years or so. This new perspective no longer accepts as a given things like the divinity of Jesus, the inspiration of the Bible, the meaning of truth, the innerancy of the Bible and such. I suppose that this is somehow connected to the recent transition to postmodernism.

When topics are brought up such as these, Christians have found that apologetics and reason do not work anymore. It is no longer possible to PROVE that Jesus was God or that the earth was created in a literal 7 days.

In my opinion (which often causes friction here), the Christian response to the postmodern wave is to throw the "don't over-intelectualize" card. This says, "I don't have time to discuss these important questions so I'm just going to believe what I've always believed because God would never have made things this difficult. All [he] wants me to do is trust that what I've always been told is right. To ask certain questions is to lack faith."

Tony Arnold said...

You make some excellent points Brent. You and I do not see eye to eye on some issues, but I have never felt threatened by the discussions. Unfortunately, my lack of depth in historical research of scripture limits my ability to engage intelligently in some of the discussions, so I abstain and just read.

My point is that Christians should not fear discussion of their theology. If they do, it speaks volumes about the depth of that theology. I really liked your comment about "over-intellectualizing" as an avoidance mechanism.

At the same time, I think we can over-intellectualize from the standpoint of one's Christianity centering more on argument than on sacrificial action toward humanity. Or to use the phrase a friend coined as his blog title--paralysis by analysis. I assume that this was what Danny was talking about.