This article is somewhat related to the one I posted on 9/20/17, which has garnered more than 1,050 pageviews, and to the fifth chapter of my Fed Up with Fundamentalism, about which I plan to post an article on 6/25/19. But because of the importance of the subject, please think with me about this matter now.
“The Bible says . . . “
As a young pastor, every sermon I preached was based on a Bible passage, and most sermons cited several other verses from various parts of the Bible. After all, back then Billy Graham, the most famous preacher in the world, repeatedly proclaimed, “the Bible says . . .“ in all of his powerful sermons.
Later, perhaps much too much later, I realized that the Bible says a lot of things—and that everything the Bible says is not Christian.
The word “Christian” as I am using it here means that which is in harmony with the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. The word “Christian” can, of course, refer to that—or those—associated with the religion known as Christianity. The better use, though, is with direct reference to the Christ from whom the religion sprang.
What Verses are Normative?
Many years ago, Kaneko Keiichi-sensei was a younger colleague of mine at Seinan Gakuin University in Japan. More than once I remember him asserting that it is not how many Bible verses one cites but which verses one cites that is of crucial importance.
At first, I didn’t grasp the import of Kaneko-sensei’s words, but I later came to appreciate the significance of his assertion. It is possible to quote a lot of Bible verses that are contrary to how Jesus lived and what he taught.
So, again, things can be biblical but not Christian.
As is often noted in this connection, “biblical” support for slavery in the 19th century and the “biblical” support for rejecting women in ministry in the 20th century are good examples for how the Bible has been (mis)used to maintain cultural norms.
Currently, the “hottest” issue is about acceptance/affirmation of LGBTQ people as equals within the church. The United Methodist Church last month approved the “biblical” position on that matter.
Unquestionably, Bible verses can be marshaled in support of slavery, against women in ministry as well as against acceptance of gay, lesbian, and transsexual persons. Those arguments can be touted as biblical. But are they Christian?
It depends on which verses one considers normative.
Reading the Bible Christianly
Last month Sojourners magazine printed “Not Everything ‘Biblical’ is Christlike,” a fine article by Stephen Mattson, one of my youngish Facebook friends. I highly recommend that relatively short piece.
In light of the recent controversy in the United Methodist Church, earlier last month a retired UM pastor in Georgia wrote an article titled “Be Careful Using the Bible.”
And then, the first chapter of Chuck Queen’s 2013 book Being a Progressive Christian is quite good. He begins Chapter 1 with the assertion, “What the Bible says is not necessarily what God says.”
Or, it could be asserted that the Bible may be the “Word of God” but not all of the words in the Bible are the words of God. This is important to realize, for as Queen says, “The direct identification of God’s voice with what the Bible says has been used to justify all sorts of destructive biases and oppressive practices.”
I have written this article not to discourage reading the Bible. Rather, I am encouraging Christians to read the Bible “Christianly”—and to realize that many things can, indeed, be biblical but not Christian.