The religion reporter at the local paper, The Gazette, recently did a short piece titled, “Is Bible an all-or-nothing proposition?” The piece was precipitated by the recent move in the ECLA regarding homosexual lifestyles and marriage, and was intended to ask the question whether Christians cherry-pick from the Bible. Barna notes:
The crux of the issue comes down to the Bible — or, more specifically, how one views it. Is it the literal word of God, and if so, shouldn’t the faithful follow everything in it? You might be surprised by how some religious leaders answer the question.
Several Colorado Springs evangelical pastors I interviewed contend that the Bible is the absolute word of God, yet they acknowledge that they dismiss or de-emphasize various biblical passages.
In other words, they cherry-pick the Bible. (To be fair, most everyone else does, too, but biblical literalists sometimes criticize other Christians for not accepting Scripture in its entirety.)
After very short blurbs from each of three interviews, Barna accuses the pastors of cherry-picking from Scripture. The only minister not accused is the one who agrees with the premise of the article.
So, is it true? Do Christians simply agree with those portions of Scripture they find comfortable and gloss over the rest? Because this is such a serious, not to mention complicated issue, I am going to split my thoughts up into a couple of posts (at least).
First of all, let me say I feel the accusation. I have spent my entire adult life dealing with Scripture, and there are still plenty of stories and passages I don’t know exactly what to do with. But, after my time in Scripture and the development of my own belief system, I tend to agree with C.S. Lewis when he says in Mere Christianity that the God of Christianity is far too uncomfortable to be made up by us. So, if we believe in someone who betrays our natural comforts, chances are good we aren’t making him up or cherry-picking according to our own pleasures.
Secondly, the Bible is not a simplistic document that can be handled with simplistic notions. The Christian Scriptures contain the legal and cultic (cult = having to do with the practice of religion) documents of an ancient middle-eastern people, the religious documents of a theocracy, history, prayer and wisdom books, prophetic oracles, spiritual biographies, epistles, apocrypha, and more. Each literary milieu comes with all the standard hermeneutical principles, just like we would expect to use when comparing the writings of Abraham Lincoln, Emerson, and Emilie Dickenson. It would be simplistic silliness to “exegete” all three of those authors the same way. So it follows it is simplistic silliness to exegete Leviticus, Psalms, Jeremiah and Paul in exactly the same ways.
Therefore, we need to avoid the phrase, “I take the Bible literally.” You don’t. Even if you say you do, you don’t. What should be asserted is something more like: I take the Bible seriously, or, I affirm all the Scriptures affirm. Take for instance my belief that I take the Bible seriously and Psalm 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” I don’t take that to literally mean that the sky speaks like humans speak. Taking it seriously avoids the silliness of taking it “literally,” and yet allows me to believe what the original author intended to say. The complexity and beauty of creation reveals to me a God.
But, of course, Barna is not that worried about my hermeneutical method and metaphor. He wants to know about the biblical injunctions about homosexuality. So then we will need to continue…