Shaney Irene

On Faith, Life, and Being the Church


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Defensiveness Is Not A Virtue

The Modern age has been good to Christians.

Modernity has, for the most part, been very hospitable to Christianity. It emphasized things like the scientific method, objectivity, logic, and absolute truth. Christianity has a lot to offer a world that thinks this way. Apologists from C.S. Lewis to Josh McDowell have used these concepts to argue for the existence of God, the validity of the Bible, and the uniqueness of Christianity. Many Christians have been equipped through the works of these and others to be able to defend their faith if they should ever be called on to do so.

My generation was born and raised as society was going through a shift from modernism to postmodernism. Our teachers and parents, concerned about the rejection of absolute truth, taught us apologetics from an early age. We know how to respond to the toughest of questions, what the weaknesses are in postmodern thinking, and why atheism takes more faith than Christianity.

In many ways, this is good. I’m certainly not speaking against studying, against logic, or against using our brain. But it has now caused a different problem in the church: We’ve become a church full of defensive people.

1 Peter 3:15 is often cited to prove why it is “necessary” for every Christian to know what, and why, they believe and be ready to give “a defense” for their faith. While it was never said explicitly (at least not to me as I grew up), it was implied that those who didn’t study and prepare to defend their faith were disobeying God.

We have acted as if our faith is on trial in a courtroom, and we are all defense lawyers.

We act like the Bible is on trialHere’s the main problem: 1 Peter 3:15 is not talking about giving intellectual or legal arguments for Christian beliefs. 1 Peter was written to a group of Christians that was going through intense persecution by Nero. By saying “Always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you,” Peter wasn’t saying “Be ready to give evidence for why Christianity is true.” He was saying, “Be ready to let people know why you still have hope and joy in the midst of persecution!”

By focusing on on defending propositions about faith instead of sharing why our faith gives us hope, we have created a culture of Christians who are always on guard and easily offended by what they perceive to be attacks on truth. Perhaps I see this more as a blogger (certainly, the internet seems to magnify what are sometimes smaller flaws in culture), but I think that it’s something we all need to be careful of.

God does not need us to be His defense lawyers.

And when we act like He does, we inadvertently cause pain and harm to the Body of Christ. We try to explain away the concerns of those who are asking genuine questions without being willing to sit with them in the tension.

Sometimes “I don’t know” is the best answer.

We hurt Christian unity when we automatically assume that anyone who has a different perspective from us is promoting dangerous ideas, without first being willing to ask questions and have a conversation.

Jesus said we would be known by our love.

We do the world a great disservice when we act like Christianity has nothing to offer a postmodern generation. Sometimes winning a person over to Christ is not done by explaining the truth (or defending the concept of truth), but showing the truth through our works of faith.

Defensiveness is not a virtue.

I speak to myself as much as you. As a former competitive debater, I know how to use logic to rip others’ arguments to shreds. But the Jesus I find in the Bible didn’t do that. Jesus was humble, not defensive. And according to 1 Peter 3:15, that’s the attitude we need to have when we share the reason for our hope–with gentleness and respect.


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Links for Learning, October 20

Christianity Today‘s list of the Top 50 Women Shaping Evangelical Culture is finally available online.

[Trigger Warning: Rape, Sexual Assault] Dianna Anderson talks about rape culture and how sadly commonplace it is. Rape Culture: The Monster You Can’t See

Emily Maynard talks about street harassment, what it is, and how to respond in His Words Burned Into My Skin

Preston Yancey speaks up about carelessly interpreting the Bible in Stop Saying Stupid S— About Scripture

Rachel Held Evans explains why differing interpretations of the Bible should cause us to come closer, not drive us apart, in When Our Interpretations Differ. 

The most popular post on my blog this week:

Because “I’m Not Pretty” Came Too Easily

Which links did you find most helpful? What links would you add to this list?

 


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My Personal Struggle with the Bible and Its Interpretation

Y’all have seen Freaky Friday, right (either version works)?

I used to think that writing the Bible was sort of like that. I imagined the Spirit came and supernaturally controlled the bodies of the men as they wrote. I didn’t know whether the men were aware of this or not, but I figured that’s how it happened. After all, “God wrote the Bible.”

Some of you may be laughing, knowing that “inspired” doesn’t mean that God exercised that kind of control over the writing of the Bible. He worked through the writers, He didn’t control them in a way that took their own point of view and creativity out of the equation.

But really, growing up hearing words like inerrancy and verbal, plenary inspiration from the time I was young, what was I supposed to think? Especially when so many people interpreted the Bible like that’s exactly what happened.

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The BibleToday, Trillia Newbell published a review of Rachel Held Evan‘s upcoming book A Year of Biblical WomanhoodThose of you who follow my Facebook feed probably already know that I admire Evans, and thus, am already predisposed to be frustrated with Newbell’s review. But I promise, this isn’t about Evans and Newbell. This post is about my struggles with the Bible and its interpretation.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been re-thinking a lot of things that I grew up assuming. I’ve been pretty vocal about some of these changes, but others I’ve kept pretty quiet. Possibly the change that I’ve struggled with the most is the change in how I’ve viewed the Bible.

Now, I still think the Bible is inerrant, and even infallible. But by that, I mean I believe that the Bible makes no false claims, and that it holds all we need to know to be saved and follow Jesus (I don’t believe it holds all the specifics. After all, we walk by faith, not by sight)  I don’t always agree with how these ideas are applied to the actual study and interpretation of the Bible.

For example, Newbell says in her review:  “I believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God, written by men, inspired by God, infallible in all that it teaches, sufficient for all of life and doctrine, and the very words of God, words from God. And this new book from Evans is a recent example of how this essential truth is lost.”

While I agree that the Bible was written by men and inspired by God, I can’t affirm the idea that all the words in the Bible are “the very words of God.” And I do not believe that everything laid forth by Newbell is “essential” truth (neither the Bible nor the creeds say anything about inerrancy.)

If all the words in the Bible are the very words of God, then what do we do when Paul says it’s him, not the Lord, who’s saying something (1 Corinthians 7:12)? Or what do we do with Psalm 137:9, which says Happy the one who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock!?

Those who agree with Newbell probably have answers ready for those verses. Answers that explain that, “Well, within context, this means…” or “This wasn’t meant to be prescriptive,” or some other answer that requires interpretation, rather than taking those words at their literal, face value.

So how come when someone like Evans explores alternative explanations for passages such as Ephesians 5, taking culture, genre, and historical context into account, she is accused of questioning the Bible’s validity?

The more I have read and explored different views of the Bible, the more evidence seems to pile up that a belief in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Scripture comes with a predetermined set of beliefs. At the very least, it seems to be assumed that if you affirm the beliefs of biblical inerrancy and infallibility, you also affirm that these beliefs are just as essential to the gospel as the deity of Christ or the virgin birth.

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I’m usually not afraid to voice my opinions. But when it comes to my changing views on the Bible, I’ve found myself very scared to do so. I genuinely worry that if I post something related to how I view the Bible, someone will think that I’ve rejected the Bible altogether. In case you think I’m overreacting, this post caused one parent from my church to call another one, asking if they had heard that I had rejected Christianity. So I think I’m somewhat justified in my paranoia.

But I’m tired of living in fear.

I believe, like Evans, that [t]he Bible is a sacred collection of letters and laws, poetry and proverbs, philosophy and prophecies, written and assembled over thousands of years in cultures and contexts very different from our own, that tells the complex, ever-unfolding story of God’s interaction with humanity.

I don’t always agree with the traditional, conservative beliefs on what in the Bible is correct scientifically, what is prescriptive, and what is a direct word from God, rather than a word from man that God determined was important to preserve.

I don’t think that 1 Timothy 5:8 is talking about whether or not men are permitted to be stay-at-home dads.

I don’t think 1 Timothy 2:12 means that women can’t teach men, ever.

And I don’t think that Genesis 1 necessarily teaches that the earth was created in six literal days.

Sometimes, I think that a passage is meant to be interpreted poetically, not literally. Sometimes, I think the men who wrote the Bible were simply describing things the way they understood it at the time. Sometimes, I think commands were for a certain people in a certain context, and don’t automatically apply to us.

Please don’t say I don’t take the Bible seriously. I believe it to be inspired by God, profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. I believe it to be sacred. I believe it to be the most important book I could ever read. I believe it to be living, and active, and sharper than a double-edged sword. I believe that God is present within its pages, and that He uses it to transform lives.

Like Rachel Held Evans, I love the Bible.

And I don’t want to be afraid anymore.