Bible: The Christian Britannica Encyclopedia (66 volume set)

Bible- The Christian Britannica Encyclopedia (66 volume set)

This is my first post of many for the upcoming posts on the Bible. I’m more looking to spark a conversation to reveal more truth than simply trying to tell you what I know. I did this earlier about church in the last days of Dec, I’m sure you can check it out on the archives if you’re interested. I think though that this might turn a lot more heads if anything.

Before I start, I just want to make mention to read the comments on each of these posts. There has already been some good posts, I particularly like Andrew’s about faith, on the last post. So keep yourself updated and stay critical to everything that is being said and make up your own mind on the issue.

I’m going to start by taking apart McLaren’s rant about the bible in A New Kind of Christian. From that I hope to work out some posts that will make myself and all of us think. After going through his little nugget, I will expand much further beyond his paragraph.

“That oft quoted passage in Second Timothy doesn’t say, ‘All Scripture is inspired by God and is authoritative.’ It says that Scripture is inspired and useful-useful to teach rebuke, correct, instruct us to live justly, and equip us for our mission as the people of God. That’s a very different job description that we moderns want to give it. We want it to be God’s encyclopedia, God’s rule book, God’s answer book, God’s scientific text, God’s easy-steps instruction book, God’s little book of morals for all occasions. The only people in Jesus’ day who would have had anything close to these expectations of the Bible would have been the scribes and Pharisees. (McLaren 52)

As I try to deconstruct each ideal of the bible we have I don’t mean to disrespect it or devalue it in anyway. Rather I hope to find the place that it should really hold in my life. This isn’t just a search for information so I can win debates; it’s a very personal journey, one that I’m going on because I need to know for myself. Each one is obviously a generalization, and I’m not pointing fingers or saying everyone does it, I’m just summarizing what I’ve seen. In deconstructing these ideals I hope to construct one that will be more practical to the believer’s life.

The first ideal of the Bible that McLaren points out and that I’ve seen a lot of; is us treating the Bible like God’s encyclopedia. I don’t know how many seminars and youth presentations and sermons I’ve heard using the bible to prove archeological facts, geographical facts, scientific proof and other attempts for knowledge in this area. Don’t get me wrong. The Bible is the most amazing history document on the face of the earth. For some reason though I don’t think it was meant to show us the things we are trying to dig out of it. Was the bible written for a go to guide to prove all our scientific and geographical data? Or was it written for something different. Should we look to the Bible as inerrant and infallible on something that it was never meant to show? There are numerical discrepancies and environmental discrepancies. If we look at the Bible as infallible, we have to overlook this. If we don’t, if we allow it to become what it was meant to be, then these discrepancies don’t mean an absolute thing. It’s quite hard to take scientific facts that we hold has fact in any of the amazing Greek epics, so why do we try to make these claims with the Bible?

Is this right to say? Can we toss out the Bible as an encyclopedia? I’ll leave you with this.

“In matters of science ask the scientist. In matters of religion, ask the Bible.”
Donald G. Miller
(not the Donald Miller that wrote blue like jazz and is coming to Tyndale in a few weeks, one that writes on biblical challenges.

5 thoughts on “Bible: The Christian Britannica Encyclopedia (66 volume set)”

  1. Kevin (on the left coast)

    While I agree with you that too many times we try to use the Bible to prove how our toe nails grow or how they get the caramel in the Caramilk bars, does the Bible ultimately have authority over things that aren’t “religious” or “Spiritual”? Does Scripture overrule something scientific or biological etc. or is it only originally intended for personal matters?
    By no means I know that we are not proposing that one should not look to Scripture to find out how to make a pizza, but what about when science contradicts something that is expressed in the Bible? Do we still leave science to the scientist?

  2. I think perhaps what our modernistic philosophy tells us is certain about history, or the natural world, or even what scripture might be saying, should be put into question before the Scriptures themselves are.

    I think McLaren’s quote misses the point of the “traditional” (ancient, not “modern”) view. The Bible is authoritative precisely because of Who inspired it.

    Perhaps I should ask a question: did the author of Genesis 1 intend to give us a (scientifically simple, no doubt) story about how the universe came into existence. If yes, then either it must come to bear on science, or the Bible was plainly wrong. If you say the latter (something a modernist would certainly say), then I fail to see how it is useful for instruction. Perhaps then you will say “the Bible is only meant to give us ethical instructions, not about the story of the world.” I think that is clearly false on the face of it, so I’m not going to try to argue against it. If you say the former (that the Bible must come to bear on science), then you’d be admitting that the Bible has authority over our views of the natural world, instead of our views of the natural world (attained independent from Scripture) having authority over the Bible. This would be the ancient, pre-modern view once again. If you answer no to the first question (that Genesis 1 was not about telling a story about the actual beginning of the actual universe), then I’d like to know a) why the author seems to treat it as if it was, b) why every other author of scripture seems to take it that way (cf. Paul in his comparisons of Adam to Christ, both of whom he seemed to take as historical figures), and c) why the vast majority of scholars, exegetes and theologians in the history of the church have taken it that way. It seems to me that an attempt to read it as “telling a useful myth with helpful morals” is a thoroughly gnostic and modern way of reading scripture.

    As good postmoderns, shouldn’t we be moving past these old theories into something better, not just recapitulating them with new terms?

  3. I like what Kevin hints at and Andrew expresses here in the comments. Especially when Andrew points out creation. Its really getting to what I hope to get at with all these posts, in that really, I think, that the main concept of the Bible is to look at it as a story. A story that that obviously is inspired by God. If this is true, and Genesis is the beginning of the story, in at the beginning, God created the world.

    Andrew also pointed out that this is a scientifically simply explanation. That I think is the key in everything. The bible doesnt need to give us all the details about every claim it makes, because its not meant to prove anything. Its meant to get a point across. Its meant to show us that God created the earth, In the beginning God.

    I think that this should give us more of a tolerance for other solutions, per say, about creation. (ie. big bang, evolution) Its quite impossible to prove that the 7 creation days in the bible were literal or not, or anything of that sort. Is it really that much out of the realm of possibility that God could have used the Big Bang to create the world and evolution to create that species we see? Im not saying its true, Im just saying that its not impossible.

    I just think its hard to say something (especially something like creation) and only have the Bible as your proof (although I have read many amazing proofs outside of the Bible for creation). The Bible wasnt meant to prove minor ideas of creation vs. evolution or any other scientific matter, it was meant to show us that In the beginning God. Who knows how long the days were or if God used other means besides the snap of his fingers to create his creation?

    Im not saying either that there wasnt an Adam, or there wasnt an Eve. I am saying though that its quite a hard call to make on how everything played out with creation and the Bible isnt sufficient to answer those questions (if you feel you need them answered). Maybe the Bible should be used more as a foundation for these claims? Im not sure to be honest. Help me out here. How much authority should the Bible have on issues such as these.

  4. Nathan, great response!

    I certainly am appreciative of the emphasize that emergent church leaders, and one of my favourite New Testament Scholars, NT Wright, have put on the importance of narrative and its relation to scripture. I have no criticisms of that point.

    Secondly, I can definitely agree with what you said above: “The bible doesnt need to give us all the details about every claim it makes, because its not meant to prove anything.” This is correct. It should be interesting to note that the Scriptures never offer a “proof” for the existence of God. His existence and authority are everywhere assumed to be fact. The same goes for what Scripture says in a sense… they were never written as historical or philosophical treatises trying to argue what happened. They simply state facts (even the stories do this) and expect the readers to believe.

    I personally would question whether determining the literalness of the Genesis days is impossible. I believe exegesis can show that it is. I do however have respect for those scholars (even orthodox Evangelicals scholars) who argue for different readings. I admit that many of them are much more knowledgable than I. But lets assume that they were literal and we could determine then. If that’s the case, then unless we want to argue the Bible has no authority, we would have to re-interpret nature accordingly, I think. This is where I might differ slightly from the things that Neo says in A New Kind of Christian. I don’t think “scientific creationism” is an oxymoron, a joke, or a hopelessly “modern” project. I think its just trying to understand the world in light of what it thinks scripture says. The fact that is has made scientific mistakes no more disproves it than it is does evolution. The history of science is filled with countless paradigm shifts and theory modifications, you think that by now we’d have a little more humility. But our modern culture is held captive by the all authoritative words: “Thus saith science” and “Thus saith most scholars/scientists.”

    I think in many cases people may want more information than the scripture can give. I don’t think we can develop an exhaustive cosmology from scripture. It explains some very basic things, like what is the metaphysical nature of stars (are they gods or just physical lights? Genesis answers with the latter against pagan idolatry, etc.). I think it must be admitted that the majority of our knowledge of the natural world will not come from scripture, but from experience. But our duty is to interpret this experience in light of scripture, isntead of some other philosophy or religion.

    Also, as a side note, I think people who share my view should (and often do nowadays, thankfully) admit that we might not always have the answers as to what a particular passage means, or how this thing is compatible with what this says, etc. Here is another place where postmodernism comes in: humility. We need to be comfortable with the fact that we wont always have all the answers. But we can rest assured that in the end, God will not have spoken errors about His own world. At least that’s what I believe.

    Keep the posts coming! ;-)

  5. Kevin (on the left coast)

    Hi again gentlemen,

    I both respect you for your dilligence in searching the Scriptures for the truth behind life and creation. I believe you both raised some strong points, particularly Andrew about “God will not have spoken errors about His own world.”

    While I may hang out a bit too much in the “conservative” camp, I’m still deeply rooted in the fact that the Bible NEEDS to play the ultimate role of faith and life for us. Not only for religious purposes, but just as much for “other” ideas as well.

    Andrew talked briefly about how the Bible talks in simple terms about cosmology. While only a small amount of the text may discuss cosmology, I think we still need to treat it as “theh-op’-nyoo-stos” (God-breathed) (2 Tim 3:16) in that it has the ultimate authority regardless of what science may come up with.

    My reason for this is that if we simply allow the Bible to have authority over Spiritual matters and not our everyday thinking is that we tread down a slippery slope. If we can’t trust the Bible about a literal creation, about Goliath being over 9 feet tall, or about Jonah being swallowed up by a “big fish” (just as examples), then how can we trust it when it comes to something such as the virgin birth or the ressurrection of Jesus? By the way, another thing that science could never prove but still essential to our faith (I hope?).

    Please don’t think that I’m some freak who is sold out to what the world might suggest. Nor am I one of those weirdos that buys those “Christian cook books” like “What would Jesus eat?”. I hate all that crap. All I am suggesting is that the Bible should have a solid authoritative role in all matters of faith and life. Again, it’s a faith issue as mentioned in another post.

    As for now, I’m off to work – good ol’ BP! :)


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