On the Art of Picking and Choosing
One of the favorite criticism from Christian fundamentalists and militant atheists alike against liberal and progressive Christians is the assertion they “pick and choose” whichever verses please them while ignoring the others.
One obvious problem is that every Christian is going to believe in some verses while ignoring others. This is the case because the Bible is hopelessly contradictory and human beings have a hard time holding two contradictory beliefs at the same time in their mind.
One cannot believe in collective punishment and that the children don’t pay for the sins of parents, that one has to hate one’s enemy and to love her, that God paved the way of the wicked but holds him accountable for his misdeeds, that God changes his mind and that he doesn’t, and so on and so forth.
Angry atheists who are disgusted by their fundamentalist past generally believe that The God of the Bible is an evil, atrocious monster.
Evangelicals happy with their faith believe that The God of the Bible is an all-loving, wonderful deity.
I believe that both camps are dead wrong, because The God of the Bible doesn’t exist, what we find are different God(s) in the Bible, depending on the cultural and historical context during which a particular text has been written.
I believe there is a simple criterion one can always use to reject something attributed to God in the Bible.
1) God has necessarily to be a perfect being, at least much more loving and kind than we are
2) Despite all their flaws, humans are quite able to recognize goodness and perfection (and that’s what makes us guilty, like Paul expressed it in Roman 2.
This means we can be sure He didn’t order a genocide like in the book of Joshua.
But what if we find a nice story in the OT, like God allowing Joseph to get abducted by his brothers in order to save his family years later? If one considers the (later revealed) hope in an afterlife, this tale is compatible with God’s perfection. Can we therefore conclude it was historical?
No, for doing this would be blatantly inconsistent. We can only say that such a divine description is compatible with His perfect nature and that one could use this text to get edified in one’s own spiritual life.
The Bible is a collection of religious books (which may also contain history) where human beings have written down their thoughts and experiences with the Divine, in the same way non-Canonical writers had.
I generally read the Bible in the same way I read books from the fathers of the early Church, Luther, Wesley, Ellen White, Francis Schaeffer, C.S. Lewis, Greg Boyd and so on and so forth.
Relying on my two criteria above, I can evaluate their experiences and thoughts, and apply their insight to my own walk with God.
After months of an evolving theology, this is my current view about the Bible: not a set of laws and facts about the universe and God, but the “Human Faces of God” to use the wonderful expression of Thom Stark.
I do believe God revealed Himself to mankind and to the ancient Hebrews in a particular way, but He did so in the same way He reveals Himself to missionary in Africa or to Martin Luther several centuries ago.
And while I believe we have good grounds to reject reductive materialism and to believe in a transcendent realm, I don’t know if Christianity is true or not. According to my own personal definition, believing means hoping, hoping in a good God who will eventually defeat evil forever.
And IF this good God exists, it seems highly likely to me he disclosed Himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.