Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Fascinating Perspective on the Bible

I found this through a link to the "Confessing Evangelical" blog, in a comment on Craig's blog (AGAIN. GEEZ.) and found it really thought-provoking and insightful. I think we too often seek answers to our questions and concerns about faith within our own traditions (in my case, reformed baptist -- not exactly a shallow pool, but limited by definition) rather than gleaning wisdom from believers in other traditions. Bo Giertz (1905-1998), whose quotes you'll read below, was a Swedish Confessional Lutheran Bishop. Let's just say his writings are not on the syllabus of most classes at Southern Seminary. I mean, a Lutheran? Those weirdos with their whole law-gospel business and their infant baptism and their sometimes uncomfortably vague definitions of Christian doctrine?

Caveat: I don't necessarily endorse every jot and tittle of the doctrine espoused in the quoted passages (nor, I would imagine, the book as a whole), but I thought it interesting.

“The Bible is exactly as God wanted it to be”

John H

Saturday 2nd June, AD 2007

My holiday reading last week included Bo Giertz’s book The Hammer of God [note: this book is a novel] (which I’ve read, and posted on, before), and I was struck by the following passage in which Pastor Bengtsson (an orthodox Lutheran) tells his more liberal colleague Pastor Torvik that what matters is not whether one has a “historical” view of the Bible (”historical” being code for “liberal”), but instead:

Everything depends on whether we have a religious view of the Bible.

When Torvik asks what this means, Bengtsson explains as follows:

That is faith in the Bible as the voice of God, so that if you read it to hear what God would say to you, you actually hear God speak. For my part, I have the simple belief that the Bible is exactly as God wanted it to be. That does not mean, perhaps, that every detail is set forth systematically for science, as in an academic treatise. But it does mean that every little detail has been given such a form that a human being who seeks salvation will be helped to find the truth.

The highlighted words express my own conviction on this issue as well. I’ve never felt comfortable with the term “inerrant”, largely because it carries connotations of the Bible conforming to a standard that we have set for it ourselves. But, equally, I find it intolerable to suggest that the Bible contains errors (even if some might see that as a necessary consequence of rejecting inerrancy).

Better to follow Pastor Bengtsson and affirm simply that “the Bible is exactly as God wanted it to be”; that it meets the standard that God has set for his written Word, regardless of how it measures up to whatever standard we might wish to apply.

There is then still plenty of work to do in understanding what that affirmation means and in resolving (or learning to live with) apparent contradictions or difficulties within the Bible. However, we are freed to carry out this work positively and from a position of confidence, rather than constantly having to do battle against the purported “errors” that, left unchecked, might undermine our faith in the “inerrancy” of Scripture.

Pastor Bengtsson also reminds us that the Bible was not written to satisfy our curiosity. Rather, “every little detail has been given such a form that a human being who seeks salvation will be helped to find the truth“. Many of our anxieties concerning apparent “errors” or “contradictions” in Scripture - for example, the differences between accounts of the same events in the four gospels - evaporate when we understand the purpose for which God provided the Scriptures.

As Pr Landgraf’s comment as quoted in my previous post reminds us, the gospels are not there to satisfy our curiosity as to what exactly Jesus said or did on any given occasion - in other words, they are not “fly on the wall” documentaries - but to provide four different perspectives on the more fundamental questions: why is Jesus considered a Saviour, and what is the “good news” concerning him? Much the same applies to the rest of the Bible.


Anonymous said...

i believe that one cannot separate the historical view from the religious view. as machen states in his 'christianity and liberalism' doctrine is an interpretation of historical facts. if the bible makes unscientific statements, like the earth is flat, how can one believe that it is the Word of God? and if its just a religious book then why not believe other religious books even though they are devoid of corroborating historical and scientific facts?

Jess and James said...

You don't know me, but I read your blog occasionally. I work in the ABC Rocky Mountains office and am the newsletter editor, so I get a lot of information from your dad. Anyway, thank you for your words. They really touched me. I have been struggling with this issue for a long time and your post gave me another way to look at it. I suppose I had just always thought it could only be viewed one way (inerrent) or the other (error full). Scripture is exactly what God wants it to be. Thank you!

By the way, may I repost this on my blog? (

Laura said...

Hey Jess, you are welcome to repost this; I'm glad it was helpful to you. Just as a follow-up to your comment, I think words like "inerrancy" can be helpful in particular contexts if we define terms properly. Too often, we cling to particular vocabulary in all contexts when it really only needs to be used in one context. If by inerrant you mean the Bible is free of error, trustworthy, and how God wanted it, then I'm on board. The problem arises when too many people start appropriating the word for their own agendas -- everyone from wacky fundamentalists carrying "God hates fags" signs to equally wacky liberals accusing everyone less liberal than they are of fundamentalism.

Anyway, thanks for commenting!