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During my series entitled Redefining Orthodoxy, I attempted to explain how my beliefs–thought seemingly contradictory of what many Christians consider orthodox beliefs–fit within Christian orthodoxy. Based on the amount of dialogue and degree of responses, I would say that the idea which is the most difficult for conservative Christians to accept is my understanding of the Bible and scripture.
I think that conservative Christians often feel threatened by the idea that the scripture is not meant to be taken literally. The most common reaction is some variation of a polarizing questions which offers two answers: either the Bible is entirety as factually accurate and inerrant, or the Bible is a collection of lies and is utterly worthless. The basic premise of this argument is that the in order for a story to have merit, it must be factually accurate.
Unfortunately, such polarization leaves little room for creative imagination, a tragic misuse of the incredible potential of the human mind. This argument breaks down under closer examination. It’s actually not that difficult to understand how a factually inaccurate text may still hold great truth and worth. Anyone remotely familiar with any of the gospels should be able to understand this concept.
Jesus often spoke in parables.
Perhaps there actually was a good Samaritan. Perhaps a father really did have a son who ran off and another who was bitter when he returned. Perhaps a woman actually did lose one of her precious coins. However, I doubt that all of Jesus’ parables were accurate accounts of historical events. I don’t know anyone who interprets them as such today. I doubt that anyone who heard them 2000 years ago interpreted them that way either.
The historicity of Jesus’ parables is entirely irrelevant to their message.
If we can apply such logic to the very words of Jesus, can we not apply it also to the Hebrew scriptures? We may still learn substantial spiritual insights from the Bible without taking it literally. The creation account in Genesis is brimming with theological meaning, despite the overwhelming body of evidence that contradicts it’s historical accuracy. We may learn much from the Exodus without believing that Moses actually parted the Red Sea. The story of Jonah may still offer us significant personal lessons, even it would be impossible for someone to live in a whale’s stomach for three days.
The evidence against the historical accuracy of many such accounts in the Hebrew scriptures is overwhelming. This does not mean that such accounts are devoid of meaning. It is ridiculous to assume that the authors of these texts were writing for the purpose of creating an accurate historical record or to assume that they were using the same standards that we use today.