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Finding God in the Story of Your Life

Of babies and bathwater

“In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.”

This quote, often attributed to Augustine, is believed to have been actually penned by a seventeenth century German Lutheran theologian, Rupertus Meldenius, urging Christians to get along with one another during a bitter war that started because of differences in theology.

Of course, today, Christians argue over which things are essentials and which are not. They don’t even have unity about which things to have unity about. Especially in online forums or blog comments, their disagreements are nothing close to charitable.

Most Christians would agree that the Bible is essential to our faith. And yet–we can disagree on what the Bible means.

well read bible

When we get confused on the essentials, one unfortunate result is that people simply dismiss Christianity as false. When we claim that certain beliefs—such as believing Genesis to be a science textbook that demands we accept that the world was created in six 24-hour days—are essentials, many thinking people, viewing the evidence to the contrary, give up on Christianity.

Or, when we take certain verses from Paul’s letters and decide that they “clearly” restrict the roles of women in the church, despite the fact that other verses suggest otherwise, many thinking women leave the church, and leave faith. They think, if that’s what Christianity is about, I’m not interested.

To use an old cliché, they throw the baby out with the bathwater.

bath babyBut is that really necessary?

I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, and I believe in Jesus Christ, who was fully divine and fully human (a mystery we cannot fully grasp), I believe in his death and resurrection, and that we are saved by grace alone.

I also believe that the Bible teaches (among other things) that women should have full and equal participation in the workings of the church. I’m a Jesus Feminist. I also believe that God created the world but engaged any number of processes to do so, including, at times, evolution. I don’t ignore the Bible on either of these, I simply interpret it differently than some others do.

You can believe in the Bible, and also that the earth is billions of years old and still believe that God created it and continues to be involved in it. You can believe in the Bible, and also believe, along with theologian N.T. Wright, that the Bible calls women into full participation.  You can believe that Scripture is right, but some people interpret it wrongly, and you don’t have to give up on the Bible or on faith if you do so.

You can believe in the Bible, but also believe that YEC-ers (Young Earth Creationists) are incorrect in their interpretation of the Bible, as are complementarians—especially extremist ones who do things like counsel women to stay in abusive relationships.

What if the Bible is true, but people’s interpretation of it is sometimes be utterly false? Just look at Fred Phelps, a pastor who died this week, leaving a legacy of hating homosexuals, which he claimed he did on the basis of the Bible. Most thinking Christians would disagree with this extremist, because he has incorrectly interpreted Scripture, and deeply misunderstood the nature and heart of God.

Though some may have rejected Christianity because of Phelps and his congregation at Westboro, most realized that he was an extremist who misrepresented Christianity, the Bible, and what it means to live it out.

My question is, what do you do with difficult passages of Scripture? Do you:

  • accept the interpretation you’ve always heard without question? (Possibly because you are afraid to question?)
  • decide you don’t believe certain passages of Scripture (an ultimately dissatisfying decision because then how do you decide which passages you do believe)?
  • dismiss Christianity as untrue and irrelevant, because you can’t accept its “teachings,” and walk away?

What if some of the things you’ve always heard are actually incorrect interpretations? What if the text is true, but our understanding of it is flawed? What if some Christian “teachings” are based on misinterpretations?

 Leave a comment(be civil and logical, please–haters will be deleted):  if you attend a church that teaches things you disagree with, how do you respond? What specifics about the Bible or Christianity raise questions for you?

Leave a comment  before 5 p.m. Central time Saturday, March 22 (yes that’s less than 24 hours from now!) and be entered in a drawing to win a one of two copies of Deeper into the Word: Reflections on 100 New Testament Words. (a book currently available only in ebook versions except here at keriwyattkent.com). Two winners will be chosen from those who comment and leave me a way to get in touch!

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8 Comments

  1. If you believe in God and His ultimate creation of all then you have to wonder that maybe He created (allowed) flawed humans also. The Bible also says too much wine is wrong but yet alcoholism is more prevalent than homosexuality. Does God hate the alcoholic or adulterer? No He loves us ALL unconditionally. That is hard to accept sometimes because we want kudos for living a clean life. Also, the Bible mentions many behaviors that are not good for us but says nothing about not letting those who struggle with those into His church.

    • Great points, Dena. Thanks for joining the conversation. God did allow us to have a will–with which we can follow him or not–and none of us does that perfectly. But if we didn’t have the capacity to choose the wrong thing, we also couldn’t choose the right. God, I think (though I could be wrong) wanted relationship that was freely chosen, not robotic. So he gave us a choice, knowing we might break his heart. And as you said, he loves us all unconditionally, and takes the risk that we might (or might not) love him back. And I agree, the church should be a place where flawed sinners gather and try to love each other the way God does.

    • Dena
      You’ve won a book for leaving a comment! Look for an email from me!

  2. You say it well – we can’t agree on what is essential and what is not. It seems that being inquisitive (asking questions, not getting “settled in” in our understanding) combined with the humility of listening to understand rather than rebut are essential for this journey. Those two things are quite absent from a lot of online dialogue. Thanks for raising this issue, which in turn, raises so many others. Peace.

    • Thanks Tom, and thanks for joining the conversation. I hope you’ll visit again.

    • Tom, you’re also a winner. Look for an email from me, and send me a mailing address, so that I can send you a free book!

  3. Great points, Keri. They remind me of how Paul put it when he was dealing with those who might hold a contrary view: “All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” (Philippians 3:15.)

    When you asked how I read the Bible, the answer for me is that I read it literarily (even wrote a whole blog post on that one). Understanding genre and context have given me more insight into the inspired words of God. I am so grateful for the Spirit’s guidance to believers in reading Scripture.

    Cheers,
    Tim

    P.S. Your post also touches on two things I’ll be getting at in posts this week: how to respond to the passing of Fred Phelps, and what it means to stereotype Christians (and atheists, for that matter) based on what a few of us do and say.

    P.P.S. I really enjoyed the Old Testament volume of Deeper into the Word. I bet the NT version is just as good.

  4. Oh yes, I forgot to answer the question on taking the Bible literally…or out of context. I believe the Bible literally but again the context must be framed. Such as who was writing the scripture and where and in what circumstances. When I encounter a question such as if women should be allowed in leadership in a church, I pray and ask God for clarity and truth on that question. I try to be patient waiting for the answer because it usually does come forth. I believe an “open mind” to God helps us to see the answers God give us. I know the phrase “open mind” has been abused. And the more my desire to know and understand Scripture has helped guide me to those answers. Thank you for a very thought provoking post. I truly enjoy it. Blessings to you and your family.

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