The Last 15 Years – An Ever-Evolving Faith
At UBC I studied in the department of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious studies for 13 years––at first as a part time undergrad majoring in Classics (Greek and Latin language studies), but then as a full-time grad student majoring in Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judaism. I completed my M.A. in Religious Studies in 2018 and then focused on the Old Testament and the Dead Sea Scrolls at Trinity Western University for most of the next two years.
My understanding of the biblical texts, and thus my personal theology, has been transformed not only through my exposure to, and involvement with, academia but also as the result of the cumulative impact of my personal experience as a follower of Jesus (almost 45 years now) and as minister of the gospel of Christ (almost 35 years). The bottom line for me was (and is) this: evangelical and fundamentalist theologies teeter precariously on the focal point of faith in an inerrant Bible; which is not what we have. Nor can it be proven that any of the biblical texts were ever inerrant. My studies have convinced me that the biblical texts are not univocal but multivocal, and no amount of hermeneutical gymnastics can result in turning the Bible into a harmonized anthology. Additionally for me, much of the theology that results from believing in an inerrant Bible doesn’t match up with my real life experience. In fact, I’ve observed that these theologies result, at times, in more hurt than they do hope and help. These theologies, in my opinion, limit the good that people of faith can accomplish in this world and are used, sadly, by some to justify and perpetuate intolerance, exclusion, prejudice and even violence in the name of God under the guise of righteousness.
What we believe the Bible to be, impacts directly how we understand its portrayals of God, Jesus and the church, and thus determines how we will choose, and strive, to live in this world. The proof of one’s theology is found, not so much in the words one says, but in the life that theology leads one to live. As the saying goes, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Or to put it in Jesus’ words, “A good tree produces good fruit” and “By their fruit you will know them.”
I am convinced that most Christians have little to no idea of how the Bible they read and trust came into being. They act as if the Bible, complete and inerrant, dropped out of heaven at some point, so that any concern about inaccuracies, inconsistencies and contradictions is unwarranted and any questioning of its inerrancy is akin to blasphemy. The Bible, it is claimed, gives us a clear, consistent and completely factual picture of who God is and what God’s will is, especially via the life, words and deeds of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel accounts.
However, I am now convinced, that I don’t need to defend God, Jesus, or the Bible, or even my personal understanding of God, Jesus or the Bible. Rather, through honest and consistent questioning I can wrestle with the experiences, reflections and convictions of those who authored, preserved, edited and collected the biblical (and extra-biblical) texts. I can also acknowledge and wrestle with my own experiences, reflections and convictions as I strive to realize and to internalize a theology that results in the best version of me possible, that is, in living a life of love. And I can learn, also, through respectful discussions with other people of faith, whether or not I agree with every understanding they hold to.
I see that the greatest common denominator for people of faith is love. In 1 John we read these words (4:13–17):
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son, [as] a reconciliation for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit (emphases are mine).”
In Ephesians (5:1–2) these words were written for our exhortation: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (emphases are mine).
Paul wrote in Galatians 5:7: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision has any power, nor uncircumcision, but [only] faith through love working effectually.” Here’s one more Paul quotation for good measure: “But now remain faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.