Reading the Bible that tricky 3rd way

I love reading the Bible. I grew up reading it, I am passionate about studying it, and delight to preach from it whenever I get the chance.

I also recognize that it is getting harder to do in our contemporary context. I am a loud critic of simple dualism (constantly contending with my Evangelical associates)  – but even I must concede when there are two main schools of thought that have set themselves up in opposition to each other.  I buck the ‘spectrum’ thinking like Liberal v. Conservative (as if those were the only two options) in almost every circumstance. However, when it comes to reading the Bible, it is tough to avoid the set of major trenches that have been dug on either side of this narrow road.

 The first group reads the Bible in what is called a ‘straight forward’ way and while they spend a lot of time with the text, there is little acknowledgement of what is going on behind the text. This group reads the Bible primarily devotionally, preaches exegetically and views it as not just instructive but binding for all times and places.

In my interactions with this group, there is little awareness of hermeneutics (in may cases they may have never heard the word before) and even less willingness to engage in scholarship that does anything behind the text.

The second group engages in Historical-Critical methods. They are willing to look at things like redaction (later editing). They don’t harmonize the Gospels into one Gospel. They are willing to acknowledge that Matthew and Luke’s conception, birth and subsequent details do not line up. They understand that while the story of Daniel happens in the 5th century BC – it was not written in the 5th century BC. They joke about Moses writing the 1st five books of Bible (how did he write about his own death?).

 Lately I have been engaging books like :

How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now by James L. Kugel

To Each Its Own Meaning, Revised and Expanded: An Introduction to Biblical Criticisms and Their Application by Stephen R. Haynes

Whose Bible Is It? A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages by Jaroslav Pelikan

She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse by Elizabeth A. Johnson

Sexism and God Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology by Rosemary Radford Ruether

 Over the last 4 years, it has become painfully clear to me that we have a problem when it comes to reading the Bible. Simply stated, those who spend the most time with the Bible know less about it but make greater claims for it than those who do more scholarship on it but may have little faith in it. 

I was listening to a seminar on the Historical-Jesus and talking to several friends of mine who do Historical-Criticism, here are 3 sentences that no evangelical I know even have ears to hear:

  • Paul didn’t even write that letter
  • Jesus probably didn’t say that sentence
  • The Bible is wrong about this

I get in trouble for saying much much milder things about the literary device of the virgin birth, the prophetic concern of Revelation which is limited to the first 2 centuries CE, and  Jesus being ironic about ‘bringing a sword’. Can you imagine what would happen if I thought that Paul didn’t write the letters that are attributed to him, that Jesus did not utter the red-letter words we have recorded in the gospels or that the Bible was wrong about something?  I can’t.

So how does a moderate engage Biblical scholarship without stumbling over Historical-Critical pitfalls and Historical Jesus land-mines?  The thing that I hear over and over is

“Just stick with N.T. Wright. He has navigated the gulf for you”

Now, I love N.T. Wright as much as the next emergent evangelical (especially his Everybody series) … but I am as unwilling, on one hand, to forego the best and most comprehensive stuff (like Dom Crossan’s work on Empire) as I am, on the other hand, to subscribe to the inane prerequisites of the Jesus Seminar.

What I would really like to see is a move within the emerging generation that is tenacious about engaging contemporary scholarship while fully embracing the kind of devotional passion that the innerant camp demonstrates  – all the while avoiding the fearful and intimidating chokehold that camp utilizes to squelch innovation & thought.

I want the next generation to both find life and direction in the scriptures and also to not have to read the tough parts with their fingers crossed behind their back.

a hopeful moderate – Rev. Bo C. Sanders

 

For those who do not want to scour the comments to find the links to other resources:
Daniel Kirk’s book  “Jesus have I loved but Paul?”
Ben Witherington’s  book list   

 

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32 comments
eric
eric

I also like middle ways. I even said so yesterday in a different place. Jimmy above stated : People assume the Bible is a cohesive, single voiced document akin to the Constitution. And therefore, if one part of the Bible is not factual or historically accurate then it calls the entire thing into question. So non-Christians will focus on these parts of the Bible in order to debunk the entire thing, and Christians will either ignore it or half-mindedly explain it away. Problem is that the Constitution and other founding documents were written by different authors. Textual criticism has been done; parts by Mason, Madison, etc. And it was of course dependent on earlier traditions like the Enlightenment in general and authors like Locke, etc. So, even tho I am a Via Media guy, I tend to "believe" the Constitution and Bible in similar ways. There is enough room in the Bible for all the redactors to have been prophets or apostles and for there to be a theopneustic - God breathed autograph, and to believe that it was well preserved. And that we can know what God said, just about as well as we can know anything else. Or we could all be just brains in vats. But that is a hard way to live, when talking about the Bible or the Founders or any other percept. Just keep believing and asking questions, that is what I say. The Highest Higher Critics and funny talking, pacing televangelists are both about equal in my view. eric

graceshaker
graceshaker

my theology prof in college often said that in any case where there are two sides/extremes, truth will most likely be found in the tension between them.

Da stand das Meer
Da stand das Meer

Thanks Bo for the question of the future of ancient meditative practices in a world of increasing scientific specialization ... Mother Teresa gives a rationale for contemplative spirituality which I think expresses far better than I can just why, being timeless, it has nothing to fear from science: Silence of our eyes. Silence of our ears. Silence of our mouths. Silence of our minds. ... in the silence of the heart God will speak. I'm still pondering this, but an interesting thing I've observed is that a number of professional scientists I know are receptive to contemplative, you might even say 'pre-modern' spirituality (which doesn't necessarily deny modern critical scholarship when approaching Scripture, but just goes to a different interpretive level). Teilhard de Chardin is the most obvious example of this kind of combination. I'm guessing a little here, but my feeling is that quantum science - even if a lot of it is pretty hermetic to most of it - is actually far more compatible with authentic Christian mysticism than the kind of mechanistic Newtonian world-view that preceded it. The scientists I'm encountering are quite happy talking about the early Church's view of spiritual warfare (an engineer just approached me about this at church yesterday), monastic community... or Buddhist meditation for that matter - they're certainly not 'rationalists' or 'modernists' in my experience... So it wasn't a surprise for me that when Michael Dowd hosted his big 'Evolutionary Christianity' series (see http://evolutionarychristianity.com/blog/speaker-bios/ ) on the science-faith dialogue a while back his interviewees not only included Philip Clayton and John Cobb, but also people like the Benedictine Joan Chittister and Richard Rohr. RR's emphasis on a way beyond 'either-or thinking' seems to have a natural affinity with many quantum concepts, as it does with the inter-connectedness of process thought. Peter B.

Justin
Justin

Hello Deacons! My first comment on here but I had to mention a guy who I think is following exactly that third way that you talk about. His name is Andrew Perriman and he authors a blog called P.ost http://postost.net/. I find his work some of the most helpful as he follows a narrative historical approach to reading the bible. I woud LOVE to hear you guys get an interview him on Podcast. I think he would be a great contributor to the discussion at home brewed christianity. I highly recommend having a look at his blog. And no I am not paid by him in fact he has no idea who I am I just think he is doing a lot of what you are talking about here. Cheers.

julian
julian

I think your two ways of reading the Bible, or as you call it "two groups" need to be reevaluated and expanded. Your claim that the second group reads the Bible from Historical-Critical methodologies ignores the hermeneutical triangle in which the two other sides are called literary criticism and cultural criticism. Although all of them make different theological claims on why their methodology is better in understanding the Bible and making it meaningful to our postmodern society, I think the field of cultural studies is reevaluating the meaning of "meaningful readings of the Bible" paying more attention to the different social location from which the Bible is read and the socio-political implications of all readings.

Mike L.
Mike L.

"the loss of an enchanted world"... That's insightful, Bo. I like how you worded that so cleverly. FYI, I'm stealing that line. Personally, I feared the loss at first, but then I let out a deep sigh of relief when I finally let go of the enchanted world. I feel so much safer and happier, no longer afraid of the dark or worrying about the boogeyman. The added bonus is the way the bible's imagery becomes so much more vibrant and actually believable.

Mike L.
Mike L.

Mark, "Why do many people–younger folks in particular–still have a sense of let-down after reading or hearing Borg or Crossan?" That's a great question and it's a perfect question for the Emerging conversation. I'd love to hear some specific responses from people in this thread who have that reaction. Personally, I do remember having a negative reaction to the Jesus seminar as I first began to venture out of Evangelicalism. For me, the reaction had little to do with their actual work and more to do with my fundamentalist indoctrination, which taught a deep seeded mistrust of any "outside" information. As former evangelicals, many of us probably started our search with that same skepticism of anything potentially heretical. I know my first reading of a Marcus Borg book was under the assumption that he was a heretic, and my goal was to prove exactly that. As much as I tried to hold that view, I had to admit he was probably on the right track, and I was missing something in my understanding of scripture. So in a way, I'm a perfect example of why fundamentalists are right to fear the historical-critical method. It will destroy their faith (if by faith they mean certainty in the factual nature of the story). They should be afraid of it, if their goal is to keep their intellectual certainty. If I had to guess, I think the "let-down" is that most Christians are just not used to reading the bible in any other way than as a devotional text. The first academic style reading almost always feels a bit unsatisfactory. Ironically, the historical-critical method led me to a much more inspirational view of the bible, because it pressed me into action rather than just another devotional feel-good experience. I don't read in the New testament about people looking for a mystical or devotional experience. I read action, a very dangerous form of action. I don't think I'd get to that understanding if I simply assumed these are stories about miraculous things that actually happened, rather than carefully crafted subversive statements in response to oppressive sociopolitical power structures. We need to first consider that maybe the events didn't actually happen, so we can begin to ask why they were written this way. We need to study the history so we can understand there is more than history and facts being conveyed. Only then will we have an outside chance to arrive somewhere near the intended meaning. Marcus Borg's most often repeated line is, "believe what you want about if the story actually happened that way, now let's talk about what the story means." If that isn't a "3rd way" beyond dualistic division, then I can't imagine what is.

Mark Longhurst
Mark Longhurst

Mike, my intention was not at all to portray Crossan, Borg, et. al as "modern extremists," and I grant that there is a "straw man argument" in my statement that "Wright and Crossan are two sides of the same modern coin." My statement certainly does not take into consideration the very nuanced--and immensely helpful!-- work that both of them have done to bring Christians out of a foundationalist approach to Scripture. I appreciate their work deeply and use them all the time in sermon preparation. Both Crossan and Wright are attempting, I think, to present a third way beyond hyper-rationalism, political quietism, and blind faith. But I still retain a fair amount of dissatisfaction after reading Crossan and Borg--(and yes, I have read them)--and I think that's what some of the above posts are getting at. Why do many people--younger folks in particular--still have a sense of let-down after reading or hearing Borg or Crossan? Is it because we are missing what they're saying or is it because we are asking different questions? For me, I am seeking a transformed life "in Christ" and, while indispensable, the questions of history don't lead ultimately me far enough. The questions of mysticism do. Here's what Thomas Merton had to say after being asked about the Quest for the Historical Jesus, which says much better what I am trying to get at: "The point is that I don't think the historical can be known in a way that is as relevant as this, and this is the kind of knowledge of Christ that St. John talks about...In comparison with this "knowledge" of Christ, the knowledge of Jesus as a man who "was" a Jewish mystic is to me somewhat irrelevant. That is knowledge "about" Christ, not knowledge "of" Christ, and not (what interests me more) knowledge "in" Christ. Christ not as object of seeing or study but Christ as center in whom and by whom one is illuminated." (quoted in Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton, page 6)

Jason N
Jason N

Having read quite a bit of Ben Witherington I have found him to be a very helpful guide while I was navigating from a rigid literalist, inerrantist position to something of a third way. He takes very seriously the historical-critical approach -- even saying crazy things (to the man I used to be) like Peter didn't write 2 Peter, or acknowledging the reality of Duetero-Pauline epistles in the NT -- while still embracing a passionate devotion to the text. His two volume magnum opus on the NT: The Indelible Image - The Theological and Ethical Thought World of the New Testament, was enormously helpful for me as it provided a fresh look at what the NT actually is and helped move me from a fundamentalist position to a more realistic one. Witherington also focuses extensively on the ethical call placed on us as followers of Jesus and his Wesleyan perspective was so refreshing for me as I was in the middle of a spiritual pilgrimage.

Mike L.
Mike L.

It's really sad to hear so much misinformation and confusion about the Jesus Seminar and the important work of scholars like Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, etc. The spin masters and heresy hunters in fundamentalist camps have apparently done a effective job, by clouding the discussion with fear and bad information. It's really sad. I hope people will stop making the kinds of broad and unsubstantiated claims echoed on this blog and in the comments. If you have a specific criticism, then make it, but please reconsider the spreading of rumors and sloppy information. There already is a "3rd way" and it's very clearly accessible inside the work of those people you're painting as modern extremists. Those people are have already moved away from the trend of extreme modern polarization. It just doesn't sound like you've read their work or engaged in the conversation. I think you're arguing against a straw man position.

Mark Longhurst
Mark Longhurst

As a former evangelical, now UCC minister, I have often wrestled with this question, and constructive ways forward have been difficult to find. So, thanks for the rich conversation! I love both NT Wright and Dominic Crossan, and read their work regularly. At the same time, they both seem to represent different sides of the same modern coin--did this historically really happen or not? I've always been dissatisfied with either a resounding YES or NO here. The third way for me has been the mystical way. I have been helped immensely by folks retrieving the Christian contemplative tradition like Cynthia Bourgeault and Richard Rohr. Cynthia in particular does a lot of teaching on lectio divina, which I believe can be a liberating practice for many of us caught in the liberal-conservative divide. The practice assumes the presence of God's Spirit as well as our whole selves/imaginations/hearts engaging with the text. And it doesn't mean we have to either 1) believe it all literally or 2) stop reading historical criticism. The Wisdom Jesus in particular is a very helpful book. I appreciated Peter's comment bringing us back to early church interpretative models, because in those days it was assumed that the literal meaning was only the most obvious layer of interpretation, and that allegorical/mystical readings were in many ways more "true." Here's a helpful link to an article by Yale's Dale Martin called "There's no one 'Christian' Way to Interpret Scripture: http://www.anglicancommunion.org/listening/book_resources/docs/Dale%20Martin%20scriptural%20interpretation.pdf Finally, I've also been helped greatly by Walter Brueggeman's work on biblical authority as "contested interpretation." He reminds us that the bible itself is contested hermeneutical terrain, and that to read the bible is to join that ongoing conversation. See "The Book that Breathes New Life." Blessings all!

Sam K.
Sam K.

This might be beside the point of the discussion, but how was Jesus' statement about bringing a sword ironic ? Just curious, since I haven't heard this before. Amazing post and amazing comment section. :)

Steve Martin
Steve Martin

I love this description of Scripture, "The finite contains the infinite" Just as our dear Lord Jesus was fully a product of this earth... (fully man)...He was also yet fully God. The Bible is true. All of it. Even as every jot and tittle did not float down from Heaven with a bow tied around it. Many just can't seem to get their head around it. Thanks.

Phil Thomson
Phil Thomson

Thanks, Bo, I really appreciate that. I also owe you guys a much deeper thank you for everything you're doing with this site. As someone who has spent my life trying to repress religious doubts, I can't begin to tell you how refreshing your conversations are, Tripp and Bo especially. Thank you. Please never stop Homebrewing the Christianity! With a lot of love and respect all the way from Scotland, Phil

Doug Hagler
Doug Hagler

You can probably tell I'm no kind of moderate, and I can't help but think that there is a good reason that making huge claims for the Bible is inversely related to actually knowing about the Bible. Learning facts about the Bible undermines bibliolatry - yay! Engaging with critical scholarship about the Bible makes us question the false certainties that we hold onto. Yay! Given that, everyone should learn as much as they can, and any anti-academic Biblical interpreter should immediately be suspect. Would you trust a doctor who doesn't trust biology? Of course not. I also see the Jesus Seminar as sort of a red herring, and it functions that way a lot, consciously and otherwise, when talking about Biblical interpretation. I see the Jesus Seminar as essentially a group of friends who are all scholars who kind of got carried away with themselves. A clique, essentially. We don't all have to be the Jesus Seminar - point taken. Honestly, I've probably only met one person in my entire life who thinks we should all be the Jesus Seminar, and I'm a liberal Protestant who likes academic Biblical study. For me, the problem is that the Bible is not the object of devotion. Why should devotional reading of the Bible take precedence over, say, devotional giving out of food, or devotional clothing the naked, or devotional insert-practice-here? It's too easy to boil Christianity down to "read the Bible and pray". I think that reading the Bible should be one of many devotional practices, is what I'm saying.

Phil Thomson
Phil Thomson

Great post. Very relevant for me. Like Dan Hauge, I'm in the transition phase between the first and second group, and I fervently wish for the best of both worlds. A good friend of mine, a pastor who has a VERY conservative view of scripture, is trying to bring me back in line with the evangelical fold, but no matter how admirable his simple, unshakable confidence--I simply force force myself to share his particular brand of faith. Yet because I am still conditioned to think in terms of 'The One True Biblical Vew', I cannot shake the niggling fear that I may be sinning against God by failing to impose a conservative interpretation upon scripture. I believe Nietzsche was more right than even he knew when he likened the religious life to choosing a fistful of certainties rather than exploring a cartload of beautiful possibilities. It is a terrifying experience to peer from under the blanket of comforting beliefs to gaze up at the infinite possibilities.

Da stand das Meer
Da stand das Meer

Thanks for this honest (as always) post, Bo. I've just got home from trying to moderate a church discussion about hermeneutics between a young fairly hardline Evangelical and a liberally-minded oncologist in her 60s anxious to retain the credibility of Christianity in a scientific age, so your search for a third way very much resonates with me. I was interested to see that Jaroslav Pelikan was on your list, as my personal feeling is that a little research via church history into the way that Scripture was read prior to the aggro of the Reformation period is pretty enlightening. Of course you can understand why the Reformers reacted against the medieval desire to allegorize EVERYTHING in their exegesis, but the older interpretive tradition in place from Origen's time to around 1500 (the fourfold sense of Scripture: literal, allegorical, moral, 'anagogical' or eschatological) had more going for it than we often realize in terms of subtlety and flexibility of hermeneutical levels. The fourfold approach had the advantage of not leaving the interpreter 'hermeneutically trapped', as Tripp aptly put it in one of your recent TNTs. It certainly wasn't a crude fundamentalist approach: I recently read came across Dante's exposition of Psalm 114 and I found it really humbling - Christocentric, poetic, existential, obviously marked by a deep spirituality ... Exegesis in the first twelve centuries of the church was also primarily COMMUNAL - John Milbank's writing often frustrates/irritates me, but one of his ideas that I reckon is very useful is that something went awry bigtime back in the 13th century when the default method of Scriptural reading stopped being the communal meditative practice of 'Lectio' (divina) and moved towards 'quaestio', the kind of wrangling over interpretation that we're been struggling with ever since. I'm convinced that the fact that lectio divina is now turning up in some pretty unlikely places (e.g. led by Southern Baptists!) is a sign that many people feel that something essential has been lost over the centuries which we need to recover. How do you put the meditative approach together with the best of modern scholarship (benefitting from the historical sciences without swallowing 'scientism' uncritically)? That's quite a challenge, but I have to believe it can be done. Shalom, Peter B.

Steve Horwatt
Steve Horwatt

Apropos of nothing (but I can't help myself ), if you run the word "hermeneutics" through an anagram generator, you'll find it's an anagram of "heretics menu," which with a little punctuation you can easily turn into "heretic's menu," which I found ironic because that's probably how a lot of people on the first way you mention see hermeneutics (this is one of the reasons I run words through anagram generators in the first place). You also get "tree munchies," which is just sort of fun, and "ethnic resume," which, of course, would be an excellent name for a rock band. Good post (I probably should have led with that). Growing up in a small mainline church in the South where we were assigned a new pastor every 3 years like clockwork (most of them still in seminary when they started), I got bounced back and forth pretty hard between the first and second ways. It was kind of confusing for a kid/youth, but in the long run I think it was good for me, because I probably learn a lot more by being confused than I ever do by being certain.

Garret Menges
Garret Menges

Bo, Thanks for these thoughts. It seems that the doctrine of inspiration (as it is conventionally employed) is too often used as a trump card that doesn't allow us to critique the scriptures. Critical engagement (and perhaps disagreement?) with the Bible is something that I understand as a Biblical endeavor for it is not a book that speaks with one voice. Indeed, the varying voices in the Scriptural witness disagree with and critique each other. We simply ought to join the dialogue that has already been started by the Biblical authors themselves.

Adam
Adam

I think there is a robust middle way that departs from the sort of canon criticism of someone like Brevard Childs, allowing us to engage, just as redactors did, in the faithful practice of engaging key hermeneutical questions and making meaning from authoritative (broadly construed) sources.

Danielle Shroyer
Danielle Shroyer

Bo, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. This is a conversation and topic I think deserves far more attention. What I've noticed is that often, when someone is coming out of an evangelical tradition (those are the people I meet here in Dallas!), there is a tendency to go straight into modern biblical criticism (if they go anywhere with the Bible at all). I think that's fine for detox and balancing purposes, but I agree with you that neither of these camps offer what I would consider a robust, sustainable, formative approach to Scripture. I've been reading some early church writers recently and I'm often taken aback at how emotional they seem to me. That may not actually be the case (I have a low emotion radar) but it just seems so...unprofessional and un-academic. It makes me realize how steeped in modern biblical criticism I still am, despite my desire to round out the edges. The truth is, there's a really personal aspect of reading Scripture. There always has been. And it's not categorically a bad thing. The more difficult question is how to connect that or make sense of that in light of the actual culture and literary purpose of the text. I certainly don't think we have to choose one over the other. Journey is doing a Lenten Bible study called "How to Read the Bible" that was intended to approach this very issue. Each week different community members are talking about Scripture. The first one went really well, and I'm eager to see how we talk through this stuff over the next number of weeks.

Mike L.
Mike L.

Bo, I think the historical-critical method is already an alternative "3rd way". The first way is the fundamentalist method (as you described). The 2nd way (2nd side of the same modernist coin) is the group who says, "this book is useless because none of it really happened." I think the way you positioned the choice of "first group v. second group" doesn't really address the reality of what the historical-critical method actually has to say. I wonder if you've rigged the spectrum of opinions so that you'll be perceived as "middle ground", when in reality one of your extremes is already a middle (or "third") approach. Why would you want to distance yourself from the historical-critical method of those like Dom Crossan, Marcus Borg, and John Shelby Spong? What do you mean by "inane prerequisites of the Jesus Seminar"? Many of those scholars have already moved past the 2 modernist extremes of A) fundamentalism and B) a complete rejection of the text. They are already navigating a 3rd way for people on this side of the enlightenment to read the bible with as much passion as any Evangelical. Have you ever fully engaged with any of their work? Are you just looking for something that won't get you in trouble or won't make you rethink your Evangelical roots? (I'm guessing that's your background?) It sounds like you're afraid of what you'll find and what people may think. That is no way to approach any text, especially not the Bible. As you aptly noted, N.T. Wright doesn't exactly save the day for us either. His approach ignores so much of the modern scholarship, and he ends up with mostly the same Evangelical literalism (although a bit more scholarly sounding with his British accent).

Jimmy
Jimmy

So I was talking to an atheist about David and Goliath. (....Sounds like a start to a bad joke). Anyways, I was talking to an atheist about David and Goliath. He did a good job articulating how their were similar hero stories told in the ANE by similar cultures, and that this event didn't happen. He then concluded with, "And therefore the Bible is unreliable." So there's a few things going on, not only in the church but also in more critically minded circles: 1. People are surprised by the Bible being like other writings and not entirely unique. 2. People assume the Bible is a cohesive, single voiced document akin to the Constitution. And therefore, if one part of the Bible is not factual or historically accurate then it calls the entire thing into question. So non-Christians will focus on these parts of the Bible in order to debunk the entire thing, and Christians will either ignore it or half-mindedly explain it away. So I appreciate what you're saying! I think that we need to be honest with ourselves about EVERYTHING the Bible both says and is, and only then can we be honest with other people...

Dan Hauge
Dan Hauge

While I really like NT Wright (and may agree with his line on more things than many Deacons), I would like to see more scholarship that approaches this middle way you're talking about--as smart as Wright is, he can't bear the burden of 'evangelical who genuinely engages with historical scholarship' all by himself. (At least he seems the go-to response in many of these discussions--don't mean to exclude Mr. Kirk above :)). In that vein I'm really enjoying Dale Allison's 'Constructing Jesus', where he argues that while we may not have the specific accurate record of what Jesus said or didn't say (cause memories always change and fade over time), it still makes good sense to assume that the major themes of how the gospels present Jesus represent what people actually remembered about him, and what he was generally about. To me this represents a kind of common-sense thinking that can help bridge some of these divides. Still, I'm wrestling quite a bit with the whole question of what does it look like to say, "yeah, the Bible is really wrong about x (not just some point of historical detail, but in its theology) but it still is a true important place for us to learn about God". I'm so used to thinking in a mode of adjusting my own perspective to what I perceive to be a biblical perspective on things. Shifting to a mode of seeing Scripture just as another conversation partner (even a really respected conversation partner) is a tough shift to make for me, in all honesty. Not that that's the only other option for how to look at Scripture. It seems to me that almost everyone in these conversations wants to affirm that 'we take the Bible seriously, and are shaped by the Bible', but there are as many different meanings for that affirmation as there are people making it.

Sarah Klatt
Sarah Klatt

Bo, Really well said. I grew up in the first trench and moved to the second in Seminary. I miss the love and connection I used to have with the Bible, and at the same time I don't ever want to go back to the pitfalls of seeing/using Scripture literally (and causing all sorts of injustice). Thank you for moving towards a third way. That gives me hope that I might still be able to critique and doubt the Bible while holding it as valuable and sacred. Blessings, Sarah

Luke Sumner
Luke Sumner

Bo, You give me hope about this. Thanks for your much needed words today. I have found myself in numerous conversations lately with different people, and a question that is often brought up, either directly or indirectly, is how can we take seriously the bible and it's role in the life of our community, but be able to move past words like inerrancy and seeing the bible as a guide to life we all just need to follow? These questions emerge not from an academic place, where quite frankly most are fine with throwing all the stuff from the first group out, but from a pastoral place. How do we so this in the life of our community, where in reality there are many people who are beginning to see and move beyond the first group, but there is also an unwillingness to engage with some of the deeper questions that might lead to the foundation stone of the bible being carved down even smaller. In other words, I am glad you are engaging this my friend. I appreciate your thoughts as always.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

"... now let's talk about what the story means." Great stuff Mike ! As far as the 'let down' (something that I do not feel) I think it comes primarily from 2 important things 1) the loss of enchantment. There is little doubt in my mind, after to talking to so many people about this over the years, that the loss of an enchanted world is horribly stark, disorienting, and boring. We would rather believe in knights & dragons as we work 9-5 in a cubicle then watch re-runs at night. 2) the difficulty of hermeneutics.If you have never thought about reading something except a newspaper account, a rent agreement, or an assembly instruction / owner's manual... then just the idea of making a hermeneutical turn is so intimidating. -Bo p.s. I added the resources of Kirk and Witherington to the actual post so folks didn't have to hunt for it.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Phil, as far as I am concerned, you win comment of the year (so far) I feel the tension as I read your story. Thanks for taking the time to type. I loved the authenticity . strength for the journey -Bo

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Thanks to both Steve and Peter for thought provoking! Da stand das Meer, I have a honest question that I hope does not come off badly ... At the beginning, you mentioned this women's anxiety to maintain credibility in a scientific age. At the end, you talk of communal reading. My question: does the ancient tradition (lectio) have a place in the future age when science is so specialized and beyond many (including me) at the quantum level. It seems that the practice has an uphill battle ahead - and individualism isn't it's main obstacle. What say you?

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Garret - that is a FANTASTIC point (that I had not thought of) actually, just last week I had somebody get after me publicly who was using 'inspiration' as a defense.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

3 things (as a Trinitarian who hates dualism I will trend toward this presentation at every turn) 1. Yesterday I was running this post past people that I trust and two names kept coming up to suggest in the future: the irrepressible Daniel Kirk and Ben Witterington. I have linked to both of them here 2. I so appreciate hearing from insightful folks who are willing to be honest about the journey, So thank you Jimmy, Danielle, Luke, Sarah, Dan, Mike and Daniel. I love learning together and trading notes with those in the arena! 3. Mike, I really appreciate your responding. as a believer I don't see the "throw it out" as a viable option so I did not validate it by giving one end of the spectrum. In my mind, it is off the spectrum. That is why I organized it like that. Not out of fear or rigging. It is an honest response to difficult situation. There are plenty of things that I am at an extreme on - I have no fascination with being in the middle. If you knew me, that would make sense. I have engaged every author you mentioned multiple times - so don't worry about that. What I mean by "inane prerequisites" are things like the embarrassment criteria. If something (like Jesus being baptized by John) is imagined to be embarrassing but it was left in, then it is given more credence to possibly being historical. I just can get down with that apriori and so I will stick with my assertion. ;) -Bo

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