When “the Bible is perfectly clear” becomes the reason it can’t teach us anything

I’ve noticed a gap between what feels right to say about the Bible in the abstract and what actually happens when we read the Bible as part of our daily discipleship. When many Christians talk about the Bible in the abstract, they talk as though it’s a collection of “perfectly clear” but tough to stomach rules that people don’t want to obey so they pull out words like “mystery” to justify their disobedience. It makes me wonder how much time a person who talks that way actually spends reading the Bible, because when I read the Bible, the way I rebel against what God tries to teach me is to insist that I’ve already understood him with “perfect clarity.” Continue Reading


Why English majors make lousy fundamentalists

I think that the reason many Christians can’t understand each other, particularly with regard to how we read the Bible, may end up boiling down to different personality types. I am an INFP, according to the Myers-Briggs system. I would tend to call it the personality type of a poet, or an English major, or perhaps a romantic. According to the Internet, people like me “do not like to deal with hard facts and logic” and we “don’t understand or believe in the validity of impersonal judgment.” I think that’s reasonably accurate. But the important thing to understand is that English majors don’t hate truth; what we hate is when people make truth look ugly and stupid (i.e. what an ESTJ probably calls “hard facts and logic”). So I thought I would list some instincts that English majors bring to reading the Bible that make the fundamentalists gnash their teeth at us. Continue Reading


Two Biblical commands no Christian will ever obey

I’ve been at the Ecclesia National Gathering in DC. It’s a network of moderate evangelicals who use the word “missional” a lot and plant churches and stuff like that. We just had a presentation from Bill Webb about the nature of the Bible’s authority. One of his points was that the Bible’s authority is always “accommodated” to its particular cultural context. He shared two very awkward Biblical commands, Proverbs 31:6-7 and Deuteronomy 25:11-12, that I’m pretty confident no Christian would ever obey. Continue Reading

wheaton more than single story

The Bible has room for more than one gay Christian story

A couple of weeks ago, at Wheaton College, a very interesting dialogue happened. The campus had organized a speaking event for ex-gay activist Rosaria Butterfield whose story of converting from a leftist lesbian university professor to the homeschooling housewife of a conservative evangelical pastor has made her very popular in the conservative evangelical speaking circuit. LGBT-supporting Wheaton students held a “demonstration” outside the talk that they said wasn’t a “protest.” They held signs saying things like “We’re all loved by God,” “Rosaria’s story is valid, mine is too,” and “I’m gay and a beloved child of God.” Their demonstration was called “More than a single story.” After Rosaria’s presentation, she talked with the LGBT students. Both sides were able to respect and show grace to each other. It was a beautiful witness.
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Wrestling with the Bible (#sermon #podcast)

Last weekend, I preached on wrestling with the Bible. We looked at the Tower of Babel story as an example and tried to interpret it first taking everything at face value and then with the love-oriented approach to interpretation that Augustine wrote about in his Doctrina Christiana: “If it seems to you that you have understood the divine scriptures, or any part of them, in such a way that by this understanding you do not build up this twin love of God and neighbor, then you have not understood them” (1:36:40). Then I offered 5 practical principles for Biblical interpretation. Listen below or subscribe to my podcast to get it automatically updated in your phone.


Three different conceptions of Biblical authority

Thanks very much for your responses to my last post on Biblical inerrancy. Though some were a bit snarky, they were actually quite helpful to my sermon preparation process, which was my goal with the post. What has emerged out of that wrestling is that there seem to be three ways of understanding Biblical authority, which basically amount to three interpretations of the most cited proof-text for Biblical authority: 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.” Continue Reading


The two verses that torpedo Biblical inerrancy

This weekend, we will be wrestling with what it means for the Bible to be our authoritative guide for how to live as Christians when some things in the Bible were written in a different era when people didn’t have the scientific information they do today. Some Christians hold to a position of Biblical inerrancy, which means different things to different people but basically means that the Bible has to be without error in any claims that it makes like Methusaleh’s lifespan of 969 years, for example. There’s an atheist who made cartoon videos about Noah’s ark poking fun at some of the logistical issues in the story if we try to make it historical like the number of inches of rain per second that would have to fall on every square inch of the Earth for 40 days and 40 nights to raise the global sea level over the top of Mt. Everest. But there are two verses in the Old Testament that are problematic to Biblical inerrantists for a different reason: they make God look like one of the capricious ancient mythological deities from whose stories the Bible may have been originally derived.

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“Do not believe every spirit” (1 John 4)

At the basilica’s Monday mass, the epistle reading was from 1 John 4, which includes: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” It was a sobering reminder to me that not all the “inspiring” voices in my head are from God. Even if I have had legitimate prophetic convictions before, that doesn’t mean that my compulsive urge to weigh in on the latest drama in our world is “God-breathed.” One way in which I’m testing the spirits that speak to me is to wrestle with the question of how God speaks to us through His word. Continue Reading


Does it matter that Luke knows nothing of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents?

This Christmas, I stumbled over a verse, Luke 2:39, that I had never noticed before: “When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.” Here’s the problem. According to Matthew 2:13-15, Mary and Joseph have to flee to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod and in order to fulfill the prophecy, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” Unless we make a ridiculously contrived interpretive choice to call fleeing to Egypt part of fulfilling “the law of the Lord” that Luke surprisingly doesn’t say anything explicit about, then this text is a real problem. Continue Reading

My duty to the Bible’s living interpretive tradition

bibleI had a good discussion yesterday with my pastor covenant group about our discernment process as a church in the wake of the Frank Schaefer trial and controversy. I know that I got a little hot-headed in the debate online so I wanted to offer more circumspect reflections. I believe that each disciple of Jesus Christ not only has the right but actually the duty to contribute to the ongoing living interpretive tradition of our faith. Some Christians think that the Bible doesn’t require any interpretation, but I contend that the way we interpret it is by living it and sharing our testimony with each other. Continue Reading