Have you been challenged recently by discussions about the validity of the Bible and whether or not it should/can be interpreted literally or should be open to interpretation? I have! My former pastor from our church in California, Brent Mitchell, is a man whose thought-processes and theological belief systems have my utmost respect. Even though it has been nearly nine years since we attended the church in California where he was minister, and he has since moved to Springfield, Ohio and we have moved to Montana, I still subscribe to the monthly newsletter at his new church home and read his column eagerly. This month’s article in The Beacon “From the Pastor’s Study” was so helpful to the enlightenment of this subject of the Bible’s validity, that I feel obliged to share it with my blogging friends. I hope you also find it helpful and meaningful in your Christian walk.
“From the Pastor’s Study” Third Presbyterian Church
The Reverend Brent R. Mitchell, Pastor
1030 North Seventh Street
Springfield, IL 62702
Web Page Address: http://third-presbyterian.org/
“It has been a tough couple of decades for people who grew up with a reasoned confidence in the validity of the Bible. I am not sure when or if one single event began to erode our confidence, but it seems to me that an atmosphere of suspicion has cast a long shadow over the Word of God. Maybe it was aided and abetted by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Brown’s imaginative historical yarn suggested to many that the Bible is not a library of books written under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but rather by a nefarious coterie of Vatican power-mongers and backroom political deal-makers who suppressed any doctrines that threatened to upset their power base. And when Tom Hanks (!) was cast as the lead investigator in the movie, it seemed to give Brown’s conspiratorial vision a kind of cultural cache. I mean, how could you not believe Tom Hanks? He’s a good guy!
Then came a succession of books from the agnostic professor Bart Ehrman – Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament, and Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make It Into the New Testament. You get the drift. According to Ehrman, the Bible was cobbled together by a cabal of power-elite theologians and politicians who effectively created their own self-serving version of Jesus and suppressed or changed what didn’t serve their purposes. Barnes & Noble loves this guy. They should. He sells a lot of books that give cultured despisers of religion new and morally censorious reasons for disdaining “organized religion.” Then, of course, the atheists have cornered their share of the market as well with Richard Dawkins’, The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens’, God Is Not Great, and John Loftus’, Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity.
Add to all that the fact that we have entered the post-modern era, which roundly rejects what is called the meta-narrative – in short, any overarching universal truth claim like those of the Bible, for instance. Put it all together, and even mature Christians begin to feel like it might be wrong or intellectually indefensible, even some form of intolerance, to believe that the Bible we read is reliably the Word of God.
If you resonate with any of these concerns, I have found three books that strike me as balanced, fair, and nuanced responses to this current cultural drift. Dealing most directly with the issues raised above is Craig Blomberg’s, Can We Still Believe the Bible?: An Evangelical Engagement with Contemporary Questions. Blomberg’s approach is both thorough and respectful. He doesn’t flail
against the authors I’ve mentioned. He takes their assertions seriously and dismantles their arguments with historical and literary facts. As a result, I found this book to be incredibly helpful in helping me understand and respond to these controversies.
A second book I found to be very helpful is E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien’s, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. This book serves to remind us that we almost certainly do not read the Bible as objectively as we think we do. Every culture lives with a host of assumptions about what is important; what is the right thing to do; and who is really running the show – a thousand different learned cultural assumptions that may not be shared by the people inspired to write the Word of God. If we are not careful, we will read our assumptions into the text and thereby miss the point. I think you would find in this book a valuable and stimulating corrective to this problem.
Finally, if, like me, you find yourself wondering what might be the best modern English translation of the Bible (including the King James Version), you might be fascinated to read Dave Brunn’s, One Bible, Many Versions: Are All Translations Created Equal? Brunn has spent his life as a Bible translator, and he gives hundreds of examples of how every major translation of the Bible has made hundreds (if not thousands) of careful choices about how to translate certain words and phrases that other “good” translations translate differently. You come away with a greater confidence in all the translations and recognize that you needn’t be slavishly tied to any one version. All are drawn from thousands of solid manuscripts.
~ Pastor Brent”
Thank you, Brent Mitchell, for these book recommendations and for your insightfulness. I will go to Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble and order the three resources today. You have inspired me to learn more and to be better equipped for the discussion the next time this topic emerges. Is the Bible Still Believable? Should it or can it be interpreted literally? Can we take into consideration the genre of each book, the context of the message, the people to whom it was intended, our own cultural assumptions, and still keep the validity of the Bible intact? With the help of Blomberg, Richards, O’Brien and Brunn, I will read on and continue to learn. I hope my blogging friends also will find this list of recommended books helpful.