August 27, 2023
• Rev. Mindie Moore
Stumped Week 2: Is The Bible Reliable?
2 Timothy 3:16-17
This morning we’re continuing our series- Stumped, where we are exploring some of the biggest faith questions you have either been asked or are wrestling with yourself.
And today we’re looking at the question, (SLIDE) “Is the Bible reliable?”
And as we get into this question, I want to share with you a story that a pastor named Glenn McDonald shared in his daily devotional email that he sends out. He told this story about a guy who was going off to seminary. Now, this guy’s dad was worried. And- just a little side note here- people get worried when you go to seminary! I heard this many times when I went off to seminary- we're worried about you. We’re praying for you. Don’t let yourself learn your way right out of your faith.
And so that was what this guy was hearing from his dad. And his dad for some reason was really zeroed in on the idea that he was going to stop believing in things like miracles. In fact he said to his son as he was getting ready to move- “I just hope that when you get back, the story of God parting the waters of the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites is still in your Bible.” So...fast forward three years later, the son is done with seminary and his dad is still very worried about the Red Sea. And so he asks him, “so...is that story still in your Bible?”
And his son comes back with, “I don’t know why you’re asking me that- it's not even in YOUR Bible.”
His dad is annoyed and confused, and he pulls out his Bible to show his son that he clearly learned NOTHING in the last three years...but as he flips through the Old Testament...he can’t find it.
“It’s not there,” said his son. “The day I left for seminary I took your Bible and cut out the whole middle section of the book of Exodus. So, tell me, Dad: What’s the difference between not believing that it’s true, and paying so little attention to it that you don’t even know it’s gone?”
And that, friends, is how Bible nerds do a mic drop.
And I AM a self-professed Bible nerd. I am. I took three quarters of Biblical Greek in Seminary as an elective. I know this is weird.
But look, I love it. And a question that I get a lot- even some of you have asked me this- is how? Why? Why do you love the Bible so much? After having seen ALL the ways it has been used to harm people, with all the pieces of it that don’t make sense...how can you still place value on this book?
These are good questions. They’re the right questions. And they are, to me, what’s really at the heart of the question we’re looking at today.
And even though my perspective is this deep, curious love of the Bible…I know that’s not true for everyone in this room. I know because so many of you have trusted me with your stories. And the Bible is a complicated book for so many of us, for so many important reasons. It can be hard to understand, it can be boring, but also- it can have been used in some really painful and inappropriate ways against you or people you love.
So I know we are all coming into this conversation in different places with different perspectives. But no matter where we’re coming from, we can’t deny that no matter how we feel about or what our
experience has been, the Bible IS an important part of this thing we call the Christian faith.
In fact, every week, in our Traditional service at the North Campus- the people who worship there say these words as part of a statement of belief: (SLIDE)
We believe in the word of God contained in the Old and New Testaments as the sufficient rule both of faith and practice.
So we say this...but what do we mean by it? How do we live into this when it seems like there are so many polarizing ways to read this book? Rob Bell sums it up like this: (SLIDE)
“Some people see the Bible as an out of date book of primitive, barbaric fairy tales that we have moved beyond. And then there are the folks who talk about how important and central and inspired the Bile is but then butcher it with their stilted literalism and stifling interpretation.” -Rob Bell: What Is the Bible?
So there are ENDLESS arguments we could have about what Scripture is and how it works and how we’re supposed to read it. There are so many different ways that people assign value to what they encounter in the Bible.
And so we’re going to use this text from 2 Timothy as our guide to shaping this conversation today. I’m going to read it again for you to make sure we have it with us:
16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that the person
of God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. 2 Tim 3:16-17
Let’s start with the first two words in the text: (SLIDE) All Scripture
And I want to start here, because that phrase alone lets us know that this might get complicated. See, when Paul wrote these words, “all Scripture,” that phrase meant something really different to him than it does to us when we read this in 2023. “All Scripture”, when Paul wrote it- it only referred to parts of what we call the Old Testament today. It’s weird to think about, but the New Testament wasn’t a thing yet. He was in the middle of it, living these things that we read about today.
And I don’t think that for one minute minimizes the role that the New Testament should play in our own faith lives today or that it’s exempt from what Paul is saying here- but what I want you to understand is that this is just one, simple example of the fact that (SLIDE) the way we interact with Scripture evolves with time. It changes with context and setting and what the reality is when it’s said and when it’s being read.
We talked about context a little bit last week- and I’ll just reiterate what I said then. The context matters- in every single word of this book, context creates meaning. And the context is our friend. People get nervous sometimes when you start really pointing out the cultural differences and the audience and what would have been going on with the author, but personally, I get excited about it. Because when you know THAT- you have a better understanding about what’s really going on here. You save yourself from falling into some really scary traps where we use scripture as a weapon or to oppress people. AND you free the Bible from becoming this irrelevant museum piece. Our lives ARE different than when this was written; the definition of all Scripture HAS changed- but the meaning and the importance of what this book can do in our lives- that holds.
And all of these pieces, all of Scripture matters...because All Scripture tells a story. Specifically, it tells us the story of people and God. It shows us people who were trying to figure out who God was and how God related to them. People were experiencing things that changed them and a faith that made an impact. It was a story that was SO important...that it had to be told.
And part of why it’s STILL worth being told is the fact that Scripture is (SLIDE) God Inspired. Now, this might actually be the trickiest part of these two verses. Because there are an awful lot of arguments about what that idea of BEING God inspired actually means.
And it matters that you know what you believe about this because there are some dramatically different foundational ways to read the Bible. Some people, when they read the Bible, it is incredibly important to them that every word be taken as literal, actual fact. The word that we use for this kind of reading of the Bible is (SLIDE) inerrancy.
This is how I read the Bible for the first 2/3 of my life so far. This is how a lot of people I love very much still read the Bible. And I think that a lot of people hold on to this idea of the inerrancy of Scripture because honestly in a lot of ways it feels really safe. We talked about mystery last week, and inerrancy really minimizes that. You can get super caught up in proving certain things happened, you can easily use the Bible to set some pretty specific rules and ways of living, and maybe the most appealing thing about reading the Bible this way- is that it makes it seem like it’s a book of answers.
But my issue with inerrancy, and my issue with using the Bible like it’s a how to guide to live our lives is- what if those “answers” ignore everything else that’s happening outside of this book? I mean, when we use the Bible to be a history record, a science text, a relationship
manual...that causes some problems! It’s not an objective resource- and it was never meant to be that.
And sometimes we read things in there that literally do not fit anything about our lives. And the temptation when that happens is to either just ignore them OR to try and fit these things that don’t really translate into a context they were never meant to stand in.
Vince Antonucci is a pastor out in Las Vegas, and he was talking about the way the Bible can seem kind of disconnected at face value for people, and that included himself, and how that can make it really hard to know what to do with some of these stories. And used the example of the story of Jepthah’s daughter in the book of Judges. Now- how many of you know this story?
It’s a pretty obscure one. But so in this story, this guy, Jepthah, has just won a battle, he’s coming home and he’s super pumped up and he says, “God, I’m so excited about this win that I PROMISE YOU I will give the first thing that comes out of my house to you as a burnt offering!”
And I don’t know what he thought that thing would be...but I don’t think he expected it to be his daughter. And so this story is incredibly tragic and dark and feels so removed from our world today, and frankly, that sums up a lot of the book of Judges if you read it.
And so Vince Antonucci was reflecting on this story, and he said that for the longest time, he thought- that's a horrible story, and it also really has nothing to speak into my life? What is the point of this terrible story being in here? But as time went on, he realized- I'll never be in that exact situation, I’ll never make that exact statement. But you know what I do all the time? I can be incredibly reckless with my words. I can say things that I should have thought a lot harder about before they
came out of my mouth. And that has consequences. THAT’S the wisdom in this story.
When we look for the Wisdom in these stories, when we look for something beyond just the words we read on the page, that’s a different way to engage with the Bible. It makes us ask the question- (SLIDE) What does it mean for Scripture to be TRUE? What does it mean for it to matter? How could God be speaking to us in our lives today through these ancient words?
You know, Methodists have this handy tool that we use to explore just that and we call the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. And that sounds incredibly boring. I know! But stick with me, because for me, as I was growing in my understanding of the Bible and realizing that reading it through this sort of frozen in time, inerrant viewpoint didn’t work for me anymore, I was starting to disconnect from it- this is the tool that helped me keep loving the Bible and not just setting it aside. I think this is one of the strongest parts of our theology because it leaves room for questions and interpretation and growth with this very old book.
So the four parts of this are:
(SLIDE) Scripture- and that’s the most important part. It’s where we’re starting, with the inspired word of God.
But then, you’ve got these three other things that work alongside it. You've got:
(SLIDE) Tradition- so what have been doing for centuries and generations? What about those things has worked, what do we want to hold on to...and what of those things need to go?
(SLIDE) Reason- God gave us critical thinking abilities and these abilities do not need to be turned off just because we’re reading the Bible. I watch this happen ALL the time! You have BRILLIANT people who in
every other area of their lives they do ask questions, they do dig deep, but when it comes to SCripture they think I can’t do that. It’s God’s word. I can’t touch it. And that is such a loss. Grappling and questioning does not in any way make these words less holy and less inspired.
(SLIDE) Experience- and this is fairly self explanatory, and for me is the one that has always led to deeper investigation. Because as we live our lives, we realize that not all things apply to all situations. There is nuance and gray area and a lot of things that don’t have easy answers. And if the Bible is a living, breathing, evolving document- then we NEED to let our experience shape the way we read it. Jesus did. It’s all over his teaching. Again and again, he takes Scripture, and he quotes it and then he makes it make sense for the time he was living in and the people he was talking to.
Our job is not to put the Bible in a museum so it can remain untouched and pristine. Our job is to get messy with it. It’s to let it challenge us and give us hope and help us see ourselves and our world through the lens of Jesus.
And I guess that brings us to the final couple of words I want to look at in this text, and it’s two simple words, but they’re SO important (SLIDE):
IF we believe that the Bible is reliable, IF we think it has some kind of purpose and usefulness in our lives...then what are we going to do with it?
And the question I would ask you to really consider is what do you want to allow the Bible to do for you? What role COULD it play in your faith? For some of you- what does it mean to reclaim this book that might have been used to harm you or someone you love? Because you are allowed to do that. YOU- no matter who you are- God has something
for you in these words and you’re allowed to have it. This book is so that we better know Jesus and the creator God who loves us and lives in us and that message is for every single one of you.
You know, there are some really practical ways to engage with the Bible so that it shapes our lives. In your bulletin you have a handout about Disciple classes and Libby Sylvester is leading one that will start September 13. That is an awesome way to read and learn more about what the Bible says and make space for those big questions or digging deeper. You could set aside 15 minutes a day and follow a plan or an app- there are lots of tools like that.
And I love those tools. But I think for some of us, we just have to start by shifting the way we view the Bible in the first place. We need to go from seeing it as this book of rules and outdated content to seeing it as (SLIDE) a book of wisdom that helps equip us to know and follow Jesus in our ever-changing lives. It is supposed to grow and move with us as we keep living in relationship with God. We change, our world changes, and so the way we relate to God and the story of God has to be free to change too.
You know, it makes me think of the relationship that my husband and I have. Now, some of you know- we met at church camp in high school. That story is another sermon for another day. BUT- we were 16 and 17 when we started dating. We’ve now been together almost 20 years.
And I want to tell you...if we tried to relate to each other like we did then, like the people we WERE back then...it would not go well. First of all, we would still be listening to Incubus and making scrapbooks for each other and wearing puka shell necklaces- literally no one wants any of those things to be true.
More importantly, our personalities have very significantly changed. We’ve had to keep getting to know each other, and ask new questions, and be ok with the fact that not everything about the way we connect has stayed the same over 20 years.
Not everything is going to stay the same for you as you connect with God through the Bible over the course of your life. But the possibility of connection and letting this book guide you with wisdom and truth- that can grow with you.
The Bible is an ancient book, written for specific people in a specific place and time. But it’s also a LIVING book, written for us right here and right now.