The Words Of Life
There are lots of rules that have been made up to govern the way we should think and talk about God. I learned a lot of these rules in seminary. I even abided by most of them, for a long time as a pastor.
But there was a rule that I had learned long before I went to seminary, back when I was growing up in the fundamentalist wing of evangelical Christianity. And that rule was centered around what is referred to as the "inerrancy of Scripture."
This rule essentially states that the Bible is "without error or fault in its teaching." Meaning that whatever you read in the Bible cannot possibly be contrary to fact.
This, despite literally centuries of scholarship that has expanded our understanding of the Bible, archaeological discoveries that change the way we see Scripture, and all that we have learned, know and have experienced that inform the meaning of it.
Why does this matter? Because just about every exclusionary, hateful, and insider-focused aspect of cultural Christianity can be traced back to the doctrine of inerrancy, which basically stops most conversations about faith and life before they can even get started.
When you start from a place where there is no flexibility, no room for Spirit, no possibility of thoughtful critique... you have no where to go.
Interestingly, the same kinds of Christians who tout the inerrancy of Scripture also tend to claim that the Bible is inspired by God--meaning that God coerced the biblical writers to write exactly what God wanted written.
Not to mention, these same folk limit the scope of what they call inspiration to something that happened in the past as opposed to something that continues to happen now.
I've always thought it odd how so many Christians talk about how the Bible is "inspired" by God, when what they describe doesn't sound at all like inspiration.
In my way of understanding, this is how inspiration works: God frees our minds and our souls to think and feel more broadly so we can imagine, hope, dream and then create without coercion, using the gifts God has given us to do so.
As you might have gathered by now, neither one of those aforementioned beliefs about inerrancy and inspiration really work for me.
Not only do they both defy logic, but they also limit the power of the Bible to speak into current circumstances, and to open doors of understanding when it comes to issues of love, justice, and mercy---as opposed to keeping them shut tight.
In his newest book, Everything Is Spiritual, author Rob Bell writes:
You can capture a butterfly, and pin its wings down to study the colors and shape and design, but the moment that butterfly is still and you’re able to make the most precise and detailed observations about that butterfly is the moment the butterfly can’t fly anymore.
When I read that, I thought back to my own childhood, and a beautiful Tiger Swallowtail butterfly I caught and then pinned down to examine it and display. I did what my books on lepidopterology (cool word, right?) told me I should do to preserve the butterfly, but I also couldn't help but feel sorrowful over it.
There was something that got lost when I pinned the creature---something of the Spirit that had made it free and even more beautiful... even more inspiring.
I believe the same thing happens when we hold on to unhelpful beliefs that restrict our experience of Spirit, and limit the scope of our understanding of God.
When we read the Bible without the kinds of restrictions we've talked about, it enables us to see more, and it also frees us from interpretations that are trapped inside dead-end conversations.
So be inspired by Scripture today. Be encouraged that the One who "has the words of life" is still speaking, still teaching and still leading us forward.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.