I came across an interesting post written by a thoughtful Christian who has moved beyond a literalist, fundamentalist mindset regarding the Bible as the inspired, revealed word of God. Here are some highlights (although you probably should read the whole post, in order to understand the context from which these bits are excerpted – the comments are worth reading too):
The question of whether the Bible is God’s word is not a new one…. There are certainly a number of things which seem “wrong” if we are to take a literal understanding….Yes, genetics has confirmed that we are all related through mitochondrial DNA – but this does not mean one person; it means one small group of people (who were located somewhere in Africa). It also assumes that humanity is hundreds of thousands of years old, which means we need to accept, at least in part, the theory of evolution….
Suddenly, we find ourselves in the position of looking at the Bible and deciding which parts are to be taken literally, which parts are to be taken allegorically, and which parts are to be understood as no longer applying to us because they have “been fulfilled in Christ.” This is a very dangerous thing to do. Once we start doing that, what difference is there between Christianity and any other man-made religion?
…the Bible has been used to say whatever man wants it to say…and so justify anything we want it to.
This story is heartbreaking. When Danny and Danielle learned that the baby Danielle was carrying had hydrocephalus, Danny was livid at Danielle’s god. Understandably so. Doctors told the couple that the baby would either be stillborn or would only live for a short time.
Enter the Christians. A compassionate pastor and a group of friendly church people befriended the couple. Church members raised money to help pay mounting medical bills. The pastor and the church members kept in touch with Danny and Danielle throughout the pregnancy. Eventually, Bobbi was born alive; she lived for 18 months. And, in that time, Danny became a born-again Christian.
I’ve got four things to say about this story. First, I commend the Christians for behaving according to their creed. Their religion commands them to love others and they did so. They gave both practical and spiritual support to people who were in great need emotionally and financially. Good for them.
Second, I can’t imagine the hell that Danny and Danielle endured and I understand how the support of a loving community made the difference between surviving their ordeal and sinking into despondency. When Danny and Danielle were in need, a nice group of people helped them and loved them. I also understand that even just a few short months of life with their child was better than never having that relationship at all. And, I understand the attraction that a group of kind people and their faith had for a couple searching for answers to some of life’s most profound and painful questions.
Third, I’m not at all impressed with the god of this story. He didn’t perform any miracles. Doctors predicted either a stillbirth or a short life. The baby lived, as predicted, a short life. Poor Danny asked for a miracle and this was what he got…
Some readers at my personal blog have asked me why it took me so long to come to my senses about religion. I’ve given the question a lot of thought, and I think the title of this piece summarizes it best.
When I was a teen, most of my friends and I were apathetic believers in the Judeo-Christian version of god. We believed in a deity, but we weren’t the least bit interested in surrendering to him or finding his perfect will for our lives. In fact, as a preacher’s kid, I may have been more overtly anti-religious and rebellious than my peers. This was my basic attitude until I was sixteen years old, when I underwent two major life changes.
The first change took place over the summer, when I had an opportunity to travel with an evangelistic team for ten weeks. Even though my faith was apathetic, at best, I was enticed by the glamor of traveling with a group of teens and young adults and actually getting paid for the privilege! What a blast! And it was. The team consisted of eleven members, ten of whom were actually committed Christians. I was the odd person out. I didn’t let on that I wasn’t saved and, since I could easily talk the talk, I breezed through the summer and, to all outward appearances, fit right in with the rest of the group. I really liked these people: even though they were on fire for Jesus, they were friendly, fun and funny.
Notwithstanding the close relationships that developed in that ten weeks, had I simply returned home to my usual peer group of apatheists, I likely would have fit right back in with them too…
Several months ago, someone I love dearly, Frank, underwent major surgery. Given his advanced age (he’s 83) and general poor health, there were some doubts as to whether he would survive the surgery. He did survive and has spent the intervening months in a nursing home, where he has been receiving physical therapy. In a recent meeting with his therapist, Frank and his wife were informed that he will likely be an invalid for the rest of his life.
My emotional response throughout Frank’s illness and rehab has been sorrow. Every time I visit Frank and see him in his wheelchair or bed, I can’t help contrasting that man with the younger man who cheered as I played softball, the man who joyfully wandered around a zoo with my young children, the man who drove 4,000 miles across North America to visit my family. I feel overwhelming sorrow that most of Frank’s days will now be spent in the confines of a nursing home. A man who has traveled around the world now finds that a wheelchair journey down the hall is a major event that draws upon all of his physical resources. How can that thought not make me sad?
The emotion that I have not felt throughout Frank’s ordeal is anger. At what or whom would I be angry? There is no god to blame for not intervening in Frank’s life and healing him. There is no god to implore for mercy, no god to whom I may inquire what Frank could possibly have done to deserve this fate after decades of faithful, loving service to his god. This is a sharp contrast to the anguish and anger I felt 25 years ago when I was a Christian and my Christian father was dying of cancer. My siblings and I were called to my father’s bedside about three weeks before he died. We spent two days visiting with him and my mother in the hospital in which he later died. When we said goodbye, we knew it was the last time we would ever say those words to each other…
The Flight of Peter Fromm by Martin Gardner is a tale of one man’s intellectual and spiritual journey from a literalist, fundamentalist Protestant faith to … some other sort of faith. When the young Peter arrives at the University of Chicago to prepare for a preaching career, he is one of a handful of students who believes in that Old-Time Religion. You know the kind I mean: tent meeting revivals, holy rolling, speaking in tongues, being slain in the Spirit, etc.
Several years later, Peter’s faith has matured into something less rigid, something more sophisticated and theologically informed. By now, he’s read Augustine and Aquinas, Luther and Calvin. He’s dabbled in Catholicism and Communism. And he’s taken up smoking, drinking and sex. When the United States is drawn into World War II, he interrupts his education and spends four years in the Navy.
When Peter returns to Chicago, he explores the writings of twentieth century theologians: Barth, Niebuhr, Bultmann, Tillich, among others. Eventually, he questions the life and ministry of Jesus. Was there actually a man named Jesus? Was he born of a virgin? Was he resurrected? These are all good questions. (Well, I think they are because they were questions I asked)…
Regular readers here may recall a piece I wrote several months ago about the confirmation of Chloe, a seven-year-old girl, into a local Salvation Army congregation. I recently came across a post from another blog that reminded me of my earlier confirmation post.
Here is an excerpt from the recent post, written from an evangelical Christian perspective:
Last week I raised a question of what it means to respect a child and sought reflections on the implications of really doing so. This week, I want to reflect on some writings by the founder, William Booth from his work ‘The Training of Children’.
Why? Because I have been involved in children’s ministry for a little while now, and I am constantly amazed by a child’s capacity to not only grasp the truth of God, but to both apply and propagate all that comes from that truth….
I enrolled a Soldier last month. Firstly let me say how excited she was to make a covenant with God. She was counting down the days and could not be distracted. Since her enrollment, she has read God’s word like it is her daily bread and prayed as though it was second nature. She reads her covenant every night before bed and has committed to learning the eleven doctrines by heart…