Does the word feel dense and tired and kind of irrelevant to you, like a library book that’s sat on the shelf too long? It does to me.
But it speaks of that which cannot fail us. Literally, it means “the inability to fail.” It speaks of that which can be trusted, of a foundation upon which we can build something substantial, so it’s not a word we can just throw out.
Most of us (good pastors that we are) would likely affirm that the Bible is infallible. But, upon closer examination, I wonder if what we are really affirming is a trust in our theology, not in the Bible itself. The truth is that we all must have opinions and convictions about the Bible—what it is, how it’s put together, how it operates—but that these opinions and convictions are not the Bible itself (and are not even precisely what the Bible says about itself, which is relatively limited). There is the Bible, and then there is what we believe about it, and the distinction between them is real and unavoidable.
Maybe the question we should be asking is, “What is the posture with which we hold our stances?”
Take a look at much of what is said and how it’s said, and it becomes evident that the center of gravity is not actually the Word of God but rather what we have decided we believe about the Word of God, and the rigidity with which we affirm that what we have decided is unquestionably right.
In my upcoming book, Asking Better Questions of the Bible: A Guide for the Wounded, Wary & Longing for More, I say this:
While much about the Christian subculture I grew up in has proven to be built on shaky ground, they got this right: The Bible is necessary, valuable, and reliable for the life of faith. I knew this book was rock solid and could be trusted in its content.
The seed of this belief was what sprouted later in life when my questions wouldn’t leave me alone. As I began to explore these questions with other committed believers, they would get increasingly agitated. “You don’t need to ask that,” they would insist. “Just trust the Bible.”
But that was the thing—I did trust the Bible. This very trust gave me the confidence to ask questions. I suppose some folks ask questions from a place of disbelief. They don’t think the Bible can be trusted, and their questions are aimed at affirming their assumptions. We often believe all doubts come from this place.
But some doubts—maybe even most of them—come from a place of confidence. Whether it’s confidence in God or in the Bible, these questions are a weird mixture of assurance and humility. We don’t assume that the Bible is wrong, but that it is right and we simply aren’t seeing, haven’t considered, or haven’t discovered the whole picture. The humility of these questions sees the bigness of God, the bigness of truth, the bigness of this inspired story that’s been passed down through the ages—and assumes there is so, so much more.
One of the more uncomfortable things we notice is that we tend to check our reading of the Bible against an already accepted filter of theology, rather than checking our theology against a historically informed reading of the Bible—an inspired conversation between biblical authors and their biblical audiences.
Being honest about this is essential to being faithful as teachers, pastors, and followers of Jesus.
Perhaps the question in my title would be better put as “Bible or Theology: Which Is Foundational?” Grappling with this question will always be an essential gut check as we try to wrestle and live faithfully with the text. Our theology, as necessary as it is and as rooted in the various beautiful and well-reasoned traditions as it has been, will always be less reliable—indeed, even fallible—than the Word of God that never returns void.
May we learn to ask better questions of the Bible. May we deepen our trust in the Bible, knowing that it is not daunted by deconstruction or threatened by theological systems. May we be reminded that we can expect mistakes from our own reasoning and that our constructs will always be limited. May we even come to expect this and celebrate our faithful engagement with dismantling the scaffolding that was once useful but needs to be updated.
And may we reaffirm our belief in an infallible, God-breathed Scripture—again and again and again.
Marty Solomon is a theologian, the president and director of discipleship for Impact Campus Ministries, and the creator and executive producer of The BEMA Podcast. He and his wife, Rebekah, live in Cincinnati with their two children. Find out more about Marty at martysolomon.com.
Copyright for photo: Author photo by Brent Billings, copyright © 2016. All rights reserved.