May’s Third Way magazine carries a discussion of the integrity of biblical texts between Justin Brierley, Peter Williams and Bart Ehrman author of Misquoting Jesus.Ehrman’s claim is that we no longer have all the original words of the New Testament documents so how can they be authoritative. Misquoting Jesus,Ehrman claims, isn’t questioning whether God is true ,but whether scripture can give us access to the truth of God when we are in a palce where we don’t really know what the New Testament books originally said. I have blogged before about the bible see https://unfinishedchristian.wordpress.com/2009/04/14/the-eric-morecambe-bible/ and https://unfinishedchristian.wordpress.com/2009/03/15/oops-more-questions-than-answers/ and the accuracy and reliability of the texts is a subject of much impassioned debate if you thing the scriptures are completely inerrant and everything hangs on their accuracy. All of the Bible is inspired (2 Tim3:16), but that is not the same as saying that all of the bible is to be taken literally. We need to listen to scholars and commentators to grapple with a better understanding as best we can which parts are literal and which are metaphorical or figurative truth. We need to teach people in our churches more about the origin of the bible and how to interpret its various genres. Too much is at stake not to. As Dan Kimball puts it; “If we believe that all of the Bible is inspired, then our job is to study the Scriptures with great prayer and humility and to distinguish between the literal and parables, metaphors, hyperbole and other figures of speech.”
On Saturday two Jehovah’s Witnesses who knocked on my door ranting about lack of morality in the church and they began to use the Bible as a weapon for beating, bashing ans shooting down people. By the time they had left we prayed, and I hope I had introduced them to a Bible that provided light and guidance for walking in freedom- leaving the judgemental stuff for God later. They went away smiling and I went back in the house without a copy of The Watchtower- Maybe they’ll be back next week!
It is important to accept that the Holy Spirit can use the Bible to draw people to God but it is not the only source of dividne inspiration- he uses people and particularly what we say and do to reflect Jesus to others. Ehrman writes that; “We have more than 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, between which there are hundreds of thousands of differences…there are more differences in these manuscripts than there are words in the New testament!”. The foundation for Scripture is not scholarly agreement, and as Peter Williams put it in Third Way; “Scripture could be certain without humans being certain about it. The important thing…is not what humans think but what God thinks. My personal level of certainty about something is not the foundation for a Christian doctrine of scripture.”
He may be right, all I know is that if there are 5,000 contested words in the New testament then God has more than 5,000 ways of showing us that he loves us. Even if someone has changed (deliberately or by accident of translation) words or phrases found in the scriptures down the years it hasn’t lessened their impact to change lives and to reflect something of God’s love and the teachings of Christ.
For more on Third Way see http://www.thirdway.org.uk
In his powerful wake-up call for the American Church, “They like Jesus but not the Church”, Dan Kimball explores what people think of the church and what this means for church leadership in a post-modern society. One person he spoke to called Molly said,” I wish I could have known earlier that not all Christians are such jerks. I had no idea. Maybe I would have believed in Jesus earlier”. U2’s Bono famously said, “Christians are hard to tolerate; I don’t know how Jesus does it.” Kimball suggest that more people would get involved with church if it revolved more around the person of Jesus than around the personality of the minister and if it were more about helping and loving other people than about criticising and condemning other people.” Kimball went on to recount what people wished church were like and here are the responses:
I wish church were not just a sermon or lecture but a discussion; I wish the church would respect my intelligence; I wish the church weren’t about the church building; I wish the church were less programmed and allowed more time to think and pray; I wish the church were a loving place; I wish the church cared for the poor and for the environment; I wish the church taught more about Jesus.
If only we try to see things through their eyes and hear from their hearts. If only we could try more to understand what keeps them away, we may discover the type of family they wish to be part of. Unconditional love, a listening ear ,care, support, prayerfulness and practical help. This is all people have ever wanted and this is what we need to show them we can be.
At the moment I am reading a book called “They like Jesus, but not the church” by Dan Kimball. This book has served as a wake-up call to the church in America, as Kimball encourages church leaders to spend more time outside church walls with non-Christians in non-church environments. He reckons he now has a better idea of what people are thinking and saying about church by spending at least 3 days a week doing his paperwork in a local cafe. He advocates that as Christians become more ‘churched’ they spend more time socialising with Christian friends, going to Christian events and listening to Christian music and using Christian jargon. He feels there is a danger that Christians get to the stage where they are more excited about going overseas to a mission-field on summer trips than about sharing faith in a natural way with people in their own workplace or community. In short he believes we become citizens of the Christian bubble, and that after a few years cocooned in this bubble we begin to complain and point out the terrible things happening in the culture outside it. He says we are in danger of becoming like Jonah and even getting to the stage where we don’t have any connection with those who are not following God as we are. Dan even suggests that we may we even have a secret sense of delight thinking how one day God will punish those sinful people. What happened to “there but for the grace of God go I?” Kimball’s book goes on to outline specific strategies for church leaders and Christians to help offset becoming citizens of the bubble. He does this because he wants people to disover more about the authentic gospel of Jesus Christ- what the church can be; what it should be. He also sets out to explode a number of common misconceptions about church.
So, what do you think? Are you ready to have your bubble burst for the sake of the gospel?
You can read Dan’s blog Vintage Faith at http://www.dankimball.com/