Over the last few months I have had some very interesting conversations on my travels both within and outside Medway.
In particular I have found myself in ‘debate’ with Christians who have a very legalistic view of our faith. I guess I am on sensitive ground here as I don’t want to berate or get into the whole ‘I’m right and you are wrong’ crap that flies around Christianity far too much. But I do, somehow, want to start a dialogue over how we live out our faith. It seems to be that there is a significant section (I have not researched enough to be able to say significant ‘minority’, significant ‘majority’ … so ‘section’ will have to do) of Christians that will excuse any behaviour by simply saying ‘well it is scriptural’ or ‘it is in the bible’.
The Bible is important. The Bible is the word of God. In that sense I am still a good evangelical; but we still need to ask what does that mean. I mean, when we say this is the word of God, what do we actually mean by that?
Do we mean that these words come direct from the mouth of Creator God and so cannot be altered in any way and are totally, irrevocably 100% to be adhered to the the exact infinite letter? Well … if we do there is a slight problem of age and culture to get around there. The most recent parts of scripture are some 2000 years old … and a lot more is older. This means this whole question is not as easy as some people would have us think.
I want to share a little incident from home that is relevant here. Around the dinner table recently one of my children said ‘that’s sick’. In translation he meant ‘it was brilliant, or cool, or amazing’. Only few years ago, ‘that’s sick’ would have meant ‘gross, horrible, or maybe ugly’. In the space of just a few years one word ‘sick’ is being used in a totally different, and maybe even opposite, way than it used to be used.
If we were to write down that conversation and it was read in a few hundred years, let alone thousands of years, would the people have any idea what we were talking about? Would they have to try and second guess what was being said? Would they understand that ‘sick’ meant ‘amazing?’
There are plenty of other word we can use that we may or may not know what people were saying when they wrote them: cool, gay, yellow, slate, slag, waste, ace, acid, dabs, deck, dipstick, pad …. the list can go on and on and on.
I do believe the Bible is the word of God … but I do also believe it was written by humans who had only the language of their time and culture to be able to express what God was telling them. So, our task in discovering what it means requires that, first, we try to work out and consider what was being said at the time it was written – and that only comes after the complicated process of translation because (shock horror!) the Bible was not written in English ….. not even in 1662 BCP type English! Here a knowledge of the culture and history of the time becomes very helpful, and I would say vital.
For me, as well, there are some clear standards and attributes that go with God and so I believe that what the Bible ‘says’ should mirror who God ‘is’. Surely that must be the case … mustn’t it?
I believe Jesus came to earth and that we can look to Jesus to see what God is like. Jesus being God in flesh is a pretty orthodox Christian belief (100% human and 100% God – too big for my brain to get around … but God is God!).
From the gospels we that Jesus is compassionate, loving and inclusive. So it follows simply that God is compassionate, loving and inclusive. It then follows in my mind that any interpretation from the bible for relevance today that is not compatible with those values does not fit with who God is. If biblical interpretation does not fit with the character of God then I query whether we have interpreted correctly.
So … it is not as straight forward as it may seem. I do not believe we can simply say ‘the bible says x and so we have to do y’ and then believe we are ok and right. I think it is more about finding out what the bible said then in a particular time and culture and why and then bringing that same practice into the here and now and living a way that displays the compassion, love and inclusivity of God. After all … there is no point being ‘right’ if the way we live is crap, discriminatory and abusive!
But saying all that … I refer to my opening remarks … I could very well be wrong … and I’d love to know what others who come here think …