Given our remit (to tackle the fundamentals of Christianity afresh, for the benefit of outsiders to the faith) this is one of the most vital discussions we need to have. I say this because ‘The Bible,’ itself often constitutes a stumbling block to would-be Christians. I have had at least three discussions with unbelieving friends over the years, in which they have effectively told me: “I would be a Christian if it wasn’t for the Bible.” Why is this? I would suggest three underlying reasons:
1.) In our Post-truth culture, people are extremely wary of absolutists and especially absolutists who hold to ancient Scriptures. I think the fear many people have is that Christians, Muslims or others hold to outdated teachings in an unthinking way, holding their emotions and intellects at arm’s length. In response, our reading of the Bible needs to engage emotions and intellect.
2.) Let’s be honest, the Bible is complex and at face value, its moral lessons are baffling. Examples include the perplexing Levitical code and the Apostle Paul’s apparent disdain for women. I say ‘at face value,’ because I think one of the lessons we need to learn is that it’s OK to read the Bible carefully and intelligently, rather than from a confrontational, simplistic, “this I know ‘cos the Bible tells me so,” stance. But nevertheless, I think people are interested in God, but sometimes put off by the Bible.
3.) Some Christians give the (misguiding) impression that the Bible ITSELF is God, rather than Jesus. You can’t put the cart before the horse: I only grew to love the Bible after my Christian conversion. Beforehand, I remember telling my Dad, “the Bible is dead to me,” because it was. You can only love God’s word when you first love God. So I think unbelievers are frankly baffled by Christians’ devotion for the good book. We need to push Jesus first, Bible second.
With all this in mind and turning to your two questions, I think we need to be upfront with believers that although the Bible is ‘reliable,’ and ‘trustworthy,’ it is also troublesome and you can still be a Christian while living and walking with uncertainty about the Scriptures. If you give people an ultimatum – it’s either completely perfect, easy and infallible or it’s not – you’ll likely put people off. In other words, as you have said, ‘the Bible is true, separate from inerrancy.’
So to your second question. I would be open to more radical voices in the Evangelical fold who are moving towards an altogether fresh approach to the question of ‘how we read the Bible.’ For example, if the Bible attributes an action to God which really seems to jar with the character of God as revealed in Christ, could we consider that the writers of the Bible falsely attributed that action. The best example are the so-called ‘genocide,’ passages where God apparently commands the Israelites to slaughter whole nations, ‘women and children,’ included. If you want to read more, Steve Chalke’s paper on the Scriptures (‘Restoring Confidence in the Bible’) is helpful and can be found on the ‘Oasis’ website. The drawback of this idea is clearly that it is subsequently difficult to define which accounts are reliable and which are not. But whatever the case, I agree that this is, as you say,’the big one.’ One approach as we move forward might be for you and I to target these so-called ‘difficult’ passages in our discussions.
Anyway, let me know what you think, great mate. SMASHY.