My Black History

Photo: Pexels

Photo: Pexels

What is the Bible?

Most churches or faith communities have some sort of roadmap that they look to for guidance and direction in matters of faith and practice. At our church, we look to the Bible for such things, provided that our “looking to” is tempered with reason and compassion. If it isn’t tempered with such things, it has (in my estimation) the potential to be one of the most confusing, divisive pieces of writing in the world.

One must work diligently to make sense of scripture, as a plain reading of its pages will leave so many of us just scratching our heads and invoking the Tooth Fairy.

  • Is the Bible inspired? Sure.

  • Is it inerrant? No.

  • Is it infallible? Absolutely not.

  • Is it a useful guide in faith and practice? Ummm, yes, it can be.

What we call “the Bible” today is a pre-selected mashup of history, myth, metaphor, and story written by numerous authors, most of whom never met the others, over the span of hundreds of years.

Any book compiled in such a manner would certainly demand a skillful interpreter to make sense of. And herein lies the difficulty of scripture. With a book like this, with so many pages, filled with so many inspirations, from so many different authors, from so many different time periods, if the reader were so inclined, I would imagine they could select portions of it to support any belief that they wanted it to.

Make no mistake about it. One can read through the pages of holy scripture and in them find passages to support awful things. like the public execution of homosexuals, the suppression and silencing of women, and the right to own slaves. Yes. The Bible teaches these things in its pages.

It also teaches us to love our enemies, to care for the sick and the poor, and to treat people better than they deserve.

It’s an absolute mess, for sure. One could even call it, schizophrenic. But if we thoughtfully, and prayerfully navigate its pages, there are many things in it that we can use to form (and inform) our beliefs about God and the world.

What is a Christian?

When people ask me if I’m a Christian, I always answer them the same way; “Maybe. That depends on what you mean by the word ‘Christian.’” In one instance, my answer might be “yes,” but in another, it might be “no.”

I define the word, “Christian” as “one who does their best to live their life according to teachings of Jesus Christ.” Of course, Jesus is not the only person whose teachings I subscribe to in my life. I’ll implement anything into my belief system that makes for a better world and for all those in it. But I continue to go back to the teachings of Jesus as a kind of “baseline.”

The Bible Interpretation of Jesus

Jesus said many profound things. He is also, at times witty, sarcastic, and/or stern. But the one thing that stands out to me in his teachings above all else is how he managed to come away with the God that he did from the pages of scripture.

Mind you, as Jew, during the time period in which he lived, he is only interpreting what we now call, “The Old Testament,” as the New Testament wasn’t written down during his lifetime. But I think that makes his method of interpretation even more meaningful, as The God of The Old Testament often appears to be, as Dawkins once put it,

...arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
— Richard Dawkins

And if you read through The Old Testament, there among its many verses about mercy and kindness, you’ll also find ghastly things that are incongruent with anything good at all.

Then Jesus arrives on the scene of history and starts talking about his “Heavenly Father” who is gentle, kind, and forgiving. No wonder he caused such a stir in his own religion. No wonder he was killed. It was blasphemy— as as if he was talking about a different God altogether. But he wasn’t.

When asked about scripture, at that time called, the writings of “The Law and The Prophets” Jesus responded eloquently.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
— Matthew 22:34-40

The word “hang” in this passage can also be correctly translated from the Greek as “depend.”

Think about what Jesus is saying here. All of scripture is dependent on love. If love isn’t part of one’s interpretation of scripture, the interpretation is incorrect.

My friend Amy once said it this way,

Anytime the Bible is quoted to defend behavior that is not motivated by love, something is wrong.
— Amy Butler

 
Ryan Phipps is the Senior Minister at Church In Bethesda.  Raised in the church, becoming a pastor was the one thing Ryan vowed he would never do. After spending many years away from faith, he found that for all of its flaws, the church can still occupy a unique place of good in the world if it is willing to evolve with reason and empathy.  Ryan has a special place in his heart for those who have been damaged or disillusioned by the church, and longs to lead those within it toward a more just and generous expression of itself.  Ryan is an  INTJ  on the MBTI and a  5w4  on the Enneagram.

Ryan Phipps is the Senior Minister at Church In Bethesda.

Raised in the church, becoming a pastor was the one thing Ryan vowed he would never do. After spending many years away from faith, he found that for all of its flaws, the church can still occupy a unique place of good in the world if it is willing to evolve with reason and empathy.

Ryan has a special place in his heart for those who have been damaged or disillusioned by the church, and longs to lead those within it toward a more just and generous expression of itself.

Ryan is an INTJ on the MBTI and a 5w4 on the Enneagram.

Ryan Phipps