This is the second post in a ten-week series on Brian McLaren's new book, "A New Kind of Christianity." I got the book as part of The Ooze's Viral Bloggers program, and I'm one of many bloggers currently working through the book and entering into dialogue about it. The subtitle of the book is "Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith," and I'm dealing with a different question each week.
In Question #2, the Authority Question, Brian deals with the Bible and our relationship with it. Is the Bible a constitution, an authoritative answer book that can be used to prove or disprove God's will and laws? Or is the Bible a library of works by God's people in many different times and places, interacting with God and attempting to tell the story of God in their context?
He deals with the book of Job as an example of the challenges of the constitutional approach. What do we do with God's discussion with Satan? Is it a literal conversation? Does anyone else have a problem with God telling Satan he can totally destroy Job's life... just to test him? Did you know that this is the first time Satan is mentioned in the Old Testament? Could he be simply a literary device? For that matter, could "God" be simply a character in this drama, perhaps used the same way a modern-day playwright would have God speak or act in a theatrical sense? (Scary and controversial thought, to be sure.)
And what of all the dialogue in the long middle section of Job? Since all of the words of Job's friends are, in the end, discredited by God, does that invalidate their truths for our lives? What about the fact that some of them are quoting the book of Deuteronomy? Does that mean that Deuteronomy is not valid for us? The friends say, again and again, that God blesses the righteous and curses the unrighteous. Job claims his own innocence and uprightness again and again. God shows up in the end and affirms Job... But he does so by asking a series of questions and basically saying that no one can understand God and his ways. Is that the whole point of the book?
Brian would say that the entire book is the point: the wrestling, the disagreements, the contradictory statements, the whole messy thing.
I'll quote Brian at length here, from the end of Chapter 9, "Revelation Through Conversation."
This approach, if you haven't realized it yet, defies both conservative and liberal categories. On the one hand, the conservative constitutional view claims to put us "under" Scripture's authority, yet I'm sure I'm not the only one who has notices that some of the most pompous and defensive people anywhere are found among those who stand and shout, "The Bible says!" Nor am I the only one to notice that before the Bible can serve as a constitution, it must be interpreted as one, which renders amazing authority to those interpreters. The Bible they want to put us "under" tends to be the Bible as they have interpreted it, which unsurprisingly means we are actually under their authority as they stand over us with Bible in hand. On the other hand, the liberal view reacts strongly against all this conservative sleight of hand and largely resists using the language of authority at all when it speaks of the Bible. The liberal view ends up bequeathing a great deal of authority to liberal scholars who deconstruct the Bible, just as the conservative view does to the scholars of its tribe who constitutionalize it.
Perhaps the approach I'm recommending is no better in this regard. But here's what I hope: that this approach will not try to put us under the text, as conservatives tend to do, or lift us over it, as liberals often seem to do. Instead, I hope it will try to put us in the text - in the conversation, in the story, in the current and flow, in the predicament, in the Spirit, in the community of people who keep bumping into the living God in the midst of their experiences and loving God, betraying God, losing God, and being found again by God. In this way, by placing us in the text, I hope this approach can help us enter and abide in the presence, love, and reverence of the living God all the days of our lives and in God's mission as humble, wholehearted servants day by day and moment by moment, even now.
Study questions for "The Narrative Question" here. Enjoy the discussion!