Friday, May 26, 2017

"Are you looking for the answers you want, or the right ones?"

I'm considered a "liberal" on moral issues by my Christian friends because I advocate for equality between men and women, am sympathetic towards gender questioning, like the idea of evolution, and think that homosexuality could be part of God's plan for the world. I am liberal because I question orthodoxy. I search for testimonies on both sides. I am unwilling to take "the Bible says so" as the only reasoning, instead searching deeper for how we interpret the Bible. For me, it is not enough to simply take Bible as literally the words of God. It is translated from multiple languages. It is imbedded with cultural context. It is only a snapshot of God's work in the world.

For some, perhaps I now sound dangerously heretical. I have some sympathy with that, but then, mostly I think they haven't listened very hard. I love the Bible. I love the poetry and the stories and the songs. I love that God left us his story and that he continues to let us read it. I see it as essential to Christianity, to begin to understand his greatness. It is beautiful and it is good and I do not say things that seem contradictory with lightness. In fact, my question, though often stated badly, is generally, "Why is this belief contrary to the Bible? How has belief been confirmed through prayer and, sometimes, observation?"

Again, I'm getting a little heretical here. Confirm the Bible? What arrogance. Yes indeed, what arrogance. I am in total agreement there. God of the universe gives me a textbook and I choose to question it. Except that churches have been doing it for centuries. We made divorce almost acceptable in many churches. We have outlawed slavery. In many churches women can speak, though generally not preach. Men wear their hair long and women chop it all off. Those are a few things that many Protestants have accepted within their communities. They have prayed or observed or studied, probably a bit of all three, and decided that this new course is how we shall live today. The Bible is true. How we apply the Bible, well, that's a little more open to interpretation.

Of course, now I'm just falling down a slippery slope. What is the point of the Bible if we can ignore it's commandments? Why call ourselves Christians with we start to allow all and any beliefs? First, note that I have not questioned the sovereignty of Christ. The Apostle's Creed describes our central tenants quite well. I'm not even questioning if the Bible was inspired by God and I hold the Bible as central to understanding God.

What I am questioning, fundamentally, is how the church defines sin. There are a great many things in the Old Testament which are no longer considered sin, but instead directions to a specific people at a specific time. The church continues to study these teachings, not to apply them, but to understand God. We look for common themes, maybe key verses that seem to summarize a piece of God's character.

Why then, do we assume that Paul's writings are still word for word applicable to us today? Maybe they are and maybe they aren't, that's not actually my point. My point is why do we assume they must be? That, for the New Testament to be considered spiritual authority, Paul's letters must be a moral treatise to us all. Perhaps because once we begin to diverge from the Bible we will splinter into hundreds of fractions that can barely be called a cohesive community. Except that we've already done that. Maybe it's because if one word cannot be trusted, then the whole must be destroyed. But no church preaches every word of the Bible as truth anymore and we continue to be guided by his word.

So the question I ask, in the back of my mind, is have I made the Bible into God? And if I have, how do I fix that? If the Bible, and an orthodox understanding of it, is the moral guidebook for my life, I know (more) about how I need to live. But, I see so much in the world that the Bible doesn't cover. I see Christians quoting the Bible, but ignoring the poor. I see Christians judging without listening. I see disunity. I see divorce. I see brokenness. And I see myself following in their steps more often than not.

Here, I find the solution is to listen for God. That is a whole other bucket of worms, eh? Humanities' ability to hear God does not have a terribly good track record. It's why we look outside ourselves for confirmation of his voice. Which is definitely right, I just wonder if many Christians have lost the ability of listening to God in favour of always trusting the literal words of the Bible, as each person interprets it. Because, when I listen to God, when I look at the world. I see beauty in homosexuality, I see God's greatness being extended to cover a multitude of genders, and I see strong women raised up to preach for him.

That could be wrong! I'm not saying it's right. In fact, I could give you some concrete examples of how this uncertainty has harmed my life. But I could also give you examples of how certainty has also hurt me. I'm just saying, that when I listen for the voice of God, that is what I hear and what I see confirmed in the world. My respect for the Bible holds me back, but I still seek to reconcile these things. In my arrogance, I still hope for reconciliation instead of rejection.

And, even as I write this, a little part of my heart cries at the fact that Christians are spending so much time on this debate. It is, admittedly, the foundation of our religion, but when will we act? If I had spent this time serving others instead of writing, my roommates would have a clean apartment. What if I spend my energy on service instead of ideas? It hurts my heart that we are all so broken that debates take up so many resources. But, we are what we are, and God redeems it all.


  1. Hi Jessie! I love that you're asking these questions. I would suggest that there are wonderful discoveries ahead of you, if you are up for the adventure of finding out more deeply what the Bible itself says, stripping away the (cultural and otherwise) biases of translators and commenters.

    To do that, for many of the harder questions you'll have to eventually find a way to look as best you can at the original languages. This is not as hard as it may seem (although to make it simple you may end up spending some bucks.) I'll give a few examples below, followed by some of the resources I've found helpful.


    A few examples

    * Rom 16:7 "Junia" vs "Junias" There's serious evidence that Paul was praising an apostle, a woman named Junia! That idea was anathema to many translators so they incorrectly changed what's written into a man's name, Junias.

    * 1 Cor 14:34-36 This is the infamous claim that women should be silent in church. Look at the beginning of verse 36. There's a little word there, often not translated at all, but hugely important. The old King James gets it closest: "What?" ... today it would be best translated "NOT!!!" -- it is a "primary article of distinction." Paul is quoting someone *else* who said women should be quiet, and then he absolutely vehemently is disagreeing with such nonsense!

    * Slavery: "Slavery" in the Bible is NOTHING like the inhumane chattel slavery that we are familiar with. I'm reasonably sure you will be surprised if you dig in on this. :)


    * Someone else who does great - GREAT! - work, with references provided. He's a tech business guy whose spare time is invested in digging deeply into the hardest questions, and answering with full context (eg ANE - Ancient Near East - historical/cultural context, etc.)

    * Find a Bible that helps you poke at the Greek/Hebrew. is better than nothing. and are better. Why better? Here are some things a good digital Bible will enable:

    * You Really Want access to the Louw-Nida Lexicon, your friend in sleuthing. This is a dictionary based on "Semantic Domains" -- it is sorted not alphabetically, but by *meaning*. You can poke at "Jesus wept" and discvoer the many different greek words for weeping/crying and find out just which one was picked for that verse.

    * Morphology - want to be able to see this. My Logos NKJV lets me see it easily for any word. This is things like tense, gender, parts of speech, and more. Why important? Because the original languages have important details that can't be expressed at all in English! Example: Greek has a set of "Aorist" tenses that have a potentially infinite aspect... eg built right into John 3:16 is the fact that God infinitely loves (ie forever) even those who hate him.

    Finally, here are two good documents from the Think Tank, just for example:


  2. Awesome. Some ideas for you:

    Hebrews 7 - 10 tells us that the Mosaic law, the old covenant and the Levitical priesthood are all one thing. You can have Jesus OR that. Not both.

    Now He writes His laws on our heart. The New Testament was never supposed to be a new set of rules.

    Ideas are important. If 1 person reads this and realizes that Jesus could love them despite {whatever} then you've done more good than if you cleaned every messy dwelling in the world.