When it comes to answering the question, “How should Christians understand and use the Bible?” thousands of answers, traditions and streams of thought exist. Many books have been written on this subject. It would be presumptuous to suggest that I could explore and evaluate the answer every Christian tribe and sect provides to this question do them justice in a post. But this is not my goal.
In this post (as the title would suggest) I want to explain how I have seen the Bible used.
In my time in Christianity I have seen the Bible used in many ways, in many different traditions and have been taught a variety of different competing theories as to how the Bible is to be interpreted and applied. However, while on the surface these approaches may vary greatly, I think underneath their differences there is an understanding of the Bible that is at the foundation of all of these ways. It is this common thread that I want to explore in this post.
This foundational understanding of the Bible common to everything I have experienced is that the Bible is understood and treated as a “Truth mine.”
In this mine, that is the Bible, there are “biblical truths.” These truths were inspired by God and are eternal. This means that they carry divine authority that overrides any other type of authority and they do not decay or change over time regardless of how the world changes.
However, these “biblical truth” are hidden and buried in the text and they must be excavated through interpretation. The different shovels and picks people use to excavate the truth from the Bible would be the different ways people interpret the Bible.
In this whole process, certain parts of the Bible are treated like the dirt around a diamond and they disregarded, thrown away, or ignored.
Once found, these “biblical truths” are suggested to be the authoritative and final word on any given issue. These “biblical truths” are almost always then turned into a law or rule concerning the way all Christians everywhere throughout space and time should think or should act. After all, it is what the Bible has to say on any given subject and because the Bible is divinely inspired, this “biblical truth” is authoritative of all Christians.
In practice, these laws and rules and then turned around and used to determine who is really a Christian. A “real” Christian is someone who believes and acts in line with the “biblical truths” that have been found. After all, any “real” Christian would obey what God has revealed in the Bible.
From this understanding of the Bible, it is assumed that the reason (or at least a reason) God inspired the Bible and guarded its transmission through the centuries is to reveal how a Christian should think and how a Christian should act.
This foundational approach to scripture is found in the most sophisticated Western systematic theology I have encountered down to the conventional Christian wisdom that is passed around the Church pews. This approach to scripture has been around for centuries and can be commonly found in a broad spectrum of Christian churches, denominations and traditions.
Before I continue I should make something clear: I believe that there is truth to this approach to an extent.
I believe there are things that followers of Jesus should and should not do and things followers of Jesus should and should not believe. I believe the Bible is a unique form of guidance and source of truth on many of these issues.
However, this approach to scripture is problematic due to the nature of the Bible itself and several practical reasons. From these many issues, I see how an over-confidence in and over-reliance upon this way of understanding the Bible has been incredibly problematic, hurt millions of people, and led many away from following Jesus.
In my next two posts I want to explore the problems this approach to the Bible is faced by the nature of the Bible itself, and several practical reasons.