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Checking Out from the Bible Library


Our most recent episode featured a conversation with Brian Zahnd, author of Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God. When asked about his motivation for writing this book, Brian said that many people in his congregation and circle of influence were liking his refreshing take on theology, but had a lot of “what abouts”.


His refreshing idea = Jesus is what God has to say.


If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. Jesus perfectly reveals “the Father” God. If you have seen Jesus, you’ve seen “the Father”.


It seems like a good foundation to build one’s theology. Right?


But….


What about the Bible?

What about Jesus’ death on the cross?

What about hell?

What about violence?


Each of these is purported to pose a challenge to the idea that Jesus is what God has to say. Perhaps God has “more to say” than just Jesus - maybe Jesus doesn’t perfectly reveal the heart of the Father. There are other items and ideas that inquirers should include when constructing their concept of God.


Let’s focus on the “what about” of the Bible. This seems to be the major hangup for a ton of earnest inquirers. They might say, “I like your Jesus, but I’m not so sure about your entire Bible.”


I’d strongly encourage you to watch Brian’s answer on this, but I wanted to bring up two ideas I’ve been stewing on since my conversation with him.


First, I wonder how much of our sense that the Bible presents a completely unified message throughout its pages is in virtue of the fact that the printing press has allowed us all to have the scriptures contained in “one volume”.


Remember that in Jesus’ day, and for a long while afterwards, each biblical “book” was contained on a scroll, and more commonly, many scrolls. Imagine your Bible taking up an entire bookshelf of scrolls. It naturally gives you the sense that each “book” of the Bible is a discrete entity, written to be its own work of literature - and perhaps not as connected to the rest of the works of literature in the library in the way that it feels like it is when presented in one leather-bound edition.

The way we get presented scripture in our modern bibles has the feeling of each book as a chapter - “I wonder what’ll happen next!” - when in fact, they aren’t always chronological, not the same genre, and not by the same author(s).

This idea is uncontroversial. In fact, conservative and progressive christians alike use the term “library” to describe the bible and its contents. But, that term’s impact is dulled by being able to carry scripture in one hand and in one volume, not to mention the ability to search any passage in 2 seconds through Google.


I just wonder how people’s attitude and conceptual trappings about the Bible would shift if each “book” of the Bible was a separate volume on their bookshelf.


Second, it is worth thinking about the history of how people thought about scripture. I’m no expert and I’m still learning much about the process. But, here’s something to consider:


The Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed, both formative and important statements of doctrine and faith for the early church, do not highlight any grand properties about scripture. The Apostle’s Creed makes no mention of it. The Nicene Creed in one line says “in accordance with the scriptures” in reference to the rising of Jesus three days after his death.


If ideas such as inerrancy, infallibility, and authoritativeness were central to the faith, to following Jesus, and even to sound doctrine, one might think they’d appear in these creeds. But they don’t. Such ideas about scripture are developed later and did not always hold prominence in our theology.


None of this is to definitely say that all of scripture is not inerrant, infallible, and authoritative. Such terms need to be clearly defined and assessed on their own merit, even if they arose later in church history than we might have wanted.


But this historical fact does put pressure on the notion that these ideas are absolutely central to a faithful following of Jesus.


Also, I by no means want you to "check out" from reading and studying the Bible.

As I've leaned more into the ideas that Brian Zahnd and others have shared, I've grown more and more interested in the complexity, beauty, and import of what the Bible-Library has to offer.

What I want us to think about more is that when we read portions of our Bible - imagine you are "checking out" a book from a library (hence the title).


To hear our conversation with Brian, you can watch on YouTube or listen on your favorite podcatcher.


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Stay Curious!