Discovering the Value of Uncertainty

A man under grace —  December 26, 2013 — 10 Comments

If you asked any conservative evangelical which is more important to them – Jesus or the Bible – of course they’re going to say Jesus.

But if you then asked them to quantify honestly how much more important Jesus is than the Bible to them… I’d love to hear their responses.

It seems to me that Christians almost deify the Bible, elevating it to a place with God, making it infallible, unquestionable, in much the same way that the same people accuse Catholics of worshipping Mary. Catholics I’ve spoken to say that they honour rather than worship Mary – maybe evangelicals would say the same thing about the Bible? But it can look like worship.

Anyway, this all brings me round to explaining that my doubts and uncertainties over sections of the Bible, questioning various aspects of it, have paradoxically strengthened rather than weakened my faith in Jesus.

Or, rather, that my increasing honesty over those doubts has strengthened my faith. Because faith, and relationship with God, thrive in an atmosphere of openness and truthfulness.

I very recently wrote about this more fully in ‘How’s Your Spiritual Depth-of-Field?’, using some photographic allegory! Ever heard of photographic allegory? I just made that term up.

It’d be awesome if you could give it a read and perhaps even let me know your thoughts and comments.

You’ll even get to discover what this beach post has to do with the blog post!

Publishing a post of this kind that challenges the Christian status quo carries with it certain trepidation and concerns.

How will it be received by my own friends and church leaders? Will it encourage their faith or create unnecessary and unwelcome threats to their beliefs? And, of course, what will they think of me as a result? How well will I cope with any rejection or disagreement (I’m not the most thick-skinned of individuals)?

‘How’s Your Spiritual Depth-of-Field?’ has so far attracted more likes, shares and positive comments and debate than any of my other blog posts to date, and looks set to run up more internet hits than any other post, revealing a resonance with many Christian friends and strangers.

The only real difference of opinion has been with a church leader / friend, and this was in a spirit of mutual respect and grace.

I suspect there may be others who have read and disagreed with what I’ve written, but out of grace (or fear of exposing their own doubts) have declined to comment.

What has all this shown? It seems to me that this array of responses has revealed….

… that there is a need for greater openness in our churches about our doubts and uncertainties.

… that there exists a great deal of grace and respect (in some churches, at least) to be able to cope with disagreement if we feel differently about, say, the historical accuracy of the Old Testament.

… that this deeper level of honesty would engender greater love for each other and greater faith in Jesus.

Did I mention that I’d love you to read ‘How’s Your Spiritual Depth-of-Field?’?

IMG_1007RRoger (or ‘Roj’) and his wife Janine have 3 lively children ranging from teenager to toddler; he goes to work for a rest. A trained nurse, he’s in his ideal job, utilising his skills and passions by running a homeless healthcare service, and learns a lot from the people he works with, including the idea that God is more inclusive than people sometimes give him credit for. To let off steam, he runs reasonably fast around the hills of Hastings (England), where he lives. Now writing for We Occupy Jesus, he’s childishly enjoying being ‘Roj of WOJ’.

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10 responses to Discovering the Value of Uncertainty

  1. 

    Hello Roger. You ask ‘how will this be received by my own friends and Church leaders?’. Well, I hope I count as both a friend and a church leader and that I’ll continue to be both regardless of how much we agree! I also hope you’ll receive this message in the spirit it is intended – kind words from a friend who cares, not harsh criticism from someone who cares more about doctrinal purity than people!

    It seems there are 2 key issues. First, what kind of book is the Bible and what is the nature of its authority? Is it true, reliable etc. The second is about whether it is ok to have doubts and is it OK to find some bits of the Bible really difficult?’ I’m not going to enter into a lengthy debate because I don’t think a blog’s the best place to do that (that’s why I don’t usually comment. I’d rather chat in person – seems much friendlier that way and less likely to be misunderstood). All I’ll say is of course it’s ok to have doubts and to wrestle with particular points of theology. For example, I believe in the 6 day creation but at times I have my doubts. Also, it should be noted that a person’s doctrine of creation isn’t what makes them a conservative evangelical – it’s their doctrine of scripture. For example, your previous post encourages us to read a book by John Lennox – a conservative evangelical (I believe) who doesn’t believe in a literal 6 day creation. The big thing we’re likely to disagree on is the matter of what kind of book is the Bible so let’s think about that…

    You accuse Christians of almost deifying the Bible and then ask do we love Jesus or the Bible more. That introduces a false dichotomy. I have a high very of the Bible because I have a high view of God whose word it is. It is because I believe the Bible is God’s word that I try to show it my utmost respect. To put it differently, one of the primary ways Christians show their love for God is by listening to what he says. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15). The LORD says in Isaiah 66:2, “These are the ones I look on with favour: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.” So, the Bible is not God – but it is God’s word and if we reject the Bible then we’re rejecting God too. Equally, when we submit to the Bible we are in reality submitting to God. If you love God then listen and submit to what he has said. When I’m preaching I often say “the Bible says…” – that’s shorthand for “God is real and he wants us to know him and how to live in relationship with him. He therefore speaks and communicates to us in the pages of the Bible – SO LISTEN UP!”

    Liberal minded Christians are often, I think, guilty of deifying the human mind. When confronted with a conflict between what the Bible says and what their own mind tells them they side with the own ideas and theories – why? Because they must be right and the Bible wrong! Conservative evangelicals are often called arrogant (though you don’t quite do this in either of your posts!) but I believe the reverse to be true. Isaiah 66:2 says those who submit to what God’s word says are actually ‘humble and contrite in spirit’ because they accept that God knows best and that we are fallible imperfect human beings. There’s much in the Bible I don’t understand. There’s much I agonise over. But I have no doubt that the Bible is true, it’s God’s word and I must wrestle with it, strive to understand what it means and try to live my life in response to it. I’m not suggesting we need to switch off our brains every time we read the Bible – just that we need to humble ourselves and accept that it might be us who is wrong, not the Bible. In practice that means when I read something I disagree with in the Bible I’m to respond first by asking ‘is this passage in the Bible really saying what it seems to be saying?’ because it may just be that I’ve misunderstood the Bible. But if after further investigation I discover the Bible really is saying something I disagree with then I need to be humble and accept that God knows best. I know a lot of people won’t be satisfied with this as it may sound anti-intellectual but the reality is that if God is God then the smart thing to do is accept that he’s more intelligent than we are.I suppose some will read this and think, “Matt’s so arrogant” – but my point is that I am a man under God’s authority. I’m not saying “I know best” – I’m saying “God knows best so let’s try and work out what he’s saying”. I’m not saying “do as I say” but “do as God says.” Hopefully people will be able to tell the difference!

    If you or anyone else reading this would like to know why I hold such a high view of the Bible you can read more here: http://www.waynegrudem.com/scriptures-self-attestation-and-the-problem-of-formulating-a-doctrine-of-scripture/ . It’s by Wayne Grudem and he goes into great detail explaining how we should understand the truthfulness of the Bible. It’s not for the faint hearted but it says all I’d say on the subject and much more besides. I hope you’ll read it and find it helpful! I probably won’t make any more public comments but if you want to bounce ideas/comments to and fro you have my email address! See you in Church soon, love in Christ, Matt

    • 

      Thanks, Matt, for your coherent & gracious response. I’ve emailed you, and will try and get round to reading your link soon. Hopefully catch up with you in person in the New Year.

    • 

      On the subject of the historical reliability of the OT:

      I believe all scripture is designed to teach us something, whether it’s written as history, poetry, allegory etc.

      I found the following very helpful, from the preface to Jeff Lucas’ book on Samson, ‘There Are No Strong People’, that I’ve just started reading:

      “There’s been a fair amount of discussion among scholars about whether or not the Samson story actually happened, or if it’s saga or myth. Recent scholarship tends towards accepting it as fact, with the understanding that Jewish storytelling veers towards hyperbole. And as one scholar (who doesn’t believe that it is historical narrative) said, ‘Whether it is historical fact or not, we’re meant to treat it as if it is’.
      So I will. Hey, ancient rabbis did. The writer to the Hebrews did. So I’m in good company.”

      Now that seems to me to be a very healthy approach (and I’d never heard that interesting comment about Jewish storytelling before).

  2. 

    I love what you have written Roger .. at last some sense coming out of a committed Christian’s mouth !!
    I believe very much in God , but the Bible whilst it contains words that could so well have come from a higher Deity is a book written (and many times translated) by fallible human beings . This explains why so much of it contradicts..
    So many Christians that I have come across use the Bible to condemn , judge and cast doubts upon people , all in the name of God!!
    I say that most Christians do not display anything of the grace of God and to use a book that they call ‘His word’ to tell others how to live is nothing short of arrogance and cruelty .
    I am not an atheist and I live out my faith with compassion and love.. the Bible is a great source of spiritual insight but it is not the direct word of God .. how can it be ?
    Ever heard of chinese whispers ? there is a grain of truth in the final hearing but along the line it has been filtered by human fallible beings …

  3. 

    Great post, Roj. I wish you were closer – it would be great to sit down over a beer and discuss theology someday. I have a sneaking suspicion that we’d see eye to eye in a lot of areas.

    • 

      Thanks, Geoff. Yes, I think we’d agree on a lot of stuff, although I’m not much of a theologian, as you are.
      My motto is ‘Any excuse for a coffee’, although beer is good too. Fancy a trip across the Atlantic for a pint of good English real ale?!

  4. 

    Dear Roger, I have just been reading some of your articles this evening, as well as some of the responses. My first thoughts were, that this is exactly the type of thoughtful, thought provoking and stimulating debate that is engaging and helpful/hopeful. Then, I read the response from Matt Williams, and felt subordinate, that the Bible (Gods own words), you as well as I for agreeing with your heartfelt expression, must be guilty of not being true to God, and indulging ourselves in debate. Nevertheless, I am sure we need to trust our senses, and common sense, that there remains ample room for personal friendly face-to-face chat, as well as your healthy blog. Also, if one is not always technically correct, unless it is of material difference to faith, I should let the academics classify and label. Let us focus on what matters – that is people. I think we are well versed in the basics, sufficient to know whether or not our actions are pleasing to God. It is fine to be humble and contrite in spirit, but if you were faced with the regular threat of oolynching as some people have, or been defiled and denied liberty/ justice over many centuries, then apologise to no man for rejecting that treatment, instilling pride and self respect in your people, and reject any man quoting, Genesis 9 v27 (ref: Mississippi Burning) might

    • 

      Thank you, David. I believe there’s room within Christianity for different approaches to the Bible, without compromising or disagreeing on the truth of who Jesus is, what he did and what our response should be. Blessings to you, and thanks for reading.

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  1. Sowing and Reaping | rojnut - January 5, 2014

    […] Discovering the Value of Uncertainty (on the We Occupy Jesus (WOJ) blog), I made the mistake of directing criticism at conservative […]

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