Science and Scripture
Insisting we take the Bible literally is a relatively new, and often bad, idea.
For the great majority of the Church’s history we let scripture speak to us in rich metaphor and symbol, in evocative, poetic, spiritual and life-changing fashion. We knew that God’s Word, speaking through the Bible but not perfectly synonymous with it, was something to treasure and to pursue…with all we’ve got. From faithful readers dating back to the early centuries of Christendom we can read about scripture functioning on many different levels.
From the early desert Fathers on there have been scholars and lovers of the Bible who dismissed reading certain texts literally (Genesis’ Creation account, the Flood, and Jonah’s Whaling among others). Today still we pray (or sing at Genesis) a prayer of illumination. We want God’s Word, found also in surprising and secular places, to enlighten us and guide us. We work hard to remain open to it!
Then at the start of 20th century as modernism was changing the way we saw so much of life there started a reaction to new claims about how the Bible came to be. This reaction to the Historical Method came to be known as fundamentalism. It was an attempt to maintain the Good News some thought was being lost to history and scientific inquiry.
What spread formally in America with the help of key Presbyterians (!) was an attempt to get back to the fundamentals of the faith. Here’s a list of the fundamentals commonly recommended to be the baseline of Christian Faith:
- the inerrancy of Scripture
- the literal nature of Biblical Accounts (esp. creation & miracles)
- the Virgin Birth of Christ
- the Bodily Resurrection and Physical Second Coming of Christ
- the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross
So then. I am zero for five on this list personally. That may well surprise and/or disappoint some folks. It would be a problem indeed and reason for me to resign were it not for the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly which has on numerous occasions (starting in 1924 and again in 1927) voted to not affirm such a list as fundamental to Christian Faith, but rather to affirm the need to maintain room for interpretation on all these counts.
Some call these votes over the past 90 years the greatest calamity in a declining denomination, a failure to declare clearly what we believe. Others of us call them the reason we can remain Presbyterian! I have learned in decades of studying scripture’s writing and development that to call it inerrant is impossible and not true to its intent and character. I believe, along with many other faithful Christians, that the Biblical accounts of the miracles, birth, resurrection and second coming are rich with symbol and spiritual truths.
There are important historical elements to these accounts! But faithful followers of Jesus can differ considerably both on what exactly happened historically and what it means today. I love this ongoing discovery and conversation!
Genesis enjoys using the Historical Critical Method, Literary Criticism, Psychology, Sciences of all types (!) and any human tools we can get our hands on to help us Understand (as well as Stand Under) the powerful guiding and changing force of God’s Word in the Bible.
I am a Bible Believing Preacher. But probably not in the way that term is usually used!