How You Read the Bible has Nothing to Do with Your Faith

What you believe in doesn't matter as much as who.

Once upon a time, a talking snake tricked a naked woman into eating an apple with the power to curse the entire human race. In order to restore the world to how it ought to be, a sword-tongued, albino Jesus will eventually do battle with a seven-headed leopard-bear and his minions of horse-sized scorpion-locusts.

At least that's one interpretation.

Another suggests that Jesus' resurrection was metaphorical, his deity illustrative, and his existence more pedagogical than historical. God reveals himself in many different ways, and the Christian religion through its ancient myths and fables is just one of them.

Most Christians fall somewhere in the middle. Few take such a rigidly literal approach to cosmogony and eschatology and even fewer dismiss the texts as uninspired allegory. We're all more likely to nuance our hermeneutics according to literary genre and cultural context while accepting Scripture as the inspired words of flawed people.

Nevertheless, there are those who prefer the far ends of the theological spectrum. Extremism isn't problematic in itself. As Paul says, each of us should be fully convinced in our own minds. I'm just not convinced that the object of extremists' faith is where it ought to be.

For example, Ken Ham with Answers in Genesis argues that a literal, six-day interpretation of creation is necessary to the gospel. Quoting from the book of Acts, Ham claims that the cross can't restore creation if the cross brings an end to death but creation happened through millions of years of evolution and death. This doesn't make sense to him.

Similarly, author and speaker Rob Bell contends that Jesus' death and resurrection is merely symbolic of our current reality. Taking a cue from Schleiermacher, Bell suggests that a literal cross damages the gospel because it paints God as an aggressor and abuser, not the rescuer we know him to be. This doesn't make sense to him.

One man rejects a violent creation while the other condemns a violent redemption, but both of them put conditions on their faith.

Literalists like Ken Ham ask why they should trust in a God who reveals himself through myth and pretense. Allegorists like Rob Bell ask why they should trust in a God who reveals himself through blood and anger. One trusts in facts and one trusts in affection, yet neither theological extreme trusts in the person of Jesus Christ.

Again, holding the mysteries of the faith in good conscience doesn't look the same on every facet of the divine image. But a rejection of who God be might be is simply a rejection of God.

Jesus never called us to justify him (that's what he does for us). Jesus calls us to follow him. He calls us to follow him when he says crazy things like be born again or eat his flesh and drink his blood. He calls us to follow him when he lets his friends die just to make a point. Or when he challenges the religious leaders at the cost of his own life and those of his followers.

Following Jesus comes with great personal risk. Those of us in America may not be in danger of persecution from the government, but our reputations are constantly under scrutiny from friends, family, and religious establishments. Yet Jesus tells us to deny even those closest to us and follow him to places that often don't make sense.

The same God who repudiated the human sacrifices to ancient gods like Molech once asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. The same God who prescribed strict cleanliness laws once asked Ezekiel to cook his food over human feces. Imagine if he asked you to murder your own child. Do you trust God not just with the impossible but with the unthinkable?

For literalists, that means not placing your faith in the historicity of a parted Red Sea or a superhuman Elijah. And for allegorists that means not placing your faith in merely fabled accounts of infant slaughter and cannibalism. I'll say it one more time: feel free to hold onto those beliefs as your conviction before God, but don't claim to have faith if it depends on the veracity of your interpretation.

Putting faith in an unobjectionable God is another self-deceptive way of putting our faith in ourselves. We love that God accepts us as we are yet we rarely afford him the same courtesy despite the numerous stories of people who followed him with enormous reservations. Faith is not seamless and easy; it's often bumpy and bitter. Because true faith trusts that God is good even when everyone and everything tells us he's not.

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  1. "Faith is not seamless and easy; it's often bumpy and bitter." Truer words, my friend. The way of Jesus is not all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. Just ask our brothers and sisters around the world who perish and are persecuted for Jesus while we bask in our comfortable buildings and complain about how loud the music is or the songs we're singing or the length of the sermon. We're living in Laodicea.

    1. Indeed. American Christianity practices an idolatry of comfort and security. I believe it is harder to follow Jesus here than many other places and times in history.


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