It’s fascinating how often the Bible gets deified, based on the way we use certain phrasings: “The Bible says …”, “The Scriptures teach us “, “The Bible tells us”.
In all of those examples, the Bible is antropomorphized – i.e., it’s getting endowed with characteristics which belong to sentient beings. That is without warrant. The teacher is the Holy Spirit. The One who is to be obeyed is God. The human being to emulate is Jesus. And the Bible is simply a very, very useful tool on the journey. It is the official historically accurate record of God’s dealings with humankind, containing a lot of “inside information”.
Typically, by the time we get to studying our Bibles, we are already given the looking glass through which we perceive everything that’s written in the Bible. In doing so, we calibrate our reading experience to our apriori theology, and we draw out and magnify things that are in line with what we already believe, and minimize and discard the things that could challenge our existing beliefs.
So, often times it’s not “the Bible teaching me”, but actually quite the opposite of that. It’s “me” telling the Bible what I think it should be saying.
Something just dawned on me, as clear as day. At the root of the way modeled by Jesus Christ is the certainty and security about our relationship with our good heavenly father, carried into eternity. At the root of religious fundamentalism is the ever-present good old fear of death – and at its core, that fear of death is unmitigated even by the cross of Calvary. These two streams flow within the larger nominal framework of Christianity. They may employ the same terminology and the same sacred texts, but the difference is truly night and day.
Here’s what brought it to light for me. During these past few years, I’ve read theological books on a variety of subjects, and from a variety of perspectives. I’ve read much material on the subject of atonement. I’ve read entire books on some of the views, in addition to reading background material on all of the currently and historical popular views. I came away with a renewed understanding of the complexity of the issue. What’s important – awareness of those perspectives, coupled with my own in-depth research and analysis, gave me many tools to help me construct my own understanding of the meaning of the atonement.
I did very similar kind of research with the issues of “hell”, “heaven”, “theodicy” (goodness of God vs. evil that’s in the world), “end times”, and many others. Again – my awareness of those perspectives, coupled with my own in-depth research and analysis, empowered me to construct my own understanding of the meaning of the “hell”, “heaven”, “theodicy”, “end times”, etc. My understanding of these and many other subjects became much more textured, much deeper, much more internally coherent, much more resonant with the Scriptures in their historical and cultural context – and as the result, often very different from the commonly circulated pop-theology teachings.