Taking advantage of this publishing medium, Chuck has added a couple of lines. Hey, if one believes in progressive revelation, perhaps one can update ones ideas about revelation too. . . . Updates in bold.
By Charles Scriven, president of Kettering College of Medical Arts and chairman of Adventist Forum.
The preamble to the church’s official non-creed, the “Statement of 28 Fundamental Beliefs,” declares that, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, revision of these beliefs “may be expected.”
As a reading of John 16:12-15 suggests, this is in full accord with the spirit of Christian Scripture.
The preamble’s relevance is nowhere clearer than in the very first of the 28 fundamental beliefs, where the topic is the Adventist theory of the Bible. In a way that is in part helpful, but on the whole misleading and dangerous. Belief number one declares:
The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration through holy men of God who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. In this Word, God has committed to man the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God’s acts in history. (2 Peter 1:20, 21; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17; Ps. 119:105; Prov. 30:5, 6; Isa. 8:20; John 17:17; 1 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 4:12.)
Within the Bible itself you find the firm conviction that Scripture does reflect the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But you nowhere find that God’s inspiration of human authors entails that the Bible is “infallible,” or that (all) the written words constitute—themselves—the “standard of character” or the “test of experience.”
If you embraced the current statement on Scripture, you could be excused for supposing that genocide may be acceptable to God, or the satisfactions that accompany revenge, or the policy of keeping women silent in church. You can appeal to words in the Christian Bible, after all, to support all these things. But you can also appeal to the Bible to contend against them.
So if the Bible is infallible—all its bits and pieces God’s timeless truth—you have to pretend some parts are not really there, or dream up rationalizations to explain what is there, or suppose that God is divided. But this latter flies in the face of the conviction, expressed in Hebrews 13:8, that Jesus Christ, God’s self-revelation, “is the same yesterday and today and forever.”
Based on internal evidence, then, it’s clear that the Bible is not an anthology of divinely perfect sentences. And this internal evidence includes, too, what Bible writers say about their own understanding. The author of Isaiah 55:8 declares, without a pinch of equivocation, that God’s thoughts are “higher” than ours. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul writes, “Now I know only in part.” So to say Scripture is “infallible” is to deny Scripture’s own testimony.
When you pay attention to the book, instead of accepting assumptions from elsewhere, you see that the Bible is a story about Israel and its impact on the wider world. As the author of 2 Timothy 3:16 declares, the whole story is “inspired” and “useful.” It is a God-aided interpretation of one small, critically important slice of human experience. That interpretation plants a vision of what we can be, and what our society can be; it engenders hope and passion so we can shoulder the responsibilities the vision sets before us. It helps us be the best that we can be. But no one—no one inside the Bible—believes everything said there is perfect.
The author of Hebrews 1:1-3 says what needs to be said: God “spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son”; this Son is the “exact imprint of God’s very being.”
Think about these remarks. They take for granted the idea of Scripture as a story; and they remind us that the story goes somewhere: it takes us to Christ, who, unlike anyone else, puts God’s will and way—finally—into perfect focus.
So to be a competent reader of the Bible you have to follow a story. You look for what is going on (warts and all), and notice the direction the story is taking. Then you interpret the whole story in light of its goal.
This is not at all like leafing through an anthology of perfect sentences. On the view I am suggesting, if you have a difficult son, and you put your finger on a random text that says, “If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son…all the men of the town shall stone him to death” (Deuteronomy 21:18-21), you stop before you act. This was once thought to be God’s will, but the whole story leads to Christ, and now those who embrace the story live their lives, as Paul said in Philippians 1:27, “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” This is where the story takes you. It is why our pioneers embraced non-violence—just what Jesus taught and embodied—even though the stories of some Bible heroes make bloodshed seem like the will of God. It is why we embrace the ministry of healing—just what Jesus taught and embodied–even though, in 2 Chronicles 16:12, Asa is reproached for seeking “help from physicians.”
The old “key-text approach,” with its assumption of infallibility, is bankrupt. But when you follow the story, the Bible—Old Testament and New; the whole account—retains its authority. And it retains its power to transform how we see and feel.
In the spirit of the aforementioned preamble, I propose, therefore, the following revision of belief number one:
“The Christian Bible is the church’s highest written authority. For the shaping of the church’s conviction and shared life, the story it tells is wholly inspired and wholly useful, a trustworthy window into how God thinks and what God does. The story moves from creation through the call of Abraham and the witness of the prophets to Jesus, the zenith of Jewish generosity and, by his death and resurrection, the final revelation of God’s will and way, the wholly sufficient standard of character and test of experience.”
My list of supporting Bible passages would include many from the current statement and would add (this is crucial!) Hebrews 1:1-3 and Philippians 1:27.
See what you think.
And keep in mind that while there is no single, valid theory of the Bible—mine is just a conversation starter—it does not follow that any theory will do. I am arguing that this much is irrefutable: the current statement needs revision such as the preamble says we may expect.