This is my first blog since moving house which is why it’s been a while since my last post. This move has had added significance as it marked the end of a pretty major chapter in my life. 6 years ago when I moved to Oxford, I didn’t know Christ and it wasn’t until about a year later that I started to seriously question my beliefs at the time and wound up being a Christian in the process (you can find more details here). I was confident, I went about getting answers and explanations. Now I’m not so much on the confident front as those same answers are not so comforting.
I feel like I’m waging many wars at the moment, not least between what I believe the Bible to be and what I know about it; and I can’t ignore what I know. It is inspired by God and the historical evidence Jesus’s life death and resurrection have helped me have some degree of confidence as to the truthfulness of my faith, but similar accounts of the flood in other ancient documents, ending of Mark being added to, differing resurrection accounts, 200,000 textual variants in the manuscripts, not having the original autographs, the use of other (now lost) sources; have all raised questions regarding what does all this mean for inerrancy of the Bible. Any half-decent apologist will be able to give an explanation for these and why the overall reliability isn’t affected, but it doesn’t change the above facts and doesn’t really address inerrancy. All this is before we even get into science and evolution, and their relationship with Christianity and the Bible. On the one hand, evolution is a process and God is a designer; 2 different types of explanation that are not in conflict. On the other hand, why would a good loving God use a method that relies on death? I’ve been taking a course on human evolution run by John Hawks who is a paleoanthropologist from the University of Wisconsin to help better understand this process and the evidence. Regardless of whether you believe the evolution theory to be true or false, it helps to know a little bit about it. Its not the first time science has thrown up facts about the universe that forced Christians to re-think the Bible. The idea that the earth moved signified a massive shift in how certain passages were interpreted.
What about Genesis though? John Walton, Peter Enns, N.T. Wright, Denis Lamoureux (among others) have all contributed to the understanding of the history and the culture of the time the Bible was written in, especially in light of the aforementioned similarities to other ancient stories. If the Bible is so much a part of the culture of the time, how can we talk about it being the word of God? I have some atheists saying we should discard the Bible on the one side and some Christians saying we should discard evolution on the other. As I’ve written, I think the integrity of both should be maintained which does put me in the middle of both, upsetting both. The question though is how? How do I keep the integrity of both whilst addressing the challenges they raise?
One book that has had a massive impact on me has been Healing The Gospel by Derek Flood. It has completely changed the way I look at the cross. Whilst I didn’t have an official title for it, penal substitution (that Jesus took the punishment due to us) is very much what is taught. Again, apologists have an answer for why this had to happen. Derek though, has done an excellent job of showing not only why this isn’t what the Bible teaches, but why it’s actually grotesque for God to require such a sacrifice. What the cross is about is restoration, both of the earth itself and our relationship with God. It’s about healing. I’m still trying to work through it in more detail, but it gave a possible way of looking at the 2 issues above. Essentially, this is how God works. He comes down to our level, works at our level in the world, and is able to take the most barbaric form of capital punishment and use it for its opposite purpose. This doesn’t do the complexity of scripture any justice, or the magnitude of what Christ has done and certainly doesn’t answer all the questions, but it does give a possible framework within which to start tackling these sorts of questions and others that spring out of them.
Something else Derek has written about is how Paul treated the more violent parts of the Old Testament. Paul took passages the Old Testament and changed the context from one of violence to one of peace. Jesus seemed to do something similar with “You’ve heard it said an eye for an eye, but I say love your enemy”, and not ordering the stoning of the adulterous woman, even though that is what the law required. This obviously raises huge questions about how we are to, and can, handle scripture; through the lens of Jesus is a saying that’s used a lot, but it goes beyond this. I’m also very much influenced by John Walton’s book “Lost World Of Genesis One“, in particular the idea that Genesis 1 is a temple text. People built temples as spaces for Gods to occupy. If this is what Genesis is teaching, then the world is Gods temple, he built it for him to take up residence with the beings he created. He therefore, hasn’t abandoned it or is going to destroy it; but through Jesus showed it will be renewed/renovated. This is Gods kingdom, and heaven is therefore not some distant distinct place we go to when we die. God made the world to be with us, it’s about relationship not an abstract set of intellectual philosophies and rules; though rules are important.
Knowledge changes many things and it certainly has on this.
Having all this ground work with a vague way forward, the question becomes what do I do with it in terms of applying it to my life? Not just in terms of what I do but how I treat others. As I’ve written previously, attitudes towards the LGBT community have caused me to walk away from the church, and is the biggest reason I end up on collision courses with many Christians. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, and my approach is very simple; they are loved children of God and deserve to be treated as such and that is what I will do. I know the discussions regarding what the Bible says and means can be complex and nuanced, it can cause tension as I work through it; but the aspect that over-rides all others is the treatment of human beings as equal. This is why I don’t support Christians being able to deny services to same-sex couples, this is why I fully support same-sex marriage, this is why I get abuse from some Christians for it. This is also why I fully support the ordination of women as bishops, pastors, leaders. We all have skills that we can bring to help others, I just don’t see God going “you’re a woman, you can’t do that”. For petes sake, Christianity started with the message that Christ had risen from the dead and the first person given that message and told to tell others was Mary Magdalene! Again, I know the discussions about what Bible says can be complex and nuanced (and introduce me to new words like “complementarian”), but I’m taking the approach of if the interpretation doesn’t extend grace and dignity, chances are it’s wrong.
This is just a very small sample of the questions that I’m currently wrestling with (I haven’t talked about hell yet), and I know I’m not alone in this. Since taking a break from going to church though, I’ve found the process to be less like juggling or spinning plates and more like them spread over a table; I can tackle them in my own time in my own way under no pressure other than what I put on myself. This doesn’t mean I have all the answers but that’s ok. As I’m learning, doubt is a big part of faith as is holding many viewpoints in tension. One of the biggest things I need to do is find a new church. The fact I want to find a new church is an improvement given the issues I’ve had, but this is not something I’ve ever had to do. Truth is, I’m very nervous at the prospect of it. If my experiences of many Christians on the internet is anything to go by, an LGBT affirming, 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 up to criticize you as the recent topics involving what is the church and whether we need to go to be a Christian is anything to go by. I’m told there are churches who will be welcoming, and I have found many Christians who are. It helps to know what you’re looking for though. The one thing I need is space to continue to wrestle with everything that’s going on in my head, freedom to voice these, to share with the church and to disagree with certain doctrines/theology of a particular church.
This is me, this is where I am now, roll on the next chapter.