Moving Beyond the Bible

My Journal is now complete. The final two months of July and August are now up.

So in Buddhism there's this idea that not everything the Buddha taught was "true". Rather, he taught what was expedient, or useful and relevant to his audience. I really think they're on to something. Applying this to the Bible, it's easy to see why God didn't give the Israelites at Mt Sinai the same moral guidelines he gave through Jesus later on, or that he convicts various people of today. You can't just walk in to a culture and say, "Everything about the way you're thinking and acting is wrong. We need to tear this down and rebuild everything from scratch, and it's going to look like nothing you've ever seen." People just can't handle that. So it's baby steps: baby steps to treating women humanely, baby steps to seeing women as equals before God, baby steps to treating women as equals in society.

Most Christians are quite willing to admit that not all the laws given to ancient Israel are still applicable or sufficient. In fact, most of us would be appalled by the barbarism of a society like the one crafted by God himself (as some of us believe) all those years ago. And I'm not talking about the pagan, lawless society that Israel so quickly and repeatedly became - I mean a hypothetical Jewish society based entirely on the laws given to Moses. These laws simply wouldn't work in modern western society. They were beneficial for the time and place, but we've moved past that now.

I can see you all nodding in agreement. But now let me suggest that maybe we've also moved beyond the New Testament's teachings in some areas too. You don't like that? Why? It can't be that the laws given by Jesus are more authoritative - not if the Jewish laws were put in place by the Father. By all accounts, the transcendent God who created the Jewish laws is just as Holy and omniscient as the Son of Man who preaches in the Gospels. So why do we view the Father's laws as transient and the Son's as permanent? Because the Son was the final revelation of God? That makes sense. If there have only been two revelations of God (and his laws) to humanity, it makes sense that our religious and moral lives be defined and contained by the second. But what about that other person of God? You know... the Holy Spirit? (Can you see where I'm going with this?)

Ok, I admit I'm the first to downplay and discount the Holy Spirit and his supposed work in my life. I'm one of those who trusts my own experience and common sense over the Bible, and doing so in this case means that I have very little interest in the Spirit. But supposing I took every word of the Bible to be true, (though of course not your interpretation of every word) I think it still makes hella sense for the Bible not to be the be-all and end-all of Divine revelation. If the revelation of the Law from the Father is trumped by the later revelation of grace from the Son, shouldn't it follow that the present revelation from the Spirit through our consciences trumps the stuff in the Bible? Why should we feel bound to live entirely according to Biblical teachings, especially when the Bible gives little indication of being intended as a divine rule book? Why should we feel obligated to give chapter-and-verse support for every moral conviction we espouse? (Isn't this dishonest - pretending to be building all our morals on the foundation scripture when in reality we're forcing scripture to fit our inherent ethical convictions?) If you really believe that you are indwelt and empowered by God himself, why is your inner voice subservient to the written records of past revelations? Sure, there should be some kind of consistency, but we shouldn't be afraid to own up to the kind of divinely influenced yet culture-specific morality that was pioneered explicitly by God with the "New Covenant".

You want a precedent for the Spirit inspiring shifts in Christian moral thinking? How about the Epistles? Even within a generation of Jesus' death, even when Christians had access through the Apostles to all his teachings (not just the ones found in the canonical gospels), this revelation was insufficient to address all moral and spiritual questions. (No slight to Jesus, it's just that he didn't personally give orders for every possible scenario. How could he? Why would he?) The Apostles, guided by the spirit, took it upon themselves to both interpret the teachings of Christ and add to them, where necessary. They did this for their culture and their issues, so why should we hesitate to do it for ours?

I'm not suggesting that we throw out the Bible, any more than the early Church threw out the law of Moses. But let's see it for what it is: books written by men (guided by God) to address the issues of their day, just as we (guided by God) address ours. Let's see it as a reference point, as guidelines, but not as a holy rule-book that transcends all cultures and covers every issue, nor as the final word on any matter. I'm not suggesting we throw caution to the wind and chase after every hedonistic or idealistic whim, but lets stop seeing God as a stodgy old man who grumps about anything that's changed in the past 2000 years. I love the Bible. The Bible is good. But it shouldn't be the final word.

3 comments:

Michigan little said...

hmmmmmmm

I think I like that. I can't believe that I'm agreeing with something so... unorthodox! Goodness!!

Thats cool to think about it that way. There's the trinity. God started off his revelation with Isreal. Jesus continued it with the Jews (and more). The Holy Spirit continues it with all of us. Somehow it seems like it shouldn't really be that profound, but it kind of is.

You're right, maybe we don't give enough credit to the Holy Spirit's guidance. This gets sticky because its so often so personal, people can claim to be 'inspired' and whose to say that they are or are not? Nevertheless. The Spirit is no less important that the Father or the Son. Why should his guidance be any less relevant or less 'true' or important.

good thoughts...

Morgan said...

I completely agree that we need to view God's revelation as being larger than the Bible. One thing that has always frustrated me about modern christians is their worship of the Bible, leading them to be completely useless in the world, because there are a lot of issues we're dealing with now that are not answered directly in the Bible (and like you said, why would they be?). If Jesus had wanted us to view the Bible and his own words as the only revelations of God, he wouldn't have bothered to mention the one that would follow him.

That being said, I would also say that it is sooooo dangerous to act solely on divine inspiration. The reason I say this is how am I to say that my divinely inspired actions were right, while the Lafferty brothers or even Islam extremists claim the same thing. Or is it just something that you'll know it's right when you see/hear/do it?

So it's a really tough issue, and one that we should be struggling with, because we worship a living God who moves among us and who is bigger than the bible, the universe, and everything we can ever imagine, not a stodgy old man who's terrified of us changing.

Jacob said...

The inspiration thing is a tricky one. I suppose by downplaying the authority of the Bible I might be giving licence to nut-cases to pursue whatever crazy ideas they thing God has given them.

The only defence against this kind of thing is to use your head. Faith should go beyond knowledge but it should never limit or contradict knowledge.

This is my favorite quote from the Buddha:

"Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."