Friday, October 12, 2007

Belief and Being: The Scriptures as More Than Mere Fact

Seminaries and Bible Colleges have been teaching us pastors how to defend the historical view of scripture for quite some time. The need for this I am sure is great, especially in the face of the last century's liberal textual criticisms of scripture - particularly the Jesus Seminar.

Yet I can not help but wonder if we have often focused upon technical issues, and lost the heart of the matter at times. Stories of mythic proportions such as the parting of the Red Sea, floating axe heads, and prophets marrying prostitutes to model God's heart for his people carry far more power than being true events. They carry us to places in the spirit, which model life, and guide our intentions, and our dreams. They cause us to reach for the stars, and imagine things beyond our temporal existence with its urges for silly desires. Great stories help build dreams in great people.

My life is different, because I read about Paul's message on Mars Hill, and considered Jeremiah the weeping prophet holding out in Jerusalem until the end. Barnabas' faithfulness to keep training Mark after Paul refused to take him on a mission journey guides my soul, as does Jesus' defense of sinners in the face of legalistic religion.

These are more than true stories to me. They carry the power of myth. They call my soul to greater things. Could this be what people need more than they need a way to defend the faith against the rising tide of textual criticism, and excessively liberal theology. Could it be that people need the the scriptures to live, before those same words can live in them?

I am not suggesting we give up the fight for defending the veracity of the Bible, but I am suggesting we find ways to make the stories live in our hearts.


Beth said...

Scot McKnight made a great comment a while back on "Jesus Creed": that we need to regularly read the scriptures both *informationally* (facts, the big narrative) and *formationally* (inviting God to use the Bible to shape my life/praxis). In reflecting on that idea, I think a lot of the problems with liberal and with conservative Christianity come from people approaching the Bible in one of those ways to the near-exclusion of the other.

Bruce said...

It's not either-or.

Even Jesus when he corrected the Pharisees for their selfrighteous tithing practices said, You should have done these things (justice, mercy) without neglecting the others.

Sure, let's love our neighbor, walk in the Spirit, AND be theologically correct and have our membership dues paid up to date and shoes shined.


Pastor Phil said...

Hi Beth!

Formational reading is definitely a step in that direction of discovering the power of mythic tales, but it seems that perhaps it falls short of making the stories our life stories. Devotional reading sometimes reaches that quality of mythic power. Perhaps only God can make the stories become our own. Perhaps only He can place the Book of Acts, or the stories of David, or the travels of Abraham into our hearts in such a way that they become identifications, and guidance to our own passions.

Although WWJD has become over commercialized, it has that kind of magical power of guidance. It leads us to say that "my life is in Christ" in a practical manner, and becomes a haunting story, which follows us daily.

Pastor Phil said...

Go Bruce go!

It is not either/or - it is both/and.

Sally said...

well said Phil, I needed to read this!

Beth said...

Hey, Phil, from your response I think we just have 2 different vocabularies here! To me "formational" is the word I would use to describe a reading that cultivates openness to exactly what you say about God's story becoming the guiding "true myth" for my life, his story becoming my story -- whereas "devotional" is the word I would use to describe a more private practice which can try to narrow God's big story into becoming one helpful personal accessory to my little story. So I think we're making the same point, just in different language.

And yes, it's really God who does it. We just open the door.

Pastor Phil said...

Thanks Sally,
May health and peace be yours and belong those who are yours.

Pastor Phil said...

Beth - same meaning different language indeed. Pentecostal/Anglican translator need we, think I.

Anonymous said...

There is a significant population of people who are average, on the weak side of average or less than average in intellectual skills. This condition establishes the corollary reality that these folks are average or weak in linguistic/literary critical-analysis. And that is okay.

This population as adults are not likely to enter the halls of political, economic, and religious power. They engage life at the level of the everyday, everyday of their lives as part of a community. They live by the heart and the condition it is in. (Of course, even the intellectuals do, but don't suggest that to their face. They must gain such insight, if they ever do, the hard way. Ivory towers are fiercely defended.) The population of just regular folks may be curious about the intellectual debates that rage among the intelligently gifted, who wrestle for position and posterity's notice, but rarely do regular people connect such debate to daily survival.

Yet, this population experiences lives of impact on their communities, and that is vitally important to each member of our society. They do so for the better or worse impact on both community and the larger social fabric of the nation based on what type of heart, good or bad, from which they act. The intellectual elite may control legislative, economic, or eclessiastical decision-making, but common people are and have always been the source of power by which the powerful are supported.

So how does one lift the hope in the hearts of these people, enabling their major function of being the mechanical undergirding of the larger social structure to remain viable? How do these people move from mundane lives or worse to become willing contributors of love, strength and order within their communities? Will careful, critically accurate exegesis excite their hearts?

Thanks, pastorPhil, for recognizing the need in the hearts of humanity. Our imaginations must be stirred for our desires and consequent actions to reach beyond our individual bubbles. Nothing matches the greatest story ever-told and its subset of miraculous living experiences to stir the average heart to reach for a goodness which is only a function of the imputed righteousness of Christ.

Steve Hayes said...

Amen and Amen!

As a friend of mine once put it, "Either we decide about the Bible, or in the Bible Christ has decided about us."

Tia Lynn said...

Excellent post! Very thought provoking!

philip said...

maybe this is relevant, or maybe not, but i've listened to countless sermons "proving" God's existence, but at the end of the day, when i'm going through difficult times, the debate about God's existence matters very little. i'm much more interested in who God is.

Pastor Phil said...


Rockin' doctoral post there bro.

Pastor Phil said...


And our decisions about the Bible are many aren't they. I find myself making some decision about it daily.

Pastor Phil said...

Tia - thanks.

Gwyn dy fyd

Pastor Phil said...


Totally relevant, and at the heart of the issue for me.

ded said...

"...doctoral post"? Are you trying to politely say I am long-winded?

Pastor Phil said...

Hey ded,

Heavens no I was saying you were really smart, but I guess longwinded fits a bit. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Well, if blogs had volume you'd know I was loud, too.

I just try to leave off the attitude.