The Bible and Incertitude


Looking at the list of churches in the San Francisco Bay Area that have thus far signed up for Pluralism Sunday (there aren't very many), I ran across an independent Lutheran church that I had not been familiar with. The church is "independent", the web site explains, because in 1995 they were kicked out of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) for ordaining a gay pastor.

The most recent newsletter from that church includes some comments about the Bible that I particularly liked:

Reading the Bible closely, it becomes clear that there's no one way of understanding who God is and how God relates to the world. The Bible is the witness of generations of faithful people recording their own understandings of the divine in their own time, place, and culture. This theological pluralism reveals changing, developing, and sometimes conflicting ideas about God. Beware of the person who says: "I've got God all figured out." Not even Jesus was that bold--instead he opted for stories that demanded thought, raised questions, and often went counter to conventional attitudes. To claim a monopoly on the truth, leaving no room for dialogue or input from others, turns the discipline of thinking theologically into a mere exercise in fact-checking.

The Bible itself represents a variety of perspectives, each reflecting different understandings of God. Hebrew scripture is consistent, almost without exception, in claiming that people cannot see God and live. So it's little wonder that the divine is cloaked in mystery. The challenge of thinking theologically is about maintaining a creative tension between ideas that generate dialogue, not absolute certainty. At best, thinking theologically is not about facts, but about wrestling with often abstract ideas and concepts.

Asking difficult questions is at the heart of both theological integrity and spiritual growth. Being satisfied with easy answers is a "cop out". Excessive certitude can be substitute for God and cripple an otherwise dynamic relationship with the mystery of the divine.


John Shuck said...

And only five are Presbyterian. I resonate with what you wrote in your last post about wanting a progressive denomination as well as a progressive congregation. I lost members when people realized that our official policy regarding ordination was discriminatory toward gays. I guess I shouldn't have told them! : )

I completely respect those who may like the congregation but have difficulty with the denomination even though I would like to get some smarter, braver, more progressive people to become Presbyterian!

So despite the number of Sausalito songs I play for you on my blog, do know that I wish for you first and foremost the community that is right for you!! : )

Heather said...

**Reading the Bible closely, it becomes clear that there's no one way of understanding who God is and how God relates to the world. **

I completely agree with that. I was reading a blog once that once presented all the ideas of salvation in the Bible -- and they really do differ from one another.

Jesus didn't come with clear-cut answers. He tended to be like the really intelligent annoying teacher who answered questions with a question, thus forcing one to think.

JP Manzi said...

Like Heather, that quote stood out and I see no problems affirming that. I come from a denomination that believes it does have clear-cut answers.

Call on the name
Be baptized

Quite scary when we put God in a box that small.

By the way, are you going to check this church out? Sounds interesting.

Mystical Seeker said...

JP, I might check the church out. I do like their apparent commitment to interfaith concerns and their approach to the Bible.