Just in case you’re wondering . . . the Bible

Solitude, Chagall
Solitude, Chagall

Oh, how I love your law!
It is my meditation all day long.

• Psalm 119:97, NRSV

• • •

Just in case you were wondering, I love the Bible.

I learned this from my life in evangelicalism. One key characteristic of evangelical Christianity is its commitment to the Bible as God’s Word. The evangelical (and “soft” fundamentalist) churches I was in were “Bible” churches, plain and simple. That’s what we were about. We taught the Scriptures. Sermons were expository analyses of biblical texts, sometimes going verse by verse and book by book. Sunday School classes were usually on books of the Bible. We had small group Bible studies too. We memorized verses and passages. We had daily Bible devotions. People carried their Bibles to church, underlined passages, took notes. We did “sword drills” in VBS and Sunday School and the children had programs in which they received rewards for memorizing scripture. We tried our best to live our lives and run our churches “according to the Bible” (as we “literally” understood it). We often had to work through issues in our churches and the bottom line was always “chapter and verse,” and “it is written.” One person’s conviction about a particular verse could trump a whole lot of arguments.

This is what Daniel Bebbington called evangelicalism’s commitment to Biblicism — “a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority.” From the beginning of my adult Christian life, I bought into this, hook, line, and sinker.

The youth group in which I had a spiritual awakening was led by a youth pastor who was gifted at teaching the Bible, and there was a large group of us that ate it up. We memorized chapters from Proverbs and the first words I committed to memory were:

My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee;
So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding;
Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;
If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;
Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.

• Proverbs 2:1-5, KJV

This text taught me to study diligently and to take the words of scripture deep into my mind and heart so that their wisdom would transform my life. Above all, it taught me to remain hungry and eager for truth and understanding, to view my life as a continual search for the treasures of knowledge.

And so I made my way to Bible college, a school that offered no majors at that time other than a B.S. in Bible, so that I could learn what the scriptures taught. Then, after a time in the mountains of Vermont trying to teach the Bible to the good folks there, I knew I needed to learn much more. So off I went to seminary, one of the richest times of learning and growing in my life. Unlike Bible college, which taught according to a definite and very specific system of doctrine, in seminary I began to taste the breadth of Christian teaching. I know some from other traditions would consider my seminary to be hopelessly narrow, and in some ways I see now that it was, but at least it exposed me to a few more voices outside the room and took what they said seriously. Plus, where Bible college favored rote learning, seminary encouraged me to strike out on my own, do research, develop my own positions and defend them. I spent as much time in the library as I could, tracking down every article mentioned by a prof that caught my attention.

Nor did I stop studying or hungering after my formal education either. I saw myself as a teacher, and I built my schedule around study and heavily invested in the best commentaries and books while I tried to maintain a high level of instruction in the local church. I see now that I was far too academic for most people, and perhaps I should have gone into teaching. But I felt that if God had given the Bible to all Christians and his gathering of choice was the local congregation, what better place to teach?

The Torah, the second state, Chagall
The Torah, the second state, Chagall

However, it was often a struggle, and eventually I became dissatisfied with much that evangelicalism teaches about and from the Bible. You’ve read that here at Internet Monk, and here are a few examples you might review:

I’m not going to summon up all the points made in those posts by myself or the authors I reviewed, but I encourage you to go back and read them and you will see some of the specific differences I have with my former evangelical perspectives on scripture.

What I want to point out in this post is an irony: the irony that my evangelical background set down a root in my life that eventually led me to grow away from evangelicalism.

The wisdom of Proverbs 2, the first text I memorized, encouraged me to keep hungering, to keep seeking, to keep studying and internalizing God’s Word, to never stray from following after knowledge and understanding. But one major problem with the evangelical view of scripture is that it only encourages that kind of seeking within a closed system. The carefully designed system of beliefs and practices, the doctrinal statement, the list of correct interpretations (which varies, depending upon which evangelical group you belong to), has in reality become the authority, and we are only allowed to read and interpret the Bible within that system. Any interpretation that threatens the system is discouraged or verboten. The whole enterprise can become like a giant game of Jenga. Change one block, and the tower comes crashing down.

So there are clearly defined limits beyond which one must not stray. I am not arguing that there are no boundaries at all; I am a creedal Christian, for example. However, the strict boundaries drawn within evangelical and fundamentalist circles can make for awfully tight quarters and narrow passages.

I was once visiting with a friend with whom I’d gone to Bible college, who was now a classmate at seminary. He recalled a trip to homecoming at our college and a conversation he’d had with one of our professors, a dyed-in-the-wool dispensationalist, as literal as they make ’em. The prof was complaining about how people went away to seminary and strayed from the faith he had taught them. Here’s the example he gave, I kid you not. He told my friend of a student who left and began to believe that the chain that bound Satan during the millennium in Revelation 20 was metaphorical and not an actual, physical chain. And he was appalled! The slippery slope started right there. Give up literal interpretation on any detail, and you’ll soon become an amillennialist. Which to him meant “the enemy.”

I did not apply for churches early in my ministerial career because I struggled with the issue of the timing of the Rapture, and I knew those churches would never hire anyone who didn’t toe the line on a pre-trib, “left behind” event and a specific “end times” template.

Other churches in which I served would never even have a discussion about women in leadership. The Bible taught otherwise.

One man in our church who was convinced that the Bible only allowed unleavened bread at communion held the entire congregation captive to his conviction.

My seminary turned down the services of one of the finest Old Testament professors in the world because he was not a premillennialist.

I have a million stories, but they all boil down to this: My discipling process in an evangelical setting taught me to seek knowledge and understanding like there was no tomorrow. But then, early and often, they slammed a door in my face and said, “Sorry, that’s a room into which we do not look.” Excuse me if I feel disoriented.

This is why I get so hyped up about issues like Young Earth Creationism. It is not just because I disagree with the interpretation, but because the whole approach of many who insist upon it is so . . . well, unbiblical. Sticking your fingers in your ears while shouting, “Literal! Literal! Literal!” simply does not fit with “incline thine ear unto wisdom.”

I am so grateful for the love that evangelicalism gave me for the Bible. I’m sad that this very gift meant we’d eventually part ways.

109 thoughts on “Just in case you’re wondering . . . the Bible

  1. It is dizzying. In the face this dizzying array of interpretative results, the Biblical texts themselves seem to disintegrate as a source from which to yield any specific and definite meanings, and begin to seem like a cloud in which we can only discern the shapes and figure and forms that we project. It lends substance to the idea of the “Apostolic hypothesis”, and that only from this perspective can we interpret the texts as the Church has from the beginning. But I, for one, am unable to go to either Rome or the East. I’m just incredulous at their claims to Apostolic authority.


  2. I understand what you are saying Nate. Digging a little deeper though I would suggest that our differences actually effect how we interpret the gospel. If there was not a difference of interpretation of the gospel and its implications we would not have had the Reformation. An amillennialist who believes Jesus is ruling and reigning now would believe there are huge implications to how the gospel is applied in the believer’s life now. A premillennialist may lean more towards the future reign of Christ and possibly belittle the implications of the gospel for the here and now. This is why I said I would be cautious in letting another minister from a different tradition minister in the local church. I didn’t say it would never happen. I would be cautious.


  3. I agree with you Mike, along with most of the sentiments of those that replied. However, a local church has a specific vision and mission in mind. If two different doctrines are being taught within the same local church it would create confusion that would undermine the specific vision and mission of that local church. Ecumenism works well in public and in forums where such dialog between differing viewpoints can be discussed. Also, having different traditions working together for their communities is great. It is not so much that I am afraid of other viewpoints, it is that I want the local church to be of the same mind and purpose headed in the same direction.


  4. Thanks CM. You said a number of things that really resonate with my experience. Personally, I grew up in the church and always took my faith in Jesus seriously and was eager to learn about the Bible. As I learned more through church and became aware of more differing perspectives through a one-year Christian college program and other places, it became hard to sustain certain beliefs like inerrancy. Like you, learning more about the Bible made it harder to believe some of the things i was taught.

    And as I became aware of weaknesses in arguments against evolution and things like that, it damaged the credibility of Christianity in my eyes and I continue to experience doubts about every Christian belief. My reasons for getting worked up about young earth creationism and things like that may not all be the same as yours, but like you I see it as part of a bigger issue. I see these things damaging the credibility of Christians and by extension Christianity.

    In evangelicalism I’ve felt like I’m encouraged to seek, but only within certain boundaries. In the church I grew up in, which I was part of until a few years ago, it felt like the box was fairly big compared to many evangelical churches, but still got in the way. People sometimes said they appreciated my questioning, but it was hard to find people who really understood. While that church still feels like my extended family, I didn’t feel like I could stay in evangelicalism.

    My love of scripture is still strong, but it isn’t shaped like the evangelical box.


  5. Just flip open any Joel Osteen novel and your anxieties and cares will fade away, like a nice Calgon soaking…


  6. I have come to believe that the ‘slippery slope’ is where faith lives. Ironically, the need for absolute certainty, which characterizes the ‘faith’ of so many, is in fact the opposite of faith. That kind of ‘faith’ is usually as fragile as a house of cards, and if something as trivial as ‘Jesus’ or ‘Yeshua’ is dangerous territory, it is very fragile indeed.


  7. I believe the treatment of Dr. Shari Klouda was perhaps the most shameful act in the fundamentalist takeover of SBTS. I was a student there, and they actually included a few “hit pieces” on her in a systematic theology class. Of course, being a thinker, all that did was make me do some research…it wasn’t long before I withdrew my attendance. I just couldn’t ethically justify giving that institution money any more.


  8. I don’t know, Andrew. I think a lot of churches would benefit from hearing the viewpoints of Christians from other traditions. Why is “protection” such an important value when it comes to my group’s distinctives? Why can’t we hold such things more lightly? Why can’t we engage in honest and open-ended discussions? Why must we feel like someone has to have the ultimate “answer” with regard to some of these things? What are we afraid of? Questioning and doubting and searching makes one stronger, not weaker.


  9. Sometimes the ditch is green, cool, and filled with wild flowers.

    The road is hard, hot, and filled with angry people in a hurry.


  10. Which is where I kind of find the writer’s thoughts a bit confusing, maybe contradictory. Perhaps, when he says “Church,” he’s talking about the Church of today as shaped by our understanding of the Bible, although that seems to be a stretch, given his statement.


  11. “I get what the writer is trying to say, but we shouldn’t aggrandize the text we call the Bible to the point that we come to affirm that the Church has inherited the Bible, when it is more likely that the Church (albeit, through inspiration) created the Bible, then transferred it from generation to generation.”

    Actually I think he is saying this in the following quote: “it is the product of the Church’s inspired industry.”


  12. He further states:

    “The Church is the medium in which the Bible grew and outside which it cannot exist. Where there is Bible, to that extent there is Church; where is Church, there in some form the Scriptures must be found. … the Bible is an essential part of what the Church has inherited.”

    Which seems weird to me. Doesn’t the Church precede the Bible chronologically, and Christ the Church? James was the head of the church before there was a book of James, and Peter and Paul were expanding the church before there was a 1 and 2 Peter or a letter to the Romans. All of those folks were building the faith in a world in which there was neither a mass-produced, codified text nor a predominately literate community to read such a text. I get what the writer is trying to say, but we shouldn’t aggrandize the text we call the Bible to the point that we come to affirm that the Church has inherited the Bible, when it is more likely that the Church (albeit, through inspiration) created the Bible, then transferred it from generation to generation.


  13. fwiw, Saudi accents are very different from Egyptian accents (and Egyptian Arabic is *not* what is spoken on the Arabian Peninsula), etc. etc. etc.

    Classical Arabic = the style of Arabic used in the Qur’an (literary and otherwise), but since Arabic is a living language, and spoken over a huge geographical area, it has morphed and changed – not unlike the many regional variants of Spanish in central and South America. People from those regions definitely do not speak Spanish-from-Spain (Castilian or otherwise). It’s much the same with Arabic.


  14. “…contrary to the faith of that local church. ”

    That line kind of makes my skin crawl, even though I know you mean well. The faith is the One faith, along with the One Lord and One baptism that unites all Christians everywhere, in Christ through the Spirit. The local church’s preferences might be something to consider, but they don’t deserve to be granted their own unique boundaries by which others of the One faith are kept from ministering.

    Consider that the boundaries torn down in Paul’s justification theology, uniting Jew and Gentile, didn’t simply speak of the believer’s personal relationship with God, but of their welcome by the church at table fellowship. Justification is just as much, or more, about acceptance in church membership as it is about acceptance into relationship with God. I know that’s not quite the same issue as inviting a minister to speak at church, but with it in mind, I don’t see a Biblical way of keeping out a minister simply on the basis of something like cessationism. A divisive minister maybe, who is bypassing the primary issues of the faith to harp on his view of the charismata, but not someone who is capable of preaching the faith of Christ but who simply disagrees on some side issue like sign gifts.

    In fact, I would even call this a major sign of the Spirit’s presence in a local body- expressed unity with believers across traditional boundaries that are secondary. For Paul it was race and the traditional Jewish boundary markers. What is it for my church? Infant baptism? Charismata? Reformed theology? Assuming the Gospel remains primary and uncompromised, I don’t see how these kinds of things could keep Christians apart without doing violence to NT ecclesiology.


  15. Look, HUG, Qur’anic recitation is both devotional and a kind of high art in its own right. I wish you wouldn’t trivialize it in this way.


  16. Dr. Fundystan – this is absolutely true of many Jewish people I have known. No question whatsoever!


  17. Among the neo-cals Richard Baxter is nearly a deity. You might still get your head bitten off. To be fair to Baxter, the foundationalist tripe that leads to this kind of silliness was by no means limited to the Puritans (nor were their many other sins like slavery and murder sanctioned on religious grounds).


  18. Just using those two examples loosely, one goes against something believed about God, and the other goes against someone believed about people. Getting God wrong could be a lot worse than getting people wrong.


  19. Yet it’s also strange what can be done WITH Jesus as the “lens”. He made a whip of chords after all. And he’ll return as an end times terminator. It seems to be a matter of what is primary, what trumps what, and how the pieces fit together.


  20. Great post by Chaplain Mike.

    When I was a kid, my parents would listen to a guy on talk radio called “Mr. Encylopedia.” One day, Mr. Encyclopedia told his audience that Jesus’ name was really Yeshua. I told one of the elders at my church about it. He looked very concerned and said, “Son, the Bible gives our Savior a name and his name is Jesus.” I was only about ten at the time, but the idea that a name can differ from language to language wasn’t new to me, and I was disappointed by his response. However, that was the first time I understood the desire to protect us from the “slippery slope.”


  21. A quote from everyone’s favorite Calvinist, John Piper.

    ”The practical issues at stake in any one intellectual controversy are always more than we realize. This is especially true where fundamentally contrary views of God are in conflict. When the paths diverge at the top, almost everything below will be different.”

    This isn’t just about particular interpretations or the ways that meta-narratives are put together to explain (or explain away) individual bible verses (although it certainly includes that). A person’s/church’s views on the nature of the Bible itself seem to be one of THE “paths at the top” – whether that nature is described as inerrant/infallible, divine accommodation/incarnational, multivocal, narrative, human perspective/divine perspective, etc. In reading the old posts linked at the top of the post (and some of the comments and other linked posts within those comments), Piper’s comment is pretty accurate. And the variety of “fundamentally contrary views of God” represented in those comments is absolutely staggering to me. Even the “Jesus as hermeneutical key” approach seems to resolve very little – as demonstrated by the variety of ways that Jesus is presented as being for or against Canaanite genocide (just an example) with an inerrant Bible and therefore the faith as a whole hanging in the balance. And as evidenced by the real life examples in this post and throughout history (Servetus & Calvin?), the impact is very tangible and potentially destructive. Honestly, it makes my head spin.


  22. what puzzles me greatly is when someone determines that it it ‘okay’ to cause harm to another based on something they interpret that ‘the bible says’

    many examples of abuse, yes, but the one that comes to mind that shocked me most was the treatment of Dr. Shari Klouda at the hands of the administrator(s) of SWBTS (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)

    this case is well documented by Wade Burleson at his blog ‘Istoria’

    It is worth reading up on to see the progression of how the Southern Baptist Faith & Message was changed so that no longer did people have to interpret the Bible through the lens of Jesus Christ,
    and then the abuse began against Dr. Klouda, a respected professor of Greek at the Seminary, which culminated in the loss of her position because she was a woman at a time when her husband was very seriously ill (it doesn’t get much worse that that for a family) . . . Wade Burleson and other Southern Baptists attempted to tell her story and to get help for her financially until she found employment at another institution

    strange what some men will attempt to do once Christ is no longer ‘the lens’ through which Scripture is to be read, and in some cases real evil emerges from these men who knowingly cause harm to others justifying their decisions based on ‘what the bible says’ but only NOT when it is read through the lens of Jesus Christ . . . you can’t blame a whole denomination, though, as many Southern Baptists rallied around Dr. Klouda and supported her in her time of need


  23. Yes, I’ve abandoned Bible reading as an obligation. Usually I don’t need an obligation anymore, because I do enjoy it so much. But it’s so important to have a LOVE for something instilled in you if it really is a good thing.


  24. Guy was great at worldbuilding and poetry and stuff, but he can’t tell a story to save his life…”

    I SO disagree! 🙂 But I understand where you’re coming from….I know a lot of people who feel that way.


  25. Well it seems like to some extent he was quoting from the Law of Moses, albeit not being a total traditionalist about it.

    Cynicism is understood. I’m not claiming the ancients were all right, or obedient, or even that their account of things was perceived correctly. I think a lot of God’s dealings with them, including in the Law, were concessions to the inevitable state of affairs at hand.

    I heard one comparison to the Geneva convention: Isn’t it ridiculous to forbid chemical and biological warfare, while permitting warfare by bombs, high explosive, and huge guns?

    It’s just an attempt to keep things SLIGHTLY in check for the time being, and it’s a glimmer of hope that suggests that our “trajectory” should be AWAY from war and destruction. It’s not even necessarily possible to enforce it, but at least we’re acknowledging that things are so bad, maybe we can agree that we need to forbid the worst of the worst possibilities, in hopes that later generations with trend us away from violence more broadly. (Possibly a hopeless idea, but the principle is the point).

    So with Moses. That law had a lot of specifics dealign with Israel in its context, because that’s all that God had to work with at the time. Israel was Israel- failing, unfaithful, dehumanizing, idolatrous, and with a slave-mentality. So God starts where they are and expects that the ship will right itself it in time, with his continued care.


  26. StuartB: not saying you’re wrong about their half-remembered nature, but don’t equate that, or the “time-and-place” contextual nature of those laws, with bs… if nothing else, the law was very important and helpful for those to whom they were given. Also, a thicker look at the context does, I believe, reveal some good insights for us about God and his people (hospitality for the sojourner, for instance).


  27. StuartB: haven’t read that whole article from Desiring God, but I’d reckon that the neo-Calvinists, and perhaps Augustine himself, are doing the same thing I mentioned above: De-Judaizing Jesus’ commands, making them into dis-embodied atomized quotes that float around over the heads of Christians as “generalized life principles” or something. That’s the pattern anyway with much of Christianity, including the most educated among us. If Jesus’ commands were understood as being to a new community, born out of a single, particular, New-Creative moment in history, from whence the church comes and by which it is united in the Spirit, then there would be a lot less banging of heads against the wall trying to “be obedient” a lot less personal “me-and-God’-ism in which obedience is portrayed as an individual matter where one pushes theoretical “buttons” within one’s psyche by means of correct theology….oh jeez, I better stop before a rant ensues….


  28. No argumentativeness taken! I can certainly be verbose myself…

    I responded above as well, but I’ll just say a couple things here, as to your last paragraph: Yes I completely agree. I don’t think the specter of the Pharisaic mistakes ever goes away. It should always be a welcome challenge to go back to our rules and really ask “why is this here?” and “what is its fruit?” and most importantly “is this consistent with Jesus’ commands?”

    As to the woes against the Pharisees, their problem seemed to be their misunderstanding of the goal of the law, rather than the law itself. Underpinned by their arrogance, false humility, hypocrisy, point-missing, and desire for titles and recognition.

    I’m not sure what you mean by this though:

    “but many of Jesus “laws” have nothing to do with keeping the Law, they’re about not doing religion wrong.”

    I see Jesus repeating a lot of the principal “laws” of the Old Testament, but often adding his original “spin” to them, deepening and widening them. The greatest commandment for example, he adds “with all your mind” and lifts out of Leviticus the bit about “loving your neighbor as yourself” and sticks it onto the end. There’s a lot of Jewishness to what Jesus says, a lot of Moses in it, even if he’s “greater than Moses.” Jesus, and the early Christian movement, seemed to consistently reject the idea that they were doing away with Moses.


  29. -> “I’d love God’s law too if I could use it justify anything I want to do, from owning multiple wives to beheading my enemies.”

    But Stuart….it’s there for you to use that way if you choose to! 😉


  30. Yes, I agree…the website list has its flaws. It’s just the first thing I pulled up…LOL. Thanks for your post.


  31. -> “But, in my local church I would be cautious in allowing him to minister to my congregation.”

    I wonder how many churches today, including the one I attend, would allow Jesus HIMSELF to minister to our congregations if he were to appear today like he did 2,000 years ago.


  32. Where does one draw the line? The author says, “I am not arguing that there are no boundaries at all; I am a creedal Christian, for example.” The lines drawn between traditions helps insure correct teachings within that local church. As a Pentecostal and a creedal Christian I would not have an Apostolic minister in my church because of his beliefs against the Trinity. Yet, many of their teachings concerning the charismata are similar in my tradition. Then again, I wouldn’t have a cessationist minister in my church either do to their beliefs in the lack of the charismata in our day today even though they are a creedal Christian like me. Lines can divide and cause dissension but they can also protect the local flock from outside doctrines that are contrary to the faith of that local church. Where boundaries need to be tore down is where they keep one from relationship with God. The Jews used the law as a dividing line between them and the gentiles. But, Jesus broke down that wall so as to bring reconciliation between the Jew and Gentile. As today, I can stand with the cessationist and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in public. But, in my local church I would be cautious in allowing him to minister to my congregation.


  33. I was thinking of the Sermon on the Mount specifically. In which Jesus proliferates established commandments to say things that they didn’t originally say. Yet he “spoke with one as authority, not as the scribes…”

    That website is interesting, but it seems to pull a gnostic move by detaching them from the narrative, not only the immediate Gospel narratives in particular, but also the controlling narrative of Israel and YHWH. One can read a list like that separately from the Gospel narrative as if any random sage could have said them. But then we’re in danger of making Jesus a generalized archetypal “great man” or “prophet” from whom we can hear pithy sayings about how to live life. It doesn’t matter, in that case, whether Jesus was a first-century Jew who died on a Roman cross or a 19th century Canadian lumberjack who died in a logging accident. His particularity is eviscerated. I don’t know if the “editor” of that list is making that mistake personally, but it’s easy enough to make it when you read Jesus’ words in that form.

    The antidote to “rule lists” that oppress people’s conscience (which I’m not trying to argue for here) seems to me to be “stories wherein the lawgiver’s greater vision, and work, is described, sometimes by a list of rules.” Jesus gave his list of rules alright (Matthew 5-7) but Matthew’s testimony by which we have this list starts in Matthew 4 with:

    “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people…”

    And then follows with:

    “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.”

    That right there is a story. It’s a narrative.

    This is the difference between legalism/gnosticism and Christian faith, to my mind: Christian faith depends utterly on revelation through testimony/story. It’s about a particular thing that happened. Legalism does the gnostic thing where it eviscerates the story for some “life principles” or “application techniques.”

    Prioritize narrative and history in this way and it’s possible to transcend the perceived disparity between love & religion, or law & mercy. It’s just that the “telos,” or goal, changes. Jesus ends the SoM with “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” This is not only an expectation, it is Temple imagery- the House of God. The presence of YHWH among Israel is dead center of Jesus’ vision in the sermon, Healing, rescuing, forgiving, and redeeming them. But now Jesus himself appears to be the Temple, or its foundation, and the people who are obeying him will later be called “living stones.” The “religion” of the Jews was never a bad thing. Neither was the law. They just needed Incarnation, Messiahship, Resurrection and Spirit in order to be truly effective.

    Sorry for the long answer, I just think about this stuff a lot.


  34. Interesting point! I’m going to mull on that.

    What helps me read the Bible well is not turning it into a “have to do” but a “want to do.” The way I’ve gone about that is not thinking I have to read x-numbers of chapters a day/week, but just stay rooted in a spot until I get a sense it’s time to move on (usually after some sort of A-ha moment).


  35. Lou Engle style. I saw so many IHOPers do this, either reading, praying, prophesying, whatever.



  36. lol, the Bible had a better editor than Tolkien. Guy was great at worldbuilding and poetry and stuff, but he can’t tell a story to save his life…


  37. My first suggestion is to read it for what it is: the praise and prayer of a faithful Jew in ancient times.

    Or a warrior king in the pocket or using the priestly caste to justify and enlarge his kingdom?

    Cynicism, sure, but I think it’s a fair point to address. The Bible is a good antidote to Biblicism, and I have to ask and study and learn everywhere I can.

    Good point about Jesus. But I wonder from which Law he was quoting often, how much he tossed aside himself, and whether or not he was aware of Post-Exile scholars compiling the scriptures. (And did Jesus ever break the Law? Why not, if it was a false Law…)


  38. But it wasn’t law for law’s sake or religion’s sake, it was for the sake of loving others and loving God. Religious laws tend to drift toward being about “doing religion correctly.”


  39. Another shameless quote from Bono: “the worse things in the world are justified by belief”

    Wonder what the formula is between people who “love God’s law” and commit horrendous evil acts.

    SFL had an interesting post about Billy Sunday recently, with a link to a news article from Sunday’s time. You can clearly see Sunday and local businessman using God’s law to screw over the working class and line their pockets. And they were all converts to the Evangelist Sunday and surely did indeed love the Law of the Lord.


  40. I’d love God’s law too if I could use it justify anything I want to do, from owning multiple wives to beheading my enemies.


  41. Of course, most of those laws are bs, time and place type laws for the Israelite nation-state, or half remembered by scholars compiling the OT books while in captivity in Babylon or Post-Exile.

    Context. In some ways, it does become a law vs grace thing.


  42. “Oh but Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law, he just came to fulfill it…and now you can too through the power of the Holy Spirit!”

    “Give me the grace [O Lord] to do as you command, and command me to do what you will! . . . O holy God . . . when your commands are obeyed, it is from you that we receive the power to obey them.”


  43. Exactly this. It is a very important point to NOT read the Scriptures through a law-vs-grace myopia, which distorts so many things.


  44. Thanks for those thoughts, Nate. I’m hoping I’m not coming across as argumentative or “needing to win this,” but I’ll make one more post to keep the dialog and conversation going.

    -> “I’m not convinced that the Pharisees rigor, ritualism, or demands for obedience were exactly what was getting in the way of love and mercy.”

    Perhaps not. But I think it’s easy to see how rigor, ritualism and demands for obedience CAN get in the way of love and mercy. That’s the danger I see with “religion,” and we see it quite often. Hence all the damaged folks in the post-evangelical wilderness, and the none’s and done’s.

    -> “,,,complaints about legalism began to fall flat for me awhile ago when I noticed that Jesus does just about as much “law-giving” as anyone.”

    I posted a list of Jesus “commandments” at on a different comment, but many of Jesus “laws” have nothing to do with keeping the Law, they’re about not doing religion wrong. (My interpretation of many of them. Oh, and check out Jesus’ woe-to-you’s in Matthew 23.)

    -> “Jesus actually commended their scrupulosity in Law observance, even while chastising them for lack of mercy, and for missing the point of the Scriptures they were so scrupulous about (that Jesus was fulfilling those Scriptures before their very eyes.)”

    I believe Jesus’ commendations of Pharisaical scrupulosity were semi-backhanded/sarcastic precisely because of the Pharisees’ lack of mercy. “Good for you! You love your friends. Everyone does that. Loving your enemies? Now there’s the trick.”

    -> “Certainly we abuse all of those things, but I’m not convinced Jesus was in principle cutting them out of the picture.”

    I think my point is that we tend to drift so much toward taking something good and making it bad that we need to be ultra-careful not to let our Christianity turn into all those things that the Pharisees ended up making their religion about. Else Jesus might walk in and say, “My, this is a mighty fine church you have here. Good job! But you did something any architect can do. Where’s your love and mercy?”


  45. -> “After all, he (Jesus) made up his share of rules too.”

    It’d be interesting to look at the list of “rules” Jesus made. Just a guess, but I’d bet a majority of them have to do with “how not to do religion.”


  46. One more quick thing, which may or may not be helpful-

    I’m a huge Middle Earth fan, esp. the Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings. I maintain (though quietly at times :)) that reading and becoming absorbed in Tolkien’s world and epic is teaching me how to read the Bible. I won’t say too much more about how that happened, but just think about it for a minute- reading mythopaeic fantasy helped create in me a grid for Bible reading/interpretation. I don’t have much of a scientific explanation, just that that might be quite unexpected for some people. But I tell you, it works. If you can read great fantasy/mythopaeic fiction well, than you are most of the way to being able to read the Bible well.

    Perhaps it takes some of the super-spirituality out of our expectations of the Bible, and yet retains the best of our capacity for wonder, for story appreciation, especially “controlling story,” and how it deeply affects us. I don’t know, consider it.


  47. “without the Church there would be no Bible.”

    Exactly- that puts paid to the cursed low ecclesiology that is all around us in American Christianity…

    “He sees the Bible as being a unitive force at all levels of endeavor be it in the local community, the Church universal, and throughout the world. He says “We read in union with the whole people of God and so our reading is a source of energy for the whole Church.”

    Isn’t it funny how the Bible, as a source of the strongest possible priority on the goal of unity in the Spirit, is so easily used as a tool of disunity? You would think the intentional impetus of the church would be different than that of the world- towards a prophetically challenging unity, but like dogs to our vomit…


  48. It IS possible to reconcile two sacred Scriptures
    within the Person of Christ:

    ““Oh, how I love your law!” is not cold and ‘biblical’ when it is seen in the light of this:
    “Bear you one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2)


  49. I know what you mean about having a strong reaction against “loving the law.” My first suggestion is to read it for what it is: the praise and prayer of a faithful Jew in ancient times. Don’t necessarily try to figure out what your personal appropriation of it is.

    Second, I’m kind of a geek for the Sermon on the Mount these days. And while I certainly believe Christians can be zealots for the law in all the wrong ways, I can’t shake that Jesus seemed to care about law, and gave a bunch of law himself. The guy that defended the weak and critiqued the power and abusive tendencies was not afraid to dish out instructions in order to establish something new. He did a lot of things, and “law” was among them.

    Free of biblicism? I don’t know exactly, but there are some good suggestions above. Maybe love (or continue to love) the Bible. The Bible is a good antidote to Biblicism, I think. Pay special attention to “how the BIble quotes the Bible.” Because it’s nothing like how Biblicists quote the Bible.


  50. But did Jesus remove religious conviction altogether in response? I think he reshaped it around himself. After all, he made up his share of rules too. Not to mention heassumed that what came before in Judaism/Israel was valuable and designed for fulfillment, rather than for the trash can. The “religion” of brick-and-mortar temple became, not “no-religion” but the “new religion” of flesh and blood temple.


  51. I don’t know, I don’t think Jesus’ challenge was to show up the dichotomy between love and mercy vs. religion. I’ve heard a lot of this as the easy assumption among most evangelicals- that the pharisees were “religious” people who loved laws too much, and were too committed to the institution. Legalists, institutionalists, religious people. All of which most “non-denom” types are trying to pretend they’re not. We have a tendency to make Jesus in our own image. So it’s easy to read that into the Gospels,, but I’m not convinced…

    The problem for me is that none of these seems to be the point of the clash between Jesus and the Pharisees. I’m not convinced that the Pharisees rigor, ritualism, or demands for obedience were exactly what was getting in the way of love and mercy. For one thing, they were not exactly in bed with the Temple hierarchy, and the institutional religion of their day. They were not institutionalists. They were at odds with the Sadducees, and with the king, not to mention Rome. For another, Jesus actually commended their scrupulosity in Law observance, even while chastising them for lack of mercy, and for missing the point of the Scriptures they were so scrupulous about (that Jesus was fulfilling those Scriptures before their very eyes.) And the standard evangelical complaints about legalism began to fall flat for me awhile ago when I noticed that Jesus does just about as much “law-giving” as anyone. Sure the “heart” is important to him as well, but then that’s the case in the OT as well, when YHWH speaks. Nothing truly new there. Yet even so, Jesus doesn’t seem to get as simplistic about it as we like to do- “now that I’m here, you can just get real loosy-goosy about things, as long as you’re heart is right.” No, he’s dishing out the Law like Moses on Mt. Sinai quite often. And he seems to expect his disciples to keep it, too, not just use it as the groundwork for a “worm theology” so they can see how unworthy they are. He even threatens condemnation on the disobedient.

    So what to do, then with the Pharisees? I really think the point they missed was Jesus himself, the coming kingdom, and the fact that the kingdom was leading to a cross and not a military triumph. And to the inclusion of the unclean & the outcast. They missed the trajectory of the Bible- that Israel’s unanswered cries of their Scriptures were finally being answered, albeit not as imagined. That a cryptic wanderer of low birth and a non-violent disposition was actually Messiah, King and Lord. That he didn’t equate obedience to Scripture with closing off the Kingdom to gentiles and ritually unclean. It was a new institution (Kingdom), a new law (Sermon on the Mount), and a new religion (the church and its worship/practices). But those categories were not being chucked over the side in principle, as if they were intrinsically opposed to love and mercy. Certainly we abuse all of those things, but I’m not convinced Jesus was in principle cutting them out of the picture.


  52. I grew up in a Bible church where there was an answer for everything if you knew where to look for it in the bible or what particular verses to cross-reference on any particular topic.

    Did you recite the entire Book from memory in Classic Meccan Arabic while rocking back and forth?


  53. Take advantage of living in the amazing world of opportunity which is the 21st century west – there are opportunities to be active related to just about anything. And nearly all are avenues to do some kind of good.

    Take the Jewish route of “Live Your Life — L’Chaim!” and Tikkun Olam instead of the Islamic route of “It Is Written! It Is Written! It Is Written!”


  54. I agree. I make sure all my wives have their heads covered in public since that is what the Bible says (and they live in a tent during ‘that time of the month’). The Bible says it, I believe it, so that settles it. I also have one hand and one eye. 🙂 And of course, Jesus really is a literal grape vine (John 15:1).


  55. Bob, yes I use the NRSV for study and it is the official church version where I attend (ELCA), but I don’t read it for pleasure. Altho I never did cotton to the old NIV, I did like using Today’s New International Version, still do, probably because it’s publication was such a sharp stick in the eye to many Evangelicals. The 2011 seems to be a reasonable compromise, but none of these has grabbed me for pleasure like this new MEV. Different strokes.


  56. Wow. Luckily he’s such an uncommon name that we can safely criticize his teachings or even discuss them. Try doing that with some more modern gurus and you’ll get your head bit off.


  57. Recently I have been reading Michael Casey’s “Sacred Reading” concerning the Bible and “the ancient art of lectio divina.” One chapter of the book is an attempt to understand the theological basis of lectio. This chapter, for me, has been worth the price of the book. It approaches scripture in a way that I’ve seldom noticed in the Protestant world, bringing into context the Church, the Bible, and the Word made flesh.

    He attempts to make clear his understanding that “without the Church there would be no Bible.” He says “it is the product of the Church’s inspired industry. At the same time, without the Bible there would no Church.” Personally, I have been coming to this understanding for some time now.

    He further states:

    “The Church is the medium in which the Bible grew and outside which it cannot exist. Where there is Bible, to that extent there is Church; where is Church, there in some form the Scriptures must be found. … the Bible is an essential part of what the Church has inherited.”

    Importantly he warns against using the Scriptures in a negative sense, or as ammunition against another whether it be the unbeliever or those in the household of faith. He sees the Bible as being a unitive force at all levels of endeavor be it in the local community, the Church universal, and throughout the world. He says “We read in union with the whole people of God and so our reading is a source of energy for the whole Church.”

    He warns against using the Bible as an instrument of personal power for judgement, coercion, or punishment. Assurance of Scriptural understanding comes when it produces in us love and the fruits of the Spirit. Alienation and disunity do not derive from God’s word.

    Probably few of will aspire to read at levels that can be recognized as “lectio divina.” However we can all benefit from a sound theological basis in recognizing the profundity of Scripture in relationship to the Church.


  58. “Oh, how I love your law!”

    Stuart, I have a strong gut reaction against that verse as translated and many others like it. I have dealt with this by substituting in my mind “teaching” for “law”, which I believe is much closer to the original intent than our convoluted and painful American legal culture.


  59. Here’s another sort of experience with the Bible that might register with some people here at some level, I dunno.

    I spent nearly all my youth and college years in the AG, the latter part as a PK. My experience was almost entirely positive, and like CM, I’m grateful for the opportunities to learn the Bible in great detail.

    In my particular experience, however, “great detail” has a more specific meaning. In the AG at that time, and perhaps still today, Teen Bible Quiz was pretty popular with a lot of us studious types. In that denomination’s, er, fellowship’s version, the annual focus was on a major book or series of smaller epistles. My friends and I went all-in. Turns out that, given enough time, you really can memorize entire books of the Bible verbatim without being a mnemonic freak of nature. It just takes a lot of work, which we did because we liked the competitions and traveling all over to quiz meets. Possibly also meeting girls at said meets too, I don’t know.

    But here’s the thing, which makes me really scratch my head all these years later. While I loved learning about just any subject under the sun — archaeology, physics, history, Larry Bird — I could not be bothered to actually study the Bible as a student would. Memorize it, yes. Take it seriously, yes. “Believe in it,” yes.

    But it just wasn’t something that seemed like I could “dive into” like I could with any other subject.

    This is preposterous to me now, of course: What other book can compare in its layered complexity?! Which, I think, is precisely the point. The degree to which the Bible was supposed to simply be there with all the answers was precisely the degree to which it didn’t seem worth studying in depth.

    I don’t think my attitude was common, and it wasn’t even something I noticed at the time. The Ken Hams of the world are worried that young people won’t stick around because they’re not sufficiently exposed to literal interpretations of the Bible, but sometimes the literalism is precisely what makes the whole tradition seem intellectually sterile.

    I’m just glad that many others back where I was from DIDN’T have that attitude and remain enthralled with the Scriptures. Good on them.


  60. Charles,
    I thought as one who transitions from Evangelicalism would pick up the Mainline favorite NRSV and leave behind the exclusive male gendered versions. I guess the NIV2011 is more mainstream


  61. It was in the dysfunctional, highly dispensational church where I first heard the Gospel preached and that the Spirit used to reach me, that I was taught that we weren’t followers of any religion, even our denomination, but of Christ himself.

    Of all the messed up things that happened afterwards and how the church imploded and was taken over by another church, God kept leading me to follow Christ in other venues outside this church. He put me in a Bible “club” in our high school with over 40 folks participating who loved Christ but attended different churches. I participated in teaching children in the summer, and yes it was very fundy at times but we were focused on the kids and the love of God for them and their families. I went to a Christian college that wasn’t affiliated with any denomination and was exposed to much good teaching from the core of evangelicalism.

    Maybe the key was that my Christian experience wasn’t tied to one church but to the other believers I met along the way. The young people who reached outside their church experience and got involved with other believers are the ones who persisted in belief into adulthood.

    Anyway, despite its failings I am still in an evangelical church, but it’s small, has a good heart and a proper focus. I know I am blessed.


  62. +1. Good advice.

    So many “stuck” people don’t realize that just doing something for someone else tends to relieve the “stuck-ness.” (This is advice I try myself, so I’m not pointing fingers…LOL.) I think the difficulty is that it’s so counter-intuitive and difficult; when you’re mired in your own issues and problems and doubt, it’s counter-intuitive to push yourself (myself) to help others and move out of the focus on self.


  63. This is all so true. And reading all of your journeys is proof I’m not alone. Thank God! I’ve gone from evangelical non-denominational; and having a desire to be more “literal’ to a dispensational denomination only to not recognize many of their teachings as biblical. then to a confessional reformed denomination which I found as being biblical and solid. I found there however, that I was not able to mold my life around what was in the confession. I could not get away from working on the Sabbath and felt left out. Right or wrong it is just the way my cookie crumbled. Add that to the hurts involved with leadership in all three and it has left a sour taste. I know most days my Lord is faithful. I don’t feel His presence much, but that is ok. I’ve often asked God why He exposed me to so much and yet wants me to be faithful. As Brennan Manning has said, one needs not figure how the ass got in the ditch, just get the ass out of the ditch. (paraphrase) Maybe I should take that advice…when I’m ready.


  64. I suggest you read the gospel accounts again, and more closely. Jesus’ run-ins with the Pharisees are head-on tension between following religious principles versus showing love/mercy. Showing love/mercy trumps religion every time. This carries over to Christians today in a big way. Are you going to let religious principles (aka the TRUTH) get in the way of showing love and mercy to someone who doesn’t appear to deserve it? I don’t know what else you call that except Christ trying to lead us away from religiosity and Churchianity.


  65. I bought a three dollar King James back when I was studying Herbert W. Armstrong’s take on things in the early 70’s. Herbert used to quote a Bible passage and say, “Don’t take my word for it, read it for yourself!” Always turned out he was right, but then I started reading above and below what he quoted and the picture changed. Remarkably.

    After I had moved on from Herbert and ended up saying Yes to God, I thought it made sense to read the whole Bible, family trees and laundry lists and all, every last word, in order not to get bamboozled with something taken out of context. Still makes sense to me. I first read that old KJV complete, front to back, then started over again with a different translation, and kept this up for probably five times thru, maybe six or seven, it’s been a long time.

    Then I stopped doing that, tho I didn’t stop studying. My BS detector still goes off when someone says something is in the Bible that just ain’t so or is severely out of context. I cannot imagine being at the mercy of some teacher or expounder without having read every single word from several different translational perspectives. Interesting to me is that I seem to have recently started reading it completely thru again after a hiatus of thirty years or more. We’ll see.

    The kickstart for this was getting a new translation, which it turns out I really like for personal use, the Modern English Version, a redo of the King James intended to retain the music of that version without the stumbling blocks of obsolete language. In my view it succeeds and it avoids the pitfalls associated with that fundamentalist wing of the church that insists on KJV only. I don’t know why, but I have never been able to get into the New King James Version, perhaps like the NIV its Evangelical associations. The MEV intentionally tries to do better while recognizing that most of the appeal of the KJV has been in its music. I have not memorized Scripture since the early years because I have never found a translation that seemed memorable and the King James is simply out of touch with present reality, but that may change now. Here’s the passage CM quotes above from the Modern English Version, not all that much different, and yet totally so:

    “My son, if you will receive my words, and hide my commandments within you, so that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding; yes, if you cry out for knowledge, and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.” Proverbs 2:1-5, MEV


  66. Thanks, Forest, I’ve been in your position and understand. I like your description of what should be happening in our churches: “Allowing ourselves to hear God speaking to us as God has spoken to us for centuries.”


  67. Good advice, Adam. The anthem we need is the Indigo Girls’ “Hammer and Nail,” part of which is copied below:

    Clearing webs from the hovel
    a blistered hand on the handle of a shovel
    I’ve been digging too deep, I always do.
    I see my face on the surface
    I look a lot like narcissus
    A dark abyss of an emptiness
    Standing on the edge of a drowning blue.
    I look behind my ears for the green
    Even my sweat smells clean
    Glare off the white hurts my eyes
    Gotta get out of bed get a hammer and a nail
    Learn how to use my hands, not just my head
    I think myself into jail
    Now I know a refuge never grows
    From a chin in a hand in a thoughtful pose
    Gotta tend the earth if you want a rose.
    I had a lot of good intentions
    Sit around for fifty years and then collect a pension,
    Started seeing the road to hell and just where it starts.
    But my life is more than a vision
    The sweetest part is acting after making a decision
    I started seeing the whole as a sum of its parts.


  68. It seems like a very “enlightened” mentality.
    Rules or structure or anything that tells you right or wrong must be considered stifling or very
    un-free thinking. A quote from the early enlightenment period.
    “Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!”


  69. Thank you for the very thoughtful and reflective post today. I have been pondering my experiences at my home church from many years ago. A church that taught me many wonderful things about our faith, practices and convictions that serve me well today. Though I look at this church today, I can barely see the wonderful and nurturing place it use to be and only see a place where “winning” the theological argument has become more important that following Jesus. Using the Word of God as a weapon to crush the opposing side, rather than allowing ourselves to hear God speaking to us as God has spoken to us for centuries. Others desire to behave badly within the church by demanding they are the ones who are “right”, makes it difficult to share with others the joy of following Jesus, because they assume I am just like those others who hate them. Thanks again, much to pray and ponder about today.


  70. A book that helped me gain some comfort with the different depictions of God in the scriptures is “The Bible Tells Me So”, by Peter Enns (http://www.amazon.com/The-Bible-Tells-Defending-Scripture/dp/0062272020/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1433850995&sr=1-1)

    One of the points he makes is that the ancient Hebrews had an expectation to struggle with scripture, which is one of the reasons they placed books like 1 & 2 Kings and Chronicles next to each other in the scriptures. They tell the same story, but in different voices and emphases.


  71. I don’t have a great knowledge of the Bible, but I know enough of the it to understand that I’ll never be fully comfortable with the Bible. God as he’s depicted in parts of the Bible can go from lovingly tender to psychotically destructive in an instant, and though I’ve tried to develop ways to understand the texts that neutralize this murderously mercurial divine characteristic, I’m never fully convinced by my own mitigating interpretations, and I always have at least a sub-current of unease as I read many texts of the Bible.

    At the same time, the Bible is where I encounter the Church’s earliest memories and descriptions of Jesus Christ, and I’m unable to live without these living and dynamic portraits. I think about Jesus every day, I pray to him, I put my weak and uncertain hope ultimately in him. It will be this way to the end of my life.

    I need Jesus Christ, so I’m stuck with the Bible. Jesus is the Lion and Lamb lying down together in God’s holy mountain; in him there is no more hurting or killing, but forgiveness and reconciliation for all. I read the entire Bible through this lens: whatever points to the shalom of God, as has been and is and will be, is what I sustain myself on; whatever contradicts this shalom I respectfully set aside. That’s my personal hermeneutic.


  72. > how can I be completely free of biblicism? as well as the hyped up reaction to “wrong” things?

    My advice is just-do-something. Activity is the best counter against the tangled head-trip left over from Theology; it is the only way to get out of your head and into reality, and in reality so many of these issues just fade away.

    Take advantage of living in the amazing world of opportunity which is the 21st century west – there are opportunities to be active related to just about anything. And nearly all are avenues to do some kind of good.


  73. And if you do come up with the “correct Christian answers”, they’re still culturally conditioned. Richard Baxter wrote a book called A Christian Directory in the 1600’s, meant to provide the perfect guidance for any given life situation. It weighs in at over 800 pages. You’d probably be horrified to read it.

    And the punchline? It’s still in print.


  74. OK, but what was the grounding/justification for the Pharisees’ rankings? Their religious convictions. They weren’t making up all those rules just because they were bored…


  75. “””becomes easier to live when the complicated decisions of life have already been made once and for all”””

    This is what drove me away – it doesn’t. Dispensationalist, et al, with all its complex schemes and systems…. it doesn’t answer any of the questions about life. It is not helpful. It does not [or did not] help me decide what to do today; people’s application of it to answer actual questions of life such as vocation, relationship, association, etc… are tenuous at best. Ultimately does this explains Evangelicalism’s penchant for cultural isolationism? Because their system just doesn’t help with life, it doesn’t help someone interface with ‘the world’ [aka where we live our lives, aka those Billions of other people – many of whom are amazing].

    So much of Theology can be readily be dismissed with a “and so?”.


  76. > following closely after him might lead us AWAY from religiosity and Churchianity and denominationalism

    However, Christs confrontations with the Pharisees wasn’t about about “religiosity”; it was not about works or ritual [this has been discussed several times on this site]. This meme of the Pharisees is painted far to widely and has almost become a trope. His confrontation with the Pharisees was about their using works to establish rank, to deny dignity to the other, and their lack of mercy – it wasn’t about “religiosity”. It is too easy to use the Pharisee trope to place the blame on ‘the institutional church’, or demoninations, etc…

    Not that religiosity can’t be a bad thing, but it is a different kind of thing.


  77. I look forward to these conversations. I grew up in a Bible church where there was an answer for everything if you knew where to look for it in the bible or what particular verses to cross-reference on any particular topic. I can remember one of the elders coming into our junior high class to teach us the facts about dispensationalism. It took me longer than I care to admit to realize how much of this “theology” was based on human interpretation and opinion. I think there are many people who highly value order and consistency, and so the “Christian life” becomes easier to live when the complicated decisions of life have already been made once and for all. It’s a bit more unsettling to go to The Word and have a discourse with Him than it is to go to the word for a cut-and-dried answer. As a young adult, probably well into my 30’s, I had all the answers. At 53…I mostly have questions.


  78. -> “So, million dollar question: how can I be completely free of biblicism?”

    Maybe it’s with the recognition that the Bible’s purpose is to point to Jesus, and not the other way around…LOL. (Kinda like “the Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath.”)


  79. CM, can the last post in this series have some amazon links to currently recommended books on all the subjects this series is covering? leading off with mere churchianity, of course, lol


  80. Oh, how I love your law!
    It is my meditation all day long.
    • Psalm 119:97, NRSV

    I hate that verse. It is wrapped up in lifelong biblicism for me.

    So, million dollar question: how can I be completely free of biblicism? as well as the hyped up reaction to “wrong” things?

    I just wrote this into my notes app on my phone, sort of a self-realization this evening:

    “I hunger for learning. I want to always be learning about things that interest me, and I want to share that learning. I want to live my life with someone with the same hunger, because sharing together we grow in learning. I feed off people’s knowledge and the sharing of it with them. I’ve always been a guy who shares things with others, shares too many things, and that has scared off people. I’ve also hated having people share things constantly with me that I’m not interested in myself. It’s the same.”

    I love sharing. I love giving. I love helping. I love learning.

    no deeper thought than this, just trying to work things out, figure out what i want to do with my life, who i am, etc, lol


  81. Starting as a literalist, then moving on to fundamentalist, followed by biblicist/reformed theology, I now find myself in a land of wide horizons and am blessed that I am in a church that allows me to bring up ways of thinking about scripture that are not the “same old’ same old”, as long as I do not actively teach against the denomination’s stated doctrine.

    At times, I DO chafe at the boundaries, but it IS refreshing to hear attendees say “I never really looked at it that way before!” after discussing the not so usual.

    We do not worship the book, we worship who the book points to. The Book is NOT a set of rules, nor a “manual” that we must follow, but a record of how God has dealt with mankind, and what these dealings have revealed to us about who He is.

    To really study the bible is to continually change.


  82. -> “What I want to point out in this post is an irony: the irony that my evangelical background set down a root in my life that eventually led me to grow away from evangelicalism.”

    Similar experience. I used to be all about the Bible. But as I reflect upon my walk, I think my love for the word (little w, as in the Bible) has led to a greater love for the Word (big w, as in Jesus). So while it might seem ironic, it also makes sense how a deeper studying of the word would lead to a deeper understanding of the Word, and how a love for the Bible might turn into a love for Christ.

    Also, as I reflect upon yesterday’s post and Jesus’ clashes with the Pharisees and the religion of his day, doesn’t it make sense that following closely after him might lead us AWAY from religiosity and Churchianity and denominationalism and ingrained theologies? Shouldn’t it be more concerning if we find ourselves becoming rooted in a certain, specific way aka “truth”?


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