Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Truth in the Bible, Part 3

Forgive me, please, if I seem to have over-simplified anyone’s personal theology in a previous post. That is surely not my intention. I am not so much interested in confronting anyone else’s theology in this series of posts as I am in working out my own. There were several very thoughtful comments after the last post, very diverse in perspective, and quite helpful.

One line of conversation involves the starting place of knowledge – shall we risk oversimplification and boil it down to “scripture” or “experience”? Some will claim, “I start with scripture.” Some will claim, “I start with experience.” Actually, both are right in a way.

Truthfully, none of us “starts with scripture” from a perspective completely untainted by our experience. When we are honest with ourselves, we have to confess that everything we know about God has been shaped by a lifetime of experience. Parents, friends, teachers, preachers, encounters with nature, etc. all shape the way we read the scriptures, either positively or negatively.

And at the same time, none of us has such a unique life experience as to separate us from certain central truths that are a part of who God is and who God desires that we become. To elevate life experience to a position higher than God is just as idolatrous as to elevate that fancy wood carving of Sponge Bob Spare Pants to such a position. (Just wanted to make sure you were still paying attention!)

For example, I would feel a little odd saying, "Based on my life experience, God does not desire peace on earth," because peace is a central truth of God’s identity. It is articulated in the Bible, it is an important part of many different faith traditions, it is a good and desirable way of living, and I cannot point to anything in my life experience that would contradict that truth.

But – somebody might! Like my theology professor at Saint Paul always says, “What you see depends upon where you stand.” How about a child somewhere in the inner city whose only experience is daily drug deals, weekly drive-by shootings, and constant fear? How about a Middle-Eastern child who knows only the imminent danger of either a market place bomb or a fully armed tank? It would be hard to convince such a person that, simply because I read it in the Bible, it is true that God wants the world to be at peace. Their own life experience tells them otherwise. I will have to be able to say something else, something reasonable, something grounded in real life experience, something that will make a difference to this one who so desperately needs to know about God’s peace.

Last time, Larry B. wrote, “I personally think scripture has to be backed up by reason for it to hold any personal meaning and depth. God's not changed by our questioning, nor does He reward blind obedience any more than fierce struggle - grace is an undeserved gift.” (I’m telling you, this guy needs his own blog!) He is right, of course. God is not at all threatened by our desire to know more, to understand more fully, to grow closer to God and to become the people God desires that we become.

The questions are “How do I know what I know?” and “Why do I believe what I believe?” and “How did I get to where I am?” If the response, “Because it says so in the Bible” is not fully sufficient for me, does that make me a bad person? Does that diminish my faith? Does that make God love me less? I sure don’t think so. I hope not, because that’s where I find myself these days. But all this thinking and writing about such heavy stuff is making my brain weary. Next post, I promise to lighten up!


dabeckztr said...

AB, mhhmmm great posts lately, I’m loving it... and as you know I’m a pre-seminary student, but with my own theological twists, that I’ve only gained from my life experience... 1st I must say that I believe that the Bible is the True incarnate Word of God. It’s the truth, and is entirely true from beginning to end without question.
I'm going to address 2 things with the same answer... 1. When you talked about God's desiring peace in this world... "What you see depends upon where you stand."...Yes it would be hard for a person to explain to either of these children that God desires peace even amidst their ‘war’ torn lives using only scripture. Yes such a person in that situation would seek to give something other than biblical truth to give to that child to help them in their situation… MY point of view/theology is … the word of God is true and it has the answers in there on what to say to that child, and how to say it, AND my final point is to believe and rely on the Holy Spirit to tell us what to say. God gave us his Son Jesus Christ who died for our sins, and left us with a gift of the Holy Spirit to, guide, and comfort and be with us. It is (hopefully) This Holy Spirit that guides us to understand scripture and gives us the words to say to relay the peace of Christ to others in this world. So what I’m saying is that no matter what situation a ‘child*’ is in that needs to hear of the peace of Christ, one should not be fearful or in unbelief that the answer is in the Bible, and through prayer God will depart his spirit on your mind to give you the words to say that will penetrate the heart and mind of that ‘child’ to give them the answer of Peace that they need.
My second point I wanted to say was about what you said… “How do I know what I know?” and “Why do I believe what I believe?” and “How did I get to where I am?” If the response, “Because it says so in the Bible” is not fully sufficient for me”… The Bible Does say so… and how we know that is through conviction and confirmation from the Holy Spirit. If we don’t seek the Holy Spirit then we are making our theology our own sermons, our own counseling sessions, our own missions, our own ministry out of our own thoughts and not that of the Holy Spirit/God/Jesus… which I believe is very dangerous for the Church universal...
So my answer to sum things up is… The Holy Spirit seek it, crave it, ask for it, God has already given it to us, we just have to reach out and grasp it…Luke 11:10-13… John 16:5-16. And we must be ever so careful to seek what God would want us to say through the Holy sprit and not to forget to give God all honor and praise for the result of whatever happens.
*= not only Child but any person in this world, Christian or not.

Tim Sisk said...

Andy, I put up a response if you're interested. Thanks for the conversation!

Larry B said...

Good summarizing post to the Truth in the Bible series. A suggestion for further reading if you really wish to delve further into the epistemology side:

When you said - "Truthfully, none of us “starts with scripture” from a perspective completely untainted by our experience. When we are honest with ourselves, we have to confess that everything we know about God has been shaped by a lifetime of experience."

You are veering into Kantian (Immanuael Kant) territory here. If you haven't read his "Moral Argument for the Existence of God" it's worth looking at and so is his Critique of Practical Reason (although it's very hard to get through without falling asleep every page or so). Once you have the idea that a God should exist, the revelation of who God is through the Jewish story in the Old Testament and the experiences and life of Jesus, along with early christians is real experiential and reason based accounts of God, that we can explore for ourselves to find the truth of the God who is proposed by the epistemology of Kant.

By the way thanks for this forum for discussing these ideas. Most of my real world (as opposed to cyber world) compatriots glaze over when these things come up and this has been much fun to read and discuss.

Kansas Bob said...

I agree with Larry when he infers that our scriptural accounts involve many people's experiences ... with God and with life. Certainly the accounts of the Exodus, the conquering of Canaan, the Babylonin Exile, the lives of Jesus and the apostles (to name a few) are based on historical accounts and are trustworthy in understanding how God interacts with mankind.

The rest of the bible is a bit different. The account of the Creation, some text in the poetic books, and the prophecies in the OT, the Gospels and Revelation are some examples where many differ with regard to interpretation. I find that it is in these texts that I can find life ... it is in many of these texts that God takes on a more transcendant and revelatory nature. It is only from this perspective can the heart of a boy in a war-torn region come alive with hope for peace. It is only when God brings revelation that love for one unlovable takes wings. It is only by revelation that we can live from our hearts and not from our heads.

Michael said...

This may be oversimplifying Andy's thoughts, but it seems to me that in the case of these two children Andy refers to, our scriptural and life experiences would not necessarily enable us to "say" something that will help the children believe that the Lord desires peace. Instead, what we know to be true would compel us to embrace these children and do what we can to shelter them from the ravages of their experiences.

How to explain such to children? I wish I knew, but maybe we try to hard to justify our own faith by working a little too hard to explain it rather than live it. This is one of my biggest failures and something I struggle with constantly.