Appreciating the Humanity of the Bible

A few weeks ago, while out of town for some training, a colleague, a congregationist, and I spent a great deal of time discussing the nature of the Bible.

My focus was on the incarnation nature of Scripture, and my congregationist colleague, well, God’s revelation through the biblical writers, according to their world.  Then I find myself read Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible, in which he focuses on the humanity of the Bible.

According to Hamilton, understanding the humanity of the Bible has actually helped him to appreciate the Bible even more, while not pressed to affirm the inerrancy and infallibility of the Scriptures, of conservative evangelicals.

For example, by appreciating the humanity of the Bible (that is, the biblical authors writing from their worldview, customs, norms, approach to history, storytelling, and the like), the Bible reader does not have to be driven by fear, wondering about matters of science and the Bible, whether the story of Jonah is fictional or not, and the discrepancies that we often find in the four Gospels, not to mention superficial efforts of harmonization.

At first, what Scott Lencke has rightfully dubbed fear-driven interpretation was becoming my own experience: why am I rethinking what I have been taught in college, seminary, and from the pulpit?  Am I becoming a heretic of sorts?

But this rethinking of the nature of the Bible’s inspiration is making a lot more sense to me, and according to Adam Hamilton, “The early Christians did not see an inerrant Bible as the foundation for their faith.  For them, it was Jesus Christ, God’s Word enfleshed, that was the foundation of their faith.”

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8 Responses to Appreciating the Humanity of the Bible

  1. al says:

    I feel compelled to say you are becoming Congregational more and more each day, my friend. I couldn’t be prouder. As you know, when it comes to matters of the Christian faith, this topic interests me more than any other: how truly are we to experience Scripture and, ultimately, God? I like Hamilton’s newfound approach but I must confess believing that there are countless ways Scripture may incarnate. Each reader experiences God (and therefore, the Bible) through their own lens and context—a basic understanding of mature, serious Christian readers of the Bible, I believe. But what is the residue effect of such an understanding? I think the effect is an unwitting embrace of a myriad of approaches to understanding Scripture. That can be a scary realization for some Christians who affirm a singular understanding of the Bible. Yet I submit to you that God can overwhelm and at times even scare us with how awesome, profound, and multifaceted God really is. I am reminded of the Children of Israel pleading to Moses not to experience the shocking, perhaps overwhelming, and likely utterly terrifying might of God at Mt. Horeb (Deuteronomy 18: 16). The extent of their fear was such that they preferred a simpler, much more palatable way to hear and experience God. Thankfully, God often encapsulates in forms each of us can individually and personally experience. Nowhere is this more evident to me than in our individual, personal reading and understanding of Scripture.

    • TC Robinson says:

      Good point, my friend. I especially like this: “Yet I submit to you that God can overwhelm and at times even scare us with how awesome, profound, and multifaceted God really is.”

      The complexity of Scripture must be appreciated, no one group or tradition has it all figured out. We were meant to live in constant dialogue with each other, past, present and future.

      • al says:

        “We are meant to live in constant dialogue with each other, past, present, and future.” This is a profound statement worthy of pause.

  2. Jon Hughes says:

    I think that any approach to Scripture that bypasses the overly rationalistic, modernistic, apologetic approach of those who get bogged down in asking tedious, one dimensional questions about the text – and thereby lose a sense of wonder – is an improvement!

  3. Colin says:

    ” and thereby lose a sense of wonder ”

    Jon makes an important observation there. My recent reading has included introductions to Eastern Orthodoxy; by Kallistos (Timothy) Ware and others. After a post on Father Robert’s Irish Anglican site, I felt I needed to very much better understand this part of our heritage than had been the case.

    While I don’t think I could find a permanent spiritual home there, there is much we can learn from them. Not least an ambience of wonder, mystery in the “otherness” of the One God whom we love worship and serve.

    • al says:

      Well stated. Love, worship, and service are indispensable to a true Christian experience (claiming possession of the elusive Truth Trophy…not so much).

    • TC Robinson says:

      Colin, in a sense we all long for that wonder and mystery, but it’s what we do with it. I continue to refer to myself as a liturgical Baptist, though I find little opportunities for such expression.

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