A New Kind of Christianity: What is the Bible?
The Bible is many things to many people. It is also not many things to many people. In my own experience, I have encountered Christians who believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God. I have also encountered Christians who don’t know what they believe about it. Perhaps it is mostly true and good, but some of it doesn’t sit right. Wherever you stand, it is important to know that your position matters for you and for those around you. That applies to those who believe it to be the word of God and those who reject it completely.
I took a college course called “Bible as Literature”, which attempted to study it as a written work divorced from religion. By that I mean, we analyzed its structure and cultural significance, not its spiritual significance, and certainly not as a work inspired by God. The main textbook for this course, Understanding the Bible, has this to say under the caption, What is the Bible?
Known as the Good Book, as if it were a single volume, the Bible is in fact a collection of many individual books written over a period of 1,100 years. Derived from the Greek biblia, the word bible means “little books,” denoting its nature as an anthology or library of diverse compositions, ranging from the poetry and narrative to law and prophecy.
Divided into two main sections, the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Bible’s two distinct parts represent its origins in two different religious communities during different historical periods… The Old Testament was written by and for the Jewish community of faith…The early Christian movement produced a series of documents- Gospels, letters, and sermons- that were eventually collected to form the New Testament (Stephen Harris 2)
Harris then goes on to describe the divisions within the scriptures.
The Torah- Which is the first 5 books of the Bible containing God’s Law.
The Prophets- Describes God’s role in history and many prophecies concerning the future.
The Writings- The Psalms (Poetry and songs), Proverbs (Wisdom), Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations.
The Gospels- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These detail the life, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Acts of the Apostles- Details the work of the early Christian church immediately following the resurrection of Christ.
Paul’s Letters- Paul the apostle wrote a number of letters (Romans, Corinthians, Colosians etc) describing the new Christian faith.
General Letters- Sermons and letters describing the Christian life.
Revelation: The apocalypse. Christ’s return and the Final Judgment of all Humanity.
Brian McLaren, author of A New Kind of Christianity, has his own beliefs about the Bible.
He views the Bible as, “A portable library of poems, prophecies, histories, fables, parables, letters, sage sayings, quarrels, and so on” (McLaren 79). He does not view it as a legal constitution. He says, “Lawyers in the courtroom quote articles, sections, paragraphs, and subparagraphs to win their case, and we do the same with testaments, books, chapters, and verses” (79). He believes that if the Bible is read as a constitution, as a legal truth document, it naturally contradicts itself and can be used to justify basically anything, from slavery to murder.
He also views the Bible as a progressive understanding of God. That is, as mankind progressed in knowledge and experience they developed a clearer understanding of who God actual is.
We could trace the maturation process among biblical writers regarding God’s character. In some passages, God appears violent, retaliatory, given to favoritism, and careless of human life. But over time, the image of God that predominates is gentle rather than cruel, compassionate rather than violent, fair to all rather than biased toward some, forgiving rather than retaliatory. In this more mature view, God is not capricious, bloodthirsty, hateful, or prone to fits of vengeful rage. Rather, God loves justice, kindness, reconcilliation, and peace; God’s grace gets the final word (101-102)
This is a radical (perhaps blasphemous) interpretation of scripture. But I would be doing McLaren a disservice if I didn’t also include what he says about Jesus, which is, “The supreme and ultimate revelation of God, with the Old and New Testaments pointing to him like dual spotlights” (118).
McLaren believes the Bible to be written by men who were inspired by God. But he does not believe it to be the innerant (perfect) word of God. It is not to be used as a means to prove a position or absolute truth. And it is not a tool to save people from hell (I will go into this further in a future post). It is an evolving understanding and relationship between God and humanity.
Before ending this post, I would like to include my own belief regarding the Bible. But first, let me attempt to lay out before you my plan for the rest of these posts. So far we’ve addressed that Brian McLaren is a leader within the Emergent Church movement. He has a view of the Bible that does not follow the long accepted view followed by most Christians. He understands the Bible, not as a legal document, but as a collection of writings illustrating mankind’s progress in understanding the character of God. This character is most clearly seen in the character of Jesus Christ. From here I would like to address McLaren’s claim that we have been reading the Bible falsely as a “Greco-Roman Six Line Narrative”. After that we will examine the character of God that McLaren calls, Theos. That’s as far ahead as I can see right now, but I do know that eventually we will tackle this Truth issue head on.
I believe that the Bible is used by God to teach us, correct us, and reveal Himself to us. I believe that it is divinely inspired because it contains the breath of life when read as a revelation of God, through His son, Jesus Christ. Accept, and fall in love with Jesus, and the Bible is a letter of love, truth, and promise addressed to you.
Coming Soon: The Greco-Roman Six Line Narrative