My fellow former-Westminsterian (and co-author of a book I plugged a few weeks ago), Jared Byas, just posted an incredible blog post on his blog, Seeking the Good & Claiming it for the Kingdom. The post is called “Why I Will Not Divorce the Bible” and he articulates in such clear prose and winsome graciousness many of the thoughts and perspectives I have when engaging the Bible and then turning to engage the world around me.
Byas writes about how Evangelicals and theological “progressives” both end up devaluing the Bible and not truly respecting it or being “married” to it. He does a great job of exposing the reductionism of both sides as they use various techniques to keep the Bible at arm’s length so they don’t really have to deal with it as it is. (I’ve written similarly before.)
I remember being part of a very conservative church a few years back in Philadelphia. As I had become closer to one of the elders in particular–a prominent and nationally-known speaker and performer–he watched me as I wrestled with the Bible I knew I loved. He eventually moved on to work at another church in another part of the country, but his parting words to me were clear enough; he said, “Paul, remember: skeptcisim is not a virtue.”
But this “wrestling” with Scripture is not employing skepticism for skepticism’s sake; it more than that. It’s opening yourself up to something (and some One) that might not meet your expectations. But just as any truly healthy relationship, as Byas points out, it’s in this intra-relational difficulty–and the reinforced grace that follows it–that a true strengthening of the relationship is found. It reminds me of this Compline prayer I wrote about on Monday:
O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment,
and light rises up in darkness for the godly:
Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties,
the grace to ask what you would have us to do,
that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices,
and that in your light we may see light,
and in your straight path may not stumble;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
In “all our doubts and uncertainties” about the Bible, we often think we are destined to either naive fundamentalism, or soul-sucking cynicism and progressivism. As the prayer puts it, these are “false choices” that only the Spirit can keep us from.
Byas writes about taking seriously the “messiness” of Scripture and letting it mess with your head. He reminds us that only those that love Scripture can genuinely be affected by it’s difficulties, rather than simply, on one hand, de-valuing and dismissing it, or, on the other, spending your life trying to resolve all its inexplicable tensions.
But there’s a catch; and it confounds both of the right-left extremes. We don’t go to Scripture to find–or even form–the sense of authority that we will then ascribe to it. Our allegiance and commitment to the Bible is a presupposition that we bring to the Bible. In Byas’s marriage metaphor, he says:
It is precisely our reverence and intimacy with the text of Scripture that earns us the right to question it and struggle with it. It is not my acquaintances that I confront, question, or struggle with, it is my wife and most intimate friends.
And so, if we are fully anchored in our faith in the God that speaks, then the Bible can be the messy, painful thing it is, and it can shake us, but we won’t be smashed upon the waves. Because our hope, ultimately does not rest in those words on those pages, but beyond them. As the Catholic Catechism puts it:
Still, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book.” Christianity is the religion of the “Word” of God, a word which is “not a written and mute word, but the Word is incarnate and living”. If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, “open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures.”
If the Word has met us, the Book will be our love–no matter how hard that love might be at times.
Byas concludes the body of his post with a quote that is going to stick with me for a long time. I’ll leave you with it:
I am allowed to dig, question, and perhaps observe the deconstruction, because of my unconditional commitment to the Scriptures as the anchor of my faith, no matter what they say and no matter how much I do not like it, perhaps even no matter how much I disagree with it. Intimacy comes because there is no question of my continued relationship with the text. It will be my anchor no matter how ugly it gets.
[image credit: David Schrott. Thanks also go to Andrew Vogel for leading me to the post.]