Tuesday, October 2, 2012

We should all mean what Olson means when he says the Bible is trustworthy

The frequent readers of this blog (yes, both of them) may have noticed the list of blogs that I skim through.  One of those is by Roger Olson, a theologian teaching at Baylor University.  I find him to be generally sane and often insightful.  Given my own thinking about the nature of Scripture recently (for example, here and here), the title of his post today caught my eye, "What I mean when I say the Bible is trustworthy."

I commend it to you.  You can read it here.

I especially appreciate the honesty when he says,
Even most conservative evangelical biblical scholars know [that not everything in the Bible happened exactly the way it is described], but they keep it a secret (except among themselves). They don’t want to share it with the lay people who look to them for fundamentalist support. If they really told their constituents what they know to be true about the Bible, they would be crucified by many of them. So they preach inerrancy, but among themselves and in their footnotes admit that the Bible contains many “problems” that resist harmonization.
I suppose I might be guilty of this myself from time to time.  When teaching, say, a Sunday School class I might dig a little deeper into the problems with reading the Bible as a giant fact book.  But even then, it takes more time to unpack some of the issues and many people are just looking for the sound byte that answers the questions quickly and definitively.  And we don't want them to get the wrong idea, so we perpetuate the sound byte thinking that pervades popular thinking in our country.  We need to do better.

There's a great Emily Dickinson poem in this regard:

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant --
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm
Delight The Truth's superb surprise 
 As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind --

"Tell all the Truth but tell it slant."  I take it that she means there is a way to frame or nuance language such that it conveys the intended meaning in ways that can be understood by the audience--though perhaps that language can't be pressed too far in a simplistic literal sense.  That's often what we do with young children.  Perhaps it's not too much of a stretch to think God has done that with us.

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