Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Monday, October 24, 2005

The naked truth about inerrancy debates

In 1837, Danish author, Hans Christian Andersen, wrote a wonderful fairy tale which he titled The Emperor's New Clothes, the story of the Ruler of a distant land who couldn’t see real truth because his entire reputation hinged on his a false truth. The story goes like this:

One day two rogues arrived in the village, posing as gifted weavers. They told the Emperor they could weave a miracle cloth, a cloth which could only be seen by the pure in heart. Wanting some of this cloth, the emperor employed the weavers immediately, and they began their work on empty looms.
When they had finished creating a new royal robe, a parade was planned for the Emperor to display it. But of course, when he looked at the cloth, he couldn’t see anything. The weavers raved about the beauty of the cloth – and the Emperor, not wanting to be revealed as a man of impure heart, also raved. Then he appeared before his people - - all of whom cheered and clapped because they all knew the rogue weavers' tale and did not want to be seen as less than pure of heart.

The whole story reminds me of debates that exist about the Bible –

Maybe we work too hard trying to defend things that don’t need defending, and that probably can’t be defended honestly anyway. There are two big tragedies that occur when we go down this road: 1) our finite energies are expended in the wrong areas – instead of loving our neighbors, and loving God, and building bridges to a lost world through friendship, hospitality, dialogue, and beauty – we’re busy arguing w/ each other about these kind of things - the battle for the Bible – the inerrancy debates (click here for a detailed consideration) – questions of authority, and inspiration, and the meaning of that passage in Timothy which says that the Bible is GOD BREATHED. 2) When we’re busy fighting these battles, the testimony we show the world is absurd – like the naked emperor, and lands us three steps further away from credibility than we would have been, had our focus been on the things Jesus invites us to care about.

This isn’t to say that there is no place for asking questions about the weight of authority the text should carry. Such questions have their worth. But we run into grave difficulty when we try to prove whatever our final views might be on Scriptural authority through scientific methodology – because absolute proof eludes us. We don’t have original manuscripts. We don’t have perfectly accurate translations. Perhaps what’s needed is some sort of declaration that declares the value of the Bible, rather than seeking to define the weight of authority each word in the text has. Maybe doctrinal statements should read something like this: The purpose of the Bible is to equip people to be in right relationship with God, and to give them the vision and power to live according to His plan.


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