“Tell All the Truth, but Tell it Slant”: Part One

This is one of the few tangible pieces of information I trace directly to high school and remember as though it were yesterday.  I can recite in entirety this short Emily Dickinson poem.  That I apprehended some great truth in it as an adolescent, and that such truth has remained intact is a marvel I can’t explain.

But this poem came to mind as I read two articles today – one an online article in the Christian Science Monitor regarding myths about the Bible, and the other an article from The Salt Lake Tribune entitled 12 Myths about Mormonism.  Both are examples of how we all tell the truths as we want to see them, and sometimes that results in less truth than fiction.  But of course even to make that assertion, I have to admit that I do the same thing, which means I am inclined to read what others write or hear what others say in light of my own beliefs.  Quite the conundrum.
Because it’s going to take some time to work through these, I’ll break it into two posts.  I’ll start with the article I came across second.  
The piece on the Bible strikes closer to home for me, since it deals with the bedrock of my faith and understanding of the world around me.  Here are the ten myths the article seeks to dispel, along with my response:
1.  The Bible is drier than the Mojave Desert – The article by Lyle Young starts with an interesting assertion – the Bible is “just a bunch of words”.  This seems like a strange way to begin your response.  It directs that the written word – any written word – is somehow only the conglomeration of its parts.  Are the works of Shakespeare also “just a bunch of words”?  What about the words of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science?  If any writing is “just a bunch of words” then how is it that Mr. Young finds his vocation in putting them together?  Does he expect his readers to derive meaning and value from them that transcend the pixelated squiggles and lines?  I trust he does, so this is an odd way to start as it denigrates all writing and therefore all efforts at communication (since oral tradition is still “just a bunch of words” as well).  
If we assume that words communicate meaning, than the fact that writing or speaking is a collection of words holds value and purpose.  Monkeys on typewriters might assemble “just a bunch of words” because they hold no purpose or meaning in their assemblage, even if they happen to make sense here and there to our ears.  But when a human being assembles words to communicate ideas, they aren’t just a bunch of words any more.
Is the Bible dry in places?  Sure it is.  Is all of it dry?  Hardly!
2.  The Bible Teaches Religiosity, not Spirituality – This implies a distinction and a judgement – religiosity (or specific spirituality, if you will), is bad, while spirituality is good.  If the Bible were just teaching religiosity, it would be of marginal value, if any.  But if it teaches spirituality (which I hear infer to mean providing food for thought that we can rework any way we like), then it has use.  I’d argue that the Bible teaches both.  The Old Testament is full of religiosity – the specific rites and rituals and practices and beliefs that the people of God were to follow.  That religiosity is based in profound spirituality and is the manifestation of such spirituality, but this is a causal connection our culture refuses to acknowledge.  Likewise, the New Testament has some specific teachings on points of doctrine and Christian life that make it religious, but again, that religiosity is founded upon spirituality – you can’t divorce the two in that direction (you can be spiritual and not have it make any real impact on your thoughts or actions, and that appears to be what most spiritual people prefer, in my experience).
3.  The Bible is Antiwomen – Another hot button issue.  The author defends Scripture against this allegation, but does so apologetically, noting that the Bible does set behavioral expectations for women (as it does for men).  The assumption being that if the expectations for men and women differ, then the Bible can be seen as antiwomen.  This whole topic can’t even be dealt with succinctly because our culture and Scripture make completely different assertions about the nature of equality.  Scripture maintains the stance that equal does not mean identical.  Our culture has defined equality exactly the opposite way.  By cultural standards and definitions then, the Bible will sound antiwomen at times (and antimen, for that matter).  I maintain however, that our cultural definitions should not be assumed to be any more valid and binding than Biblical definitions!
4.  The Bible is Exclusivistic – another classic arena of conflict.  The Bible must be open to everyone on everyone’s terms.  It is not allowed to define the terms because in doing so it becomes exclusivistic, is the charge against it.  A charge that conveniently ignores the exclusivism this very definition creates.  
The Bible is very exclusivistic in many ways, meaning that it describes a God who has no qualms about choosing one people over another for particular purposes.  He calls Abraham.  He builds a people from his descendants and enters into a relationship with them that is unique in all of human history.  The Word of God becomes incarnate as a single human male at a particular time and place in human history and geography.  Exclusivisim in the most literal sense is rampant in Scripture.  
At the same time, the heart of Scripture is inclusive.  Abraham is chosen for a purpose, and that purpose is the blessing of all the world – not just his family (Genesis 12:1-3).  The Word of God becomes flesh and blood so that any who believe might be saved (John 3:16).  The love and forgiveness of God are available to all people, but on God’s terms (which are universal), not our own (which favor our own preferences and ways of doing things).  
5.  The Bible Says that People Who Aren’t Christian Are Just Plain Wrong – This is really just a restatement of the previous point.  Since we don’t (culturally) want a Bible that is exclusivistic,  then it must be shown to be otherwise, even though it clearly is exclusivistic in the claims it makes about our world and ourselves and God.  The author’s way of defending Scripture is interesting – he quotes Acts 10 and the story of Peter’s visit to the Gentile Roman Cornelius.  
The author asserts that this is evidence that God welcomes everyone based on each individual’s personal righteousness.  But to do this, the Mr. Young omits the heart of the story, vs. 36-48.  It isn’t Cornelius’ personal righteousness that saves him, but the hearing of the Word of God, by which the Holy Spirit of God is receive
6.  The Bible Teaches That We’ll Go to Hell if We Don’t Accept Jesus as Our Personal Savior – another variation on the same exclusiveness issue from the previous two points, but this one drives to the real heart of the matter.  Is Jesus the only way to God or not?  Since the author clearly doesn’t like the sound of such an exclusive claim, he looks for a way to deny it.  He places the issue of salvation on whether we “think and live the way that Jesus did”.  
But the point of Scripture is that we can’t do this – none of us can, including Jesus’ closest friends & family.  We are saved rather by the grace of God through Jesus Christ (John 3:16 again), and this is the “word” that Jesus is referring to in the verses the author quotes from John 8.  Agreed, Scripture doesn’t say a lot about hell – certainly not nearly as much about it as many ministers have wanted to say about it!  But it does direct us to Jesus as the way of salvation.
7.  The Bible Contributes to an Unhappy Status Quo in Societies Around the World – What the heck does this even mean?!?  The author talks about slavery and civil rights to defend the Bible against this nebulous charge, neglecting to mention that  the Bible was also used by supporters of slavery and discrimination to back their positions.  Which seems to demonstrate less the Bible’s effect on society and more the dangerous nature of human use of the Bible in society.  
8.  The Bible is Old Fashioned and Is Becoming Obsolete – Again, this is a massively open-ended and nebulous statement.  It is often made by people who don’t want to think through more clearly their objections to Scripture, or as a general grab-bag intended to imply a variety of allegations about Scripture.  Often these allegations are related to sexual practices, gender roles, and marriage.  The author defends the Bible on the grounds of the influence it has in legal conceptualizations.  
But the core message of the Bible is not how to behave, but how to be saved.  It deals primarily with our existential situation of never measuring up – not only to God’s standards but even to our own standards.  It describes why this is the case, dispels foolish notions that we can ever change this of our own efforts, whether through secularism or reincarnation or strict adherence to the law, and tells us that what we can’t do for ourselves has been given to us in Jesus Christ.  This message never grows old because we never measure up, we are always dealing with the guilt and regret of lives that don’t match our own hopes and dreams, let alone the perfect standard of God!
9.  The Bible Should Be Interpreted Literally – If this is true, then there are a whole lot of churches in trouble who have opted to spiritualize certain teachings to make them more palatable!  And because the Bible is such a large and diverse book, getting into the issues of exegesis and how to read Scripture carefully and properly can’t be dealt with and the author doesn’t.  Rather, he makes the dangerous move of asserting that the Bible can’t be taken literally – at all.  In which case, why are we basing our legal systems on it, as he asserts in the previous point?  If the Bible has no literal application, then we are left with basically inventing faith on our own.  Not all of the Bible can be taken literally, but a great many parts of it should.  Learning how to read it faithfully and intelligently is a lifelong process that should not be dismissed so callously!
10.  You Could Study the Bible for Centuries, But it Can Never Save You from Dying – What do you mean by death?  The author reflects the Christian Scientist understanding that the Word of God helps us to discern illusion from reality in our day to day life, freeing us from the illusions of illness and suffering and perhaps even death itself (though nobody other than Jesus was able to reach that level of understanding).  
This allegation is interesting, because no where in Scripture is someone who is sick or suffering or diseased or dying told that they simply don’t understand reality.  No where does Jesus teach a person in order to heal him.  Jesus heals people who are actually sick.  He raises people from the dead who have actually died.  These conditions are real, and nowhere does Jesus assert that they aren’t.  

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