Do Your Own Theology — The Bible and Its Authority

Two scriptures in order present both horns of a dilemna:

The first, Matthew 5:  17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. ”

The second one: Mathew 5: (underlining added)

Murder

 21You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother[b]will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,[c]‘ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.   21“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother[b]will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,[c]‘ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

For some people, The Bible is the only or first answer to everything.  For them, an idea called “solo scriptora” , meaning “only scripture”  is the way to go. It is a comforting, if challenging, way to live which sets limits, defines “normal” and “right”, and presents a form of hope if you believe what it says and do and say the right things. It is definite and constant and offers a security nearly unmatched if you can live up to its challenges or believe in certain things.

For some people, the Bible is a living document, a starting point, an anchor, a good book, but a fallible one, written by fallible people over the course of time. It is the cause of wrestling with the faith, consternation, insecurity, give-and-take, arguement, etc. but it is the “big tent” book as well, that says God loves everyone because God created everyone. It is a piece of a living relationship with God, not the end-all-be-all book of answers for any situation.

For some people, it is just a bunch of stupid, superstitious stuff that people believed when they thought the earth was flat. For them, it has no bearing at all. 

For some people, the Bible makes a great doorstop or table decoration of the time you went to church and proved you were a good person.

I choose the hard road, number 2 above, well aware of numbers, 1, 3, and 4.  There are a whole lot of people I respect who believe number 3.  There are a whole lot of people I love who believe #1.  I don’t get #4, in the same way that I don’t get college as an “undeclared” major.  Not being affected by something you’ve come into contact with (a book or an educational system, for instance, or a piece of art) simply makes no sense to me. I feel sad for those people, but they are who they are. Finally, there a whole lot of people who love me that believe as I do, #2, because they understand me. Actually, there are people in all 4 categories who love me and whom I love, whether we understand each other or not.  What that means is that a person doesn’t have to believe in the Bible to love others.  That may be central to the whole thing or not.  As above, it depends on who you ask.

Here’s my take on it, with everything above taken into account. The Bible IS NOT a book directly written by GOD in a giant Bic pen or with a hammer and chisel, or even by a magic flying finger, except possibly the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai. It IS a a giant collection of stories, history, worship, sayings, music, etc that tells us what God was and is like. It is written by a whole bunch of people, in a whole bunch of places and times, and they don’t all agree with each other or even with the Bible as they know it, as Jesus says in the above paragraph.  It evolves over generations not because the words change (though our guesses at the words do at times), but because we evolve or change our perspective on it.

Jesus argued with the text and said he wasn’t doing it — both in the same speech. That gives me, as a follower of his, permission to do the same. What if I get it wrong? Well, if you believe some of my friends, I go to hell. If that’s the case, well then so be it.  I went there faithfully. Am I scared somewhere in the back of my brain? You bet I am. Those friends are either right or wrong. That’s 50/50 odds.  But I choose to live fully in my faith.  I can’t settle for a half a loaf, and to look up the textual answer to every question I have would be to stop having a brain of my own and a heart of my own.  People who don’t eat at all from that loaf because they think it’s poison make sense to me. I think they’re wrong, but they make sense to me and I see it as my job to prove that it’s safe.  People who eat from it while ignoring the spaghetti next to it miss alot, even if they stay alive and are quite content. People who think “that’s supposed to be good for me” but never try it make no sense to me.  But people who use the loaf to beat others over the head with miss the whole point, neither eating it and living, nor nurturing others. I like the bread of the Bible, I fill up on it, I savor it’s taste, I grow and live from it, but I consider it only one course in the meal.

When Jesus says, “you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind” (and “love your neighbor as yourself”) — in Luke 10:27 — I take it seriously. Note that “mind” is in there, as is “heart”. I have those, I think. I like to think that there’s some soul involved as well in my case, but I’m not always sure about my strength of conviction/action and that’s a problem. But that’s my problem. Others have problems in other areas.

People who believe in solo scriptora seem to me to have no heart.  Or if they do have one, they think they can’t use it.  They think of the heart as “fallen” and problematic and “human” and not to be listened to.  I either can’t or choose not to live that way.

Some examples of where I get off the bus re: “scripture, right or wrong” are central to my faith. I like to think, as Robert MacAfee Brown used to say, that I take the Bible seriously, just not literally. For instance, the question, “Was the earth created in 7 days?” is one that people spend their whole lives arguing about. I could care less.  For me, the question is “Who created everything?” followed immediately by “and what does that mean to me about how to live?” Life is a series of open-ended questions, rather than a series of Yes/No questions.

Was Jesus born of a virgin? I think so, even though I know it’s bizarre or simple or whatever. But I don’t care. Maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t. I’m certainly not going to go to war over it. It’s not the point of the story. The point of the story is that Jesus was unique, more than “just” human.  And that means that I should give his words a whole lot of weight when I consider how to live. That I do believe with everything I’ve got.

Part of what I know, I know from growing up in the era that I have.  Things change, often for the better, but not always. The Bible hasn’t changed hardly at all. Paul says, “women should keep quiet in church”, He also says “My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you”. I’m guessing that Chloe wasn’t quiet in church, she being the apparent head of the household. There are prophetesses all through the Bible, including Anna. who announces Jesus.  She certainly didn’t keep quiet in church and God didn’t want her to. Prophetesses who can’t prophecy aren’t doing their jobs very well.  

When I was a kid, the ads in the paper said “Help Wanted, Male” and “Help Wanted, Female”.  Now we think, (correctly) that that’s just dumb. When I was a kid, of course the minister was a man. What else would he be? In the same way, of course God was a man.  What else would He be?  But there’s Biblical arguements in both directions. Right now, we choose to believe that women can and should speak in church.  We also choose to believe that God is male, female, both and neither, that God is Spirit. There’s Biblical precedent for all of them.  So, what does the Bible say?  It says lots of things.

Are my gay friends going to hell?  When I was a kid, gay people didn’t exist as far asI — and most people– knew.  Now you can’t put your finger on my Facebook page without bumping into one of them. In the old days, of course, they were going to hell, because it was a moot point. They didn’t exist. It was easy to say we’d stone ’em, or burn ’em or do whatever.  Now that we know they do exist and can be quite nice people, for the most part, we’re stuck with the challenge of scripture. Do we really want to do that? No.  What did Jesus say? Nothing. So now what do we do?  People who believe in THE BIBLE should realize that, despite what their faith says, regardless of what they believe, the BIBLE says ‘If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death (underlining mine)”.  Do they do that? I hope not. So now what? How does that work with “love your neighbor as yourself?” We have to guess. We have to figure it out using all our hearts, minds, souls, and strengths. And we have to do it with all the tools, human as they are, that we have.  That is faith — faith not in the Bible, but faith in God. Faith that God loves us more than wants to blast us into hell. What if we’re wrong? Ouch!  I can’t believe in a God like that, or I choose not to, depending on who you ask. In any case, I won’t.   It’s not my experience of God, generally.

And if I won’t stone gay folks, who I could make a “better” case for, I won’t kill the infidel either, or the pagan (which at one time would have meant Christian).  This means, if Gandhi were alive, I wouldn’t kill him either.  Why? Because I don’t like being killed for being me. So, I try to “love [my] neighbor as myself”. That’s from Jesus. Remember him?

See? We guess all the time.  We make this stuff up as we go, and the Bible remains the same. Is it possible to stray too far from it?  Absolutely.  Have I ever guessed wrong about God’s will for me? Plenty of times!  Is God smarter than me? That question’s too funny to even entertain. Of course God is.   That’s what makes God God, and me me.

So what do I have to go on? The idea that, in addition to God being smarter than me, (having more “mind”) God is also more compassionate than me (having more “heart”), more able to do things  than I am (having more “strength”) and loving better music than I am (having more “soul” — er, just kidding about the music thing).

So, there you have it. A long, rambling, strung together bunch of thoughts and guesses and understandings passing for a theology.  You’ll probably have to read this one twice or three times to wrap your head around it because it has so many twists.  But when you’re done with my theology, I hope you’ll do your own.

Peace,

John

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21 thoughts on “Do Your Own Theology — The Bible and Its Authority

  1. Nope, just need to read it once 😉 because I know you. Sorry if that disappoints (although I have had to re-read in the past). I like the way you present thing in your “John M B way”. I’d like to discuss the 7 days of creation subject with you, because I actually have some real but probably not original thoughts on the subject. Also, if for no other reason I enjoy discussing faith and scriptural topics with someone that doesn’t view the discussion as a contest with potential for only one winner but a sharing of ideas that can actually have two winners. It doesn’t seem to happen often enough… Are people conditioned to be afraid to bare their or just not want to be caught with a question and not an answer? Keep it up John, it’s good stuff.
    With brotherly love & peace to you in your time of loss.

    • Dave:
      Thanks for the compliment. I’d love to talk to you re: creation or any other faith matter. Most good theology it seems to me comes from sharing. Still, it’s scary stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever said I’d be willing to go to hell before and im I’m not sure I really am. Hopefully, I won’t have to worry about it.

      Peace,

      John

  2. John, I don’t think you could be more wrong. However I’ll hold off on giving a full reply for a while, I’ll pray for you and your family.

    -BC

  3. Hi John, I have finally found the courage to respond to your blog. I don’t alway agree with what you say but like reading your articles very much. You have opened up my mind to thoughts I have never entertained before.

    I believe the Bible is the ultimate authority. While it was written by the hand of man I believe it is the inspired words of God. I’m not sure how we can know God with out our Bibles. I believe the Bible was written so that we could know God. If not for the Bible how would we know any of the attributes of God?
    I do see the Scriptures as a definite and a constant and for me is a form of hope and security but not because I can live up to the challenges or do or say the right things but because of the blood Christ shed for me and my sins.

    If we see the Bible as failable then there is no real foundation. Nothing for sure to stand on and that goes aganist what the Bible teaches. I was taught that you can’t pick and choose which parts you will believe. You either believe it all or nothing. What justification do we as humans have for deciding what is true and what is not.

    That is why I believe that it is better to have the faith of a child than that of a Pharissee. While there is a fountain of knowledge to learn and to know, for me, Faith is more about having the living faith of a child not a wealth of head knowledge.

    I don’t have all the answers and when there is something I don’t understand about the scriptures I pray and meditate on the passage and ask for God to open my mind, eyes and my understanding on a subject. I don’t think we should beat up on folks with what we believe…it’s not my way or the highway but everyone has to approach the Lord and salvation with thier own fear and trembling.

    Was the World created in 7 days I believe what it says… Is there evidence to the contrary? Maybe but maybe my 7 days wasn’t the same as Gods 7 days… does it matter in the grand scheme of things not really. God created and it was good. Then God rested. I believe it was 7 day but It’s not a point to fight about. Was Christ born of a Virgin? The Bible say so, so I believe it, again it’s not worth fighting over.

    At one point you speak about the stoneing of sinners That is a whole other can of worms. For me I think that the old testament judgements were of God… Before Christ.
    Jews don’t sacrifice thier first animals or harvest. Or at least I haven’t seen an altar of such…We are all suppose to give our tithes that represent our first fruits. I believe what is spelled out as wrong is still wrong, but how we deal with the actions are different. Only because of the Sacrafice Christ made do we not stone someone or kill the disobediant child. I think we find ourselves on a slippery slope when we decide what parts of the Bible we will believe or not.

    I believe God created and loves us all. I believe God calls each one of us into relationship with him ( I choose at this point to use the masculine attribute) and for those who choose to believe, there is Salvation through the blood and sacrifice made by Christ. There is nothing we can do or say… We can never be good enough but all hope is in the Love of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. That hope and Gods love surpasses all understanding and makes everyday worth living.

    As Dennis Miller says: “This is my opinion I could be wrong.”

    • Caroll:

      First, I hope it never takes “courage” to respond to my blog. I’d love to have “guest bloggers” and your post is long enough to qualify. That’s the point — to encourage new ways of thought, to seek out strange new worlds, to boldly… (I digress). It would never be my hope to discourage anyone from responding. However, I would hope it takes discretion, which you obviously have. You haven’t moved into personal attacks or scare tactics (though those might be appropriate at times, I suppose) or stupid “talking points”/slogans. You set out a really good response and good reasons for it. The fact that there are “cans of worms” in our interpretation of issues, suggests that we need to think more about what the Bible does, indeed, say. I think we agree on most points. I believe what’s in the Bible is possible, because of God’s infinite possibilities. I just don’t think that others have to or that I can’t have questions. I do like having a “standard of faith and practice” but I also like a living document to wrestle with. BTW, I love Dennis Miller. I don’t always agree with him, but I love that he thinks about things.

      My only question tonight: While I’m totally cool with God as a “Man”/Male, why do you think God has to have a penis?

      Peace,

      John

      • Carroll: I hope I wasn’t perceived as snarky with my response. I don’t mean to be that way. My experience of God is that, somehow, God is a male as well. I am well aware that the Biblical places where the Spirit is female or that God is really…God, a spiritual being, etc. And I believe in using those other terms/inclusive language. Still, I experience God as male. Haven’t seen the penis, but experience God that way. So I guess my question is really “Why do YOU experience God as male? And, does God have to be that way?

        Peace,

        JOhn

  4. Oh, I also meant to say that you sound like John Wesley, whose theology was formed by – if I can remember all four – scripture, reason, tradition, and – oh, see, I can never seem to remember more than three at a time – must google! Anyway, it’s known by some as the Wesley footstool, with scripture as the seat and the other three as the legs.

    • Val: It’s been very busy here lately, so I didn’t get a chance to respond earlier. I’m glad you liked the article. The support felt good. Yes, I very much like, and believe in, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.
      The fact that four of us — Bob, Carroll, You, and I could all have different things to say/different opinions/different values about the Bible is the very point of the “theology” section of the blog. We begin to feel like there is only one way to look at the faith, oneway to look at the Bible and –if we don’t fit with it, we stop believing or we give up or we get angry … and all kinds of bad things happen. For some folks in the UCC, it seems like liberal version of things is “the one true way” and for some folks in contact with more conservative traditions, it seems like the fundamentalist version of things is the “one true way”. In any case, they try to measure up to it all and fail. I have parts of me that are conservative and parts of me that are very liberal. I can see that as “failure” as a true liberal and “failure” as a true conservative, or I can say “this is what I believe”… and worry that I fail/fall short of what God wants me to do, but do the best I can anyway. Except for the worry part, I like the second path better and even that goes away on occasion. I think for the next two blog articles, I’m going to write something on community and something on wrestling with the faith/scripture. Thanks again, for letting me “think out loud”.
      Peace,

      John

  5. John, God doesn’t have to be He. But Jesus called him Father, and that is good enough for me. I see a strong, protective nature, creator as a male figure. I do know that a mother of a child can also be strong and protective.
    I believe God is Spirit. Not truly male or female.
    I just don’t personally relate to the creator as a woman. When God created He created Adam first and then created woman. I do believe in equality and don’t see that as substandard. Both equally needing each other. I have a picture in my mind that if I was in need of physical help it wouldn’t be a woman I ran too but a man.

    • Carroll:

      Fair enough. My experience of God has been that God is male, as well. And, no, I didn’t see a penis. I didn’t see anything, but the presence was definitely male. Having said that, the metaphors for God — including one who gives birth and nurtures people — allow me to believe in female language for God., but it took a little getting used to. Also, Biblically, as you know, Wisdom/the Holy Spirit is portrayed as female. In addition, as the father of daughters, I don;t want them to think God is only male (not that they’re likely to think that I am God. Just ask them.) Your experience is your experience and mine is mine –as it should be. Thanks for sharing.

      Peace,

      John

  6. Recently, two blogs were posted – this one, and another one called “Do-Your-Own-Theology: The Afterlife – The Only Thing That Makes Sense” (July 11, 2010). Since the topics are inextricably intertwined, I am posting this response that pertains to both. I hope that the two or three people (mentioned in that other blog) also read this response due to the eternal consequences.

    The Bible says that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and omnipresent. That he is sovereign. And Jesus proclaims that the Bible is the Word of God.

    According to what John says in his blog, he is not a Christian. Now of course when it comes to eternal matters the Bible cautions that we should never judge what is in a man’s heart (“judge not, lest ye be judged”), but the Bible also tells us to be discerning based on what people do and say. And based on what he says, John is not a Christian. (I hope that I am wrong, and in his heart he is a Christian.)

    From a logical perspective, the Bible can be viewed 2 ways:
    1) The word of God
    2) The word of man

    There is a third (however ludicrous) possibility, that the Bible is partially the word of God and partially the word of man. But unless your bible has the non-word-of-God parts crossed out by someone smart enough to know which parts are true according to God and which parts are not (i.e. God Himself), then this is a ridiculous thing to consider. For any man to make this type of judgment using only his own intelligence would require greater knowledge than that of the author. Good luck with outsmarting God! (unless, of course, you believe that God could be a liar and sinful in his own eyes – again, contradictory to what the bible says). Even if you believe the bible to be 99.9% accurate, you have to have more knowledge than the author to know the 0.1% that is inaccurate. You simply cannot believe that the bible is the Word of God except Romans 8 & 9, or except Romans 3:10. It’s an all-or-nothing deal, period.

    John has stated that he believes the Bible is a fallible document written by men:
    “The Bible IS NOT a book directly written by GOD in a giant Bic pen or with a hammer and chisel, or even by a magic flying finger, except possibly the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai. It IS a a giant collection of stories, history, worship, sayings, music, etc that tells us what God was and is like. It is written by a whole bunch of people, in a whole bunch of places and times, and they don’t all agree with each other or even with the Bible as they know it”.
    To extend that logic, he would then deny that the authors were inspired by God himself when they wrote it, and that God implanted his Word onto the men who wrote the books of the Bible; instead, John believes that the bible was written only by men who are fallible, and any statements that coincide with any of Gods truths are merely coincidence. Therefore the Bible, to John, is nothing more than an interesting document (possibly with some good, but non-binding advice for living life).

    John has always been a fantastic example of showing God’s love. As far as the people in my life go, John is second to none at being a great example of how to “love our neighbor as ourselves”, and truly lives an exemplary life like Jesus would want us to live. Based on John’s actions, it is reasonable to believe that John might be a Christian.

    However he denies the single most basic, fundamental tenet of Christianity – that Jesus is our Savior. According to John, there are many nice people who don’t need a savior. This is obviously in direct contradiction to what the Bible says; in fact John goes on to say that not only is a Savior not necessary, but that if that’s the type of God that exists then he doesn’t *want* to believe in the Biblical God! John says:
    “Ultimate punishment for not doing anything really wrong seems just stupid to me. It seems to be the very opposite of the gospel. justice, or mercy to send people to hell on a technicality. Gandhi in hell? I think not. And if I’m supposed to worship a God who would do that, I’d rather not. Thanks, I’ll pass.”
    Well maybe he doesn’t want to believe, but it’s what the Bible says (which, as discussed above, unfortunately does not mean anything to John). As much as we might not like it, God has mercy for some, justice for others, and injustice for nobody.

    If you don’t believe that Jesus is our Savior, then Jesus would have been wasting His time to die on the Cross. But who knows if he did, if the Bible is an errant document. And we might want to believe that God is merciful but not just, but again that’s not what the Bible says. In that way, the Bible is actually somewhat disturbing and unpleasant to read.

    I’ve never heard anyone say that the Bible (regardless of the version) is easy to understand. It takes work to read the Bible, and to know which parts are to be taken literally, which parts are metaphors, which parts are poetry, and so on. In fact there is an entire field called Hermeneutics which is dedicated to biblical interpretation. And it doesn’t help that the original texts weren’t in English, and that many of the English words need to be “un-translated” to their original language in order to fully understand their meaning. And the texts had to be manually preserved since there were no Xerox machines back then. And it doesn’t help that authors had to write from their own perspective, and had difficulty with certain truths that later became self evident (i.e. that the world is round) but were completely unfathomable to them at the time. But with the thousands of Bible scholars who exist, most of the research has been laid out for us, and anyone who desires to learn more about God’s word has plenty of reliable resources.

    So if you believe the Bible to be the word of man (and henceforth full of mistakes), then go ahead and put your faith in what John wants to believe. Try to go to Heaven using John’s guidance. But if you believe the Bible is the word of God, then you should learn what it says (from the teachings of someone who also believes it to be God’s word, and by reading it yourself) about going to Heaven. I hope everyone reading this makes the right decision, since our eternity depends on it. 80 years on this planet is nothing compared to eternity!

    By the way, in response to John’s recent blog about “The authority of the Bible” I said that I believe that John was wrong. Since John portrays himself as an Ordained Christian Minister, I firmly believe that it is wrong to give a response that is in direct contradiction to the Christian Bible. I don’t mean this as a personal attack (vis-a-vis “Re: Community – Online or Otherwise”, Aug. 22, 2010), John, but I feel that if you are going to proclaim authority for yourself by stating that you are an Ordained Christian Minister, you have the responsibility to give the Christian response.

    -Bob

    p.s. John, please don’t take offense that I’m addressing you in the third person, my primary purpose was to give a response for others to read and consider.

    • To Bob and my other readers:

      This is a great response to my articles! Well thought out, with a whole lot of intellectual nitty-gritty. I know Bob to be a good man, as well, and am glad to count him as a friend. I am amazed by the depth of his response and know that it was hard for him to write it as we are good friends. Bob, you’re a brave man as well as a good one.

      OK. Having said that, let me explain further my points. 1) The article on the afterlife was written for two people that struggle to believe that there is an afterlife. I still like what I said, because that’s the picture that goes best with my thinking and with other very pious people that I studied with. I also like things as described, but that just me. That’s how I would like things to go. It may, in fact, not be the way things work. If you believe that the Bible is inerrant (perfect, word for word), then the Biblical portrait of a scary Hell of fire and damnation forever is what it is. You must always consider that Bob’s Biblical version may be right, but coming to God because you’re afraid isn’t worship, it’s fear. The fact that a very respectable Bible scholar likes Purgatory as a concept due to his overall knowledge of God speaks well that I’m on firm ground.

      2) About the Bible: First off, I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. I don’t believe that every word is exactly perfect and I believe that Bob has made my case for me. Because we know the Bible in English, because we have trouble finding all of the fragments, because there are Hebrew words that simply don’t translate, because there are hermeneutics involved, to say simply “follow the Bible” leaves open the question of “whichBible do I follow? Two examples: The word “fear” in English (“[The] fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”) is actually closer to “awe” in Hebrew (“Awe of God is the beginning of wisdom”). That’s a whole different thing. Another: “Perfect” (“Be ye perfect, even as your heavenly father is perfect”) In the Greek, “perfect” doesn’t mean without flaw, it means “functional” or “doing it’s job”. That’s at least possible, while being without flaw isn’t. Lastly, re: untranslatable words: “Racca” is usually translated “fool”. In the original, it could well have been closer to “faggot”. (If your brother calls you “faggot”, he will be sent to the lake of fire” or some such thing). Again, that’s different. Who knew? Who knows? Nobody.

      My argument is not that the Bible has no authority, quite the opposite. It has tons of authority in our lives, as it should have. I take the Bible “seriously, not literally”. That seriousness and humility re: the words leads me to “different people can do and think different things”. There are some challenges in it that I see (Communism in the book of Acts, for instance) that Bob doesn’t and vice-versa (homosexuality, for instance). That is why we must wrestle with our faith, wrestle with the Bible, and do the best we can.

      There are different books, with different styles, and different authors, but the church has been led to say these books are special and that’s the inspired by God part, to me.

      Do I believe that Jesus died for me and my sins? Yes I do. And I hope\believe I’m right. Do I understand all the details? No. Would I do it this way? No. But that’s why God is God and I’m not. I’m still taking advantage of my special “salvation” coupon because it’s been offered. Do other people have to 1) know Jesus in order to get saved?; 2) get around the theology, which is difficult at best? I can’t\refuse to believe that they do. Too many people fall into the “don’t know Jesus” category. Too many people struggle with the theology. If God knows that we’re human (and are ignorant or make mistakes), then God can’t punish us for being that way, it seems to me. But hey, I could be wrong..

      Which leads me to my last comment on being “an Ordained Christian Minister” — Yes, I am and yes, I am terrified that Bob’s right and I’m wrong, because I take that role seriously. If there’s a hell and people go there because of me, that’s a huge thing. I don’t want that to happen — not at all. But, feeling called by God, I can’t not say what I think. Is is scary? Darned right, it is. The apostle Paul says that we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (awe and trembling?) I do both — stand in awe of God and fear that I’m wrong, but finally trusting God to be good. That’s the definition of faith to me.

      That’s it for now. Thanks for writing, Bob. Thanks for reading to the rest of you.

      Peace,

      John

      • ***
        let me explain further my points. 1) The article on the afterlife was written for two people that struggle to believe that there is an afterlife. I still like what I said, because that’s the picture that goes best with my thinking and with other very pious people that I studied with. I also like things as described, but that just me. That’s how I would like things to go. It may, in fact, not be the way things work. If you believe that the Bible is inerrant (perfect, word for word), then the Biblical portrait of a scary Hell of fire and damnation forever is what it is. You must always consider that Bob’s Biblical version may be right, but coming to God because you’re afraid isn’t worship, it’s fear. The fact that a very respectable Bible scholar likes Purgatory as a concept due to his overall knowledge of God speaks well that I’m on firm ground.
        ***
        This is very revealing. First of all, it says that you are not a Christian. A Christian, when asked about matters pertaining to Christianity, will always defer to his Lord whenever possible – and Jesus (and the entire bible) is abundantly clear about these matters.

        The Bible makes several assertions that CANNOT be ignored:
        – That Jesus is God
        – That God is perfect and sinless (and, by extension, cannot lie since this is a sin)
        – That the bible is the Word of God
        – That God will preserve his Word

        Therefore, if Jesus says something and you believe it is false, then you cannot believe that Jesus is sinless or Jesus is God. Because it is impossible for God (as presented in the bible) to lie. You can only believe that Jesus of Nazereth was a FALSE prophet. If Jesus, who claims to be speaking the truth of the father, says that you need him to go to Heaven and you disagree, then you are not a Christian (nor do you believe in the God of the bible). You might be “spiritual”, and you might even be a theist or monotheist, but you are not a Christian.

        If you think that the bible has incorrect information or falsehoods, then you believe that God broke (or never made) his promise to preserve his Word. This is contrary to the Bible’s assertion that God is all-powerful and able to keep his promises, so the bible is wrong in many ways and therefore a untrustworthy, useless document.

        The bible does portray a scary picture of the afterlife. It mentions fire and brimstone, the gnashing of teeth, eternal separation from God, and several other horrible things. I suppose that some people might come to the Lord out of fear, but I know that with me that was never involved. And I don’t ever try to scare people into faith, the Holy Spirit has never moved me to do that.

        And a biblical scholar who is not a believer should not be depended on for biblical interpretation. They might be knowledgeable, but if they don’t present the bible from the perspective that it is God’s truth, then they are only presenting the perspective of a man and not one of God. You can choose to put your faith into a man, or into God.

        **********
        2) About the Bible: First off, I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. I don’t believe that every word is exactly perfect and I believe that Bob has made my case for me. Because we know the Bible in English, because we have trouble finding all of the fragments, because there are Hebrew words that simply don’t translate, because there are hermeneutics involved, to say simply “follow the Bible” leaves open the question of “whichBible do I follow? Two examples: The word “fear” in English (“[The] fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”) is actually closer to “awe” in Hebrew (“Awe of God is the beginning of wisdom”). That’s a whole different thing. Another: “Perfect” (“Be ye perfect, even as your heavenly father is perfect”) In the Greek, “perfect” doesn’t mean without flaw, it means “functional” or “doing it’s job”. That’s at least possible, while being without flaw isn’t. Lastly, re: untranslatable words: “Racca” is usually translated “fool”. In the original, it could well have been closer to “faggot”. (If your brother calls you “faggot”, he will be sent to the lake of fire” or some such thing). Again, that’s different. Who knew? Who knows? Nobody.
        **********
        You are putting words in my mouth. I did not make a case that the bible is not exactly perfect, I made the case that it takes work and study to understand it.

        No other book has been subjected to the extreme care as the bible. Nor has any book of antiquity been subjected to such extreme scrutiny in the details.

        Can you predict 5 or 10 years in the future? Will China take over the US? will we be alive? But the bible predicts things hundreds and thousands of years in the future.

        When you have people predicting things in the future – not in vague generalities, but with specific details – that are then accurately and specifically fulfilled in the future, that reveals a supernatural source. THere are hundreds of prophecies in the old testament that are fulfilled in Jesus; do you know the odds against that? You can doubt that God wrote the bible if you want, but I don’t buy it for a second.

        If you want to hang your hat on some seeming contradiction that you can’t reconcile, then you don’t have faith. (But I will say this- every single time I’ve come across a seeming contradiction in the bible, it’s been reconciled. Sometimes it’s taken years before I’ve been able to do it, but I’ve done it.)

        You must read the bible and try to hear what it is trying to say, and not what you want it to say. Don’t impose your desires on the bible, listen to what it is telling you.

        The bible is not a complete document. It does not completely address all matters of earth and eternity. But it does reveal all that God wants it to reveal.

        There is a bumper sticker that says “The bible says it, I believe it, that settles it”. Do you see what the problem there is with that statement? It is redundant. The bumper sticker should read “The bible says it, that settles it”.

        By the same token, if God inspired men to write one thing, but they wrote another, then is God all-powerful like he claims to be? Or did God lie to us when he made that claim?

        If you want my recommendation on which version of the bible, I recommend the King James version. No other version has undergone the intense effort of accuracy, and most others have been compromised. Yes, the language is awkward at first, but that’s all the more reason to undertake an intensive study. If you really want to go for broke, then it’s a great thing to learn the original languages and read the original texts. A better option is probably to get multiple English versions and compare them against each other. I use multiple versions and combine that with listening to teachers who are more familiar with the original languages and their context.

        You seem to be quite aware of the translational issues that have arisen, but for those who need help then many Christians or Pastors are willing to help, and articles and books on virtually every biblical concept. I don’t know why you make the claim that nobody knows, I enjoy learning and reading more. Maybe you mean that no single person has a 100% grasp on every aspect of the bible? Okay, I’ll agree with that, but if there is any single aspect of the bible that concerns you there are probably dozens of books about that one issue! Answers are available, even if you (or I) don’t know them all.

        ***
        My argument is not that the Bible has no authority, quite the opposite. It has tons of authority in our lives, as it should have. I take the Bible “seriously, not literally”. That seriousness and humility re: the words leads me to “different people can do and think different things”. There are some challenges in it that I see (Communism in the book of Acts, for instance) that Bob doesn’t and vice-versa (homosexuality, for instance). That is why we must wrestle with our faith, wrestle with the Bible, and do the best we can.
        ***
        If the bible is not of God’s authority, then what authority does it have? If it is not of God’s authority, then the book has no more authority than any other book found in the self-help section of your local bookstore.

        Yes, you cannot read the bible 100% literally. It is all not written that way (although some of it is). But every concept presented (through its various forms) IS from God.

        I will happily discuss “secondary” matters (i.e. whether Acts pushes us toward communism, or things like double predestination), I would love to engage in those discussions. But when it comes to matters of primary importance (i.e. whether there is a Heaven and how to go there) the bible is abundantly clear. And you’ve got some of the primary ones dead wrong.

        ***
        There are different books, with different styles, and different authors, but the church has been led to say these books are special and that’s the inspired by God part, to me.

        Do I believe that Jesus died for me and my sins? Yes I do.
        ***
        You are putting your faith into someone who you think is a liar? That’s dumb. Either you believe that Jesus is a prophet of God, or that he is a false prophet. For he says himself that the bible is God’s word, and Jesus says that he is God. And if you believe that he is a prophet of God, and God, then that settles it.

        ***
        And I hope\believe I’m right.
        ***
        Do you KNOW you are right? I do, I have it on God’s own authority.

        ***
        Do I understand all the details? No. Would I do it this way? No. But that’s why God is God and I’m not. I’m still taking advantage of my special “salvation” coupon because it’s been offered. Do other people have to 1) know Jesus in order to get saved?; 2) get around the theology, which is difficult at best? I can’t\refuse to believe that they do.
        ***
        Well the bible says that they do. If you don’t believe it, then you believe Jesus is a liar. And, in fact, according to the bible you do not have Salvation, since Jesus is our Saviour and he claims to be the only way to Heaven. Jesus said it in the bible, that settles it.

        ***
        Too many people fall into the “don’t know Jesus” category. Too many people struggle with the theology. If God knows that we’re human (and are ignorant or make mistakes), then God can’t punish us for being that way, it seems to me. But hey, I could be wrong..
        ***
        The bible makes it clear that there is ample evidence for God, and that all who seek Him will find Him.

        But, and this is the sad part, that only a few will be saved. Unfortunatly, like children are rebellious against their parents, men are rebellious against God. I don’t like it either, but it’s what the bible says. But that’s why it is so important to spread God’s word high and low, so that everyone you know (and everyone you don’t) can go to Heaven.

        When someone comes to you, since you present yourself as an ordained Christian minister, it is reasonable for them to assume that you will give the Christian response.

        That’s why I’m SO disappointed in your posting. Not only are you denying God’s authority, but you are doing so under the guise that you are an Ordained Christian Minister. What an INCREDIBLE amount of damage you are doing to those who might otherwise be saved! I ask, beg of you John- please don’t perpetrate as an authoritative Christian. You are leading people away from the Lord, and potentially causing souls to be lost for eternity, when they could be saved! In fact, if you wouldn’t mind, could you please write to the people who ordained you and tell them that they were wrong to do so?

        ***
        Which leads me to my last comment on being “an Ordained Christian Minister” — Yes, I am and yes, I am terrified that Bob’s right and I’m wrong, because I take that role seriously. If there’s a hell and people go there because of me, that’s a huge thing. I don’t want that to happen — not at all. But, feeling called by God, I can’t not say what I think. Is is scary? Darned right, it is. The apostle Paul says that we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (awe and trembling?) I do both — stand in awe of God and fear that I’m wrong, but finally trusting God to be good. That’s the definition of faith to me.
        ***
        Faith is believing and trusting in something. If you don’t have faith in the God of the bible, then who do you have faith in? You seem to have faith in yourself, and that’s not enough. You doubt the bible. That’s not faith, that is doubt. I don’t know in whom you have placed this alleged faith. Who is calling you? God will not call you to believe something that is contrary to his truth, only the Devil will call you to do that. The bible says we will *know*. And you have doubt.

        You have to trust God to be more than *good*, you have to trust him to be who He says He is.

        If two people came for help on Christian matters, you have set them back. Two people who could have come to you for a knowledge of Jesus and heaven have been told the opposite of what Jesus himself told us about Heaven.

        If Jesus is Lord of your life, how can you hear the instructions and commands of your Lord if not through the bible? If you do not trust the primary source of information of his identiy, person, and work, you have your feet planted firmly in mid-air.

        John, this has been an awful reply to write. In fact I procrastinated for a long time because I didn’t want to write it. I WANT you to be saved, and I WANT you to go to Heaven. But according to what you say you are not. I could not be more distressed. But obviously I had to do it.

        I will pray hard for you John. After you pass, I don’t want you to stand in front of our Heavenly Father in judgment and say “Oh, you really MEANT all of that?” when it is too late! Not only that, but as America continues its decline God needs all of the allies He can get, and you would be a strong one.

        With my deepest love,

        -Bob

      • Wow, Bob. I thought you hadn’t written because we’d found common ground. I guess I was wrong.

        First off, re: ordination. I’m sorry you are disappointed but I won’t be giving it back. I don’t think I could have been that bad of a minister. I seem to remember bringing you to you wife’s form of the faith. It seems to have taken hold. Feel free to pray for me as I will pray for you.

        My point in writing this blog in the first place is to prove that there are more than one way to view the text , more than one way to have faith and that no one belief has the total version of the truth. You will notice that there are more comments than mine listed here. I am not the only one who believes differently than you do and people need to know that to start the journey. You may not want to hear that, but there it is. I evangelize by opening the door wide and encouraging them to step through even though they have questions, just as I did in your case.

        You can’t honestly say my inspiration is from the devil. You know me too well. My actions speak for themselves. An unholy person doesn’t bear the fruits of the Spirit that you know I do. I wouldn’t write this blog at all if I didn’t feel led or called to. I mean what I say or I wouldn’t write it and I consider my writing some of my actions.

        If you read my blog “are you a Christian?” you will see that even that question has more than one answer. That is what I believe. You don’t have to agree under my system so I can and do accept you, while your narrower view doesn’t accept me. This is ok — maddening and saddening at times — but it is what it is.

        Virginia Satir frequently said, “every thing makes sense if you understand the premise”. My problem with your view is that there are far too many assumptions about what is an acceptable premise or starting point. “If this then that” assumes that “this” is right. I don’t believe it is. Translation, in case you missed it: we’ll have to agree to disagree. I feel bad that’ll you’ll worry about me because I don’t. Even if you think my faith in Jesus is “dumb” ( illogical) , I take comfort from the fact that MY Jesus was killed by people who believed they could logic God into a box. He was willing to let that happen and so am I. But just as Jesus wouldn’t kill others to prove his point, I won’t either. I believe that your type of faith kills in the name of loving. That is why I pray for you and the people that hear your beliefs.

        Again, we’ll have to agree to disagree, but know that I think you are as wrong about Christianity as you think I am. I can live with that and I hope you can.

        Peace with the love of Christ,

        John

  7. John-

    Gotta clarify a few things.

    First of all, I don’t mean to hurt you at all. I am trying to point out that the Bible is the only way you can know what Jesus wants you to know. If you don’t believe the bible, then you have no other way of knowing what Jesus said (short of discovering finding some lost tape recordings). If you don’t believe the bible, how does the Lord of your life exercise his Lordship over your life? He can’t.

    You say that you are an Ordained Christian Minister. My gripe isn’t with the minister part – not at all. My problem is with the “Christian” part. As far as ministering, you have no deficiency whatsoever. And you were definitely a part of my journey to being saved, as were many other people and events. I am grateful for ALL of them, and that includes yourself in no small way.

    There is a church in the next town to me that basically holds to no particular religion. They publish a statement of faith that basically says (paraphrasing) “the Bible is nice, and so is the Koran and Torah and Scientology and Buddhism and there is something to be learned from all of these”. And there is a man who stands in front of the Congregation every week, who ministers to them and is probably even ordained according to their church. But I don’t think he’d ever call himself a Christian. And my point is that if you aren’t a Christian, then your Christian Ordination was under false pretenses. I know in my heart that you do a fantastic job of helping those people who need it most.

    Are there more than one way to view the text? Absolutely. You can view it as a flawed, imperfect document written by men if you want. If you believe the Bible to be the perfect, holy word of God, there are still several things that the bible doesn’t make clear or speak about in 100% entirety / clarity. And you don’t have to be a baptist or a Presbyterian to be saved.

    But all of Christianity does believe one essential thing – that Jesus is our Savior, and we can’t go to Heaven without him. There is no room for interpretation in that! There are certain fundamental, primary beliefs of all Christians and that is one of them. There are secondary matters which are wide open to discussion or debate, but eternal salvation is not one of them.

    I don’t know who Virginia Satir is, but I do know that there are certain basic principles to philosophy and logic. For example, do you have an opinion about who will win next year’s Superbowl? You can not! It is 100% impossible to have an opinion about that question. Since it is purely a matter of fact about who will win (despite the fact that nobody knows that fact yet), you can guess at what the fact is, but you can’t have an opinion. You can have an opinion about which team is your favorite, or even which team might be better than another, but you cannot have an opinion about facts (such as who the champion will be). 2+2=4 is not a matter of opinion.

    And I don’t really think your inspiration is from the Devil. I think it is from yourself. In the same way that God will NEVER tell you to go murder someone or sin in any way, he will not contradict himself. So if you feel like an idea is being implanted from without, and it is contradictory to God’s Word, then it is not from God. You have to be REAL careful about that stuff and always be on guard against the Devil. In the same way that I believe God is a living God, I believe the Devil is also very much alive. Fortunately, God has given us the Bible so that we can discern what things are from God, and which are contrary.

    And there is no “my” Jesus or “your” Jesus. There was (is) only one Jesus. Yes, He has a personal relationship with all Christians, and that relationship might be different for all of us, but He’s always the same Jesus. And He presents himself to us in the Bible. If He is your Lord, you will take everything he says to the bank.

    You say several other false things – firstly, that I don’t accept you. Totally, totally wrong. I don’t think you have faith in God, but that has nothing to do with my love for you. Secondly, you seem to implicate me as part of some murder scheme (“I believe that your type of faith kills in the name of loving”) – and I promise you that I have no other desire than for every person in my life (and as many others as possible) to spend eternity in Heaven, but I don’t know how you link that to some type of killing (unless you’re just starting to let your virtual fists start to swing without reason and you didn’t mean that literally). My belief is that the Bible is the Word of God, and I have no idea why you think that is a scary concept, in fact I’m grateful for it.

    You may disagree with me, and God gives you the ability to disagree with his Word, but I will still pray that you come around. I WANT you to spend eternity in Heaven. I don’t want your concept of God’s love to interfere with the rest of what he tells us, even though the Bible has several uncomfortable concepts.

    Opening the door for others is a great thing, but unless their journey arrives at the destination that Jesus is their Savior, it is almost a futile journey. There are several ways that Jesus teaches us great ways to live our lives on this planet, no doubt – but in addition to His great advice for living, he also tells us how to get eternal salvation.

    And lest you think I believe otherwise, I am fully aware that the bible discusses many more topics than eternal salvation. But if I had to relay one single concept to as many people as possible, it would be to understand the biblical way to Heaven, then everything else second. The Bible does clearly discuss love, peace, God’s majesty, and so many other great concepts, but if I could pick a single concept for any person to understand it is how Jesus will get us to Heaven.

    I do completely understand that when I label you a non-Christian, it can feel hurtful. That’s why I didn’t like to write this. But I haven’t found any other way to alert you to the fact that the Bible IS God’s word. And when I say the Word *of* God, I don’t mean the word “about” God- I mean the Word FROM God.

    I feel TOTALLY HORRIBLE about the negative emotions you might feel because of what I have written, and probably about the negative emotions you feel toward me for writing it. But if I get to Heaven and don’t see you there, I will be incredibly sad. If I have a choice between you hating me and you eventually finding your way to Heaven, or me being “polite” and you suffering for eternity, then to me it’s an easy choice. Jesus makes it very clear that there is only one way to Heaven, and I don’t know any version of the bible or Christian philosophy that disputes that concept. Of course I hope that we can always be friends, and that you won’t harbor some resentment against me for this, but I don’t want you to make a mistake that will cost you your eternity!

    All my best always,

    -Bob

    • Bob:

      Thank you for writing first, but I’ve been thinking about writing to you all day. Let me clarify, as well. First off, we are — and will always be friends, assuming you want that, which you seem to do. I sooo don’t want to hurt you either.

      I appreciate your very long and thoughtful replies. I can tell that you don’t want to say these things, but –out of care — no longer can keep quiet. Neither can I, as I have explained. If you can live with that, so can I. I appreciate your prayers as I know they come out of concern.

      You, too, are a good guy. I know this about you. Still, as I said, it hurt. But my journey has been long and that’s a “button” for me. Having said that, I’m over it and would like this blog to once again turn into a place where anything can be said/discussed.

      Lastly, I want to re-iterate: I believe that Jesus is my savior and I want to go to heaven with him. Where I disagree is this “But all of Christianity does believe one essential thing… and we can’t go to Heaven without him”. Just because Jesus is the way for us doesn’t mean — I think — he’s the way for everybody. You and I got lucky by meeting him in whatever ways we do/did. I have a lot of trouble believing that people who weren’t as lucky go to hell. I read a really cool blog yesterday by a military chaplain who talks about not being so Black-and-White about theology after he became too depressed to care about God for a while. I’m more like him.

      What I said about theology killing people, I meant. Apparently it’s not you, but there are a lot of people out there — of many faiths — who would kill a preacher whom they believed seriously was leading others into hell. While I respect their faith and their strength of belief, I don’t believe that any religon which incites people to take away God’s original gift is a valid one. I worry that your conservative theology gets that Black-and-White, but it apparently doesn’t. Just know that there are other people out there who take it the extra mile.

      With all of that said, we’re good. Let us both act like Christians so the world can see what Christians of different viewpoints can be peaceful.

      Peace,

      John

      • Believing that the Bible is the Word of God is a black-and-white issue, but that does not mean all of Christianity is black-and-white. There are SO many places for debate within Christianity, but this is not one of them. The language in the bible is clear about this, and if Jesus says it then that settles it. Even the UCC statement of faith acknowledges this. And there is no room for compromise here.

        I’m fine with ending the discussion here, but I will ask you to examine yourself and try to figure out what is blocking you from trusting God’s word and having faith. Something from your childhood? The biblical concept of God’s justice? Some contradiction that you can’t reconcile? Whatever it is, I would be MORE than happy to do anything I can to help you work through it. I don’t have every answer in the world, but I have a lot of smarts and a lot of resources. I’ll do whatever I can to help.

        By the way, I think that anyone reading this will acknowledge that throughout, you and I have both acted like Christians. Neither one of us has anything to be ashamed about here. We never reverted to name calling, viscous attacks, saying that the other person’s mom wears army boots, or any such nonsense. Any non-Christians reading this discussion would see how Christians act, in the name of love. It is just a matter of faith being discussed, and we’ve done so in an appropriate manner.

        All my love,

        -Bob

  8. Bob:

    I think the UCC statement of faith says that the Bible is the “rule for faith and practice” — a fairly nebulous term that leaves open how a person can use it. I could be wrong, but that’s what I remember.

    Again , I’m not sure what your concern is with my faith. I feel saved and plan on going to heaven. We are having a disagreement and I hope for your prayers on the journey, but I m not sure I need them, per se).
    I agree that this IS a decent conversation, though I don’t know that it always has been. I’m etting me have is just to be okay with it. I want to gather the strength to tell him that i can’t be with someone that hurts me and cares that little, but i don’t know if i cannot sure but that isn’t what I remember. (I’m getting old, my memory is fading … ; ) )

    Good talking to you…

    Peace,

    John

    • From the UCC statement of faith: “God promises to all who trust in the gospel forgiveness of sins”

      I assume by this point you’ll know the rest of what I have to say. 🙂

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