On Wholesale Biblicism

The Biblical Authority ConversationI have believed for years that a person must either accept the Bible wholesale, or reject it entirely. It was a conclusion I came to in high school as a reaction against the hypocrisy of  Christians who opposed homosexuality. I decided “I [would] not treat religion like an ideological buffet.” I would either accept the Bible wholesale, adjusting my understanding of the text as necessary, or reject it entirely.

My conclusion was simultaneously a matter of integrity and respect. I had too much integrity to cherry pick my verses and doctrines, and respected Christianity too much to excuse the practice in others. I have held this absolutist philosophy regarding scripture for several years now, but yesterday my philosophy professor, Dr. Silver, challenged my conclusion in a way it had never been challenged before. The result was hope.

Around the same time I embraced what I’ll henceforth refer to as wholesale Biblicism, I decided that the Bible was not a scientific authority, and began the process of releasing myself from the bondage of literal creationism. Thus, my wholesale Biblicism was framed in my understanding of the Bible’s function: a compilation of writings meant to serve as a moral authority for its adherents. On issues of morality, which naturally touched my social doctrine, I believed the Bible must be accepted wholesale.

Eventually, however, I had to further define my position. Soon, I didn’t feel bound to accept social conclusions that could be honestly put down by cultural, historical, or contextual arguments.

Finally, I felt that the innate imperfections that demanded such cultural, historical, and contextual arguments bound me to reject scripture entirely as an objectively true moral authority. Discouraged, I began to distance myself from scripture altogether.

Logic says that faith in scripture is ultimately an appeal to one’s own good judgment. Barring fate or Calvinistic predestination, faith in scripture translates to faith that my own capacity to reason will lead me to place my faith in worthwhile things. This is true whether I embrace scripture, or reject it. If I embrace scripture, I must believe it is worth embracing based upon some internal metric of ‘faith-worthiness.’ This metric could be experience, or reason, or a combination of factors, but ultimately it is a tool of evaluation that leads to decision. In other words, faith is a choice.

I want my choices to be informed.

Faith non stop

Faith non stop (Photo credit: gonzalo_ar)

Yesterday Dr. Silver asked the class, “Why can’t I say, as a Christian, that parts of the Bible are wrong? Why can’t I reject that which does not hold true, but still hold on to the wisdom it offers for my life?” In that moment I realized, I don’t know.

I have long felt uncomfortable with the Jeffersonian approach of using reason to find the ‘diamonds in the dunghill,’ cutting and keeping as I see fit. But I’m already making choices about what is worthy of my faith. What constrains me to throw the baby out with the bathwater, if there is indeed wisdom to be found? Just as I need not accept Dawkins’ attitude towards religion to embrace his science, the very same human imperfections that led me to distance myself from scripture give me license to evaluate it piecemeal. Just as I need not discard everything a pastor or politician has to say just because one of their arguments doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

I don’t know what this means for my relationship with scripture in the future. But I feel as though old doors have been reopened for me. I feel as though I need to reevaluate how I examine scripture, and I don’t know what the result will be.

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