Opinions on faith and life

Re-Setting the Anchor

2009-06-20

Not long ago I wrote about how we as Christians have cut away the anchor, and today I’d like to expand on that. Once again I see in online discussions the lie that there is no such thing as objective, absolute truth, or that we can treat the Bible like putty moldable to suit individual taste. So here I go again.

Christianity has become almost a generic term for western religion. So many conflicting and mutually-exclusive beliefs are rolled into one big package that it resembles something we might call a “religious illusion”. Alice of Wonderland fame would surely be muttering “curiouser and curiouser”.

While I’m well familiar with the human propensity for skipping merrily through life believing contradictory things, this is truly a matter of eternal life and death when it comes to our immortal souls. We cannot take a “tolerant” attitude toward truths that determine our eternal destiny. We have to do better than to just pretend all views, no matter how they contradict each other, are equally valid.

And how are we to settle this and get out of this “wonderland”? We need an objective Truth that never changes, yet that lives and breathes (Heb. 4:12). We need more than each person saying God told them this or that, especially when it would mean God continually contradicts Himself. We need a non-human arbiter.

I nominate the Bible.

And while no one disputes the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of every believer, we cannot keep falling for the false dilemma that declares the written Word and the Spirit to be mutually exclusive entities. If, as we believe, the Bible is the Word of God, inspired by the same divine Spirit as that which indwells each believer, then there can never be conflict between them. They are one Voice, one Truth. And since the perfect message of the Spirit is being given to imperfect receivers as we are, we must rely on what is written in order to keep from being tossed with the waves of every idea floating around.

So it is vital that we as Christians first of all agree on this objective Truth as being the Word of God that it is. As long as we harbor doubt about this, we are wasting our time discussing anything it says. This is how we know God beyond our fallible hunches and feelings. This is history and example, teaching and warning, motivation and hope from none other than God. This is the reliable Witness to the resurrection of the real, historical, Jesus. We ignore it or trivialize it or allegorize it at our peril.

Yet even among those of us who do revere the Bible as the Holy Word of God, many have the misguided notion that it is merely a collection of codes or disjointed sayings, as if we are examining a dead specimen in a laboratory. There is a time and place for that, regarding the study of the text as we would any other so we can know the words and their possible meanings. But we can’t stop there. We can never know this Word without remembering that it is a living entity from the eternal living God.

[Please note that this is NOT like calling the US Constitution a “living document” we can bend and contort any way we want. Rather, the Bible lives because it comes from God who never changes, but who does make concessions at various times to our human frailty (Heb. 1:1-2, Ps. 103:14).]

That is why we cannot do a wooden “plain reading” on one extreme, nor a “what this verse means to me” on the other. As we all should know from reading ordinary documents today in our own language, there is much that can be lost without extreme care and diligent study. Why else do we need lawyers and judges to decipher our own writings? What may seem plain to one person may be an obvious bit of nonsense to another. And these truths do not dissipate when we come to scripture. (2 Peter 3:16)

We do need experts to tell us the possible range of meanings of words and phrases and figures of speech. But not even they are “infallible interpreters”. Can we say the Spirit only gives insight to the educated? Then why do we shut out some from having any voice in discussing scripture, merely on the basis of the flesh or worldly credentials? It is not conceit to “test all things”, to be like the Bereans who scrutinized the teachings of Paul. But it certainly is conceit to try and silence or belittle “the least of these”. (Acts 4:13)

So if we ever want to truly study the Bible without personal bias or dividing up the Body because we can’t tell the disputable from the plain, we have to get this foundation right. And we have to stop brushing people off because they dare to call our favorite experts wrong, and stop trying to give God a split personality (the OT God vs. the NT God), or simplistically thinking that love and justice are hopelessly incompatible. God is not one-dimensional, and neither is His Word.

2 Comments

Greg Anderson

Good stuff Paula, and if I’m understanding you correctly, this post is about the dangers of extremes on both sides of the fulcrum?

Theological liberalism on the one hand, where we "know" that "rationally" the virgin birth is just not any more possible than rising from the dead, and that much of the Biblical text is nothing more than spiritual allegory.

And on the other extreme, where radical fundamentalism, even of the Christian variety, could produce a despotism every bit as debilitating as anything the Mullahs in Iran could come up with.

I hope I’m not off base or off topic.

Paula Fether

Once again, Greg, thanks for your kind words. And yes, this is about extremism and false dichotomies. It’s pretty much the same point as I made earlier about "halflings", only more focused on how professing believers view the scriptures.

I don’t know about you, but I see this getting worse all the time. No matter what I say or how I say it, they go on believing either that love is incompatible with justice, or truth is incompatible with spirituality. I try to explain that both are needed, that there is a balance point between them, but it doesn’t seem to be working. Only those like yourself who already see it agree with me on this.

Nope, you’re not off-topic buddy. :-)