- The existence of God
- The supernatural side of the Bible
- The Deity of Jesus
- His miracles
- His resurrection
- Our personal need for his death in our place
- His promise to return
- The eventual resurrection of all who have died
- The ultimate judgments of God
But how objectively do we see our own conservative weaknesses?
I bring this up because many of us know that our strengths can also be a weakness. And if that’s the case, seems like it might be worth thinking about a weakness that could hide behind our confidence that the Bible is a God-breathed gift of God (2Tim 3:16).
Could theological and biblical conservatives tend to have a besetting sin that grows in the shadow of one of our greatest strengths? More specifically, could a well-intentioned high view of the Scriptures that says, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it” be feeding an unreasonable brittleness, self-deception, and unnecessary divisiveness on matters that reasonably honest followers of Christ disagree about?
An obvious and needed response at this point is… for example? So let’s let’s not go to examples like what Jesus said to do with a right eye that causes us to sin (Matt 5:29); or his words to a rich young ruler about selling all that he had and giving it to the poor– as way of inheriting eternal life, and as a qualification for following the Good Teacher (Matt 19:16-22). Even the most conservative among us seem to get that words like these were spoken in a specific time and place, to someone other than ourselves, for a specific purpose—and that they therefore need to be thought about and processed (for our own learning and relationship to God)—not just “read, claimed, trusted, and obeyed”.
Let’s also not use as our example any historical description of events that appears to be intended to be taken as fact. When the Bible says that the sun and the moon stood still in the sky I want to be counted among those who are ready to accept God’s ability to do whatever he chose to do– either with cosmic smoke and mirrors– or by the real suspension, and over-riding of–and compensation for– natural law (Josh 10:12-13).
Let’s instead think about any statement in the Bible that can be matched with a second text that seems to say the opposite of the first. The most obvious example of this would be studies in contrast that show up in the same immediate paragraph. We’re all familiar with the consecutive proverbs that say, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes” (Prov 26:4-5). That kind of example doesn’t work here because it’s obvious that the two opposing statements that are meant to make us think.
There are scores and even hundreds of other statements in the Bible that, depending on which side we find most compelling, tend to divide us on issues like spiritual gifts, the end times, women in ministry, or divorce and remarriage.
Regarding the last of this list, followers of Christ often divide over whether Jesus statements about the original intent of marriage should or should not cause us to discount Moses’ allowance for divorce and remarriage because of hard-hearted relationships, or even the implications of Solomon’s observation that it is better to live in the corner of a housetop, or in a desert, than to share a house with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered mate (Prov 21:9, 19).
But we don’t even have to step together on ice as thin as that. What if we just think about statements in Scripture that read “as is” seem to say that we are to always forgive (Matt 6:14-15)… until we read others that talk about forgiving generously and repeatedly—but on the condition of confession (Luke 17:1-4).
Some of us have concluded that on almost any idea in Scripture we can find “inspired words in tension.” That’s true whether we are talking about “unity and separation”; “patience and urgency”; “faith with or without works”; “One God in tri-unity”; “self-control and Spirit-control”; “justice and mercy”; and at this point the list could just keep playing out.
A friend talks about such studies in contrast as the Divine fingerprints or signature of God on the Bible. His thought is that if we believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God then we should expect to find complexity of ideas that go beyond our ability to resolve.
Others I know are convinced that such opposing thoughts are meant to cause us to stop and think about the fact that we are not just called to read and obey, but to realize that our God is calling us to wisdom, meditation, self-awareness, and to the realization that love and faithfulness call us to act differently depending on the situation.
Some suggest that many studies in contrast unravel with the question what do love and truth ask of us now?
This has gotten a bit long. But I’ll stop here and wait to see if this line of thought does or does not resonate with what you’ve noticed about what the damage that “conservatives like us” can do if we see the face– but miss the heart– of God-breathed words.