I may have got myself into hot water. And you lovely people too, my revive friends, since we’re in this together.
I said that the Bible isn’t The Word of God. And I said it on Facebook. I was having a long and protracted debate with a conservative evangelical woman and everything came down to this: true Christians believe the Bible is The Word of God.
I don’t believe it is.
This doesn’t mean that I think the Bible isn’t inspired, or that it’s not THE central and defining text (well, collection of texts) for our faith. For goodness sake, it’s the only place we can go to find Jesus! It’s just that the phrase ‘The Word of God’ comes with a lot of baggage that I’m anxious to avoid.
In the Old Testament it is used quite literally to describe the stuff God says, particularly the law and the prophecies of the prophets. In the New Testament it means both of those, plus the message of the gospel, and of course Jesus himself in John 1. Nowhere does any text claim to BE the word, but many testify that they are quoting the word(s) of God. As Swiss theologian Karl Barth puts it, ‘The Bible contains the word of God,’ and ‘…becomes the word of God when we read it in the Spirit.’ A subtle difference.
‘Why is this even important Simon?’
If the Bible is THE Word of God, then it contains everything God wants to say to us. Everything God has ever said to you in prophecy, in the wisdom of a friend, or in the rustling of a tree is a counterfeit, possibly even demonic. It means that – the source of the original argument on Facebook – God has said everything he wants to say about men and women and what they should wear and what they can and can’t do in church, society and family. I just don’t go with that.
So I thought I should let you know what I said, because ‘Baptist Minister doesn’t believe the Bible is The Word of God’ is a great headline, but doesn’t get at the heart of the debate. Oh alright, argument. Or worse.
It strikes me that we need a grown up conversation about the Bible, one that gets out of the box that my evangelical Facebook sister was trying to put me in. We need to be able to make a positive statement about the Bible, not just say that we don’t believe in the conservative evangelical doctrine of an inerrant, infallible, all-sufficient, historically and scientifically true, once-and-for-all and only one WORD OF GOD. I hate saying that, it makes me sound so negative and critical. I want to say something that shows how much I value this thing, how my life has been changed by God’s work in and through it. How much I love the Jesus I find within it. How much I hate other stuff; sometimes because I find it abhorrent, sometimes because it finds me abhorrent.
But what DO we want to say about the Bible?