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    April 26th, 2012 @ 6:10 am by Kevin

    In his book The Jesus-Driven Life, theologian Michael Hardin says he dislikes the term “God,” because it’s like a suitcase–you can pack anything into it you like. He prefers the term “Jesus,” because it’s not so generic, and it reminds us of the centrality of Christ.

    I tend to agree with Michael, but I would extend the same way of thinking to the Bible itself. Whenever I hear the phrase, “The Bible says…”, I cringe, because I know I’m about to be met with a statement that takes the complex blend of authors and literary genres that make up the Bible and flattens them into a generic voice that says one–and only one–thing.

    Of course, depending on your theory of inspiration, you might think this is perfectly acceptable, because that generic voice is actually the voice of God, which supersedes the voices of all the human beings who wrote the Bible (not to mention the voices of the human beings who edited the biblical books, translated the biblical books and chose which books would be part of the Bible and in what order.). But then that begs the question of why God had human beings involved in the process at all. If his intention was to give us a book that gave us the full, unvarnished truth unblemished by human fallibility, why didn’t he just write it himself? Jesus could have even hand-delivered it to us.

    Rather than “The Bible says…”, I much prefer to use language like, “Matthew says…”, “The Apostle Paul says…”, or “The writer of Genesis says…” Singling out individual authors or books like this helps to remind us of a couple of things: First, that the Bible is not a book. It is a library of books written over hundreds of years by different authors writing within vastly different cultural contexts. This list of authors includes prophets, poets, kings, theologians murderers, prisoners and people of unknown background, whose circumstances had a huge bearing on how they perceived God.

    Second, no matter your theory of inspiration, it reminds us that these authors weren’t merely taking dictation from God. They were also expressing their own opinions, hopes and fears, which were a product of their personalities and their historical and cultural context. An oft-quoted case in point is Galatians 5:12, where the Apostle Paul wishes the Judaizers–those who insisted Gentile Christians should be circumcised–would go all the way and emasculate themselves. Ouch. I guess you could interpret Paul’s anger as God’s anger, but I think even Paul would take issue with that, seeing as such wishes are hardly in accord with Jesus’ teaching to love our neighbor as our self.

    So the next time you’re tempted to say, “The Bible says…”, stop for a moment and consider why you’re doing it. Especially if you’re tempted to use that phrase to support your position on hell. (This applies equally to Infernalists, Annihilationists and Universalists.) Because chances are, that one biblical author you’re so certain supports your case is probably contradicted by another biblical author (or perhaps another book written by the same author) who makes quite a different argument. This is not to say that the biblical authors were not inspired or that they aren’t united on a great number of things–including the notion that after we die, we will have to give an account to God for the way we’ve lived our lives and then face the consequences of our actions. But how this works out exactly is a matter of which not even the biblical authors appear 100% certain.

leave a comment on this post (9 Comments)

  1. I agree Kevin… God could have written the bible himself like he did the 10 commandments. Or did He?


  2. Hey Kevin, I’ve always respected and appreciate your writing and thoughts, but I cringe a bit at the premise that there is no “hell.” Clearly throughout scripture, by various authors and Jesus himself, there is detailed mention of a place that those who accept Christ will go to be with him after this life or his return. Clearly Jesus warned that there was only one way to this place and that was through him… For example: “I am the way, the truth and the light. No one comes unto the father but by me.” John 14:6 . Or John 3:3 “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (Far too many more to mention.) So whether we believe in a literal “lake of fire” hell or not, clearly some will go to be with Jesus and the Father and some will not… that’s according to Jesus own words, not mine. So from that I think it’s easy to imagine a place without Jesus or the love of God, being everything that is opposite of them… and that would be hell. Imagine this earth if God were to entirely remove his love and his presence from our existence. How long do you think it would take for wars to break out that would transform this planet into “a lake of fire?” Wouldn’t that be just hell?

    • Thanks for the note, Mike. However, if you read carefully through everything I’ve written, I don’t think I’ve ever argued that hell doesn’t exist. What I’ve argued against are certain interpretations of hell. Even in this post I conclude by saying the biblical authors are united around the idea of a day of reckoning and having to face up to the consequences of our actions. The question is what those consequences will look like.

      • Late to the party, I guess Kevin… My apologies for misunderstanding the premise of the film. However, watching the trailer, that’s the impression I got. Certainly there is room for discussion about “what” hell might be. Again, I just think any place separated from God or Jesus would quickly become a hell by anyone’s standards.

        All the best on the film, Kevin. I’ll definitely be out to see it!

      • An atheist takes on William Lane Craig’s defense of hell. Guess whose side I take?
        April 24th, 2012 @ 7:57 pm by Kevin

        Without hell, Duncan does not see the point of Christianity.

        Taking the side of Duncan who does not believe in hell, kevin states: “Where I disagree with Duncan is his statement that sticking to the facts makes you an atheist.
        Seeming to agree with Duncan on the fact of NO hell.
        Kevin does not seem to believe in hell when he says: “God should figure out a way around my stupid decisions.”
        Again, :”God hiding then punishing us for not believing is height of injustice.”

        But Kevin has obvious doubts when he says, that we are under PARTIAL bondage, not TRULY free. So perhaps there is PARTIAL hell, or not TRULY hell.

  3. Todd S.W. Greiner April 26, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Very good Kev. I´ve often queried over the apparent absolute need by so many to always have a verse or some excerpt from scripture in hand in order to prove their point and the incessant squabbling, sparing if you will – one scripture against another or one interpretation against another. Like desperate shipwrecked souls scrambling for a piece of wood to hang their salvation on.

    What if scripture, the Bible as we know had been lost at some point in the dark ages and never made it into our hands? Or we found out that it was hoax? Would we have any hope of ever finding God or of being saved?

    It is as though it is viewed as “the narrow path” or “needles eye” in and of itself. It is as though our very salvation is dependant on our “cracking the Biblical code” and ironing out all the wrinkles in our theology. With so much hanging on the Bible and it´s interpretation, I can understand the desperation but am saddened by it.

    The screaming “need to know and understand” we experience as grown-ups is human and seems as necessary as breathing but if we could just dare to in faith trembling and frightened as we may be, just let go… let go of the little piece of wreckage and go back to being the curious, inquisitive, questioning, exploring child that we were and simply delight in the beauty of God, Abba, Jesus, Light, Life and Love that surrounds us.

    I believe that there exists a greater hope and a stronger foundation to lay our lives down on than the black and white text of the Bible.

    Should I have a verse to back that up maybe???

  4. amen! this generation and the ones preceding it have entertained a strange idolatry of the bible. the religious mindset tells us to look to the bible for every answer as the voice of god in every situation–however, it is the voice of the holy spirit within that provides that direction. the bible is intended threefold primarily as a way for young christians to experience what the voice of god sounds like, to teach us the principles of the kingdom of god, and to showcase mighty (and sometimes not so mighty) relationships with god that have been on this earth. put simply, the bible is a collection of books written by dudes who knew god and felt led (inspired) to record what they heard him saying, saw him doing, and how it made them feel or what it taught them about god. the bible has a very divine, authoritative element and paradoxically at the same time a very human, weak, and shifty element. take the prophets for example. we often think of them as being suddenly possessed by god and told exactly what to say–as though god is word for word giving them the prophecies. and oftentimes this was perhaps the case. but most people experienced in prophecy will tell you that prophecy begins with a perception of what god wants to say to the generation, what the needed spiritual message is. the words that encapsulate that message are the secondary part, that come to the prophet (by inspiration) as they are speaking. just some thoughts. 🙂

  5. Emergentcoach, I just read your story in August, 2010. You may never see this, but if you do, I have some questions for you, as a felolw Multnomah grad (Th.B., 1971).I have completely de-converted in the last 3 years. Currently an agnostic, a paused briefly for 6 months or less at the emergent stage, then at the liberal stage, then deist, and now (and probably where I’ll remain) at agnostic. In the past 4 decades, I have been a missionary in Europe, deacon, youth group leader, or always in some way involved in church. I may post my story here, although the site seems to be moribund at present.My questions have to do with this: now that you’ve stripped your deity of his christian trappings, do you find the remaining deity satisfying, either intellectually, or emotionally? How can you be sure he exists, if he is not the personal god as portrayed in the N.T.? If you think he is a personal god who listens to your prayers, how can you verify that?OK, with those questions out of the way, just one last item: I would love to hook up with other Multnomah grads who have de-converted or left the faith. I moved back to Portland, but I’m trying to shield my fundamentalist mother from the fact that her eldest son is apostate! So I’ve got to be a little cautious how I do it, but if you know of anyone else, I would like to get in touch.Take care . . .

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