"then wilt thou not be loath to leave this Paradise, but shalt possess a paradise within thee, happier far. Let us descend now therefore from this top of speculation; for the hour precise exacts our parting hence" Paradise Lost, Book XII, lines585-590

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Because the Bible tells me so, NOT

I was listening to the radio yesterday, and I heard just a brief outtake of a man telling the
story of conversation with his brother. They were speaking of the biblical story of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, and there’s a line that says the sun stood still for a whole day.

                    Joshua 10:13 -  “And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until the
                    nation had avenged themselves of their enemies. Is not this written
                    in the book of Jashar? And the sun stayed in the midst of heaven, and

                    hasted not to go down about a whole day.”
And on the radio, the man asks his brother if he really believed that God would stop the planet spinning and suspend all sort of laws of Physics.  And the brother replies, if I doubt this where do I stop?

Where do I stop?  This kind of reliance on the Bible for faith, this focus on scripture as the locus of faith, is, in my mind, one of the bad fruits of the Protestant Reformation.  As an Anglican, the official party line is that the Bible contains all things necessary for salvation.  Now, I understand what that is intended to mean, that demands cannot be made on one beyond what is in scripture to assure salvation.  Things say, like, paying the Church to ensure to ensure your soul goes straight to heaven without any delay.  And that scripture should serve as a brake on the over-reaching of religious authorities, I’m all in favor.  But that the Bible should serve as a brake on the individual and communal search for God; to suggest that the Bible is a blueprint or manual or that God in some way is found only there,
well that I have some problem with.

As I see it, the greatest challenge to those of us who would hope to spread the message of Jesus is this issue of the Bible and its use to the Christian.  The Bible as we know it didn’t really take shape until the late 4th century, and only after a long process of discernment and debate within the church. And much like the formulation of the creeds wasn’t meant to pin things down exactly, but to establish the boundaries beyond which the integrity of the gospel message was lost.  Do you think you’re a better Christian than the martyrs because you have a Bible and they didn’t?  Didn’t think so.

I think it’s important that Jesus didn’t leave a ‘Book of Jesus’ that spells everything out
for us, once and for all time.  What Jesus left us were people.  People who were witnesses to his ministry, his execution and his resurrection.  People with a story to tell.  We aren’t people of the book, but people of the story and the church through the generations has developed and lived out that story through its worship, its prayer, its disciplines and its responses
to the world it inhabits.  Jesus didn't leave behind a manual of solutions for every possibility.  Jesus left relationships so that we could work it out together over and over again. 

And he sent us the Holy Spirit to continue to be with us and teach us.  The problem with using the Bible as a substitute for a faithful engagement with the Spirit is that it makes you
always look back and compare this age and these people to the one golden moment two millennia ago.

The biblical witness is important to us because it helps us frame and test our own experiences.  Are these of God?  The Bible, as a product of communal discernment, is a guide for us, but it is not the destination.  You want to know God, go pray, go worship, go get involved in messy human relationships. That’s where God is, not in a book on a shelf.


  1. You are absolutely right. "Sola Scriptura" has been severely warped. I wish I could give you my church's "party line", but as I'm sure you've heard before, you can't find anything on the ELCA website. So for kicks, I went to Wikipedia, and was quite shocked--I wasn't the only one either, as the discussion page for "Sola Scriptura" shows. There is a lot of misinformation out there, especially about the Lutheran views, since the section on Lutheran "Sola Scriptura" seems to be written entirely from the LCMS position.

    So for the sake of being lazy, I'm going to reasonably assume, based on what I know, that the ELCA position is similar to the Anglican position.

  2. Well bugger, that comment wasn't supposed to be anonymous.

  3. Ken,
    Well, in all fairness one of the issues for us with the Reformers is that much of what they took for granted, things like communal identity, and disciplines of faith are things that we really struggle with, partly because of the unintentional consequences of what they set loose.