Re: Bible as truth

From: Jim Armstrong (
Date: Tue Jun 17 2003 - 14:24:22 EDT

  • Next message: Iain Strachan: "Re: The forgotten verses"

    Ian, that's a fair question, and all I can tell you is what I did some
    time back. I too have been troubled by exactly (I think) the authority
    question you raise. In a nutshell, it causes me to back up from time to
    time to look for broader principles and the core substance (forest),
    setting aside some difficulties that are most likely cultural,
    translational or other man-artifacts (trees) and even becoming (for the
    moment at least) somewhat agnostic about other issues that are
    contentious without an obvious means for resolution.

    In that mode, I became curious as to what a "Gospel according to Jesus"
    might look like, and I decided to look at the red-letter sections of the
    NT pretty much in isolation in an effort to gain an understanding of
    what he did and said in broad terms, and to get a sense of how he viewed
    and prioritized things.
    [I know the Jesus Project tackled this in a rigorous way, but I thought
    a less rigorous examination without revalidating the texts would be
    instructive enough for my immediate purpose.]
    For my purpose, I did my best to set aside for the time being what other
    Bible writers and a gazillion other writers and interpreters have said,
    as if only the red-letter text existed.

    Well, it was quite instructive. One thing I observed was that there was
    profound economy and simplicity in Jesus' way of doing things. He seemed
    to focus on people and relationships and very little on the trappings
    and formalisms of the faith tradition. But, he understood the
    foundations well. He was always simplifying by showing what traditions
    really meant at their heart and challenging the legalistic adherances
    that had lost sight of the underlying principles (giving out of
    gratitude, understanding that the Sabbath was created for us,
    eliminating concentration on the "legal" minutia at the expense of
    understanding and expressing stewardship, etc.).

    In the end, I got a very strong sense through the red-letter texts that
    his life reflected in a very essential way a "social gospel",
    characterised by continuous overt expression of grace and mercy. That
    ultimately resulted in a denominational change for me because it just
    made good sense to me.

    There was another more surprising and difficult result in the context of
    the Christianity I had know and grown up with. It caused me to relook at
    the concept of the trinity. I had already given this some serious
    thought because I had as a young sprout observed that, with one or two
    exceptions (e.g., the descending dove - an image widely used in many
    cultures of the day), Jesus and the Holy Spirit did not appear
    concurrently. Further, Jesus said that he would return to us, not
    leaving us as orphans. That suggested to me at the time that this was
    simply a promise by Jesus to return as a different expression of the
    same entity. It just made good sense to me.

    However, in reading the red-letter portions of scripture in my more
    recent "project", one other thing that was inescapable was Jesus'
    continuous communication with and references to God the Father, in
    virtually every case identifying Jesus as distinct from the Father and
    most certainly not identical with him (God incarnate). This has been
    more troubling, particularly since discovering as well about that time
    that the trinity idea has historically and almost continuously been a
    topic of vigorous contention in one quarter of the Christian community
    or another, and was even a key issue in the division of the Eastern and
    Western branches of Christianity.

    This sojourne into the "Gospel according to Jesus" has served to hammer
    home to me the powerful role and influence of interpretation, and the
    impossibility of avoiding it with all its attendant difficulties and
    contradictions. It also affirmed the importance of a quest for the true
    core message of scripture, and for consistency, coherence and congruence
    in my own belief system and actions (the real trouble spot!). I am by
    nature and training an analytic (scientist/engineer), and this search
    for internal integrity in my belief system is both reflexive and
    compelling. This quest is also obviously still a work in progress (as it
    should be if we are learning), but I can say that the business of
    "making good sense to me" has a high level of priority. Such an
    "egocentric" perspective is certainly open to criticism, but it's the
    one I have to live with and I think I can defend it!

    At this point, the broader messages of scripture ring true and jibe with
    experience and hope. For me this disconnects the circle of
    self-validation of scripture and keeps me engaged with most of its
    teachings and perspectives. Still, I view scripture as a window, not
    exactly sacred per se, but I honor and respect its inspiration and
    intent (and the resolve of its writers) to reveal the Creator and his
    work in and about us, as well as what he might expect and hope of us.

    In that sense, I have accepted it as authoritative with respect to its
    great truths and principles (relatively small in number, I think),
    without being particularly troubled by ideas like inerrancy and by
    ambiguities that lead to a plurality of interpretations. The life and
    works of Jesus seem to be predominantly relational. My connection to
    scripture is likewise relational, and it's part of a whole greater
    fabric connecting life, experience, discovery, and purpose.

    Is this relaxed view of scripture a disservice? I don't think so. It
    makes sense to me. :-)

    Finally, the Bible is really a collection of writings. It does not
    contain all the writings (ignoring the canon criteria for the moment),
    and there are other great faith traditions whose sacred writings speak
    of and revere Jesus (though their perspective as to Jesus' identity may
    not be the same as ours). Consequently the Bible does not stand as a
    totally isolated solely self-validating work, and there is possibly some
    contribution to its authority from that perspective.

    Would you like to say more about your thoughts on or off line?

    Regards - Jim Armstrong

    Hassell, Ian C. wrote:

    > Jim,
    > I agree with your interpretation of Logos - and generally rail against
    > modern evangelical "bibliolatry" (elevating the word-for-word text of
    > the Scriptures above an interactive and personal relationship with
    > Jesus Christ worked through the Holy Spirit). But the problem I keep
    > coming back to is: Everything we have written about Jesus' life,
    > works, parables and sayings are recorded in......wouldn't you know
    > it....the Bible. So if it's my authoritative source for knowing how
    > to be like Him, how can I question it's authority when there are other
    > passages that I have trouble with?
    > That's not a rhetorical, but rather an honest question that I still
    > haven't resolved.
    > Ian
    > -----Original Message-----
    > From: Jim Armstrong []
    > Sent: Tuesday, June 17, 2003 5:38 AM
    > Cc: Asa
    > Subject: Re: Bible as truth
    > I''ll venture to offer a contrary opinion.
    > Jesus spoke in parables to make sure that the ideas were
    > unmistakably clear.
    > The problem seems to be that the message is at once too simple and
    > too challenging to accept as is.
    > There are no secrets. There's nothing hidden.
    > It's in Micah 6:8
    > He has told you, O man, what is good;
    > And what does the LORD require of you
    > But to do justice, to love kindness,
    > And to walk humbly with your God?
    > and again in Matthew 25:37-40
    > Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see
    > You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink?
    > 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked,
    > and clothe You?'
    > 'And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'
    > And the King will answer and say to them,
    > 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these
    > brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'
    > ...just in case we missed it in the witness of the life of Jesus.
    > "Is that all there is to it?" Yes, I think so.
    > Look at the life of Jesus - what he does and why he does it! Isn't
    > it all there? Isn't that enough?
    > It just seems to be so hard to do that it is more comfortable to
    > spend time and energy in an effort to study, study, study, trying
    > to make more of it than it is.
    > To do more - to make it more complicated than the simple charges
    > of the Micah and Matthew passages - generally seems to serve
    > something in and of us,
    > flying in the face of humility of which we are in great need.
    > Jesus is identified with the Logos. The Bible is not the Logos.
    > Rather it points to the Logos.
    > I think that's the intent when John writes, "he that hath seen me
    > hath seen the Father" (Jn 14:9)
    > [Keep in mind that John also said, "No man hath seen God at any
    > time," (Jn 1:18 ),
    > so one may surmise that John is not literally saying that looking
    > at Jesus is the same as looking at God.]
    > Emulating the life and example of Jesus is challenging enough.
    > Do we really need anything hard to understand?
    > Is there anything more worthwhile?
    > JMHO - oh, did I manage to blow the H part even with this posting? :-)
    > Jim Armstrong
    > Debbie Mann wrote:
    >> I feel a little guilt over my last comment. I have tried to
    >> listen and debate the position of the Bible without opinion.
    >> However, my heart has an opinion. I use scriptures throughout
    >> every day to help with many aspects of my day. I am addicted. My
    >> head opinion is of course influenced by my heart opinion.
    >> My combined opinion (head and heart):
    >> God provides the simple to confound the wise.
    >> Matthew 13:34 All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in
    >> parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them.
    >> That's a strong statement. The reason is given that He was
    >> uttering secrets that were kept secret since the world began.
    >> Luke 12:2 says that there is nothing hidden that will not be made
    >> known.
    >> This theme of the secret or the hidden is more than an evening's
    >> Bible study.
    >> Jesus is The Word. The Bible is The Word. Jesus said nothing to
    >> the multitude that was not in parables.
    >> I think the thesis is pretty clear hear.
    >> The Bible was written for our learning that we might have hope -
    >> but it was not written as a primer with clear, unambiguous
    >> information. It was intentially set up to require faith to peal
    >> away the layers of the onions. Jesus personally explained the
    >> meaning, on at least one level, of each of his parables to his
    >> disciples. They didn't get it. Over and over they didn't get it -
    >> and they had full time tutoring for years.
    >> By the way, the Bible sure doesn't teach much that's positive
    >> about falling in love in a romantic sense. Is there one positive
    >> story about boy meets girl, they fall in love and live happily
    >> ever after? Jacob and Rebecca is about the closest I can come up
    >> with.
    >> Debbie Mann, PE
    >> Debbie Mann Consulting
    >> (765)477-1776

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