Tuesday, May 1, 2012
On not having a Bible Crisis
I've never had a crisis of “biblical faith.” Let me put that in some context – but not all the context that this goes into. I've been reading a number of blog posts from ex-evangelicals. They describe how at some point in their lives, having been pushed into “it's all or nothing,” decided it was nothing. No god, no God, no divinities, merely earth, sky and mortals. No bible. Certainly no bible. I understand that mentality, sort of, because I was confronted by it many times while I served the church in South Carolina. I had one Navy wife very upset with me because I didn't espouse some sort of biblicism. I had a secretary in Georgetown, SC, who had once been an Episcopalian and when I knew her was a born again wave your hands in the air and speak in tongues and swallow the holy spirit feathers and all. She prayed for me, in my presence, that I might have my eyes opened to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth of the bible. I have never had a crisis in which I felt I had to renounce the bible, mostly, I think, because I never understood the bible as a book whose every word was “true.” It started when I was just a kid. I remember an incident during my teen years. One of the girls my sister's age turned down a request that she teach Sunday School because she couldn't teach all that mythology and those old stories that weren't true – I remember her lumping Noah in those old stories she couldn't teach children. I think I was thirteen, and I think I had a feeling that my sister's friend was wrong. I don't think that, even then, I had a sense that these were “infallible” words, magic words I had to somehow “obey.” I do think that even then I had a sense that they were the stories we told that gave us a sense of who we are and where we're going and what we're supposed to be about and that we won't be alone on the journey. I remember my first New Testament class, at dear old Augie. I was liberated by the study of the synoptic problem. I was fascinated by the study of textual variations and how we knew which was closer to the original text. I was deeply encouraged by the search for the historical Jesus and the unwillingness to accept the Jesus of mid-twentieth century piety as identical with Jesus the Jew in Palestine in the first century. The whole modernist controversy, beginning with the 1850's rethinking of the gospel texts, thru the theologies of the Niebuhrs, Tillich, Nygren, and the like did not undermine my faith but increased my wonder. Historical criticism, form criticism, source criticism, those techniques of scholarship didn't undermine my faith because my faith was not and is not based upon a biblicism that I don't believe, have never believed, can't find reason to believe now. I got to thinking about this tonight while sitting at the bells concert. What a great time I had there! But as I tried to keep my digestion under control, I let my mind wander. I thought about the atheist movement; and as I mentioned above, the movement of ex-evangelicals; I listened to Pia Jesu, the only Andrew Lloyd Weber piece I think will survive. I was deeply moved. I had been moved by Fred Beuchner's Lion Country, by his description of a glorious moment when Jesus, looking like John Barrymore, Jr. came striding in from hell. (We read that story as part of the Messiah Theatre festival.) I am deeply moved by the story of Noah as well. Particularly by the verse: “And God remembered Noah.” I mean, it's ridiculous. If you take the story literally Noah and his family are all the human beings that are left. How could god forget? I get the same feeling from the story of the two thieves hung with Jesus. One turns to Jesus and says “Remember me.” In all your poor oppressed lonely nakedness, remember me, Jesus. I find that moving, just as I find Pia Jesu moving. Just as I find Beuchner moving. To me, that's the point. Not laws and rules and magic words, but a sense that we're not walking thru this world alone; a sense we are surrounded by both a great cloud of witnesses and a power we cannot understand, but that understands us.