Amer Dillon,  Bible

The Bible: A Problem for Whom?

Christianity is not the problem, the Bible is. So argues Amber Dillon from The Independent (read the full article here):

I can’t help thinking that some of the Bible’s teachings are irrelevant to modern day life and I feel that it is time for Christianity to move on, and that Christians should accept the Bible as a product of its time… I think Christianity can progress by accepting that the Bible is a piece of History, taking from it what is still relevant (for example equality, treatment of the poor and elderly) and perhaps this could be the start of a modern, understanding religion that more people can believe in.

None of this is new, but the appeal to demote the Bible to a purely human artifact is always attractive to Christians looking for a way to fit into society. There are a number of difficulties with Dillon’s suggestion.

First, the Bible itself claims to be more than a human document. It claims to be the “word of God.”  It is “god-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16) according to Paul, not originating in the will of human beings, but in human beings “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

Second, there is no reason that the Bible cannot be “a product of its time,” “a piece of history” and the word of God to us. In other words, there is nothing antithetical about the Bible being written in one context, about one part of history and, without diminishing either of those properties, be relevant to modern life. One does not have to choose between these options.

Third, who exactly is it that Dillon assumes will decide what is relevant? Without scripture as its own arbiter (along with the internal witness of the Holy Spirit), it falls to someone in the here and now to determine relevance. Dillon’s own suggestions for what is relevant are “equality, treatment of the poor and elderly,” all well and good, but if we are to choose relevance we must choose it according to something, someone or some people’s opinion. And what might this standard be? What exactly determines “relevance”? Whatever it is that we choose will, in fact, become, in practice, our new script, our authority. It is not clear what, for Dillon, this might be. But if a new authority is chosen, one by which we determine the relevance of ancient texts, what is it that determines that the choice is the right one? Surely only God, being omniscient and solely qualified to determine such an authority, could say what standard is right. But, the Bible itself already fits that description.

Finally, may I suggest that the problem lies not with the Bible, but with the human reception of the Bible. It is not that the Bible is irrelevant, but that human beings fail to find it relevant. In other words, the problem lies in the natural propensity of sinful human beings to resist scripture as the final authority over life and meaning. Instead they seek to find an alternative “self-breathed” authority that is up to the task of interpreting life as they experience it. And the trouble with this is that there just isn’t one. The Bible, as I may have said before (since it is the theme of this blog) is the only way to make sense of human experience, of life. 

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.