Archives For Literalism


If Grace is trueFor what good is grace—this unconditional love of God—if it is not extended to those who deserve it the least but need it the most? God is love. Holiness and justice are not competing commitments. God has not chosen to turn his back on us or to punish us as our sins deserve. God has chosen to redeem us. Nothing requires God to condemn us, so God has not. Rather, in his sovereign freedom, he waits patiently for the day of our redemption.

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 87-88). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The above quote comes at the end of a chapter entitled “The Character of God”. I must admit that I have had many of the same painful questions about the character of God as Mr. Gulley.  When I was told to believe that absolutely everything in the Bible is literally and in absolutely true I simply could not reconcile much of the god of the Old Testament to the person of Jesus. Until I was willing to weigh scripture the dichotomy of a vengeful God vs. Jesus of “love your enemy” I was racked with doubt about all things the church pronounced. When I fell in line with the idea of the “infallible words of God” my two views of God were irreconcilable.

I must admit that the God of the Old Testament scares me.  When he supposedly in the tenth chapter of Joshua told the Israelites to kill every man, woman and child in the town of Libnash this horrified me. This simply didn’t sound like the God of Jesus I had come to know in the New Testament. I heard various explanation trying to reconcile the two gods. One was that God was trying to protect the Israelites from the corrupting influence that intermarriage would have caused. Like Mr. Gulley mentioned about this story to me it sounds much like what Hitler used for destroying the Jews.

Here is a quote from Mr. Gulley relative to weighing scripture when it comes to these sort of opposite visions:

Weighing Scripture allows for the possibility that some descriptions of God and his behavior are inaccurate. It is not merely counting how many Scriptures say “this” about God and how many Scriptures say “that” about God and believing whichever one receives the highest score. Weighing Scripture is what Jesus taught when he was asked, “What is the greatest commandment in the law?” If Jesus had believed that all Scriptures were of equal worth, he would have answered, “All the commandments are equally important.” Instead, he replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39). Then Jesus added a pivotal footnote. He said, “All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40). In other words, these two verses exalting love are as heavy as the rest of the Bible. Jesus tipped the scales irrevocably in favor of love.

When we finally reject the idea of every word in the ancient text is absolutely true and applicable for eternity then this contradiction between two gods goes away. I, as Mr. Gulley quotes above, believe  Jesus showed us that all scripture is not equal or inerrant.  There are just too many places where he taught us a different way than was recorded in the Old Testament.

I don’t spend much time in Old Testament lessons anymore. I know there are some valuable lessons to be learned from the experiences of those before Jesus but I choose to concentrate on Jesus and his lessons at this point in my life.

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If Grace is true

This is an ongoing post about the book “If Grace Is True” by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland.  Here are the words for today.

Many people are suspicious of experiences with God. The believers in Jerusalem were suspicious of Peter’s experience. You may be suspicious of mine. Some argue that such experiences aren’t trustworthy, that infallible Scripture is the only safe guide in our search for truth. They forget the Bible contains the accounts of hundreds of experiences with God. Again and again, God came to individuals and spoke to them….

The Bible was never intended to end the conversation, but to encourage it. God didn’t fall silent with the last chapter of Revelation. He continues to reveal himself. It makes no sense to glorify the accounts of our ancestors’ encounters with God while dismissing our experiences with him today. We who are Protestants should be especially conscious of this need to listen for the voice of God. We are the descendants of people who, based on their experiences with God, challenged the Church’s interpretations of Scripture and its long-held beliefs. Martin Luther, John Wesley, George Fox, and many others described such experiences. They believed they had received a clearer vision of God’s character and will. All these people respected the Bible. Indeed, it was often in reading Scripture that they began to glimpse God’s new word. But they were also open to God’s leading in their lives. They understood what Jesus meant when he said, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28).

Gulley, Philip; Mulholland, James (2009-03-17). If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person (Plus) (pp. 37-38). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

I believe that God has spoken directly to me on a few occasions in my life. The most recent one was when he told me to quit being worried about what all those Christian theologians say about him but to listen to his words  for myself.  When I have mentioned experiencing God in the past it has come under suspicion of some, particularly a Lutheran clergy friend I once had. He came right out and said “How do you know it was from God and not the devil?” These words shocked me as I think I could tell the difference.  This was the beginning stage of losing that friend due to theological differences.

I truly believe as Mr. Gulley stated above that the Bible was never intended to end the conversation, but to encourage it. I believe that my previous clergy friend’s staunch insistence that the Bible is the last and absolutely final words of God are depriving him of so much more than he realizes.  Dismissing the experiences with God for the last nineteen-hundred years makes absolutely no sense to me!

It seems ironic that my previous Lutheran clergy friend discounts direct experiences with God when the founder of his denomination claimed to have just that when taking on the pope more than five-hundred years ago. It is obvious that not everything Luther believed was from God. His absolute hatred of Jews was certainly not. His belief in the total inerrancy of King Constantine’s bible wasn’t either. But then again his wanting to completely throw out the book of James among others shows he really didn’t either.  I will say that his understanding of just how wrong the church had gone did come from God.

If God said he wants all of us to accept his grace then I will take his word for that…. He certainly has the power to make it happen in whatever timeframe he deems best.

Reading Scripture….

January 22, 2013 — 2 Comments

All followers of Jesus should be regular readers of Scripture. This is the primary place where we get our lessons from Jesus Christ. Learning how to read scripture is at the heart of learning what Jesus intended for us to do.  The topic of literalism came up very early in church history. Origen, who was one of the first church theologians, warned us not to take much of what is in scripture as  literal. That seems to be a lesson lost on so many in the fundamentalist’s organizations even today.  They insist that everything in the Bible is literal and without the possibility of error.

Here are some words about that from Diane Butler Bass in her book entitled “The People’s History Of Christianity”:

The problem with literalism began, according to Origen, in Genesis:

Who is found so ignorant as to suppose that God, as if He had been a husbandman, planted trees in paradise, in Eden towards the east, and a tree of life in it, i.e., a visible and palpable tree of wood, so that anyone eating of it with bodily teeth should obtain life, and, eating again of another tree, should come to the knowledge of good and evil? No one, I think, can doubt that the statement that God walked in the afternoon in paradise, and that Adam lay hid under a tree, is related figuratively in Scripture, that some mystical meaning may be indicated by it. The mystical meaning entailed seeking out “the heavenly things of which these serve as a pattern or shadow” in the text.

For Origen, reading scripture was a search for the “wisdom hidden” under the literal words. In his book On First Principles Origen pointed out scriptural contradictions from Genesis through the Gospels. Not intending to ridicule God’s Word, Origen claimed….

It is interesting to see that the battle with the literalists started very early in church history. It is also interesting to see that even in the third century the argument against literalism was so well documented that Origen went through the text line by line to find scriptural  contradictions and he claimed he found many.

When we recognize that much of scripture is myth, allegory, or whatever you want to call it, that is intended to teach us lessons instead of being taken literally, then we are freed to look for the actual messages contained in those words and not get fixated on the words themselves.

I know the recent reasons for this literal interpretation is because of the principle of “the slippery slope”. That is if we give in to any belief then all beliefs will be attacked and therefore become worthless.   The slippery slope has gotten us into so much trouble in the recent world that I mourn the very thought was even created.  The NRA uses it to try to prevent ANY gun regulations. The Republican Party uses it as a reason for total obstructionism.

The slippery slope does more damage in the religious realm as all the others where it is falsely applied.  When we celebrate our diversity in beliefs instead of trying to kill them, then we will be able to get back to the true messages of Jesus Christ and that is what the emergent church is attempting to do….