Conversation with a Street Preacher: Part 4

Harry,

Thank-you for your response. I read your letter and I was a bit disappointed that you felt the need to compile biblical references. Not that references are bad, but rather I am trying to understand you and why you believe the things that you believe, not if you can make a research paper with Bible verses. I’m not really that interested in if you can somehow scrounge up proof verses for whatever beliefs you have or you think you need to have. But, I think that the fact that you said that and based on your letter it gives me a little bit to go on in what I think is probably one of the fundamental differences between you and me.

That is our understanding of the Bible and what the Bible is.

My guess is that you believe the Bible is the ‘Word of God’ and is inspired and inerrant and infallible and authoritative. That is what Len agreed to when I met with him downtown last weekend and that is the typical evangelical understanding of what the scriptures are and how we reference them. So I will assume you hold to the same beliefs.

This I think is the root of our issues that we will always have. I do not give those kinds of descriptions to the Bible. I think Jesus is the ‘Word of God.’ I do not think the Bible is. I do not think the Bible is inerrant. I do think the Bible is inspired and God-breathed (like Adam was). I do think the Bible reveals Jesus Christ to us. But I do not use it like you. I do not think you can take ‘proof verses’ and throw them out of context to prove whatever point you need to prove and make them mean whatever you think they mean. I think the Bible reveals God’s plan for the world starting with Adam and ending with the New Jerusalem and how he’s worked through history to do so. So that means I also don’t think that the Bible is a moral codebook (though it does contain some morals). I don’t think you can use the Bible as a scientific textbook (ie. to prove Creation over Evolution). I don’t think it exists as basic instructions before leaving earth. I don’t even necessarily it’s that easy to glean basic instructions from (and if it is, we really suck at doing so).

Now the reason this makes it difficult for us is this. There is no way for you to prove your beliefs on the Bible are the right ones except for using the Bible. It’s a circular argument and it’s futile to try. We can both point to history and the creeds and the canonization process and that will be great, but in the end, there is nothing in scriptures that tell us that to be a Christian we have to read the Bible the same way and there is certainly not anything in the Bible that says that based on our disagreements about how we read the Bible one of us isn’t saved. So this will inevitably leave us at a standstill. We both read the Bible differently, we both claim to be Christians and we both think each other are wrong about how we interpret the Bible. It would be wrong for either of us to call the other a non-Christian because of our doctrine of hermeneutics (which inevitably everything is based on). We can both yell heretic but it will get us nowhere. Our belief in the Bible and what it is does not determine our salvation. I don’t even think in our case we can even use it as common ground as we seem to disagree on the very basics of biblical interpretation.

So my hope is at least to agree on these points.

1. The Nicene Creed and salvation is through faith through Christ alone.
2. How we interpret scriptures does not determine my or your salvation
3. We are still brothers and sisters in Christ

So if we can at least agree on that then we can move forward in our conversation. If you disagree on that, then we might as well stop talking. You can keep saying ‘the Bible says so’ and it won’t mean anything because I might interpret the Bible saying something very different. (Ie. Christians for years used the bible to support their views on slavery). It’s not me trying to make the Bible say whatever I want it to say, I ensure you. Rather, it is years of research and study and community and church history that leads me to believe what I believe about the Bible. For you though it seems that you believe whatever you think it means or have been told it means. Taking your cues from Kirk Cameron or Ray Comfort for anything theological is my first hint that you don’t actually care to ‘study’ the Bible and its context and who it’s being written to and who is writing it and the cultures that they are in. It seems you are only interested in proving what you already believe to be true.

So from that I have a few comments about your three points.

1. Your first point was a bit scattered but it was full of questions trying to understand why I believe what I believe. I’m not sure why it matters how I came to my beliefs? Are you suggesting that there is only one way to come to right beliefs? I pick and choose what I believe from the BIble no more than you do. The Bible is quite clear about all sorts of things that you don’t do. Such as asking a woman if they are on their period before greeting them? Or selling all your possessions and giving them to the poor? How about wearing two types of clothing at the same time? I find this ironic as well that you refuse to follow these basic, straight-forward and simple commands that are found in the Bible.

Actually I don’t find it ironic. I recognize that you exercise a certain amount of interpretation, understanding and context into the Bible when you read it. Unfortunately, I don’t think you see your own bias when you read the Bible and tell me that things are straightforward and clear. You don’t even think you interpret the scriptures, you think you just read straightforward commands and see them without any delusion. I’m sorry to inform you, that this is not the case. You are white, middle class, elderly, Christian, Sarnian (Wyoming?) and Evangelical. All these labels play a massive role on how you read and interpret the scriptures.

I do believe in the teachings of hell and judgment and trinity. I just don’t believe the same things about them as you do. For instance, I don’t believe that judgment is punitive. I believe that it is restorative. I don’t believe hell is locked for people never able to leave. I believe that at any point, before or after going to hell, people have an opportunity to repent and God will hear their cry and restore them. I believe the gates of hell will not prevail.

So yes it is possible I believe what I want to believe. But I hope that you can see that you do as well. That is normal. I’m not sure why you think otherwise?

2. Yes all that is possible. And I think it is possible for you as well. Are you trying to tell me that it is impossible that you aren’t biased, misinterpreting scripture or selecting what beliefs you want to believe? Because I think you are just as misguided and disillusioned. I do not have a grudge on the institutional church. I like to think that I have a very high view of church. I respect all denominations (even ones whose theology I disagree with). I go to Anglican Mass on Sunday mornings then go to theStory (Free Methodist), I’ve worked at a Pentecostal, Alliance, Salvation Army and Baptist Church in my past. I respect all these streams of the Christian faith. Do you? It seems like you are having a really hard time accepting my stream? It seems like you can’t accept non-evangelical streams of faith? Len actually said that he didn’t think Catholics were Christians. Really? This tells me that you actually have a low view of the institutional church.

3. I don’t have followers. We follow Jesus. I think you are misunderstanding what I am telling you. I am not telling you just that you are only telling half the story. I’m telling you that what you think is good news is only half the good news. You have a very small view of what the gospel is. If the gospel is only that we go to heaven when we die, then how is that good news right now today? If you can’t answer that question, then I fear that your good news that you are preaching isn’t as good as it actually is or you think it is and actually comes across as bad news. Do you think that Jesus walked around for three years just to try and get people to heaven when they die? Why do miracles? Why announce the kingdom of God is present? Why tell story after story about what the Kingdom of God is like? Why speak mainly to Jews? Your entire understanding of salvation can be reduced to John 3:16 which is one sentance in the entire BIble. What is God doing from Genesis to Malachi? What is he doing in Jesus? Paul? John? Revelation? The Prophets? How do you make sense of verses that hint towards universal salvation, or giving away all your possessions, or the random stories of people being saved throughout the gospels? What do you do when Jesus tells someone that their friend’s faith saved them? Does that fit into your idea of good news? Do you just ignore that? Do you assume that it doesn’t mean what it says because you don’t understand it that way?

Harry, I appreciate this dialogue, I hope we can get closer to an understanding soon and I still would love to meet with you and your pastor and any others from F.O.M. or People’s.

Nathan.

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