53: So... marry the Bible? (Questions Part 3)
John Piper, Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition say things like "Marry the Bible". Have we made an idol out of the Bible? In the third segment of question and response, Nate and Tim discuss whether the story of the Exodus ought to be taken literally, and more.
Nate: Welcome to Almost Heretical. This is part three of a three part series of questions, your questions. You get to determine what we talk about on the show. We love doing these, and so if you have any questions that you want to have answered or responded to on future episodes, you can email us, firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can go to almostheretical.com and submit your question right on there. You can even record it and send it to us, which is really, really fun. Almost Heretical is a podcast that Tim and I started at the beginning of 2018 because we’ve heard from so many people who feel alone, who feel like they can’t question things, they can’t doubt, they’ve been hurt by theology and doctrine and the religious systems that are at play and they don’t have any safe places to go to talk about these things. And so that’s why we wanted to start the show and that’s why we continue to pour our hours into this each week to make this happen, because we want to give you a voice. We want you to know that you are not alone. And so if you want to help support this work, you can do that at almostheretical.com. Alright, here’s part three of your questions.
Tim: Okay, here’s one from Becky: “Ok probably missed the window for this,” well actually not, we’re getting it in, “But I admire your work and Tim Mackie's! My question is that I heard on another podcast that the biblical story of the exodus is apparently not reflected, not even close, in any other histories of the region. The biblical scholar on that podcast pointed out that for such a massive event (the loss of the firstborns, the loss of such a huge labor force), you would expect something to be said, even if you would probably expect it to be reframed. That seemed very logical to me. So, I've been learning through several podcasts about the Bible and how the Bible works is not as "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth" and not as some kind of camcorder footage. But on the other hand, many times throughout the Bible, God's faithfulness in bringing his people out of Egypt is among THE most important events if not the single most important event in the Hebrew people-Yahweh relationship. So, should we understand that the exodus did happen as described in the Hebrew Bible, or could it still reflect God's faithfulness if what is recorded is only roughly what happened, a people's collective memory of what happened? Thanks!”
Nate: Hold on, wait for it, wait for it, wait for it.
Tim: Hit it, Nate.
[song clip from Basic Instructions by Burlap to Cashmere playing]
Nate: Do you remember that?
Nate: Okay, yeah, so there was that song, Christian song “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” Sorry, I had to play it! Um, what’s your response there?
Tim: Oh, uh wait, do you have any thoughts? How’s your relationship with the exodus these days, Nate? I’ve been praying for you.
Nate: [laughing] Uh, my relationship with the exodus…
Tim: How’s your walk with the exodus?
Nate: Do I think it happened or do I think it happened with how it says it happened? I don’t know. I resonate with what Tim Mackie said when he was on our show about, you know, it’s not camcorder footage. But his assessment was that it’s probably pretty close. It’s probably pretty close to what happened, but that the goal isn’t, their goal in writing these things down wasn’t that they got it completely accurate in writing it down. Their goal was something different, so we should look at the something different. That we should look at what they were actually trying to do by writing that, not at the camcorder footage-ness and was it exactly how it happened, was sort of his take. In my assessment. I think I’m probably a little bit farther away from literalism there than he is, so I think I tend to go more in the direction of Pete Enns, Greg Boyd, Brian Zahnd and many others who would say that basically what we have in the Old Testament, what we have in the Hebrew Bible is people learning about who God is, people trying to figure that out, writing things that in some cases weren’t actually what happened. Or they thought it was God telling them to go wipe out the Canaanites but it wasn’t actually the heart of God to do that, but they attributed it to Him. Stuff like that going on, and then when we get to Jesus we have the true revelation of the character and the nature of God. That’s where those guys would land on that, and I think I’m closer to that probably. But as far as did this actually happen, historically, exactly how it’s written down? I don’t know if that’s, I mean this might sound like a little bit of a cop out, but I don’t know if that’s an important… I think it’s important for us sometimes to know the answer to that. We want to know from an American western perspective, we want to know facts. Did something historically happen? But we might be missing the whole reason for why that’s even included. I don’t know. That’s probably completely a cop out, huh?
Tim: No, I think Becky ends her question with I think what is the central question. She says, “So, should we understand that the exodus did happen as described in the Hebrew Bible, or could it still reflect God's faithfulness if what is recorded is only roughly what happened, a people's collective memory of what happened?” Regardless of what you say, Nate, or what I say, that’s the question that everybody’s got to answer for themselves. Like, for you, can it still reflect God’s faithfulness? You know? The biblical text, the story that we have, the facts in the story claim that 600,000 middle aged men left Egypt. Israelite men. Meaning somewhere between two, three, four million people, supposedly, Israelites, left and fled through a miraculously separated sea. There is zero archaeological evidence that this happened. So eventually, for many of us, that scientific fact or the lack of evidence or support where there should be some sort of testimony is going to kind of niggle at our sense that this is truly history.
Nate: Did you say—did you say niggle?
Tim: I said niggle. Yep.
Nate: I’ve never heard that word before. Is that a word?
Tim: There you go. It is a word. Remember the Leaf by Niggle Tolkien story? Anyway. And eventually it’s going to force most of us into asking that same part of that question: can it still reflect God’s faithfulness if that’s only roughly what happened? And I think the biblical authors to say that yes, it does. And so to me, part of why we did the whole How the Bible Works story is just to show that the Bible’s literature. It functions as literature. It functions as brilliant, carefully constructed, ingenious literature! And that is its meaning, it’s literature. So you know, what you talked about Nate is whether it was “close” to happening. I would say the meaning, the meaning to the ancient Israelites, is close to the meaning for those the Israelites in the biblical story, what it would have meant to them to be miraculously liberated and led through, literally, a parted sea. That the significance in real life to the significance of the story, the characters in the story, is pretty dang close. I don’t think the story was ever trying to tell us facts of what happened. Do I think that you need to believe it didn’t happen or you need to believe it did happen? No, I don’t think it really matters. Again, I think what matters for each person is whether you think that that kind of story can reflect God’s faithfulness or can be a testimony to God’s faithfulness. And the exodus is a big one because you’re right, it is the foundational story for the Hebrew Bible, the Jewish people, and Christianity. All of Jesus as the Great Liberator is based on this story of the exodus. But there are tons of other stories in the Bible that if your only paradigm is, “Is this fact or not fact?” you’re going to get hung up pretty quickly. The paradigm of treating these texts as literature and trying to figure out what the literary significance or meaning of the text is, to me, makes it so I don’t have to worry about some sort of fact claims and I can just enjoy archaeology. Right? I don’t have to be scared about what people dig up or don’t dig up. I can just think it’s pretty cool.
Nate: Oh yeah.
Tim: And that’s, I mean we’ve touched on this in the past, but the reality is, if you believe in Christianity, that Jesus came two thousand years ago and has not come back since, and that for one thousand nine hundred and forty of those years, we did not have the Dead Sea Scrolls, and that it wasn’t until someone dug some stuff up in the desert that we learned a whole lot more about the Bible, Christianity, and the Hebrew scriptures. That’s just facts, is literally our understanding of theology is dependent on what some people dug out of the ground a few generations ago. So incorporate that into your whole big picture.
Nate: You can’t take some and leave the rest.
Nate: Yeah, exactly.
Tim: So anyway, there is, there are very many ways to not go Ken Ham on this one, and just treating this as a significant epic story in the tradition of epic narratives I think is a way of doing that.
Nate: No, but people believe that that’s the faithful way to do it? You know, ignoring. We’ve talked about this on the show before, but ignoring what is dug up, ignoring science, ignoring all this stuff to say, “No, I am going to believe what this chapter and verse says no matter if I look stupid to the world.” Because they feel like that’s what Noah did, “Everyone thought he was crazy and he just kept, Hebrews 11, they just looked completely crazy to the world!” And you know I believed that, I taught that. And it’s lifted up as a noble thing to do to ignore facts that you’re seeing around you—or I know people struggle with that word “fact”—ignore the best knowledge we have based on archaeology or if you want to get into science, based on thousands and thousands of studies over the course of many, many years, our best understanding of the way something happened or the way, whatever. Ignoring all that to hold to a chapter and verse is just crazy to me now.
Tim: Right. And just don’t miss the forest through the trees, right? The mystery of where Israel ever came from anthropologically, historically, and the exodus and the flood are some of the greatest challenges to biblicism and the view of the Bible that it’s basically, like you say Becky, “camcorder footage.” It’s always going to be a challenge. And the more science we have, the more biblicism will be challenged. But all of that, trying to defend it, trying to question it, it runs the potential of having missed the point. What other religion, what other people group, what other culture created a foundational story for how they came into existence, their identity-forming story, that was from the bottom? That was slaves who were liberated to freedom rather than a story about why they should be in power? So Egypt had its own origin stories about why they should be justified to be running the world. Babylon had its own origin stories about why they were endowed by the gods with wisdom and weapons and warfare, and that’s why they should be ruling. Rome had its own pantheon version of why they should be in charge. Most of the world’s cultures and religions and people groups have conceived of stories to tell themselves where they came from that most all of them are from above. They’re told by the emperors and the empires, the rulers. What we have in the exodus story, the fact that this is the central story to the Bible, is a central part of why I think the Bible’s worth talking about. If we were reading Pharaoh’s story, Pharaoh’s side of the exodus, I wouldn’t be sitting here doing a podcast on the Bible. I’d say let’s move on, let’s move beyond this empire. The fact that we’re reading the slave’s side of the story I think makes this thing beautiful. So to get hung up on how many there were or whether they actually went through water or not and miss the literary significance that we’re actually reading slave literature for the first time in history, and that this has been some of the most formative literature in mankind is significant and I think is beautiful.
Nate: Okay, we had one more, and then one more came in while we were doing the show.
Tim: Last minute.
Nate: I don’t think that’s ever happened before. We had a live question. Which one should we go to first?
Tim: I don’t know what our options are, so you choose.
Nate: This is “Loki to Zoki”? No wait, hold, let me do that again. Oh, no no, “Loki to Loki” on Reddit. Sorry, okay. This is more of a statement; it’s not really a question. I just thought it was good. “It will take some doing to convince of differing or no faith that they’re not going to get hammered by someone quoting scripture. Christians have a lot of repair work and amends-making to do. This from an ordained protestant minister,” they say. Uh, I don’t really have anything to add to that except after this episode and the things we’ve shared, I think you can hear that we agree with that statement. Want to do the last one?
Tim: Okay this is from Gill: “Hey, I’m so sorry, I think I missed the deadline [frowny face],“ But, ya didn’t, just in the nick of time. “But on the off chance that I haven’t, my question’s related to Mako Nagasawa’s episode on atonement. I’ve been deeply dissatisfied with PSA, which is preached in my church as the only option for a long time, so I was thrilled to hear Mako’s suggestion of the medical atonement theory. I remember Mako saying Jesus saying ‘The Lord and I are one,’ from John 10 shows that Jesus was not left by God. How then should we understand Matthew 27, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ If you get to answering this sometime, anytime, I’d be thrilled. Thanks so much for all your work on this podcast. It has helped me tremendously to find a broader and more hopeful understanding of Christianity. Best wishes from my little corner of the UK. Gill.”
Nate: If you don’t—thanks for the question, Gill. If you don’t know, PSA is penal substitutionary atonement, and for a good explanation of that and explanation of other ways to think about that, go back to Mako Nagasawa’s episode and listen to that. We are not big fans of penal substitutionary atonement, are we Tim?
Tim: Not so much, no. Okay, what are your thoughts? ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’
Nate: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Yeah. I know I’ve heard lots of different things about that. That was when Jesus descended to hell, that was when the Father turned His back, all those types of things.
Tim: [singing How Deep the Father’s Love] “turned his face away...” You remember that song?
Nate: Oh, uh… [singing How Deep] “wounds have paid my ransom.” Yeah.
Tim: [laughing] The most anti-orthodox Christian hymn we would ever sing, and we sang it every week.
Nate: Oh, How Deep the Father’s Love, that’s what it is. Okay.
Tim: About the Father turning His face away from Jesus.
Nate: So boil down, what do you think, what’s the question here? What do you think the question is here?
Tim: Gill’s question? Or you mean just exegetically, what’s?
Nate: Yeah, exegetically, what’s happening here.
Tim: Yeah, well, Jesus is quoted in Matthew’s gospel as being on the cross, saying something. It’s quoted twice, both in Aramaic, and then it’s translated for us into Greek, a quotation of Psalm 22. So the question is—Psalm 22:1—the question is, what is the meaning of this? And does the fact that Matthew quotes Jesus saying this mean that existentially God abandoned Jesus to the cross? Right?
Tim: Or does it not? I think that’s one way of summarizing the question.
Nate: I mean, I don’t know. [laughing] It seems like there could be other ways to interpret that, instead of just this abandonment. Maybe it’s this human moment of Jesus saying, “The systems of the world have just worked their worst against and here I am dying. It looks like that plan doesn’t work. It looks like the good guy got killed and so the vision died, the mission died of changing the world this way. It looks like it didn’t work. Why has this plan, or why have you forsaken me? I thought this was going to work?” Um, I don’t know. You could see it as something like that. Did He, was He abandoned by the Father, was He abandoned by God? I don’t know. You said, okay, hold on! You said he was quoting Psalm 22.
Nate: Is there something more here that we’re missing? Because I think that would potentially help maybe explain what’s going on here, if we got what Psalm 22 was all about.
Tim: Yeah. I mean, so this fits in with the exodus question. To be honest, I think, and I don’t want to sound like pompous... there’s always something we’re missing. Like, always. You know, some of the times I see them, and others will see it sometimes. I miss them, too. But the premise is we read texts singularly, unilaterally, on one plane for one sense, and we read the gospels as essentially historical nonfiction. That’s just not what they are. Again, that’s why we started the How the Bible Works series. The exodus story was not written to document what happened thousands of years ago in Egypt. It wasn’t. It was written to literarily tell a story with great significance, so that that story could be repurposed and reused in future generations. The gospels are not unilateral texts. They are literally, just like we talked about the entire Bible is a mosaic of other pieces, the gospels are three-dimensional mosaics. They’re constantly rearranging old pieces, names, characters, numbers, quotes, words from the Hebrew Bible and even from other popular Jewish texts outside the Hebrew Bible to add layers of meaning onto Jesus’ life. And so anytime there’s a quotation of an Old Testament verse or passage in one of the gospels or in the New Testament, that is a multidimensional sentence or passage. It’s operating on multiple layers of meaning, and so some of this, we miss this again because we haven’t had a chance to get into the book of Psalms and how it functions. I’ve just mentioned that basically you have these Psalms which are basically poems, songs, prayers, that could be written for an individual or a community to read and recite them in a worship service. On one level that’s what they are and that’s what they do, but on another level they serve as literary building blocks where either the character being described in the psalm, or the one being spoken to in the psalm, or the one who is doing the speaking, literally the perspective of the writer or the reader/singer of the psalm, those characters form basically building blocks just as a literary character would, just like Joseph or Moses forms an important piece of the overarching mosaic. So for Jesus, or more importantly for Matthew to put Jesus as the figure of Psalm 22, so that when Jesus is on the cross, what Jesus prays is what the psalmist of Psalm 22 prays, is another way of saying Jesus is the one that this snowball was pointing to all along. Now that only makes sense if we can read the gospels as multidimensional and read the psalms as multidimensional, so that a quotation isn’t just a prooftexting, but actually this layering to say that Jesus was the figure of Psalm 22. Just the way that we could say that Jesus was the suffering servant of Isaiah 52-53, or Jesus was the Son of Man of Daniel, or Jesus was the new Moses. We’re transposing those past stories and characters and their character attributes onto the Jesus story so that we get more meaning out of it. So that’s what’s happening here. This figure, the messianic profile of the book of Psalms, which again, you’re just going to have to take my word for now that that is what the book of Psalms is doing, is creating this messianic profile very similar to the book of Isaiah. I’ve actually got a paper, it might be on our site, you can read it if you’re interested, on specifically Psalm 22 and Jesus’ quotation of it. But the book of Psalms is creating this motif of a character who is the ideal servant of God, the ideal Jew, who surprisingly like Joseph goes through suffering that he doesn’t deserve and then is exalted beyond all belief. It’s creating that profile. But if you’re just reading the text flat you’ll never get it. But by putting those words right at one of the worst, ugliest parts of the entire book of the Psalms, Psalm 22, it’s like one of the bleakest ones there is. At the point of the most utter despair, the sense that God has forsaken God’s chosen one—not just like, “God’s forsaken me. He doesn’t love me, He loves you instead.” Like, the psalmist is His ideal beloved figure and yet even that beloved one has been forsaken. That emotional feeling is what is being captured. So all that to say, I don’t think there’s any reason in the world you need to think that either Jesus or Matthew was construing Jesus as actually being abandoned by God. Definitely, Matthew is trying to construe Jesus as experiencing the emotions of having been abandoned by God.
Nate: But he’s coming back to say… he’s putting those words in Jesus to connect Him to Psalm 22 to connect Him to the whole picture of this messiah figure in Psalms and saying, “Look, this is the one.”
Tim: Right. Exactly. It’s another layer. So in Luke, you have that—
Tim: You know, they all do this in their different ways, which is I think part of the beauty, that we have different attempts at it. But Luke, you have that story at the end of the gospel, you have the disciples on the road to Emmaus and Jesus shows up to them, they don’t recognize Him, and He says, “You fools! Didn’t you know that everything in the Law and the Prophets pointed to me? Everything was pointing to this.” This is Matthew doing the same thing. He’s just doing it without telling us that that’s what he’s saying. He’s doing it through the side door, as it were. I think this stuff is fun. In scholarly world, it’s called intertextual reading, relationships between Old Testament, New Testament. It’s fun, but I think its primary significance is we just have to see that the surface level meaning is not all that there is, and history of the church will show you that if you just go off the surface level meaning, you could get it wrong in some pretty egregious ways. And I could still get it wrong, too, right? My interpretation or how I might want to read Matthew 27 and the story of Jesus on the cross might not be exactly what Matthew had in mind, but at least if we see that it’s complex, that there are multiple angles to come at this thing here, then it’ll kind of open our eyes and give us some humility to question it. So for those who are frustrated with penal substitution, don’t let a text like this keep you frustrated. Or don’t you dare let someone say that because Jesus is said to have quoted Psalm 22:1 that therefore the only way you can construe the gospel is that Jesus was paying a blood sacrifice to an angry God.
Nate: We have one more. One more question. Unless any more come in while we’re doing this question! Okay.
Tim: Last call into the stratosphere.
Nate: Last call. We’re shutting it down. Ken Ryman said: “A thought for this episode…” And by “this episode” I think he’s referring to our Tim Mackie episodes, when we had Tim on the show. “Did ‘we’ as Christians create an idol for the world? We claim God’s word is Jesus, but then God’s word is the Bible. So have we made the Bible into an idol for all to worship, when ‘we’ as Christians attempt to proclaim biblical law to culture?” And an added piece here, “I have to confess. I did struggle through the podcast where you said, the word of God is Jesus… Since what is implied is… ‘The Bible is Jesus and if one doesn’t follow my understanding of the Bible you are rejecting Jesus.’ This is what I am almost heretical about because I no longer believe this. The explanation of the inerrancy ‘myth’ helped me continue.” Yeah, I mean I think we speak out against that a lot on this show, kind of the idea that he said there, that the Bible is Jesus. “If you don’t follow my understanding of the Bible, then you’re rejecting Jesus.” We try to show, like you just said, the bigger complexities of some of these passages and the complexity of the Bible and what’s actually going on here. And I think there was definitely a point when I would have taught that, that you can’t reject this version that I’m sharing of what the Bible means without rejecting the truth. And if you’re rejecting the truth, you’re rejecting Jesus. But I’m no longer saying that. Um, what would you say, Tim?
Tim: Yeah, I think Ken, you’re spot on. The argument is entirely circular, and there’s no way out of that conundrum without doing something intellectually that I’ve said is borderline sociopathic. Convincing yourself to just ignore tensions where there are obvious tensions. So does the Bible or any single author or writer or text within the Bible ever claim that the Bible is the only access point to divine revelation? Absolutely not. So if you have texts that are putting themselves forward, even that I would say you could question if you’d like, as having some form of divinely inspired version of truth—even if that’s the case, and that is where we go to find a version of what Jesus means and who Jesus was, none of those texts themselves claim exclusivity over it. And just the history of these texts and how we got them and why we did what we did with some of them and why we did what we did with others of them, if you just acknowledge the facts of history, there’s no exclusive… there’s no list of exclusive texts that have all the facts and texts that don’t. And I think the entire history of the early church, which is that they existed without Bible or Bible texts for a long, long time, and believed that their existence, their pre-Bible existence was the great moment in history, literally the ending of one age and the beginning of a new, it just goes to show that our view of the Bible is completely wonky. I also understand that some of the biblicism, or the wanting to make the Bible the center, it’s an effort to control. And some of that I get, and then some of that I just think is just crazy. It’s an effort to control religion, because religion gets crazy! When people believe that they have God living in them to empower them to do special and miraculous and powerful things, a lot of us have seen people can do weird crap. And sometimes just weird, just fun weird, you know? Sometimes weird, traumatic, hurtful, toxic weird. And so I think kind of naturally, the Bible has been a way to regulate and referee a whole bunch of religious people. And so you’ve got the charismatic side of protestant world that’s like, “Stop regulating us, be free, act in the Spirit, operate in the power of the Spirit,” and then you have hardcore cessationists on the other side of the church that are like, “No, it’s just the Bible, only the Bible.” And you know, honestly, I could take or leave both. So I actually am interested… I think the appeal to the Bible as the sole source of Christianity is just crazy, and it’s a fallacy, and also I am more interested in the Bible most days than I am in organized religious communities. I love people, and I love community, and I’m happy for people to live faith lives and to practice their religion and to worship Jesus, but I also don’t want to be a part of a lot of the stuff that’s out there. Does that kind of make sense?
Nate: Yeah I think it makes sense. I think what jumped out to me from Ken’s tweet too is the, “Have we made the Bible into an idol for all to worship?” It just… I feel like I’ve experienced a lot of that where, like you said, that second group where it’s only the Bible. ‘Father, Son, Holy Bible’ camp. And that made me think of the Desiring God tweet from earlier this year, which was, “Read the Bible. Memorize the Bible. Speak the Bible. Submit to the Bible. Love the Bible. Marry the Bible this year.” [laughing] But what really got me laughing—
Tim: [laughing] Happy New Year’s!
Nate: —and I don’t even know if I can read them on the show, but the comments underneath. They’re just hilarious. [laughing] Like one person, “‘Read the Bible.’ Okay, good start. ‘Memorize the Bible.’ If that’s your thing, okay. ‘Submit to the Bible.’ Try Jesus. ‘Love the Bible.’ Uh, try God and neighbor. ‘Marry the Bible.’ This got weird. Maybe just chill a bit with this, Desiring God.” [laughing] Oh, and then there’s a lot of other fun ones, but yeah, that whole idea of the Bible becoming this idol that is almost more important than, it’s more important than anything else, and submitting to this text. And generally what that means, where that gets scary, like you said, is an interpretation of the Bible, which is an interpretation but it’s also historical to the time we’re living in right now. And you know, everyone’s trying to go back and understand the context, but it’s, “Our interpretation at this point in history, submit to that, marry that.” And that’s where things get super dangerous, because at different points in history people have interpreted things differently. And that’s what I talk about all the time. I mean, look at slavery. If you want to “marry” that version of the Bible and say that’s the hill I’m going to die on, a lot of people did. But we adapt and we grow and we change, and the church doesn’t die.
Tim: I think even just our language is indicative of where modern protestantism is compared to the history of church. It used to be that the church used the term “orthodox.” Orthodox or unorthodox, or orthodox or heretical. And now you rarely hear that term. You hear biblical. “Are you biblical? Is that biblical? Is this biblical? Are we being biblical or unbiblical?” You know?
Nate: Oh, yeah.
Tim: And it’s the replacement word for orthodox. The reason that “biblical” wasn’t the word early on was orthodoxy was established before bible existed. So you just had a group of people who basically were trying to establish, “What do we all think here? What do we think and not think? What’s the glue that holds us together?” Obviously there’s huge problems with then what you would do, what the church did historically with people they deemed outside. But at the beginning, it’s literally just, “What are we saying we all think and believe?” And that conversation and the conclusions from that conversation happened long before we had the Bibles that we have. So as soon as we got the Bible, though, it’s a great tool. And it just became the supertool of policing orthodoxy. And so now if you claim, if you get to claim that the Bible is a divinely authoritative text, then you get to claim that if the Bible’s on your side, you have divine authorization. Or the Bible is in disagreement with the person you disagree with, then you are “in” by God’s order, and the other person is “out.” So it’s just created, it’s like a new technology that developed in religion that allowed, the printed paper Bible, that just exaggerated, probably, the already natural impulse to do the inclusive/exclusive thing. So the fact that we’re still, that those are still the defining games with the Desiring Gods and Gospel Coalitions of the world just makes it all feel pretty ass backward, for lack of a better word. And that’s where we’ve said, we talk about the thing because it’s fascinating, it’s interesting, it’s beautiful in parts, it’s brilliant and ingenious in part. Even if it were ugly, it’s been the most formative text in the history of the world. Let’s talk about those things, and move beyond the flat, “Is it biblical? Is it unbiblical?” Not saying move beyond trying to understand the thing. Go for it. I’m still trying to do that all the time. But beyond using it as a wall to separate who’s in and who’s out. Especially when you just look at, try to guess at the percentage of Christians throughout history who have used the Bible as a wall and have been completely wrong about their interpretation, and potentially were on the wrong side of the wall that they were building.
Nate: And that doesn’t mean don’t believe anything.
Nate: That’s I think what some people feel like the other side is. Like, “Okay, then nothing’s truth, there’s no truth, everything’s just wishy-washy.” What would you say to them?
Tim: I don’t—is that still a struggle? I feel like maybe if a few decades ago, or at a certain age you go off from high school youth group to college, it’s kind of this inundation into postmodern critique or whatever. I don’t know many friends who are actually wondering if there’s real truth or if we’re just in a matrix or something. I don’t think we’re really struggling with that.
Nate: No, I’m saying, I’m saying someone who listens to us could potentially say, “So are you saying that there is nothing to hold onto? There is no truth, or everything is up for debate?” I’m saying more about someone listening, not looking out at the world but looking at us and how we talk.
Tim: Yeah. So I would say there is truth and everything is up for debate. So I would reject the first thing you said and I would affirm the second one. And I mean, if you’re listening to our show, you know my attitude has not been, “The Bible disagrees with itself, so we can’t ever know what it says, it doesn’t really say anything.” I actually, and there are people that take that approach and just point out contradictions, or the ways that different authors disagree with one another, and then they’re all true, but then the main conclusion is basically, “Let’s just coexist with not really knowing or differing beliefs.” I think that part is an important step, but I also want to say, for instance, that the Bible does put forth an ethical, or various ethical ethoses. For instance, nonviolence. I believe the Bible puts that forth. For instance, egalitarian affirmation of women and marginalized people. I believe that the Bible puts that idea forth more than it puts something else forth. And so my approach, my attitude is to say, “John Piper, you’re wrong. The Bible isn’t endorsing patriarchy. The Bible is actually speaking out against patriarchy.” That’s where I go, I’m not happy to just say, “Well, some parts of the Bible say this, some parts of the Bible say this, so we can’t really know, so John, just walk lightly.” No, I want to say, “John, you’re wrong.” That idea is wrong. And if I can use the Bible to do that, fine. That might, I might still be wrong. I’m just basing my interpretation on arguments, and everybody has to make their own arguments and trust who they’re going to trust. I think the difference is, or the difference I’m trying to honor is to say if the interpretation I’m putting forward, if it’s hurting you, or it’s making you uncomfortable, or it’s not proving helpful for you, then that means I need to go back to the drawing board. So tell me! Let’s talk about that. It is up for debate. And it’s not saying this is the interpretation one way or the other. Where I’ll fight is over somebody saying, “Hey, Jesus loves guns and He wants me to have my AR-15, and He wants us to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and He hates immigrants.” Then I’m going to be like, “No, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” So that’s where I kind of like, there’s room to just say we don’t know, and then there are areas where I’m going to take a stand.
Nate: Okay. We did it. We got through all the questions. And if you have other questions, we’d love to put those together into another questions episode, so just email us email@example.com or reach on Twitter, Facebook, whatever. We’ll catch them. So yeah, these are super fun because it gets us talking about stuff that you all want to talk about, and that’s pretty interesting. So Tim, any last words or should we just sign off for now?
Tim: It’s been a long one. Hey, it was fun. Keep the questions coming, they’re fun. Appreciate y’all from afar.
Nate: Yeah, this has been super fun. We’ll catch you all next time!
Tim: Be sure to marry the Bible this year!
Nate: [laughing] Peace.
Tim: See ya.