Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Farewell, 2013

from here
I started working on this post in November; it’s New Years Eve now, which seems like an appropriate time to finish it off. Writing this has felt like the blogging equivalent of wading through mud, and it’s become the longest post in this blog’s history, if not the entire bloggy world (it’s not). I don’t mind; early on I considered breaking it up into bite-size pieces so that you wouldn’t get bored and click away, but I realised I was writing it for my sake, not yours. (No offence.)

At the end of this post (from February this year) I mentioned that in my experience, odd-numbered years generally turn out to be less fun than even ones. Well, 2013 hasn’t let me down, in that it has let me down, although I’m starting to wonder if maybe all this hard stuff is more than random yukkiness and actually life’s way of maturing me a little bit more, so that when I’m 40 I won’t write about poo quite so much on my blog. If this is true, it would mean that 2013 just feels like it’s letting me down when actually it’s growing me up. 2009 was the painful processing of family stuff – what mine was like, what a normal one was supposed to look like, what I wanted for my own family with Alan, and whether that would be possible or I was too profoundly messed up to even consider procreating. 2011 was the painful processing of marriage stuff, and figuring out how to properly knit our lives together now that we were parents. And 2013 has been about faith. It’s been painful. And I’m still processing.

Not long after this spectacularly-badly-timed post, Alan realised his questions and doubts about the Christian faith were too pressing and weighty to be able to continue in his ministry role with any integrity, so he resigned from his job. Since then I’ve felt free to explore my faith in a way I haven’t before, partly because I don’t have to worry anymore that my thinking or the conclusions I come to will compromise Alan’s work in any way (the reason I’ve blogged under a pseudonym), and partly because the spotlight’s currently very much on Alan, so I can get on and quietly ponder while everyone worries about and argues with him.

As I’ve mentioned a few times now, I started this blog to think out loud about the books I was reading on gender roles in the church and home, however recently I’ve realised that, without my noticing, over time my questions have gradually shifted from What does the Bible say about women? to 

How am I supposed to treat the Bible if intelligent and godly people read the very same passages and come to different views on women?


Why do we call the Bible “The Word” when the Bible calls Jesus “The Word” (John 1:1-18, Hebrews 1:1-3)?


What are we supposed to do with the fact that when Scripture talks about Scripture, it isn’t talking about the Bible we’re holding and reading from? Why is this so easily brushed aside (Peter calls what Paul wrote Scripture therefore it’s all Scripture therefore just get on with following it, etc., etc.)?


How do we know where to find truth if all sides answer, “Why, in the Bible, of course!” and yet all of those people understand and apply that same Bible in various contradictory ways?


What is the purpose of the Bible?


What is true?

I thought I was cool with all of the mystery, but its become harder as times passed. Not long ago I was sharing my questions with Alan, and sighing and despairing and wondering if anyone else in the world had even noticed there was a problem with the way we thought about and read the Bible because it seemed so obvious to me that something was amiss but no one else I talked to seemed to mind at all, so maybe I was the problem, and GAH, and he said, “You should totally read that Christian Smith book you bought for me a while ago,” then promptly went to fetch The Bible Made Impossible. I started reading, and my faith will never look the same again.

Smith argues that ‘Biblicism’, the term he uses to describe a set of beliefs and assumptions about the Bible (I’ll summarise those beliefs and assumptions here simply by saying, “What I’ve been taught at every church I’ve ever walked into, from my childhood until now”; if you’d like a less self-centred version, read the book. Do it. You’ll thank me. I think. After you get over all of the unsettledness) is riddled with problems and inconsistencies and is therefore “impossible to defend or employ with integrity”. Smith spends a couple of chapters diving into a gazillion examples of these in case you need to be convinced. I didn’t. The book is like a tidy collection of all of the things that have made me uncomfortable for a long time now – a less whingy, more academic collection, with bonus sociological and linguistic insight and some suggestions for change (including being more okay with mystery)...

A couple of quotes that made me want to track Christian Smith down for a high five (I underlined these in pen [!!] because I was so excited to find someone else pointing them out)(emphasis is his):

So the question is this: if the Bible is given by a truthful and omnipotent God as an internally consistent and perspicuous text precisely for the purpose of revealing to humans correct beliefs, practices, and morals, then why is it that presumably sincere Christians to whom it has been given cannot read it and come to common agreement about what it teaches? I know of no good, honest answer to that question. If the Bible is all that Biblicism claims it to be, then Christians – especially those who share Biblicist beliefs – ought to be able to come to a solid consensus about what it teaches, at least on most matters of importance. But they do not and apparently cannot.

Quite the contrary. Christians, perhaps especially Biblicist Christians, are “all over the map” on what the Bible teach about most issues, topics and questions. In this way, the actual functional outcome of the Biblicist view belies Biblicism’s theoretical claims about the Bible. Something is wrong with the Biblicist picture that cannot be ignored. (Page 26)


Biblicists very often engage in what we might call “uneven and capriciously selective literalism.” Sometimes the Bible says what it says and must be obeyed. Other times the obvious meaning of the passage is relativised by historical and cultural considerations. And it is often not clear for any given interpreter or across different interpreters which is which, when, and why. (page 70)

I set out a couple of years ago to find out what the Bible really said about women in the church and home; it was a fairly arrogant (perhaps naive) goal, considering I already knew people who honoured the Bible and disagreed on this topic. Did I think that the problem was simply that those people hadn’t seriously thought through the passages I’d be studying? I’m not sure.

It’s clear to me now that the Bible is not a handbook that spells out details on topics like this. I’ve treated it this way for a long time. In fact, I’d built my whole faith on the Bible, and questioning its authority and purpose has left me feeling like I’m moving onto shaky and dangerous ground. I’ve grown up in a Christian environment that has (perhaps only implicitly) led me to think of the Bible as if it sits alongside the Trinity on the list of Extremely Important Things. I thought the point of the Bible was to tell us how to do church and finances and marriage and so on. I thought expository preaching was the only kind that took the Bible seriously. I’ve always measured my walk with God by the time I’ve recently spent with and the enjoyment I’ve recently taken from my Bible. If someone had asked me what one thing was necessary for my Christian life and wellbeing, I’d probably have said…? The Bible. CORRECT. The Bible’s been kind of a big deal.

Christian Smith challenges these beliefs and offers (what he calls) a truly evangelical alternative in his book, but Greg Boyd says essentially the same thing in this sermon in language that’s easier for my addled baby brain to cope with:

The purpose of the Bible is to point beyond itself to Jesus Christ. The centre of our faith isn’t a book, it’s a person: the person of Jesus Christ. And we read the Bible and study the Bible and preach the Bible to find the person and to grow in our relationship with the person…

What you can trust the Bible for is to point us to Jesus, that’s what God inspired the Bible for, to point us to Jesus. And if you trust in the Bible to point you to Jesus, you’ll find that it does it very, very well. But if you’re going to the Bible to find your own agenda, well, people get set up in these expectations and they then get disappointed, and they needlessly walk away from the faith or won’t come to the faith because of it. 

Folks, the point of the Bible is to point us to Jesus, it’s to point us to a person, it’s to foster this relationship… it’s to build the kingdom – trust it to do that. Folks fight over inerrancy all the time, inerrancy or infallibility; you know, let it be inerrant about this, this is how it’s inerrant: it will not err in pointing you to Jesus. You can trust it for that. The purpose of my glasses is to look through my glasses to see you, but if I try to use them as a screwdriver, I’m going to get disappointed. Same thing with the Bible! Use it for what it’s there for: to point to Jesus.

I feel like I’ve known this for a while now, but have only just noticed that I know it and now have to actually do something about that knowledge, you know? It’s scary, acknowledging it; it means I have to start over. If my faith was a video game, this year I’ve gone from Advanced back to Beginners level. If my faith was a house, it was one I inherited; it was big and sturdy and comfortable, even the parts that I didn’t like to look at because they didn’t fit together very well. Now I’m starting from scratch in a new place; so far, the only thing I have is a foundation, and just the thought of having to build up some walls is exhausting. I don’t even know how to build the walls, though I think I know how not to. This new house is kinda lonely, and I get rained on and burned by the sun. It’s much harder work than it was at my old place, where I had stacks of housemates and we spoke the same language and I felt like I belonged. (There was a roof there, too, though I don't know what that represents in this metaphor.) I miss that place as fiercely as I don’t want to return to it.

I keep thinking about John Piper’s tweet a couple of years ago about Rob Bell’s at-that-time-unreleased book Love Wins, dismissing Bell from Piper’s orthodox posse. I’ve disagreed with Piper on a few key issues for a long time, but I find myself wondering if we sat down for a milkshake right now and I explained where I was at – the things I don’t understand and the things I can no longer accept – whether he would farewell me too. It’s silly; I always stop myself because a) John Piper’s not Jesus and b) JOHN PIPER’S NOT JESUS. It doesn’t matter what he thinks of me. My head may be a mess of theological categories and questions and fragments and mush, and I may not know much for sure at the moment, but I know this – this is my foundation, the one concrete thing I have, my solid ground: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me that he went through hell so that we could spend an eternity together. That’s it. It’s the one thing that’s kept me here this year, and its where I’ll be in 2014 as well, wheelbarrow in hand, sweaty and achey and teary, building this thing up one brick at a time.


  1. I really like that quote from Greg Boyd. And I think it's worthwhile and brave to start building again. I hope you'll write through the process and share what your house looks like as it takes shape :-). Love you and hope we'll meet at Bunnings (to take the analogy just that bit too far ;-) )

    1. HAHAHA, yes! (I did pause for a while and was all, "Bunnings?!" but then I read on and it all made sense - I really should go to bed.) I love being neighbours with you in this analogy-world. :)