Does the Bible Make Sense?

The most obvious answer to the title question is a resounding “yes” if we consider the number of people through a very long period of time and across an ever-increasing number of cultures who have been positively influenced by The Holy Bible. Apparently, it has made a lot of sense to a lot of people, though certainly not without its smattering of critics.

But when the question digs a little more deeply into the reasons for which and the manner in which the Bible makes sense, things change a bit. There has been no shortage of attempts at defining the nature of the Bible and the role of its statements about all sorts of things, from how to be “saved” to how to be successful in business, marriage, friendships, etc. The Bible has been used as a scientific book of origins, a manual for building an economic utopia, and a handbook for spirituality. But why should it be expected to hold any of these positions? What does it mean to say that it is inspired, or infallible, or inerrant, or authoritative? How would we go about defending any of those choices of descriptors—should the Bible itself be the court of appeal, or should there be externally grounded corroboration before we accept a biblical “final word” on any subject? Is the status of Scripture something equally discernible by the believer and unbeliever alike, or must there be a leap of faith before the truth of the biblical message(s) make sense?

These sorts of questions, and what be believes to be an inadequate answer most often given by conservative Christians, form the basis of Christian Smith’s book, The Bible Made Impossible. The author’s contention is that what most evangelical Christians say about the Bible—or perhaps more accurately, what they have been taught they must say about the Bible—does not make sense. Specifically, we should expect a perfect, inspired, inerrant word from God to be clearly consistent in its statements, pronouncements, and even its interpretation. Since this is very clearly not the case, it is time for those who care about the Bible to take more seriously the problems that have been present yet overlooked in the descriptions we have been given. The advantage Smith has is that of not being a theologian and not working (teaching) at an evangelical college or seminary (he’s a sociologist at Notre Dame); this, he acknowledges, gives him the freedom to speak without fear of repercussion that might ensue if someone else would write such things.

I’m going to take a couple of days on this blog to examine Smith’s ideas. But to begin (and to allow anyone interested to get the Kindle edition and follow along), I’d simply like to ask what anyone thinks the Bible is/is not, and why you think it is that way; and how satisfied you are with what you have received as an apologetic for the status of the Bible. So let’s hear from you, and we’ll begin with Smith tomorrow, and see if the Bible really has been made impossible.

What Good Is a Story?

Much recent discussion in Christian circles has centered on the concept of narrative as the best way to understand the biblical message.  This site is in agreement with that basic premise, as are a wide array of much more well known and widely accepted sites, books, speakers, etc.  Narrative as message avoids, at least temporarily, some of the troublesome issues involved with seeing truth as primarily propositional, making it more conducive to conversation in a post-foundationalist philosophical world; it acknowledges the primary means by which all cultures allegedly understand themselves and through which they encounter the world.

Describing the core of Christianity as God’s movements from creation to human fall to redemption in Christ and finally toward consummation certainly accomplishes those purposes.  In so doing it presents a critique and evaluation of other narratives; and, as Lamin Sanneh so provocatively states in Whose Religion Is Christianity?, it does so without the intervention of western readings of that biblical narrative.

Yet encouraging story comparison, getting equal time, and being favorable to philosophical currents cannot comprise the reason for an emphasis on the Christian story.  The story is of limited benefit if it does not offer hope to the world immediately confronting us, the people with whom we share space in an uncertain time, suffering in their bodies and minds, failing in their marriages and businesses.  Narrative does little of value if we do not live and preach such hope.  The hope comes from telling the story in such a way that we see this God not simply as the author of the story, but as the prime actor throughout all its pages, especially the one we are writing in the present.  It’s the presence of the author to which eyes must be directed.  The hopeful, redemptive presence of the redeeming, consummating God, seen by eyes of faith, proclaimed by preachers of His Living Word, witnessed to by believers in all walks of life.

Where do you see hope today?  I’d like to hear about it in comments.  We’re oh so good at recognizing the poverty of the world’s default story; where can we point in a hopeful direction?  How?