Experience versus the Bible

Shane Raynor asked on Twitter “What order would you put these in— 1 being the highest priority and 4 the lowest? Scripture, experience, reason, and tradition” I would put them in the order of  1. Experience 2. Reason 3. Scripture 4. Tradition. Our experiences, good and bad, make us who we are, influence every aspect of us including how we view others. They can also protect us and get us through tough situations. As C.S. Lewis puts it; Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.  Some would put Scripture above all else and use scripture in response to situations. What do you do though when scripture doesn’t reflect the realities of said situation; when experiences seem to go against the Bible.

During a discussion on Huffington Post Live, theologian Darrell Brock talked about being gay being a choice and being in rebellion against God because that’s what the Bible teaches. The passage that alludes to that is:

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. Romans 1:24-27

This passage is one of the so-called “clobber” passages; verses that are used to demonstrate that homosexuality is a sin (they got their name because of the way they are used).  Whilst scientists are still debating what determines someones sexuality, Paul is suggesting here that it is punishment for disobeying God, for worshiping idols and that God has given them over to their lusts. As I type this, the Gay Christian Network is holding their conference in Chicago. Many LGBT Christians are coming together for fellowship, to praise, to worship and learn about God. These are not the actions of people who God has given over to their lusts. Listening to their testimonies and chatting to them, their love for him is very much in evidence; they aren’t people who are in rebellion against God. My experience just doesn’t warrant such a conclusion.

My experience seems to against the Bible.

Thing is, I don’t see the passage as addressing homosexuality. In the verses preceding it, Paul is talking about people who have turned from God and started worshiping other idols. Some commentaries say he is referencing pagan worship and in the verses after this, Paul drops a bomb by saying that who he is writing to are also like that. So my experience isn’t so much against the Bible but with certain  interpretations of it. Another example is the concept of original sin, to which we come to Paul again. Paul says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory God” and that sin entered through the actions of Adam and Eve. Putting these 2 together, many Christians claim that humans are utterly depraved and incapable of acts of “good”.  Whilst humanity has been responsible for some horrendous atrocities, it has also been responsible for incredible acts of kindness and grace that sometimes defy explanation.

Once again my experience seems to go against the Bible.

Looking back at the Genesis text though, no where does it say anywhere that the guilt and inability to choose good, is imprinted into all humanity as a result of what Adam did. The very next set of verses is about Cain which includes this:

“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”  Genesis 4:7

God doesn’t say “because of what your father did you will now only choose sin and there’s nothing you can do about it, and this applies to the whole of humanity for all time”. He said Cain had a choice, he could either choose to follow God or not which is the same choice his mother and father had. People are good, they just make bad choices sometimes (or a lot of the time).

Those who say that scripture should come first, would say that I’m allowing outside influences to govern how I read the Bible; that I should let the Bible govern how I read it. I get what they’re saying and I agree to a point, but you can’t even read the Bible without outside influences. The Bible doesn’t teach you what grass is, what mountains are, it doesn’t teach you how to even read.  Experience can work against you though. Throughout history, outside influences have caused changes in interpretation. The prevailing view was that the earth stood still, our experience is that everything else moved. We then discovered that we’re the ones moving, but we still talk about the sun rising even though it only appears to be rising. This outside information though, changed how we interpret certain passages. Culture has also driven how we interpret passages. Slavery was seen as normal and acceptable and many Christians in the day pointed to scripture to support their view. Now, very few Christians interpret those passages the same way and seem to go through some mental and interpretive gymnastics to show why.

There are many many examples that could be used, but ultimately experience and reason have to become before scripture. To put it the other way round would be to ignore everything that makes us human, and that doesn’t end well.

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5 thoughts on “Experience versus the Bible

  1. Sam says:

    Very well written! I see this pretty much as you do. I find it interesting to read how people in the past interpreted Scripture on issues of race, whether the sun revolves around the earth or the earth revolves around the sun, and many other issues. Now most of us would say that they read their opinions in scripture.

    I think that continues to happen. The so-called “clobber passages” that presumably refer to homosexuality fall into that category in my opinion. Some people see what they want to see there, when what the original text says is anything but crystal clear.

    • evidence2hope says:

      Peter Enns (who I quote alot) said we all approach the Bible pretty much thinking we know how it works. I think to an extent that’s true

  2. […] still searching, many who have been hurt by your church. Our experiences have not been the same and experiences make us who we are. When I shared Reformation21′s blog on Twitter, I said that it treats […]

  3. […] inerrancy denying, constant questioner who believes women should be allowed to be bishops and doesn’t believe human nature is ultimately depraved; is not exactly going to be welcomed with open arms. There’s no shortage of people of queuing […]

  4. LGBTLincs says:

    I am finding that my reliance on Scripture, as I would have at one time called myself a fundamentalist, has not exactly diminished but I regard them differently. Reason, to me, is a measure of protection that I should not be extremist. Wesley introduced Reason in to the Methodist Quadrilateral to moderate between extremists of that time and enthusiasts, a ‘label’ given to Methodists. Experience is allowing the Spirit to be ‘test’ what is read with what we understand. Tradition reflects on what has passed and understand why was this so. Scripture still stands on top but is linked inextricably to the other 3.
    When this is done we should not fall into literalists traps of taking a single line of scripture and relating directly to today without context and understanding, tested by the Spirit.

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