i've had a long dialog with the bible over my life. when i was growing up it was, along with aesop's fables and the "just so stories", a book of stories found to be helpful or instructive when addressing the question, "what does it mean to be human" and "why is it so hard".
when i was captured by faith, i hung out with people who believed the bible, when properly interpreted, was the step by step instruction book for life. "the operator's manual for the earth suit" was one of the phrases that was used. because i hung out with them, i learned to see the bible like they did.
there is this opposition in the "earth suit" reading of the bible between inspired writings / our writings. the "earth suit" understanding insists that all the words in the bible are the "inspired" kind, except for the occasional scribal error. because they are a different kind of word, they demand a different kind of response.
which is wonderful except that as i read the bible, the more i learned about how the bible was written, the more this opposition between inspired writing / our writing seemed odd and un-natural. even learning the stories about how the 66 books of the protestant bible made it from their original writing tables into the "best of writings about god" collection seems to speak clearly against this opposition. a council of bishops meets to discuss which writings will be gathered up into a canonical whole. i have never in my life sat in a room of more that three people and seen that group do the singular right thing. in a group of any size, any decision made by the group is always heavily political, some mixture of compromise, or exercise of power. but we are supposed to believe that this council somehow achieved a miracle, on the scale of the giving of the 10 commandments, an arrival at the singular correct answer, without any support for this other than the fervent wish that it were true, because it would make our lives simpler.
and, of course, centuries later the protestants decided that some of the books voted on by that council are NOT canonical, but that all the rest were the inspired word of god. it just doesn't work for me. if god wanted to privilege those decisions, he would have done something about it. moses got tablets of stone, what'd the synod of hippo get from god?
so we come to the point today where i am probably among the enemies of "earth suit" bible readers. because they need those words to be inspired. it is the inspired privilege granted to those words which is the basis for orthodoxy. any questioning of the inspired / un-inspired opposition is an attack on their whole way of life.
i don't need to attack that way of reading the bible, i just don't find it helpful. this marks me as "wrong about the bible" for most people who come from the evangelical tradition. for some, this would even qualify me as not being "truly evangelical" or even "truly christian", because i have stripped the bible of any sense of authority, placing it on a level playing field with all other writings men have ever made.
i have had this conversation, and failed to communicate, in person enough times to despair of the "earth suit" christians of ever hearing what i am saying. i am saying that it seems to me that the text does have some force or "authority", but that the "earth suit" explanations for the source and power of this force feel, at best empty, and at worst, like an impediment.
i love the fact that 200-300 years after the last word was written, with plenty of time to see what effect those writings would have, some people thought long and hard on what it would be good for christians to read together. i'm even happy that 1000 years later they changed their mind, based on what happened in the intervening millennium. i'd be up for, in another couple hundred years, for us to re-visit the canon, with the caveat that no document under 300 years old be considered, because there wasn't enough time to judge what power for good or evil those words might carry. that seems like an approach that takes the force of text very seriously.
i am very serious when i read my bible, about what the author meant, about how that verse has been understood throughout time, and about how i find a faithful understanding in my time. i am fine that some people find it helpful to believe that god did a miracle in creating the bible. i choose not to believe that. and i also choose, as i see this opposition between inspired / human, to not see myself as seeing the bible "correctly", to not swing to the other other pole of the opposition, the bible is not a merely human document. i am not sure, but i think it might be also seen as the church choosing it which causes it to be inhabited, since where we are gathered, there is god. the selection can cause the presence, and the presence can cause the selection, and there is no useful dialog about breaking the chicken /egg deadlock.
so there are now, i am imagining, two kinds of people, if anyone has read this far without falling asleep, who believe that i am wrong.
the "earth suit" christians can't see how, without their brand special privilege for the 66 books in the bible, i protect the bible from attacks of postmodern relativism, of secular humanism, of pagan polytheism or whatever
and some people are saying "wait, back the truck up to that part where you said that there was some force or authority in the bible which demands special attention. you are kidding, right?"
to both people i have the same answer. i once saw things the way you do, and i don't any more. i don't want you to stop talking to me, and i don't want to drive you crazy, but in spite of the many things i am unsure of, one thing i am pretty sure of is that i will not be changing my mind on this.