From my friend and reader of this blog, John in Zimbabwe:

“Our relationship [with God] is what it’s all about! Going against God is like trying to cut across the waves in a rowing boat! Life will be very difficult indeed!”

It has taken me many years to get a clear handle on what the Bible is and what it is not. The idea that it is a book of inerrant revelation from God is THE fundamental, principle doctrine of Evangelicalism. This doctrine of the Bible was drilled into me in seminary. But it just is not true, and the wide world of biblical scholarship has known this for hundreds of years now. But the doctrine simply will not die. The reasons are many, but the strongest one in my opinion is the fundamental desire people have for certainty. I know this desire myself too well. We want an absolutely certain word from God. Of course, even when one regards the Bible as such, it does not work. For there is the fact that the Bible must be interpreted and that interpretation is not easy.

Does this mean I think the Bible is worthless? Nothing could be further from the truth. I think it’s value is truly priceless. But only if it is not used as an inerrant guide. Even the best of it must be used as an imperfect guide alongside other imperfect guides. The other imperfect guides may be summarized as God’s revelation of himself in creation, God’s law written upon our hearts, and the accumulated wisdom of the ages. We must consult these several imperfect guides, the Bible included, to best discern what is true of God and true of ourselves. And when this is done, at least when it is done with prayer and an open heart and mind, I believe we are able to discern that God is the most beautiful being we can imagine – indeed, more beautiful than we can imagine. And I believe we are able to discern that we are his precious creatures whom he has created to live as sons and daughters of him in a relationship of mutual friendship, even love. And not only has he created us for such, but he has at great suffering to himself carried out a plan to rescue us from our lost, estranged condition – a plan of redemption, culminating in the sacrifice of Jesus of Nazareth on our behalf, the sacrifice of a son of God who could not have been more dear to God, so intimate was their bond and relationship.

Clearly I am living proof here that one does not need the erroneous Evangelical view of the Bible as inerrant revelation from God to know the truth about God and ourselves. I would challenge anyone to draw a better, truer picture of reality than what I have just sketched. And yet I do not believe the Bible is inerrant revelation from God.

Where the consistent themes of God’s various revelations to and through the Hebrews and the dictates of a mind or heart sensitive to value converge is epistemological terra firma.

As the Scriptures are inspired, so, if faithfully used, do they become life-awakening and soul-inspiring. As they are living, their pupil is living likewise ; as they are wise and loving, he is changed into the same image from strength to strength, and from glory to glory. . . .

But in order that the inspiration in the Bible may become inspiration in us, we must read, and muse, till the fire burns. The deep book must be read with our deepest mind. “If the well is deep, and we have nothing to draw with, from whence then can we have that living water ?” Voltaire confessed that he had not even read the whole of the book upon which he poured out such a merciless scorn. Other infidels have confessed to a similar neglect. We say, then, for honesty’s sake, give as much study to your theology as you do to your geology or astronomy, your navigation, engineering, or farming, and “hasten slowly” in making up a final judgment on a collection of books so various, so reverend, and so ancient. But if you weigh it carefully, and drink in its spirit, if you read and re-read its Job and its John, and consider its moral tables and golden rules, and exult in its songs, and hush your heart with its prayers, and descend depth after depth into the passion and pathos of Jesus, and, after all this spiritual process, you still find it to be only a bundle of Jewish and old wives’ fables, then you will have falsified, we do not say the highest yearnings and moral instincts of your own being, but the colossal testimony of the ages, the innermost experience of the wisest men of the Christian ages.

— Abiel Abbot Livermore, “The Bible, Inspired and Inspiring”

It cannot be too often repeated that the only legitimate method of determining what is involved in the idea of inspiration, or under what conditions it manifests itself, is by an examination of the books that are described as inspired, and an impartial study of the facts presented by them. The Scriptures nowhere make the claim of absolute and universal inerrancy. . . .

Without pretending to define inspiration, or to determine the mystery of its operation, we may, I suppose, say that what we mean by it is an influence which gave to those who received it a unique and extraordinary spiritual insight, enabling them thereby, without superseding or suppressing the human faculties, but rather using them as its instruments, to declare in different degrees, and in accordance with the needs or circumstances of particular ages or particular occasions, the mind and purpose of God. Every true and noble thought of man is indeed, in a sense, inspired of God; but with the Biblical writers the purifying and illumining Spirit must have been present in some special and exceptional measure. Nevertheless, in the words of the prophet, or other inspired writer, there is a human element, not less than a Divine element, and neither of these must be ignored. . . .

We cannot take at random a passage from the inspired volume and say, without qualification or comparison with other passages, that it is absolute truth, or the pure word of God, or an infallible guide to conduct or character. . . .

It is plain that there exist declarations in the Bible which are not free from the tinge of human infirmity and human passion. But abundant as are the evidences of the elevating and sanctifying work of the Spirit of God upon the writers in both Testaments, we have no antecedent right to suppose that every writer is in precisely the same degree subordinated to it. Neither Scripture itself, nor the judgment of the Church, authorizes us to affirm that every statement, or even every book, stands upon the same moral or religious plane, or is in the same measure the expression of the Divine mind: the influences of time and place, of circumstances and situation, of scope and aim, of temper and opportunity, must all be taken into account, before we can rightly judge of the precise sense in which parts of Scripture are to be regarded as the word of God, and of the precise degree in which they individually claim to be authoritative. . . .

Even in the most sacred parts of Scripture is the truthfulness of the picture, as a whole, dissociated from the mechanical correctness of its individual parts . . .

Nothing is more destructive of the just claims of Christianity than a false theory of inspiration: nothing has led to more fatal shipwrecks of faith than the acceptance in youth of a priori views of what an inspired book must be, which the study of maturer years has demonstrated only too cogently to be untrue to fact. . . .

The practical value of the Old Testament is not dependent upon a theory of the sense in which it is inspired; and those who judge the literature of Israel from what may be termed a critical as opposed to a traditional standpoint must dispute the claim, which representatives of the latter seem sometimes to make, that they alone are conscious of the worth of the Old Testament. . . .

— Samuel R. Driver, sermon on “Inspiration”

Being out of relation to God is the meaning of depravity. However well our intellect, will, and heart otherwise function, they fail their primary purpose if they are not active in relation to God. — Edward Vacek

The reconciliation of human beings to God is the most important activity occurring in the world today. It is God’s great project which he privileges those who are reconciled to God to participate in with God. Being reconciled to God is a matter of being persuaded to love God. What has the greatest power to persuade us to love God? Is it not the belief that God is good, that God loves us? This seems clear upon reflection. Moreover, it is the plainest teaching of God’s revelation. According to this revelation, nothing evinces God’s goodness and love for us like God’s sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf, and therefore nothing has the power to reconcile us to God, to persuade us to love God, like God’s sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. Therefore, if the reconciliation of human beings to God is the most important activity occurring in the world today, then the most critical activity occurring in the world today is activity that shows that God is good, and the most destructive activity occurring in the world today is any activity that obscures God’s goodness. And therefore it is clear to what those who are reconciled to God should devote their greatest energies. They should devote their greatest energies to showing, in word and deed, that God is good and/or to negating activity, in particular false teaching about God, that obscures the goodness of God. And since their reconciliation to God is an ongoing affair, they should devote themselves to doing this not only for others but also for themselves. The latter they do principally by prayer and study.

We have more than sufficient evidence to be not merely confident but certain of the existence and goodness of God. If we do not feel certain of these things, this is because we have an inadequate knowledge of the evidence or because, though having an adequate knowledge of the evidence, we deceive ourselves into thinking we are yet uncertain. We do this by redefining the term “certain” – and like terms, like “sure” – in this specific context, convincing ourselves we are only “certain” of the existence and goodness of God if we know these things like we know 2+2=4. This is similar to how Calvinists redefine “sovereign” to mean “all-determining”, and thereby deceive themselves into thinking only an all-determining God is a “sovereign” God.

Reality consists of me, gifts, and the Giver of the gifts. Therefore, I face a choice between four options:

  1. Love the gifts but not the Giver.
  2. Love the gifts and the Giver, but the gifts more than the Giver.
  3. Love the Giver but not the gifts.
  4. Love the gifts and the Giver, but the Giver more than the gifts.

The first choice is not too harshly described as wicked and stupid, but sadly it is the choice of many. If this choice is wicked and stupid, then the second choice is wrong and foolish. And sadly it too is the preference of many, perhaps the majority of those who believe in God, at least in the West. The third choice is the right and wise choice for some, either temporarily or permanently as the case may be. These are the ascetics. They choose to sacrifice the gifts in order to learn to love the Giver. It is a noble choice these make and for them the right and wise choice. But, except for those who need to be ascetics for a time or permanently, the fourth choice is the right and wise choice. It is the ideal. It is what the Giver himself envisaged and envisages for us, as both his ordinary and extraordinary revelation attest.

The most important question we can ask ourselves is this: what is the purpose of our existence, or why are we here? The answer, joy of all joys, is that we are the creatures of the Greatest Possible Being, that is, an All-Perfect God, who has created us in order to make us happy. To this end he has surrounded us with delights innumerable. But greatest of all, he offers himself to us. He offers us the opportunity to love him as a Perfect Father and Perfect Friend. He does not compel us to do so. No, that would not be love. He can only give us the choice to return, to reciprocate, his love which he lavishes upon us. What wonderful news! The answer to the most important question is the greatest answer possible! How could any answer to the question be better? How could there be any better reason for our existence? Thanks be to our Most Beautiful God!

The great English philosopher, John Stuart Mill, has somewhere observed that mankind cannot be too often reminded that there was once a man of the name of Socrates. That is true; but still more important is it to remind mankind again and again that a man of the name of Jesus Christ once stood in their midst. – Adolf von Harnack

To love our neighbor is important, but to love God is more important. So the nature of the case makes clear upon reflection, and so Jesus taught when asked what is the greatest commandment, answering, “The greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. The second is to love your neighbor as yourself.” Furthermore, loving God with all our heart, soul, and strength does not diminish or distract loving our neighbor. On the contrary, it inspires and deepens the love of our neighbor. It inspires the love of our neighbor because it furnishes an additional reason for the love, namely, that our neighbor is valuable to God and so their well-being means God’s well-being. And it deepens the love of our neighbor because it motivates us to seek our neighbor’s greatest need, which is to be reconciled to God their Father, without compromising our pursuit of their lesser needs.

. . when we no longer see through a mirror darkly, when we know as we are known, when God’s sorrows are made manifest to us, we shall see that we have never experienced anything that we could, without shame, describe as sorrow. — Peter van Inwagen

Specious interpretation of the Bible, that is, interpretation of the Bible that is superficially plausible but actually wrong, is the life-blood of erroneous theology.

A closed mind is its own punishment, leaving its possessor ignorant of the things it does not know and without worthy confidence of the things it only fortuitously does know.

There is wrath with God only because there is evil with human beings. Were there no evil with human beings, there would be no wrath with God. The evil of human beings calls forth the divine wrath as a new feeling in the divine heart and mind. And it calls it forth, not because God is less than perfectly good, but precisely because God is perfectly good. Perfect wrath is the reaction of perfect goodness to evil. But, critically, it is only part of the reaction. For God’s perfect wrath which arises from God’s perfect goodness in response to evil is also always controlled by, ever subjected to, God’s perfect goodness. For again, wrath is but an affection, a feeling, with God. It is no attribute of God. And so it is that with God there is plenteous forgiveness for the repentant. Indeed, so it is that God ever works to turn his human creatures from their evil which calls forth his perfect wrath. Indeed, so it is that God even offers up, sacrifices, what is most precious to him, even his perfect Son, to reconcile us to him, so that in the Son we may no longer be children of the divine wrath, but become children of the divine delight. “God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” (Rom 5:8-10)

Matching our subjective scale of values to the objective scale of values is the intellectual goal of ethics, and to the extent that we are rational, that is, to the extent that we pursue that which we deem most valuable rather than pursuing what we deem less valuable, this matching leads to the attainment of the ultimate goal of ethics, which of course is doing the good, or better, doing the will of God.

When we pray, we ought to ask with boldness for whatever we wish of God, our Father, but always with this proviso, whether stated or implied: “Father please grant as much of my request(s) as possible without compromising your greater good purposes.” This umbrella petition, it seems to me, is only a more precise version of the “Not my will, Father, but your will” of Jesus in Gethsemane. Besides expressing our deference to God’s perfect purposes he is pursuing, the value of this umbrella petition is that it enables us to make our requests of God without fretting endlessly over what we should be asking, that is, over whether our requests are reasonable and good. We are enabled to simply make, and make with boldness, whatever requests we desire and place them all beneath the umbrella petition.

The Hebrews apparently lacked a single word for “the universe.” Therefore, God communicated to them that he is the creator of the universe, and/or they interpreted God’s communication to them that he is creator of the universe, by use of a merism, that is, the combination of two contrasting words to refer to an entirety. God was described as “Maker of heaven and earth” (עשׂה שׁמים וארץ). I find this an especially lovely way to refer to God as creator of the universe.

I can think of no better means of determining what one values most than finding out what one would be most sad to lose (even if they could not lose it). I wonder then: how many would be sad to lose, more than anything or anyone else, God? Not God’s gifts, including “heaven” so understood, but God himself?

Dogmas like those of so-called “Calvinism” and the traditional doctrine of “hell” as God-inflicted unending torments so plainly represent God as an Anti-Father that, given the teaching of Jesus that God is our Heavenly, i.e. Perfect Father, they may be deemed as Anti-Christ. Therefore, such dogmas should only be treated with scorn and contempt. Thomas Jefferson saw both these points clearly, writing in a letter to one Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse in 1822, “Who is the true and charitable Christian? He who believes and acts on the simple doctrines of Jesus, or the impious dogmatists as Athanasius and Calvin? Verily I say these are the false shepherds foretold as to enter not by the door into the sheepfold, but to climb up some other way. They are mere usurpers of the Christian name teaching a counter-religion, made up of the deliria of crazy imaginations, as foreign from Christianity as is that of Mahomet. Their blasphemies have driven thinking men into infidelity, who have too hastily rejected the supposed author himself with the horrors so falsely imputed to him. Had the doctrines of Jesus been preached always as pure as they came from his lips, the whole civilized world would now have been Christian.”