Some Random Thoughts On The Bible and God…

I had some new thoughts on Thanksgiving about the Bible and God that I want to share and see what everybody thinks. They don’t really fit into neat little categories like why God exists so I thought I would just bunch them together. I would especially be interested in what some of my new internet buds think. These are certainly not revolutionary so don’t think that I think I have come up with something new here. But I don’t really think that I have understood well how to read the Bible. So my thoughts….

The Bible was written 2000+ years ago. That is well before the Enlightenment era of the last 200 or so years when humanity has become all about reason and evidence and proof. This should mean that to then read the Bible from a purely Enlightenment worldview, I would be reading into the text things that are not mean to be read into it. Or I would be interpreting in ways that were not meant for it to be interpreted. In the end this would mean that the Bible is not meant to be used as an ethics text. It is to be viewed as a gradual revelation of God that culminates fully in Christ.

If there is a creator God (and I believe that there is) then that God would also be resonsible for creating science and reason. This would therefore make science and reason improper tools for proving that this God exists. For that matter, anything would be inadequate for proving he exists. The best we can hope for is evidence from his creation that points to his existence. I have said this elsewhere but felt that it fits well in these random thoughts, especially in light of my next thought.

If I am only willing to believe that for which there is proof, then I am going to be closing myself off to a lot of stuff. If my only tool for believing in something is the rational and the empiric, then I am making myself unreceptive to truth which may lie outside of the empiric. If I can prove that there is no truth that lies outside of the empiric, then this stance is fine. However, this is certainly far from proven and likely never will be as I see it. Until we can see we understand everything, there will be truth that lies outside of the empiric. I need to be open to that. And if God created the empiric then knowing him would best take place outside of the empiric.

The Old Testament was written for the Jewish people to lead them to God’s full revelation of himself in Christ. That does not mean that it is unrelevant for me. But it does mean that much of it is not directly applicable to me, and I should not try to make it so. It should be read in the context of God’s full revelation in Christ as a God of love. It is not an ethics text.

That’s all I’ve got right now.

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14 responses to “Some Random Thoughts On The Bible and God…

  1. Doug

    Dont you find it interesting how Christians decided to take someone elses story(Old Testament) switch it a little(New Testament) to make it their own. Then tell the original writers that their view is wrong but then still use the original book as a partial guiding force for their New take on it. Very confusing to say the least. Maybe thats GODs divine revelation(confusion), well at least one interpretation on it. ;)

  2. “It is to be viewed as a gradual revelation of God that culminates fully in Christ.”

    that’s the Christian reading… Jews would differ.

    “If there is a creator God (and I believe that there is) then that God would also be resonsible for creating science and reason. This would therefore make science and reason improper tools for proving that this God exists.”

    this argument doesn’t work.. it’s like saying “Here are my children Science and Reason that I created and are from me but are completely improper for getting to know me.”

    science and reason can get us part of the picture, but never the full view.

    as for the Enlightment, i’d say you do modern criticisms a gross diservice. “would be reading into the text things that are not mean to be read into it.” is exactly what the modern criticisms seek to do because the Enlightment dudes believed that if you followed a set formula and scientific method, you’re findings would be objective and true. part of this method is taking into consideration the socio-historical context.

    however, we’re now in the post-modern age as we’ve learned that objectivity is a myth. we really can’t be objective as all things are colored by our experience. when i read the bible, i read certain passages and interpret them as a white, hetero male who grew up in Ohio in the late 80s-early 90s.

    i don’t agree 100% with modern criticism nor the Enlightment principles but it’s better than the pre-modern view in my mind. i think that way of reading the Bible comes closer than apologetics by a long shot.

    thanks for writing, looking forward to your response! RAWK!

  3. “In the end this would mean that the Bible is not meant to be used as an ethics text. It is to be viewed as a gradual revelation of God that culminates fully in Christ.” (Freestyle)

    My simple contention would be – if it is not an ethics text – what is it then? It is one thing to speak of the revelation of Jesus and all that jazz (not is not really an ethical matter) – but it is quite another to delve into what it is claimed Jesus taught (in those gospels).

    I think the history of God with human beings is surrounded by ethics – so much so – when Jesus needed to provide a summation he simply put it as ‘treat other how you want to be treated’. When Paul makes a summation – he goes to the idea ‘love your neighbor as yourself’. Those teachings/summations have everything to do with ethical treatment of our human family.

    I think the view of ‘believing in God’ is an ethical stance – a moral commitment of sorts. All the confessional stuff is concerned with ideas that are not really based in ethics (ie: God is 3 in 1 or Jesus resurrected) – but that does not mean the focus of the scriptures is about these types of confessions. Most every chapter of the gosples addresses the actions of the believer – a challenge to them concering morality (from teachings to parables).

    If it is not an ethics text – I am not sure what it really is? Even the law of the Tanakh is about society and developing ethical standards for its function (of the which a court could use to render decisions). Are courts not concerned with ethics?

    “But it does mean that much of it is not directly applicable to me” (Freestyle)

    What is applicable then? If the teachings are not concerned with human behavior – I would say ‘nothing is applicable’ – because there is really nothing for you to do (it is all finished more or less). Now I think we deal with prophecy from the NT – and this fulfillment of the messiah – then I agree…not much to do with ethics. But if we get into the idea of ‘follow me’ from Jesus’ own mouth – we are entering a field of study in morality.

  4. Well, it seems like mostly you three disagree with me. And I am going to hold my ground with hopefully a bit of an expanded explanation to make myself more clear.

    TFT. The thing I think is interesting is how “Christians” take bits and pieces of the OT and use it as a power tool to inflict shame and guilt. Whether one believes the OT is directly applicable to them or not, this is an improper use of it on all counts in my book.

    Luke.

    “that’s the Christian reading… Jews would differ” (Luke)
    Since I am a Christian, and not Jewish, wouldn’t I then be reading it properly? It seems to me that the best way for me to read the Bible is, with the full knowledge of God’s revelation of himself in Christ as a God of grace and love, to go back and read the Bible with that lens. With grace and love is obviously to me how God wants us to know him.

    ““If there is a creator God (and I believe that there is) then that God would also be resonsible for creating science and reason. This would therefore make science and reason improper tools for proving that this God exists.”

    this argument doesn’t work.. it’s like saying “Here are my children Science and Reason that I created and are from me but are completely improper for getting to know me.” (Luke)

    If you are looking for a way to PROVE God exists, you are right. It doesn’t work. But I am not looking for a way to PROVE that God exists because I don’t think that can be done. And so you have proved my point in your criticism. Science and reason are most certainly tools that can provide evidence of God, but they do not and cannot PROVE that he exists. My emphasis is intended to be on the PROVING.

    “as for the Enlightment, i’d say you do modern criticisms a gross diservice” (Luke)

    I don’t see how. The Bible was written by dudes who knew nothing of the scientific method and empirical reason. Maybe intuitively they knew some of its principles, but it was not a “method” at that time. I think you will agree with that. So to then pick apart the text of the Bible and attempt to understand ONLY by that method I think is asking for trouble. Certainly there is value in doing that. But I have seen so much pain and trouble and heartache and shame that comes from systematic theologies which claim to have God all figured out and packaged in a nice little system of thought. In fact, I suspect that a very large number of the decon community were trapped in these very types of systems. When you take something that was not meant to be all black and white and look at as though it is all black and white and interpret it in a nice little black and white system, it eventually comes apart because it is impossible to make it all fit into a nice set of zebra stripes without deceiving yourself at some point. So while I think there is value in looking the Bible with an Enlightenment lens, taking it too far runs you onto a very slippery slope. And as you have well stated, we can’t trust the illusion of our objectivity. As soon as we think we have God in this nice little systematic theologic package, we don’t really have God at all. Instead we have intellectual idolatry. I think we agree on more than we disagree because like you I don’t thin we can fully trust the post-modern view, nor the enlightenment view, nor the pre-modern view. They all hold bits of truth that we need to pick off. What I may be ranting mostly against is getting locked into one system too tightly.

    SocietyVs.

    “My simple contention would be – if it is not an ethics text – what is it then” (SocietyVs)

    I have already said what I think it is, a gradual revelation of God to the Jewish nation and subsequently the world that culminates in the love and grace that we see lived out in Christ. I don’t know how to be more clear than that I don’t think.

    If the Bible is chiefly an ethics text, then Christianity or Judaism become just large behavioral modification programs. I think that cheapens God quite a bit. As a Christian, I believe that God has revealed in Christ that he is so much more than that. He has shown us that he loves us and wants the kind of relationship with us even now that he intended in the beginning. Christ restores us to that relationship. Christ came to fulfill that law and set us free from that. The Bible can’t be just an ethics text. And we don’t need the Bible to tell us about morality. It is innate within us. And the atheists and agnostics will very eloquently tell us on decon that they do not need the Bible to have a sense of morality and to decide to treat all humans with dignity. It is within them. They believe it has evolved and I believe it is from God, but it is not from the Bible. It exsited before the Bible and is outside of it. And as I have said earlier, when the Bible is viewed in the black and white (which I think viewing it as an ethics text does) that is when it starts to contradict itself and what leads many people to throw God out altogether.

    So what is applicable to me? God’s manifestation in Christ of love and grace is what is applicable to me. When we focus on the behavior too much, when we focus too much on what we do and what we don’t do, we miss the point. The point is that God loves us and wants relationship with us. In that regard he is redeeming creation, all of creation, to himself. I join him in that work by bringing heaven to earth in the form of love and grace that I extend to others and to creation itself. The Bible, read as an ethics text, in my opinion, completely misses that. I read the Bible as an ethics text for the first 38 years of my life. It is only in the last 2 years, that I have discovered a better way to look at it.

    I know this is probably Christian theology heavy, and I apologize for that. But in order to expand on my random thoughts I felt maybe it was necessary to be a bit more specific. Thanks for reading.

  5. “The Bible was written by dudes who knew nothing of the scientific method and empirical reason. Maybe intuitively they knew some of its principles, but it was not a “method” at that time. I think you will agree with that.”

    i absolutely do! what i’m noting though is that the Enlightenment peeps saw this too and that’s why they felt they needed a method to get back into the mind of a first century (or whenever that particular book was written) author and audence. a premodern mindset just picks it up and reads it and thus the reader’s own prejudices are place onto the text. that’s what the Enlightenment sought to remove.

  6. Thanks for the response Doug – I will continue the convo – this is a good one.

    “a gradual revelation of God to the Jewish nation and subsequently the world that culminates in the love and grace that we see lived out in Christ.” (Doug)

    That’s grand – what’s your role? I think this is an honest question. I see this quote from you later on in your writing…“I join him in that work by bringing heaven to earth in the form of love and grace that I extend to others and to creation itself” (Doug)

    So you do see an ethical aspect to faith or is it me reading something into your statements concering ‘bringing’ (action/verb) ‘heaven to earth’ (a code of ethics) in the form of ‘love and grace’ (nouns – likely the ethics code) – that ‘I extend to others/creation” (verb – extend – action on your part again)?

    I think your statement concerning faith is ‘excellent’ – but I am going to break down where me and you are not seeing each other’s ‘eyes’. It all has to do with one sentence:

    “that we see lived out in Christ”

    (a) If this means the life Jesus led, then died, and resurrected – then it is momentary. The gradual revelation is quite ‘finished’ – is it not? What’s left – except to tell others to accept this concept? There is nothing to add there – everything is done by/in Jesus – all we need is a confessional and some preaching to ‘pass it on’. I would agree – there is nothing ethical being asked.

    (b) If this means how we see others living out their behaviour due to their faith in Jesus – then we are getting at ‘ethics’. If society believes we can legally ‘cheat’ on our spouses but our faith says ‘you shall not commit adultery’ – we are entering moral territory with our commitment to God.

    I fall into category (b) – category (b) is about beliefs leading to action (which seems to be the definition of ‘belief’ in the bible). John, in his 1st letter, makes this same connection when he says ‘if someone says they love God but hate their brother – they are liars’. James also makes this connection in his letter with his banter about works and faith – ‘faith without works is dead’. I say ‘your beliefs are shown by your actions; not by your confessions’.

    Category (a) is basically about the ideas that ‘belief’ as a confessional – as long as you believe the ‘right things’ about God and ‘confess those things’ – you are all good – everything is finished anyways. It really requires no responsibility on anyone’s part – the teachings carry no weight – all that matters is what Jesus ‘did’ (not what you ‘do’). This is not ‘believing’ in the biblical sense – this is having some ideas about God’s character.

    I do not think the bible is solely an ‘ethics text’ – but it does tie ethics with faith in God (time and time and time and time and time again). When someone tells me they have ‘faith in God’ – I expect, by virtue of their statement, to see someone with a good moral/value system. Am I wrong to think this is so tied to faith – as to not contain this – one cannot be a Christian?

  7. Societyvs. Thanks for your kind words. I am glad you are enjoying the discussion here. I for one am learning volumes from this discussion and others that I have been involved in with you, TFT, Luke, the decon people, and now Yael. Let’s keep it going.

    I have come to see the bible as a narrative that gradually reveals God to humankind through the Jewish nation. And I am referring to what we now call the Christian bible. I understand that Jews only look at the Torah and much of the rest of the Old Testament. I imagine that they would say the same of their scripture although I do not know that for sure. I also imagine that it is much more than this too them as it specifically lays out customs and laws for their nation. I also understand that the Jewish nation basically views Jesus as a teacher but not as the Messiah, not as God. Christianity basically takes the story of Jesus and runs with it as the core of the faith. I view the New Testament as God’s full revelation of himself and his character in the person of Jesus Christ. So if the bible and the purpose of it can be summed up in a simple single statement I believe that it is this: The bible is God’s revelation of himself to the world through the Jewish nation of his character which we see manifested fully in Jesus Christ who is both God and man. That character is one of grace and love.

    Jesus talks a great deal about God’s kingdom coming to earth. Rather than his death and resurrection being the final thing, I instead believe that it was the first thing. It was the beginning of God’s kingdom coming to earth and will someday be fully realized. Jesus’ work on the cross was God saying to his creation that I am not going to let my creation be destroyed. I am redeeming all of it to myself. It is now being made right again. In my opinion, that is what heaven will be, Gods full redemption of all of creation in a new heaven and a new earth. It is my job to join him in that work of offering grace and love to my fellow humans and to be about the work of taking care of creation, bringing social justice when I can, caring for the weak and the downtrodden. That is what I take from the bible.

    So is it an ethics text? I agree with you that there are certainly statements about morality and behavior and works and faith. But when I think of an ethics text I am imagining a book where I can go look up the specific answer to a specific ethical question. To me the bible is not that. I am so against that view because I think it leads to the extreme fundamentalism from which I came that basically makes salvation a series of behavioral hoops to jump through. It also leads to shame and when you do get someone like me or the countless people on decon who realize that extreme black and white readings of the bible eventually break down, it leads to abandonment of a belief that God even exists. That can’t be what God intends us to get out of scripture. I think that all the laws and regulations, rather than being a set of hoops to jump through, in the end do a better job of showing us that we can never be reconciled to God through a set of rules. We can’t keep all the rules well enough for that to work. It took God acting to redeem creation to himself. That is where confession of faith comes into play in my way of viewing things.

    I also agree with you that when someone claims to have “faith in God” that you expect a certain good moral/value system. But that is because of a love for God in my book, not because of a decision to follow a set of rules. I hope I am making sense here. What do you have to say in rebuttal?

  8. “What do you have to say in rebuttal?” (Doug)

    i am all about balance. In one sense you are right – it is not an ethics text – it is a gospel – filled with teachings and the doings of Jesus. The goal of the gospel is to teach – that is my personal opinion. Some take away the actions of Jesus – i see the actions teaching – modelling a life we are asked to live (in our committment to God).

    The narrative is cool – don’t get me wrong – it is an explanation of the whole Christ thing – I get that 100%. I tend not to focus my energies on that only because I find it to not be very fruitful – what good comes of it? What good comes from enacting the teachings of Jesus in our life? I know we need aspects of both (for knowledge reasons) – but the greatest thing is love – not faith (as you also point out).

    I understand the ‘fundy’ thing also – I attended a church for like 6 (almost 7 years) that was along those ‘controlling lines’. But the most I got from having faith in God was morality – ethics – a paradigm of values for evaluating the way I ‘run my life’. Worship was cool, preaching was cool, and the rituals were cool – but what were they except urgings to follow the teachings. I focused on the teachings of Jesus – to enact them – it was there I learned love, responsibility, mercy, forgiveness, peace, etc. The cross is good – but the cross is only as good as the teachings make it to be.

    I am not saying everything is ‘black n white’ – it isn’t. Loving your neighbor looks different for everybody – because we all have different lives and people surrounding us. The teachings are a guide – a pathway – something to judge from for our personal direction. i do not see them as self-condemnatory – but as self-releasing. Being asked to be more loving does not make one more hating? Being asked to be more forgiving does not make one more spiteful? I see the teachings as the grace of God…and when I needed some guidance – they sure helped me out.

    Even if the gospel is the culmination of the revelation – then what are we? What is our role? What do we have to do with this Jesus? I think the revelation – in some sense – is complete – but what is not complete – is our lives (so the revelation via enaction of the teachings in our daily lives brings it alive again). The revelation is asking us something – those gospels are asking us something – question is – what is it?

  9. i gotta say that i’ve been overjoyed watching this conversation and also be allowed to add my two cents in here and there… you guys are both a blessing.

    i was reading a book called “Strange Virtues: Ethics in a Multicultural World” by Bernard T. Adeney and lo-and-behold a GODincidence! (as i don’t believe in coincidence) here’s how Adeney lays out a “Modernist Reading”:

    There are dangers of confusing your own subjectivity with the mind of God, these are serious. Emotivism may simply be dressed in theological language.
    Since the Enlightenment, Wester thought has often dichotomized reason and emotion. Reason (law) is considered to be the path to truth while emtion is a barrier that undermines clear thinking. In fact, reason and emotion are interrelated ways of knowing. Both can be twisted by sin and are limited by human finitude. Both can be vehicles of human emtion….
    …Without emotion, reason cannot know the significance of truth. Without reason, emotion is limited by radical subjectivity. There is a continuum, not a dichotomy, between emotion and reason. The Holy Spirit works through both reasonable emotion and emotion-laden reason.

    RAWK!

  10. Societyvs. You ask what our role is? I think it is to join Christ in his work, the work of bringing God’s kingdom to earth, the work of bringing heaven to earth, the work of removing hell from earth. The circles in which I grew up were all about focussing on the avoidance of sin. This world is a bad place and the only true exists in a spiritual sense, and someday Christ will return and whisk us off to a spiritual existence in heaven. I believe that dualistic interpretation of scripture is a product of Modernism and is at least partly erroneus. Instead I believe that God is redeeming his creation. All of it. When he made it he said it was good. And even though it is diseased with evil, it is still good. He is not abandoning it for plan B. He is redeeming it to its original state of goodness. When I am only about avoiding sin and waiting for heaven, what I do here and now with creation is not so important. I can exploit it and use it and manipulate it. But when I understand that God is redeeming it, then what I do here and now matters very much. I want to be about the work of finding where I can bring heaven to earth. Where I can bring social justice. Where I can bring beauty. Where I can offer grace and love. That is what I beleive our role is as followers of Christ.

    I like what Luke has contributed here. I am reading a book called “The Open Secret” by Alister McGrath which discusses natural theology. He has a section through there on no being able to trust our own subjectivity and objectivity for that matter. I agree with that. “Reason and emotion are interrelated ways of knowing.” (Luke). If we rely soley on Modernism and only empirical data, we will miss something. But if we only rely on emotion, we will equally miss something on the other end of the line. It has to be balanced, as you have said, “I am all about balance.” (Societyvs)

    I have come into this way of thinking of thinking about redemption and creation and God’s kingdom largely after being introduced to it by NT Wright in “Suprised by Hope.” Rob Bell, Peter Rollins, Alister McGrath, C Baxter Kruger, have all contributed to my thinking on this also.

    Great discussion.

  11. “You ask what our role is? I think it is to join Christ in his work, the work of bringing God’s kingdom to earth, the work of bringing heaven to earth, the work of removing hell from earth” (Doug)

    I like this idea – I am on board with it all the way – but do you think it is in contention with this idea (by another a great writer I met):

    “a gradual revelation of God to the Jewish nation and subsequently the world that culminates in the love and grace that we see lived out in Christ”

    In one instance, you claim to be ‘joining Christ’ in his work – in the other instance you speak of the ‘gradual revelation…we see lived out in Christ’. Are you part of that revelation/revolution? Or is Jesus the Christ the only part of that revelation/revolution? How does it work to say ‘Christ is the revelation’ and ‘we join in his work’? I need an ‘Ah-Ha’ moment of clarity (for no good reason but out of wonder).

    Luke,

    I think we have found the 4th part of gospel team – out kindred spirit:

    SocietyVs – Mark
    Doug – Matthew
    Luke – Luke
    John T – John

    Now the end times – we can set this is motion.

  12. Societyvs

    You forgot one. Yael, I think she would like to be the Anti Christ. Lmao. ;)

  13. Societyvs. I don’t know if you are going to get the aha moment of which you speak, unless you mean for you of course after I educate you sufficiently :). I think I need to explain myself a bit more.

    I see the bible as the gradual revelation of God to humanity. That revelation is finally realized in the person of Jesus Christ. In him, we see who God really is, what he is like, his character. Christ himself is not that gradual revelation of which I speak. He is the culmination of the revelation. It then is my job to join Christ in the work of bringing God’s kingdom to here and now, the work that began with the incarnation and will be fully realized sometime in the future.

    Have I given you and “ah-ha”?

    By the way, I think the gospel team you list above…
    “SocietyVs – Mark
    Doug – Matthew
    Luke – Luke
    John T – John”
    and TFT’s addition with Yael as the anti-christ is just hilarious. I did in fact laugh out loud. It is just an honor to be included in such a prestigious group. Luke mentioned facebook somewhere. Should I join back up? Are you guys talking there?

  14. “Christ himself is not that gradual revelation of which I speak. He is the culmination of the revelation. It then is my job to join Christ in the work of bringing God’s kingdom to here and now, the work that began with the incarnation and will be fully realized sometime in the future.” (Doug)

    This is my ‘ah ha’ moment – when I understand you more fully. I couldn’t agree more to be honest!

    “Luke mentioned facebook somewhere. Should I join back up? Are you guys talking there?” (Doug)

    Luke and I are friends on there – plus I have a few other friends from around the blog world on facebook (like Naked Pastor). I have talked a bit with Luke on there (just added as a friend) – but most of the blog talk and deep discussions are done on here (amongst the sites we write and link to – now includes you in that network – IMO). Luke was talking about joining some group on facebook Bono was a part of – but nothing more has really culminated from that. Facebook is fun – it’s a little more pseduo- real than this.

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