Like some of you, I grew up being taught that the Bible is the sole source of truth. I was taught that most everything in it was written literally, it should be taken literally, and that all truth claims can be evaluated by checking it against the authority of Scripture. This is the evangelical version of Solo Scriptura. Many church teachings are based on this view and our society is saturated with this image of scripture and church.
There are some obvious, and less obvious, conflicts that have arisen due to this view. The most obvious one is the creationism vs evolution debate, but others include sexual and gender morality, the historicity of the Bible, the age of the earth, and climate change, among others still. These conflicts arise from the dissonance between how we have read/taught the Bible and the current state of observations and reasoning about our world.
How do you think this dissonance plays out? How many people are leaving the church because the church’s teaching on these issues makes no sense to them? Then there are people who willing to lock into the as-is understanding of the Bible and stick with the church. Many of these people take to defending the church’s teaching on these issues because they have been told that the truth of Christ’s love rests on that understanding of the Bible, turning these issues into hills to die on.
Or many still feel trapped in one camp or the other, not being able to honestly participate in a religion so hostile to reason or not being able to accept extra-Biblical truth claims that might undermine something they have come to know and love. This polarization ultimately has created opposing groups, a series of echo chambers, as dissenting voices leave to go somewhere where people believe what they do, where they can hear their opinion repeated back to them.
The problem with evangelical Solo Scriptura isn’t that people who can’t accept it are leaving; it is that by its very nature, it is a defensive posture towards the truth. There is no productive truth search in it. It can only use comparison criteria to evaluate observations (if it conflicts with how we read the Bible, it must be false). This truth guardianship allows only truth claims that match up with the established authority, church tradition in this case. No truth may be discovered, no authority overridden, no understanding improved; there is only the effort to protect, guard and preserve.
Disagreements are only resolved by what authorities say about them. There is no way to know if one authority is greater than another. Why is the church tradition you follow the right one?
Questions are answered by only by consulting authorities. Since when is that a productive contribution to the search for truth? Have we improved our understanding of reality by only accepting observations and claims that align to our current understanding?
Believing something does not make it real. The Bible is a collection of historical records, literature, and correspondence. We, as humans, will never be able to validate most of the claims inside of it, but we can let it inform our understanding of ourselves, of humanity, and of God. Likewise, as we gain understanding of reality by observation and reason, we must let our growing understanding of reality inform our understanding of the Bible.
I haven’t written as much this year because I have struggled to root out the ideas and biases that have given me any reason to think that there was some sort of finality to my understanding. As I became more confident about my understanding of theology, I became less confident that my understanding could ever give me real footing in the presence of a truly holy God whose reality we are only beginning to understand. I have re-read familiar books of the Bible and seen my long held beliefs and church traditions crumble. Many of these things I have refrained from sharing because I cared too much about what other Christians think of me.
I have no desire to remain a truth guardian. Jesus was not a truth guardian, during His time on earth, He challenged the religious (Pharisees) and political (Roman) truth guardians, upset long held cultural traditions, sent His disciples out to proclaim the truth He was privy to, all in the name of liberating humanity from our slavery. Paul spent all his time telling others about the truth he encountered about Jesus and helping early Christians understand how we can follow Jesus’ example. Paul’s search for truth brought many productive methods to follow Christ’s example. Paul was not a truth guardian.
So I will write what I learn. You are welcome to validate, criticize, converse with me as you please. One of my dear friends often accuses me of answering questions as if writing in an answer on a multiple choice test. I hope I can contribute to all of you ideas that maybe weren’t options before.