Sunday Meditations: What to Do with Bible Knowledge

“When you already know what the Bible says, it’s incredibly difficult to hear it.  Things that fit the framework add to it, strengthen it, and flesh out the details, but things that don’t fit the framework tend to slide on by.”

“I believe that Christians today have a hard time truly hearing God speak through the Scriptures because they already know what He has to say to them.  The Scriptures are familiar.  We don’t even have to crack a Bible open to tell you the gist.”

“No One of Consequence” has brought up some valid observations concerning what I would call “doctrinal certitude.” What the church, especially on the conservative side, has done with western theology, is basically try to build a supposedly airtight framework, or box to put, not only our belief set into, but God Himself into. When questions are raised, or inconsistencies pointed out, the “true believer” resorts to referring to this framework as incontrovertible “truth” in refuting any doubts.

What is either ignored or out of ignorance, omitted, is that Western Christian theology has been filtered through the thinking of many, many men, over a long period of time, and often times quite removed from the original “sitz im leben.” Often the retort, “this is what the Bible says,” is more accurately what Augustine, or Calvin or the Princeton School of Theology said about the particular passage. We have largely lost the ability, due to many theological presumptions, errors in translation and our nature of confirmation bias, to rightly “divide the word of God.”

I found the following helpful.

Letters to the Next Creation

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how I’d been thinking about our/my overestimation of the value of knowledge about the Bible and its contents.  Knowledge about the Bible’s contents, its historical context, the languages, exegesis, hermeneutics – these things are just not the big deal we tend to make them in the West.  There are several things the Bible itself holds up as more valuable than knowledge and even has its fair share of warnings that knowledge carries a serious – nearly inevitable – danger of producing pride.  Yes, pride: a top-tier sin in its own right that gives birth to innumerable others.

This has been an uncomfortable phase of my journey because I have a lot of identity, self-worth, and ego wrapped up in knowing and teaching stuff about the Bible.  For most of my life, it’s the main asset I’ve had to offer the church. …

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9 thoughts on “Sunday Meditations: What to Do with Bible Knowledge

  1. I have just been introduced to your blog and I’ve not yet read any of your other posts.
    I left school when I was 17 – I’m now 83 – and I’ve never had any formal theological training.
    I have never been an Evangelical and for over 20 years now I have been an outside observer of Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism especially in America.

    I sometimes refer to ‘my journey through Christendom’. If you look at the introduction to my blog without some background knowledge of that journey you are unlikely to make any sense of where I’m coming from.

    Please have a look at this first:
    https://outsidethegoldfishbowl.wordpress.com/an-outside-observer/

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  2. As someone who has never had any formal theological training but who has spent many years in the School of Hard Knocks I found this to be an exciting read.
    I hope the author will not be put off by some of my thoughts that go beyond the bounds of traditional Christian thinking. That’s all been a work-in-progress for over 45 years.

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    • Peter, I have enjoyed your blog immensely, and although our backgrounds are different, we seem to be landing in similar territory. Christendom in Europe has been dead for a century or more and is dying in America (although fundamentalist keep trying to revive the corpse). I am reading Diana Butler Bass’ “Christianity After Religion,” as well as Harvey Cox’s “The Future of Faith,” Greg Boyd’s “The Myth of a Christian Nation” and Robert P. Jones’ “The End of White Christian America.” Christianity as it has been lived in the past no longer answers questions the world is asking. Early followers of Christ were known as followers of “The Way.” The world knew them by the way they lived, not by their doctrines. In the 21st century a more bare-bones church that pushes past doctrinal differences and recognizes the diversity of creation and humanity must emerge or the church will slide into obscurity. For many denominations I fear it is too late.

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  3. Christianity After Religion by Diana Butler Bass was a real turning point for me. Diana is a historian who was sacked by an Evangelical College for asking questions. She was subsequently ordained as an Episcopal Priest. She knows both sides of the Christian ‘divide’. I had been under pressure to conform to an Evangelical view of Christendom. Diana cleared the air for me. Although my wife still attends church I stopped attending about 10 years ago.

    A lot happened after that, much of which I have referred to on my blog. Diana subsequently wrote “Grounded”. I didn’t read it at the time but subsequently listened to three podcasts where she was talking about the book. Until then I had never been aware of the idea of a three tier universe. Some 50 years ago I had been told that I couldn’t ask the question, “What is the purpose of life?”. A few weeks ago I was told that I couldn’t ask the question, “Who, What or Where is God?” because the question is unanswerable. I spent some time thinking about that and sensed that one of the most significant questions that we as believers can ask is “Where is God?”. That’s just an idea that I’d like to explore. What do you think?

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    • I’m not convinced “where is God,” is the starting point. Certainly in religions that claim divine revelation, I.e., God revealing Himself, they start with God, but I am leaning more in the direction of self as the starting point. “Who am I?” “How do I fit into this crazy, diverse and confusing thing we call ‘life?’” Of course, this is scary for evangelicals due, in large part, to the negative self image we have inherited from Calvin. But ultimately religion, even evangelicalism, is a search for self validation.

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      • I would agree that “Where is God?” is not a starting point. I realise that this is an over simplification but Evangelicalism is based literally on the Bible being the Word of God and an emphasis on the place of heaven and hell. As a former Anglican (Episcopalian) I had never seen it that way – I had never seen God as that “Grandfather in the sky”.

        I really like your question, “Who am I and how do I fit into this crazy thing called life?”. Maybe we just don’t fit into what we have been taught?

        I would question whether Evangelicalism is a search for self validation. Isn’t it those who are drawn away from Evangelicalism (and other forms of the Christian RELIGION) that begin their real search for the meaning of life?

        I sense we have a lot of common ground – where do we start?

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      • I think the logical place to start is Jesus. But not the Jesus we have been taught about…not the White Jesus. Not the Jesus who supports wars, the death penalty and subordination of women. However, to get to the real, original Jesus, and what he meant by the Kingdom of God, and what he meant when he said “if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father,” we have to understand what the Bible is, and what it isn’t. What does the Bible provide, and what it doesn’t provide. Hint: it’s not an answer book, it’s a book that raises questions.
        I’m not sure anyone fits into what they’ve been taught. Evangelicals merely ignore the fact that what they’ve been taught about the Bible doesn’t square up with reality, isn’t practical and in the end, doesn’t look much like Jesus. I think in the end, everyone wants to “belong” to something bigger than themselves, but unfortunately the tendency is to make sure we only include “our kind” in the group we seek to belong to…the main problem with almost all religions. Tribalism?
        I think too, we have to ask ourselves, what of value and relevance can we retain of religion (I tend to think of spirituality rather than religion)? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? Sans the rituals, dogmatics and power struggles? Even, can one be a follower of Jesus, yet not a Christian in the traditional sense? So much to ponder. Reading “How the Bible Actually Works” now, by Pete Enns. Peace.

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