I’ve gotten the question several times: “Do you believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God?” Three occasions burn in my memory.
The first occurred during a job interview. It was the final stage. Several faculty members from a conservative seminary in the Midwest had me encircled, peppering me with questions, trying to see if I would fit in with the group or stand out like a Speedo in the baptistery. I don’t recall my exact words, but I got the job offer, and I didn’t lie.
Several years later, the administrator of a small rural hospital invited me to lunch. He had said there were a few questions he wanted to ask before recommending to the medical board that I be given staff privileges as a psychologist. I had spent a lot of time preparing for the questions. I was ready for anything he might ask about major depression, suicidal ideation, or medication compliance. I even knew his favorite college football team—Georgia Tech. But he asked only one question: “Do you read the Ryrie Bible?”
I did not. But I knew enough about that imprint for words like “inerrancy,” “fundamentalism,” and “dispensation” to start spinning around my head like targets for his attack helicopter. I swallowed hard, confessed my limited reading, and told him how I felt about the Bible. To my surprise, he invited to me join the club.
The third occasion for the question was the toughest. I was standing in front of a classroom full of eager counselors-in-training, preparing to launch into the first lecture of a course on theological issues for therapists, when the question came from the middle of the room: “Before you begin, Dr. Moon, I have one question. Do you believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God?”
Since there seems to be no escaping the question, I might as well tell you what I said. I began with the negatives.
I don’t believe the Bible is a repository of buried treasure that has been locked away through centuries of time until an Indiana Jones type of scholar could burst into its dusty catacombs and unearth the buried gems. That is, I don’t think God hid key elements of His Story until someone armed with an IQ of 140 and the knowledge of six languages could appear on the scene and announce, “You see, appropriate parsing has finally revealed the hidden pathway.” No, I believe all the golden rules glisten in plain view—easy to find, just difficult to follow.
I don’t believe the Bible should be treated as a paper Pope that can be made to speak with absolute authority on any topic simply by allowing it to flop open, spilling its guts. Nor do I believe the Bible is God’s answer book on everything.
Instead, I believe the Bible is very much like Jesus with a blemish. I believe Jesus is exactly who he claimed to be, God’s only Son, cocreator of the universe, born from above, but willing to stoop low to touch the world and to save it. But I also like to imagine Jesus to be fully human. I hope that when he was a teenager his voice squeaked as it deepened and that he had at least one good-sized zit to deal with.
Thinking of Jesus’ humanity makes me feel even closer to him. This lets me know that he has felt what I feel; that he can fully empathize when I tell him about weaknesses, struggles, and temptations. Although it makes my frontal lobes hurt when I do it, I see Jesus as fully divine and fully human. And that is exactly how I see Scripture.
I believe that the Bible is the living Word, fully divine: God-breathed as stylus touched papyrus; God-breathed again as the holy words turn to pictures in my mind. Are there imperfections, linguistic zits? I hope so. As with Jesus, the marks of humanity speak to me of the trust and love of God, while only enhancing the divinity that I accept by faith and interact with through experience.
While conservatives and liberals battle for the Bible, I believe they often ignore that they are much more alike than different.
Both groups tend to exegete uncomfortable passages with a pocketknife; both groups offer interpretations that would make Herman Rorschach proud—revealing far more about themselves than about God.
As I think about the divinity and humanity of Scripture, I am challenged by the questions raised by Brian McLaren:
What if, instead of reading the Bible, you let the Bible read you? What would happen if we approached the text less aggressively but even more energetically and passionately? I wonder what would happen if we honestly listened to the story and put ourselves under its spell . . . not using it to get all our questions about God answered but instead trusting God to use it to pose questions to us about us. What would happen if we trusted ourselves to it—the way a boy opens his heart to a girl, the way a patient trusts herself to an oncologist?Brian McClaren, A New Kind of Christian, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001), 56.
With these questions, we open the conversation to the topic of Scripture and formation. No theological debates will follow, only the honest reflections of humble seekers attempting to allow the Bible to read them.