A reader of my book, I'm Right and You're Wrong: Why we disagree about the Bible and what to do about it, submitted some of the remarks that are especially meaningful to him. I'd like to share them with you.
No, the world is not set up with us in mind. The child’s whine that “It’s not fair!” is our first recognition of this reality.
Pluralism encourages understanding and celebrating differences rather than anathematizing them as in the past.
None of us is born with perfect vision; we all suffer from worldview myopia, and unlike physical eyesight, there is no corrective lens that can make us comprehend the world perfectly.
Regardless of the theological positions held, they mostly spring from one or more of the areas expressed in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. How one finally interprets the Bible is determined by which of the four is most emphasized.
Experience, for Wesley, was the verification of biblical teaching in the lives of believers.
Among liberals was the belief that God is love. That is to say, that love is not simply an attribute of God’s nature, but that the essence of God’s being is love. This love means that God is primarily immanent, close to the creation, rather than transcendent and remote. This produced a belief in universalism, that God would not condemn anyone to a literal hell. A God who is love would not, therefore, condemn all at birth (Original Sin), either. But it is the idea of progress, that “every day, in every way, the world is getting better and better,” that typifies liberal Christianity through the 19th century. There was great optimism that a truly Christian society could be created. Prosperity was at its highest, the Theory of Evolution was seen as progressive and continuous improvement, the world was largely at peace, nature was being subdued, medical advances were ending many diseases with the promise of ending many more, and humanity was on the way to perfectibility. Sin, it seemed, was no longer a useful description of the human predicament.
Fundamentalists often fall prey to the notion that, “Since I derived this meaning straight from the Bible, it is equal in force to the Bible itself.”
Liberalism, they argue, lost contact with the heart of the Christian story in an effort to accommodate Modernism. It defined Christianity in such a way that it became undifferentiated from a social movement, and transitioned from a religion into a philosophy of religion.
The Progressive corrective is to reclaim the heart of the biblical story as our story (admittedly reinterpreted), ground our theology in the incarnation of God in Jesus, and return the church to be servants of the world. It also sees the Bible and tradition as authoritative voices that must be listened to critically, while understanding that both are human products, full of wisdom as well as fraught with danger. The foundational belief that the incarnation holds the interpretive clue to understanding ourselves, our world, and God, leads many Progressives to Process Theology.
So our disagreements are less about what the Bible means than with the various milieus from which they spring. Since there is no such thing as a certifiably perfect milieu, we should welcome another’s interpretation as a necessary contribution to the whole. The foregoing chapters are intended to make this clear. Given this reality, we are better able to address one another as an equal rather than as an “other.”
“When in Doubt, Shout!: Paradoxical Influences of Doubt on Proselytizing.” [Note 3] Disagreeing can be either a learning experience for one or both, or another way of missing the point of loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. As Henry Neufeld put it, “You are never more God-like than when you open your heart’s door to another person. The more different they are, the more God-like that action is.” Neufeld’s understanding of God makes possible such an outcome. Another view of God, much less grace-full, might wish for a more violent outcome, as for those who want gays and lesbians executed in the name of their God. Once again, what we take to the Bible informs what we take out of the Bible.
Not getting the Bible right in some of its particulars is hardly on the level of not getting our lives right. It seems that some in Matthew 25 got their lives right without knowing the particulars of why.
The best that we can do is choose wisely among the options and live with humility in the presence of others. Another way putting this is that we listen to what to us sounds like the voice of God and subordinate all other voices to it. We may as well, because that’s what we do anyway. Now it’s official!
Yes, the Holy Spirit is our teacher, but we can easily slip into the error of believing that anything we think we understand is a direct imparting from the Spirit.
Follow the Golden Rule. Don’t allow differences of outcomes to come between you and another created in the image of God. Always bear in mind that you are not the one another is called to please.
Martin Buber taught us the difference between treating a person as a human being (a Thou—one like yourself) or an object (an It—a thing to be used). If our purpose in biblical discussion is to win someone over, we no longer treat our conversationalist as a person, but as a thing to dominate. If, on the other hand, our objective is to discover something valuable and give our conversation partner an opportunity to teach us, we and our partner are one, or I/ Thou.
We learn not to appear scholarly, or erudite, or to win arguments, but to follow Jesus as a faithful disciple. That’s the difference between being right and righteous. It’s also the point of why we study the Bible in the first place.