“In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.”

This quote, often attributed to Augustine, is believed to have been actually penned by a seventeenth century German Lutheran theologian, Rupertus Meldenius, urging Christians to get along with one another during a bitter war that started because of differences in theology.

Of course, today, Christians argue over which things are essentials and which are not. They don’t even have unity about which things to have unity about. Especially in online forums or blog comments, their disagreements are nothing close to charitable.

Most Christians would agree that the Bible is essential to our faith. And yet–we can disagree on what the Bible means.

well read bible

When we get confused on the essentials, one unfortunate result is that people simply dismiss Christianity as false. When we claim that certain beliefs—such as believing Genesis to be a science textbook that demands we accept that the world was created in six 24-hour days—are essentials, many thinking people, viewing the evidence to the contrary, give up on Christianity.

Or, when we take certain verses from Paul’s letters and decide that they “clearly” restrict the roles of women in the church, despite the fact that other verses suggest otherwise, many thinking women leave the church, and leave faith. They think, if that’s what Christianity is about, I’m not interested.

To use an old cliché, they throw the baby out with the bathwater.

bath babyBut is that really necessary?

I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, and I believe in Jesus Christ, who was fully divine and fully human (a mystery we cannot fully grasp), I believe in his death and resurrection, and that we are saved by grace alone.

I also believe that the Bible teaches (among other things) that women should have full and equal participation in the workings of the church. I’m a Jesus Feminist. I also believe that God created the world but engaged any number of processes to do so, including, at times, evolution. I don’t ignore the Bible on either of these, I simply interpret it differently than some others do.

You can believe in the Bible, and also that the earth is billions of years old and still believe that God created it and continues to be involved in it. You can believe in the Bible, and also believe, along with theologian N.T. Wright, that the Bible calls women into full participation.  You can believe that Scripture is right, but some people interpret it wrongly, and you don’t have to give up on the Bible or on faith if you do so.

You can believe in the Bible, but also believe that YEC-ers (Young Earth Creationists) are incorrect in their interpretation of the Bible, as are complementarians—especially extremist ones who do things like counsel women to stay in abusive relationships.

What if the Bible is true, but people’s interpretation of it is sometimes be utterly false? Just look at Fred Phelps, a pastor who died this week, leaving a legacy of hating homosexuals, which he claimed he did on the basis of the Bible. Most thinking Christians would disagree with this extremist, because he has incorrectly interpreted Scripture, and deeply misunderstood the nature and heart of God.

Though some may have rejected Christianity because of Phelps and his congregation at Westboro, most realized that he was an extremist who misrepresented Christianity, the Bible, and what it means to live it out.

My question is, what do you do with difficult passages of Scripture? Do you:

  • accept the interpretation you’ve always heard without question? (Possibly because you are afraid to question?)
  • decide you don’t believe certain passages of Scripture (an ultimately dissatisfying decision because then how do you decide which passages you do believe)?
  • dismiss Christianity as untrue and irrelevant, because you can’t accept its “teachings,” and walk away?

What if some of the things you’ve always heard are actually incorrect interpretations? What if the text is true, but our understanding of it is flawed? What if some Christian “teachings” are based on misinterpretations?

 Leave a comment(be civil and logical, please–haters will be deleted):  if you attend a church that teaches things you disagree with, how do you respond? What specifics about the Bible or Christianity raise questions for you?

Leave a comment  before 5 p.m. Central time Saturday, March 22 (yes that’s less than 24 hours from now!) and be entered in a drawing to win a one of two copies of Deeper into the Word: Reflections on 100 New Testament Words. (a book currently available only in ebook versions except here at keriwyattkent.com). Two winners will be chosen from those who comment and leave me a way to get in touch!