Conversations about the Bible can get pretty nasty these days. In fact, the word “conversation” fails to describe the kind of contemptuous name-calling habits I’ve witnessed.
Progressives refer to conservatives as “literalists” or “fundamentalists.” For the most part this is code for ignoramus and bigot.
Conservatives respond more bluntly. They favor words like “revisionist” and “heretic” to characterize progressives. Doesn’t this make you think “faithless libertine”?
While differences on social and moral issues like human sexuality are the occasion for heated debate, the charges hurled by each side at the other make clear that the role of Holy Scripture is at contention.
Lots of people have written about this. Usually they refer to the authority of Scripture to get at the various problems involved. Let’s ask a slightly different (but closely related) question. Is the Bible true? Scripture’s authority (or lack of authority) depends upon how we answer.
So, is the Bible true?
Progressive and conservative Christians alike will, for the most part, say yes. They then disagree about what they mean by “yes.”
In other words, they are likely to disagree about what “true” means when it applies to the Bible and how you get at that truth.
The emotional heat of the conversation rises because each side mistrusts the intentions of the others.
Progressives suspect that conservatives simply want to use the Bible to oppose obvious social justice. Conservatives perceive among progressives a dedication to a particular social agenda so strong that they are willing to sacrifice scriptural authority for that agenda’s sake.
But these considerations are beside the point. They answer different questions.
So, let’s get back to the question at hand. Is the Bible true?
The Bible is true.
Let’s unpack this claim in some simple statements that will lead some to leave the conversation but that may change the conversation’s tone for others.
- The Bible is different from any other book. God reveals himself and his will for us through the Bible. Other books can be edifying spiritually and morally. The Bible connects us to God and places a claim on us.
- People will accept this about the Bible because of their faith. It’s not something we will ever logically or scientifically demonstrate to non-believers.
- Sometimes the Bible is very clear. Sometimes, not so much!
- Reading the Bible involves interpretation.
- Interpretation is an art, but that does not mean that all interpretation is up to the reader. There are faithful and lousy interpretations. The Biblical text itself decides this.
- We will disagree with the Bible at various points. And we are clever enough to come up with interpretations that seem to make the Bible come around to our point of view.
- New interpretations do not necessarily distort the Bible in this way. Sometimes they do.
- What the Bible is, namely the Word of God, means that we will be better off by submitting to its truth.
- This is easier said than done.