You are not finished yet. You are ‘in the making.’ You have the capacity to learn, mature, think, change, and grow. You also have the freedom to stagnate, regress, constrict, and lose your way. Which road will you take?
This is the opening paragraph to Brian D. McLaren’s book, We Make the Road by Walking, a book that takes the reader on a year-long quest of spiritual formation that, together with my neighbor, I have begun working on this week. The question seems simple at first. Of course I will take the road that allows me to learn, mature, think, change, and grow. Who wants to stagnate, regress, constrict, or lose one’s way? No one. This is the central question, not just of our faith journeys, but of life, itself.
It is easy to become complacent. If things are going well and we’re comfortable with our belief system, happy with our family life, satisfied with our health, and mostly fulfilled in our career, then what’s left upon which to improve? For the record, I know very few people for whom all of these things are “perfect,” and so I would make the bold claim that there is, for all of us, room for growth, maturation, thought, and learning. Our bodies are in a constant state of change–as is the world around us, all of nature, humanity, and civilization–so it makes sense that our minds and spirits are also.
I have already discussed my growing interest in spiritual formation that has hit me in a way that I have not felt since my first semester at seminary. As any seminary plans are on hold for the present time, the only responsible course of action is to learn, study, engage in conversation, write, and work to mature my spiritual perspective. To think about the greater metaphysical concerns that run through my mind and discuss them with people with varying and similar perspectives is a noble pursuit.
In reading McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity, many new questions have been brought to my attention and I have been given the opportunity to explore some old ones. The question of the inerrancy of the biblical texts is one that floats around in my mind every time I read a biblical passage. Am I to take the stories contained in the books as literal history? For example, is the Creation story in Genesis the literal way in which God brought about the universe or is it a more poetic, simplified version of events put into a story-form easily understood by the people to whom it was directly addressed in the context of the times it was recorded (before humans had made advances in scientific theory and study)? Is the Bible the literal word of God? Or is God’s Word actually the living Christ, as John’s gospel asserts from its first verses? Is it both, perhaps?
I don’t intend to provide answers here, but one possible response to this question would be, as McLaren suggests, to look at the Bible less as a legal constitution (“quoting testaments, books, chapters, and verses” to win our case) and more as an “inspired library” that is “intended to stimulate conversation, to keep people thinking and talking and arguing and seeking, across continents and centuries”. Thus framing God’s Word less as something that means to provide “us easy answers and shortcuts to confidence and authority, but rather to reduce us, again and again, to a posture of wonder, humility, rebuke, and smallness in the face of the unknown.”
According to McLaren, we frequently confuse, “‘The Bible says’ with ‘I say the Bible says,’ which we can then equate with ‘God says.'” He mentions a friend of his who remarked, “The average religious leader begins by humbly speaking with God; then he speaks humbly of God; then he speaks proudly for God; and finally he speaks arrogantly as if he were God.” This, I believe, is how Christ’s message has been splintered into numerous religious denominations leading so many of us to “miss the point.”
When we frame the biblical texts as a legal constitution rather than as an inspired library, we pull verses and quotes out of context to defend our position which may or may not be in keeping with the point or message in those texts. I’m certainly guilty of pulling quotes and verses out of their original context, perhaps even confusing a universal truth with one meant specifically for the people to whom it was addressed. Do not get me wrong, there are plenty of universal truths in the Bible, but people need to take care not to use scripture as a weapon. Extremists on all ends of the religious spectrum bend their religious texts to suit their ends resulting in the destruction of lives and souls, relationships between people and cultures, and entire civilizations.
As I said, I have no answers for you today–and maybe I never will–but McLaren’s approach certainly resonates with me. I would certainly be open to hearing other perspectives in the comments section should you feel moved to do so.
Regardless, I wish you grace and peace on this Sunday afternoon.