Can We Rationally Hang On to Biblical Authority? (podcast)

Greg looks at the inspired imperfections of the Bible.

Dan Kent: Cory says this: “When talking with my fellow students, I’ve noticed that some of them don’t see the Bible as authoritative at all. Especially when the Bible conflicts with their personal beliefs. I’ve struggled to articulate exactly why I still believe that the Bible has divine authority, even with its problems. How would you respond to someone who says that since there seem to be contradictions in Scripture, we cannot say that it is authoritative at all, but should base our faith on what we believe God is like?”

Greg Boyd: I’m not sure I understood the last part, but let me start, and then you can bring it up if you like, if I didn’t answer it all the way.

Cory, good question. First thing I would do, if I may so modestly recommend my book, Inspired Imperfection. It’s all about this. So that might be a good thing for you to check out. I think it’s really good that you are hanging on to biblical authority. Jesus clearly ascribed full inspiration to the Old Testament that they had at the time, and they have _____ out of the New Testament. And if I’m a follower of Jesus, I can’t disagree with him on that. I have to agree with that. So ___ all is inspired. So for some evangelicals, they think to say it’s inspired it means it doesn’t have any errors, it’s all completely historically accurate, whatever. And I think that is empirically false. If you look at the Bible, it’s got this very human dimension to it. So then the question is, how can it be inspired and yet have this very human dimension to it? I think it’s because it’s pointing to, all of its intent is pointing to the Cross. There’s a number of things you can say about that, but Jesus said, it’s all about him. He’s the focus of it. Here’s the thing, it’s just like Jesus. I mean, this is the Messiah who gets crucified on the Cross. He doesn’t come and display victorious might. He gives his life for us on the Cross, and then he bears our sin, and all that’s wrong and broken with this world is placed upon him. He absorbs that, as it were on the Cross. And yet the Cross is the definitive revelation of God. So clearly, God has no problem revealing himself through brokenness and through sin, and through finitude, and all the rest. So if God could reveal himself on the Cross through brokenness and sin, why think that the Bible, that’s there to point ultimately to the Cross, is going to be free of all that? It’s just like God that he would leave the humanness in the Bible. It’s because he’s a non-coercive God. He doesn’t lobotomize anybody. He doesn’t just put people in a trance and write through them or something. No. He leaves their personality in place. He leaves their fallible memories in place. First Corinthians 1:13 Paul says, talking about who he baptized in Corinth, he first says he didn’t baptize anybody, oh no, except the household of Stephanas. Oh, then he also remembers he baptized this other household. And finally he goes, “You know what? I don’t know who I baptized and who I didn’t baptize. But that’s not my point.” (Although it was kind of his point.) So when God uses Paul, that’s an inspired Scripture there, but he leaves his fallible memory in place. That all bears witness to the God who meets us where we’re at. The God who never dehumanizes, and it bears witness to the God who brings good out of everything. So it means when we read the Bible we’ve got to be aware there’s going to be some human dimensions there. We have to read it through a cruciform lens—through the lens of the Cross. It’s all pointing to him. Don’t be trusting it to solve science problems or meet every social problem today, or anything of the sort. Trust it to be fully inspired, to lead us into relationship with the living God, through Jesus Christ and what he’s done for us on the Cross.

It’s really important that, what Cory’s coming against is this idea that since the Bible’s a human book, that if there’s part of it that we disagree with, or that we think is inappropriate that we can just ignore that part and think, oh, that’s not inspired. I really object to that, and that view is becoming pretty popular today. Ah, don’t worry about it. It didn’t happen. Even if that’s true, that it didn’t happen, that’s irrelevant. It’s the text that’s inspired, that we have to deal with. And so the text says that, you know, Yahweh said “slaughter them all.” Well, I would love to just reject that: slaughter them all, the Canaanites, every man, women, and children, and the animals. I don’t believe Jesus said that. I can’t imagine Jesus ever saying anything like that because he taught us to be loving our enemies, and all of the rest. And so as I read through a Cross lens, that identify as the humanists of the Bible. But I can’t reject it for that reason. Rather, I have to wrestle with it. Inspiration means nothing if it doesn’t mean we have to wrestle with every text. And so wrestle with, how does this bear witness to the crucified God? And I think it does it, by showing that even then, God was bearing the sin of his people. His people saw him as this Ancient Near Eastern god who was capable of genocide, and God, because he’s a non-coercive God who will not dehumanize people, had to accommodate that. That’s where they’re at. And he breathes through that in order to stay in relationship with his people and tell the story of how God’s worked with his people and gradually transformed them, laying the groundwork for Jesus Christ to come and provide reconciliation for the cosmos. It all is bearing witness to Christ, and the question is, how does it do that? That’s where reading it through the lens of the Cross is all-important.

Dan: It’s a lot of work to keep the Bible authoritative, because you do have to wrestle with a lot of stuff. But I just think it’s so worth it, because if the Bible’s not authoritative, then there is nothing keeping me from rampantly just projecting whatever I want God to be like. And I’m never going to grow if I’m just interacting with a big version of myself. So that’s the danger I see.

Greg: I was just writing this yesterday. I’m working on this book on cruciform theology. You know, the problem that we have, if we get to pick and choose, however, if our preferences get to decide what’s authoritative and what’s not, then we have no authority. We’re just projecting our authority onto God. There’s this thing of confirmation bias. That’s why it’s so easy for us to do this. Because we tend to see what we want and expect to see. This is the way humans have always been. But see, if we’re reading through the lens of the Cross and people think that—and people have accused me, oh, you think you get to pick and choose what parts of the Bible you believe or not—that’s so not the case. It’s the Cross that determines what points to the Cross directly, or what is indirect. Whether a picture of God is—the degree to which the Spirit of God broke through the hard-heartedness of people and we find a Christ-like picture of God, and the degree to which people suppressed the truth and we have an unChristlike picture of God, that is decided by the Cross. To the degree to which any picture of God conforms to the love of God revealed on the Cross, that is the degree to which we can recognize the Spirit breaking through, and the degree people have unChristlike pictures of God, that bears witness to the sin-bearing part of the Cross. God’s always been bearing the sin of his people. But if you look at it through the lens of the Cross, it’s the opposite of confirmation bias, because the Cross tells me to die to myself. It’s got anti-confirmation bias built into it. Die to yourself. You don’t get to live out of your preferences. It’s all about seeking first the Kingdom by spending your life for Christ. So what gets crucified when you follow the crucified Christ is your confirmation bias. Or what should be getting crucified when you follow the crucified Christ is your confirmation bias.


Send Questions To:

Dan: @thatdankent
Twitter: @reKnewOrg

Greg’s new book: Inspired Imperfection
Dan’s new book: Confident Humility




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