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What About The Bible… ? (Chapter 6)

This is the final post on my series about the Bible. It has been an enlightening time for me. This final post is about the history of Christianity and how it seems to stop with the establishment of the biblical text. But before I get into that I must mention that I have found that to really understand the Gospel text you must also understand the basic history of that region of the world during that period of time. To do that means seeking out historical records  of the Roman Empire particularly in the Middle East.

There is virtually nothing about the person of Jesus found outside the gospel accounts. He just didn’t show up on the Roman radar screen.  Historical text shows that there were many different people who took on the mantel of “son of God” during those years. Several names were found in Roman text with that claim but Jesus of Nazareth was not one of them.

To understand the part the Roman authorities played in the Crucifixion  you must realize that Pontius Pilate routinely condemned Jews to death for a myriad of reasons.  He had little regard for that population. You must also understand that the religious leaders of the times were very much in bed with Roman authorities. These sort of historical accounts help us to understand the gospel stories.

The Bible contains almost all of the accounted history of the early Christian church. As such it is a very powerful document.  Shamefully any counter views of being a Christian  were systematically destroyed when the Biblical version was adopted. As a result we don’t have the pieces necessary to see any different views or to maybe fill in some of the holes in the gospel accounts.

One of my biggest disappointments is that we haven’t put as much enthusiasm in to documenting Christian history since 300AD. Why haven’t we documented how well we are doing in living the messages of Jesus? Progress means monitoring where we are and focusing on where we are going. If as much enthusiasm were put into this task as is it in our reverence to the Bible  think how much better the world would be today.

To know where the church stands today is to know how we got here. I think part of the problem with this is that Christianity has a very messy history since the Bible’s invention.  We started out as a small group of followers of Jesus’ words and commands to being a State mandated religion that gain immense power in the world.  We regularly killed those who might disagree with the established dogma of the times. The Inquisition was a sorry time in church history but it was not the only time.

In order to know where we are we must know where we came from. If the theologians of the church had spent as much energy helping us know how we are doing as they did trying to parse out a  particular text in the Gospel to show us their version of God we would be a stronger and more diligent followers of Jesus. Sadly that has simply not been the case.

Most versions of the church today have a very pre-defined dogma and particularly beliefs that they demand  compliance to if you want to be part of their group. The trouble is much of that dogma simply has never been justified by the words of Jesus.

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What About The Bible… ? (Chapter 5)

Cell PhoneI used to mourn the fact that there are almost 40,000 different versions of Christianity around today. But, in reality maybe I should celebrate that statistic. At least it shows that we are all trying to find the heart of God. But the problem with this is that we end up picking the type of God we want. I don’t think that is really how God wants it to be but it seems that is the way it is for most of us. Some choose to try to discover God on our own. Some take the lazy way of just latching onto a version that is close enough to their reality or maybe they choose the “easiest” God that doesn’t interfere with their current lifestyle.  Some take it to a deeper and more personal journey.

Diversity seems to be the best we can do right now. For whatever reason God has chosen not to make his presence unquestionably known to us. But it sure would be nice to get a signal from him as to who among us has it at least a little right.  He doesn’t have to turn off the sun as he supposedly did in the Old Testament. How about just sending a text message to every cell phone in the world all at the same time? That sure would be helpful in knowing what he wants us to do on this earth.

Yeah, I know there are some out there that are screaming “JUST READ THE BIBLE!!!” But what version of the Bible do I read? Do I read about the God who demands constant blood sacrifices. Do I read about the God who allows, some say even commanded, genocide?   Do I read about the God who told us to pick up snakes as proof that we are true believers? Or do I believe the God of Love as personified in my interpretation of the Bible. Just reading the Bible is what got us in all these 40,000 versions in the first place so forgive me if I don’t think that is a real answer.

What it means to be a Christian is presently an open book with thousands of different paths.  It seems the best we can do is to passionately search for God on a very personal level and live out our lives with that  personal epiphany if we do find it. I personally choose to pick those words of Jesus about being our brother’s keeper and about loving God and loving each other as his message to me.  To me all the other stuff around today is just smoke and mirrors that just blur my vision of him.

Others may choose a vengeful god who is looking for any reason to condemn us to hell. Others may choose a god who asks them to just say the right words and then get a fire insurance policy to redeem when they eventually die. Other may choose the god of infinite rules and regulations. But for me, I choose the God of Love….

But it sure would be nice to get a text message from God himself letting me know if I kinda got it at least a little right…..

What About The Bible… ? Chapter 4

CB064037When we treat the Bible as a history book we come to more thoroughly understand the varied opinions put forth. But I very much understand that a significant portion of those who call themselves Christians believe that every word, every punctuation mark came directly from God and therefore is literally true and without the possibility of any error.

It seems to me that this group of Christians actually put the Bible itself above Jesus’ messages and therefore have made it into an idol to be worshiped in and for its own sake.  The inerrants, as they are often called, put forth an argument that if there is absolutely anything in the Bible that is not absolutely true then the Bible as a whole is worthless. This logic totally confuses me. I have never seen its application anywhere else in the world. Is there anything logic that even comes close to this type of belief?

There have been hundreds of different books written about Abraham Lincoln. It is absolutely certain that not everything in them is factual. Each book is for the most part one person’s opinions about this or that aspect piled onto the history of his life. Each book adds a little more insight, and probably a little more myth, into the nature of that famous person.

The U.S. Constitution written more than two hundred years ago is a very unique document in human history. It has allowed our country to flourish while many others wither and die.  It is a very wise and amazing document. But even that document has somethings that are shameful by 21st century eyes. The establishment that some of its citizens are only worth 3/5 of others is an embarrassing part. Should we throw the whole think out and start over again because it contains some things that are just flat wrong by today’s standards? Of course not. We instead add amendments to correct previous wrongs.

The other part that some put on the Bible is that it is God’s total word for all time.  That it answers all our questions and nothing else is required. In some ways that shows to me that these believers think that God is no longer necessary in today’s world. That he has been replaced by the Bible. That he has nothing else to teach us!  He has nothing more to say to the 21st century follower than he did to the 1st century follower.  That he is somehow now an absentee landlord replaced by a book!

Thank God (pun intended) there are also many others outside this inerrant belief system that think that God has given us revelation throughout human history. He give us scientific knowledge when He knows we can handle it. He gave us the key to DNA so that we can now start to solve health crises throughout the world. He has been giving us new revelations and discoveries for the last two thousand years and will continue to give us more in the future. God was not done giving out pieces of his omnipotent knowledge twenty centuries ago. Far from it!

Scriptures does not give us all the answers to life, reality, or the universe. But, it is the major source of the stories and fables around the times that Jesus walked this earth. We all gain valuable glimpses into the life and teachings of Jesus from those stories. For that reason the Bible is revered text but it should never never be idolized.

Our Own Version….

February 27, 2014 — Leave a comment

2014-02-17_08-51-46MIDDLESBORO, Ky. (AP) — A snake-handling pastor who appeared on the National Geographic television reality show “Snake Salvation” has died after being bitten by a snake during a weekend church service in Kentucky.

SOURCE: Snake-handling Ky. pastor dies from snake bite – Yahoo News.

While this is maybe of the extreme part of the spectrum it is still a typical example of how we pick and choose what we want to be the image of God.  It takes one verse out of the tens of thousands found in the Bible and uses it for the main focus of spirituality.  Examples such as this are used by the serious critics of the church to illustrate the absurdity of believing in God. Regrettably that is not without some degree of truth.

Yes, this is an extreme example but by no means the only one. There are literally thousands of groups, some small some very large, who take a miniscule piece of biblical text and explode it into a major belief system.  To some degree even Protestantism is an example of this. Martin Luther, who is generally acknowledged as the pioneer of that version of Christianity spent years searching biblical text for  something to ameliorate his enormous feeling of low self-esteem and utter worthlessness. When he discovered that single verse in Ephesians that said the grace is a gift and not from works he had is “aha” moment like so many others before and after him and found his version of Christ.

This is very much a forest/trees situation.  We should be looking at the overall message of the Bible and particularly of the words of Jesus Christ to find our place in life. Instead we search and search for that one iota that seems to relieve our current conditions and then practically throw away the rest of the forest to only concentrate on that one tree of knowledge. From that point on our focus on the Bible is to find similar verses to the one we found to back up our new-found system of belief and there have been centuries of that very practice occurring.

I’m not sure if any of us are exempt from this phenomenon.  Knowing the heart of God is just something that none of us are really capable of  doing. God is just too vast for our puny intellect.  It is kind of like us trying to explain our society and its inner working to the ant we are about to unknowingly step on.

Instead of looking for that single tree to latch on to we should all be forest watchers. We will never completely understand the ecosystem of the forest but we should try to see its overall beauty. During our journey into the forest we must also understand that others who are also searching might have a different current concept of the forest. That does not make them wrong or us right, it is just different. In fact not a single one of us will ever really get it “right”. Not one of us…

What About The Bible… ? (Chapter 3)

How did the Bible get so filled with things that have nothing to do with the messages of Jesus? That is one of many questions I have pondered over the last decade.  I want to study more about King Constantine and how the Bible was put together under his watchful eye.2014-02-13_11-37-06 Here is the crux of what I know now.

Constantine was a king during the age where the Roman empire’s power was dwindling. He was losing his grip over his kingdom. Some say that is why he grabbed on to the idea of making Christianity a mandated state religion. I know he was not baptized until soon before his death so that puts his sincerity at question. Was he just covering his bases? There is very little historical text now available that pre-dates the first compiled Bible so we really can’t be sure just what is not in Constantine’s Bible or what was added. These types of questions need to be understood in order to put the Bible in its proper sphere of influence. Was it written by God or redacted to meet the needs of the most powerful world government of the time?

2014-02-13_11-39-37I personally take the Jeffersonian stand of Christianity to at least one degree or another. That is Thomas Jefferson’s belief that Paul took the simple message of Jesus and made it complicated. I’m sure he was well-meaning but given his background it was inevitable that he would add rule after rule on being a Christian.  After all he was educated and trained by the Pharisees of his time and if nothing else they were absolutely about rules. Upon serious reading of Paul’s many letter it is surprising how little his teaching overlap with any of Jesus’ word or messages.  In fact he seemed to know very little about Jesus other than his brief personal experience on the road to Damascus.

We know that the documents that eventually made up the first Bible were generally not written until at least forty years after the events took place.  Before that all the biblical stories were likely passed down as was very typical of the time via an oral tradition.  We also know that except for Paul, who was not one of those who sat at Jesus’ feet,  most of the other leaders of the early church were very likely illiterate.  This necessitated that someone else would take their stories and put them into literary form.  For the most part we still don’t know who those scribes or the authors actually were. Under these types of conditions it is very likely that myths and fables were included in the written text.  Thomas Jefferson believed that is how most of the miracles of Jesus were established. It was just overzealous people adding a little bit to enhance a point. Those who study other historical sources know this is a very common thing of human nature.  George Washington was almost a god in early America and many myths were generated  and recorded about him. The most similar is probably about chopping down a cherry tree.

In closing I am not saying that the Bible is without value simply because human foibles are contained in its text but it is important to understand that possibility when trying to put this document into the proper perspective in today’s church.  The messages of Jesus that are contained within these various writings, even though they were very likely tarnished by human actions,  are what is paramount to our following Jesus.  The Bible itself is just a means to convey those inherent messages.

FuzzyWhat About The Bible… ? (Chapter 2)

I know that from all the rhetoric about this topic you are expecting the next word in the title to be “Clear” but actually for me it is “Fuzzy”. I don’t know how many times in my life I have heard the phrase “just study the bible for the answer to your problems. When a child dies from a fall in the bathtub the Christian answer to our total devastation is to “read the Bible”. It is as if we can just randomly open a page and then the tragedy in our life becomes clear.

Lets face it the Bible is simply not the homogeneous document that many want you to believe. When we realize that it is a collection of documents by for the most part unknown authors, who were recording events as they saw them or a story told to them.  Does that mean that the Bible is not worth reading?  It is very worth reading as long as we keep its origins and purpose in mind. Many of the people who wrote the various documents were, or at least they believed they were, inspired by God. They thought they were relaying God’s messages to those who read their words.

One of the major problems I have with the Bible is that you can take a stand on just about any topic and find some verses here and there appear at least on the surface to back up your position. If you were for slavery there are places where people are told to obey their masters, and therefore slavery must be condoned by God. Examples abound in this realm.

From a personal perspective I find the Old Testament very boring and even sometimes against the teachings of Jesus. In fact Jesus himself said as much when he mentioned that  an eye-for-an-eye was wrong or when he rebuked the religious establishment of his day for all their food restrictions and other unnecessary rules. Instead he was replacing those rules with two simple commands. Love God and love each other.  Catholics don’t seem to idolize the Bible to the extent that most Protestants do.  But then again there is  worshiping of Mary to replace it.

There is very little in the way of public documents to be found about Jesus. When the Bible was formed by the council under the tutelage of a Roman King many of the documents that they did not include in this compilation were purged as heretical. In fact just having some of those “other” words was often punishable by death!  Fortunately some alternate views have managed to resurface after many centuries but most are gone from antiquity. While the Bible is anything but perfect it is almost all we have about the history of the early Christian years. For that reason alone it should studied and will justifiably be held in reserved reverence.

The Thing Is…..

February 10, 2014 — 1 Comment

CB064037What About The Bible… ? (Chapter 1)

I have been spending quite a bit of time lately thinking about the Bible and my experiences with it over the last decade or so. Around 2003 I decided to take up a serious study of theology and in particularly those around the words of Jesus. I naively thought I could get some clear directions for my spiritual life if I just understood why the Bible seems to mean so many different things to so many people. What I have discovered over this period of time awakened me. I did not get the concrete answers I was looking for but I did glean some surprising discoveries.

So, for the next several  weeks I will be spending Mondays {Sundays on the re-blog} on posts about that journey into the Bible. I have always been a little hesitant to voice my discoveries because if they surprised me they might well shock some of my friends, particularly the evangelical friends I had when I started the study.  It seems that as I have gotten older I am losing my sense of embarrassment about saying what I believe. I have grown to the point, and  I do mean grown, where I feel I can now openly discuss the personal insight I have come to understand. I simply no longer really care if it upsets some.  Maybe in the long run I am hoping that it does just that and as a result a few will see that truly following Jesus has nothing to do with their self-proclaimed “faith” in the Bible but instead it is about faith in him and doing what he told us to do.

Let’s face it the Bible is not a book that you can causally, or even seriously, pick up and glean some ready-made answers to life’s problems.  Especially in times of personal conflicts. In fact much of it (meaning the Old Testament) is quite boring and not understandable in today’s context. Yes, if I search hard enough I can find a verse, usually taken out of context, that might console me a particular situation but for every one of those found there is another which disturbs me. Psalms is a ready example of that. There are places where God’s love clearly shows through and then there are other places where is he supposedly commands genocide such as the 137th Psalm.

All of these conflicting stories and thoughts make some degree of sense when I see the Bible as more of a history book written by man than words dropped from heaven. Christianity like much of the world’s history is messy and the Bible if you  look at its contents objectively reflects that fact. That understanding is critical to finding its proper place in Christ’s church.

In a nutshell, following Jesus has nothing to do with idolizing the Bible itself. The purpose of the Bible it to point us to Jesus. It is to tell his story, nothing else.  When that task is done it becomes very secondary to our walk with Christ. Next time I will talk a little more about reading the Bible and what should be gleaned from that process.

Studying The Bible….

November 3, 2013 — Leave a comment

Despite his having written an entire biography of Paul in Acts, Luke seems to be curiously unaware of Paul’s life and ministry as reflected in Paul’s authentic letters. None of Paul’s letters are mentioned in Acts. The language and theology of Paul’s speeches as told by Luke are so different in vocabulary and theology from the Paul of the authentic letters that it seems much of Luke’s Paul can be chalked up to dramatic license. The authentic Paul emphasizes justification and reconciliation while Luke’s “Paul” preaches righteousness and forgiveness. In other words, Luke’s Paul preaches in the theological language of Luke, not Paul.

From the book: Living the Questions: The Wisdom of Progressive Christianity (Felten, David;Procter-Murphy, Jeff)

Even after all these years of being a follower of Jesus I am still constantly studying the Bible for new revelations in my life.  As someone in the Bible said the words found there are useful for teaching and understanding.  If only those who put so much emphasis on trying to prove that the Bible is without error and totally God breathed spent time instead trying to learn lessons about Jesus. I have adamantly come to believe that the Bible is a compilation of stories about God. It is not God nor did He dictate all of its words.

When we accept that the stories in the Bible were written by well meaning men, and maybe even a few women, we can see things as cited above. We can then understand that maybe Paul’s letters were just not deemed of great importance at the time.  Maybe they were just that, letters to council some troubled congregations and were not necessarily meant for eternity. Why do the stories of Paul differ so completely from the letters Paul allegedly  wrote?  The only logical and reasoned conclusion is that both the letters and what came to be known as the Book of Acts were written by men and maybe they are not even written by or about the persons we currently ascribe them to.  That fact does not destroy or even reduce their usefulness to us.

There are just too many today who spend all their energies trying to stubbornly stick to some thousand year old beliefs that don’t deserve all the energy devoted to them. If instead these people would spend that energy living out their lives as Jesus showed us. Being a follower of Jesus is more than about proclaiming certain beliefs, it is about actually “being” a disciple…

I will end this post with another quote from the book:

For many religious people, it takes some serious readjustment to change those theological underpinnings and recast Christianity as something fluid. Some are too controlled by fear—of change, of uncertainty, of being called heretical—to make the shift. They keep trying, desperately, to hold on to old conceptions as if their eternal life depended on it. But there are alternatives.

When you consider that the Bible was written by over 40 separate authors and compiled from thousands of manuscripts, in different languages, over hundreds of years, from a variety of locations around the world, with little collaboration, and ultimately interpreted into hundreds of translations—there are bound to be ambiguities….
Ultimately, all of these biblical issues force Christians to ask some huge questions: Is God true? Is God good? Is God relevant?
For years, Christians have resorted to using the Old vs. New Covenant as an explanation for the seemingly dramatic contradictions in God’s character. But to the average person—and Christian—this reasoning (no matter how legitimate it is) often sounds foolish and confusing and unsatisfying…..
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, He continually admonished those who were the most certain about their faith—the Pharisees. They thought they knew everything and had all the answers. Ironically, the people who were the most unsure and desperate were the ones that Jesus used to change the world. Certainty and confidence don’t necessarily equate to holiness and righteousness. We must accept the Bible in its entirety instead of avoiding the hardest parts and embrace the idea that our faith will exist within the tension of these difficult dilemmas.
SOURCE:  Stephen Mattson: Western Christianity’s Biggest Problem: the Bible?! | Red Letter Christians.

Troubles with the Bible…

Taking Back the Bible….

December 6, 2012 — 2 Comments

I read the Bible on a regular basis.  The words of Jesus, which to me is what the Bible is really all about, inspire me to love my fellow-man and to love my God.  Many stories in the Bible  even though they might just be stories, parables, or even myths are inspiring in the lessons they teach. I delight in the sheer narrative power they provide.

I am very disheartened by the fact that some Christians today try to demand that the Bible was dropped down from heaven by God and not truly written my men who lived in the early times.  They say instead he just used their pens to write what he demanded of them. I think the Bible is richer when we admit that it was written by men inspired by God. But no, they say everything in the Bible is directly from God’s lips?

Here are some interesting words about that from the book The Future of Faith by Harvey Cox

Does it ever trouble fundamentalists that their attitude toward the Bible, a relatively recent one in the history of Christianity, is exactly the same as that of most Muslims who believe the Qur’an was dictated word for word to Muhammad by Allah? I doubt it…..

I am confident that it is possible to take the Bible back from its fundamentalist hijacking and make it once again a genuine support of faith, instead of an obstacle. To do this, it is helpful to know something about how we got into the impasse in which we find ourselves. There are four significant turning points in the recent history of how Christians have viewed the Bible.

      • One came in the late fifteenth century when the invention of printing made the wide distribution of the Bible possible and then—with the spread of literacy—eventually democratized it.
      • The second came in the nineteenth century with the application of the historical-critical method, which subjected the Bible to the same scrupulous scholarship about dating, authorship, and audience that is applied to any other historical document.
      • The third was the advent of the fundamentalist view of the Bible, which rose as a counterattack against the historical critics.
      • The fourth was the “liberation” of the Bible from both historical critics and fundamentalists, which is happening mainly—though not exclusively—in the global South.

The way to read them is to let their sheer narrative power evoke whatever response it can without relying on an externally decreed authority to either sanctify their status or pick apart their accuracy. Reading the Bible with this kind of imaginative leap puts us into the company of our spiritual forebears.

It is interesting to see the four turning points outlined here. I need to study and report some more details about the third event when the so-called fundamentalists among us decided to change the Bible from inspirational text into literal truth. As said above they did this when they were backed into a corner by the historical-critical method.  They panicked and proclaimed a slippery slope that if we questioned anything in the Bible then all of it becomes worthless.

I personally have had a lengthy discussion with one fundamentalist preacher about this. His willingness to throw out the Bible if any of it is not perfectly factual surprised me. In some ways I think I deem the Bible to be worth more than he does. But, more about that in some later posts. The fourth turning point is part of the emergent church that we will also get more into in future posts.