Friday, January 14, 2005

Is Biblical Criticism Necessary?, pt 2

I closed part one with a pair of statements from two students of mine. In both statements, the writers were arguing that Christians don't need to approach the Bible scientifically or historically to understand it. We should just read the Bible, trust that God will give us understanding, and do what it says.

What do you think of those statements?

Actually, I agree with both of them--but only to a point. Christians DO need to read the Bible and be serious about doing what it says. We need to follow (or not follow) the examples we find there, and apply the word to our lives. We need to respect and submit to the authority of the Bible.

At the same time, it is incredibly naive to simply say, "The Bible is a handbook for how to have a blessed life. Just read it and do it and don't worry about all that other stuff."

Can you think of issues or texts from the Bible where the "don't worry about all that historical stuff" model of interpretation breaks down? I can. Think of the debates in Christendom over things like:
  • The role of women in church and family
  • The meaning, significance, and mode of baptism
  • Can you lose your salvation?
  • Who is and who is not saved?
  • Other racial and cultural "hot button" issues?
On each side of these issues are people who honestly believe that the Holy Spirit has led them to the positions that they hold. Both sides base their beliefs on their honest understanding of the Bible. Both sides sincerely seek to know God's truth and God's will in these areas.

And both sides hold absolute views: in other words, each side holds a position that, for it to be right, the opposite position must be wrong. There is no way to reconcile "Only Christians will be saved," and "God will provide salvation for the whole world."

The existence of these issues leads me to conclude that it's not enough to simply "Read the Bible and try to do what it says." It does not lead to unity. It does not lead to true understanding of God's word.

In part three of this series, I discuss several insights from Fee & Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth, 3rd ed. In part four, I set out my conclusions.


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