Todays guest post is by my fellow Burnside contributor, writer and pastor Larry Shallenberger. For me as an ex-legalist/fundamentalist, I appreciate Larry’s thoughts on how some Christians are wont to use the Bible as a diet guide, science book and even marriage manual. Larry rightfully questions whether this was ever God’s intention for the Holiest of books. Leave Larry a comment after the post. Enjoy, Jo 🙂
Is it okay for a pastor to wonder if the way we handle the Bible doesn’t make God grind his teeth a bit?
I’ve mentioned in other posts that I’m sorting out my spirituality and trying to work some (much) legalistic thinking out of it. Last week I read A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life by Don Veinot, Joy Veinot, and Ron Henzel. In my late teen and early college years I worked in at Christian Camp that prided itself in using Gothard’s Teachings as the guiding principles of their ministry and life. Going back and reading this book reminded me of the relationship they had with the Bible. They read the Bible as if its primary purpose was to serve a highly detailed moral handbook.
Four steps to root out bitterness.
Three steps to anchoring your self worth in Jesus.
Goals that any one can get behind. Never mind that while the Bible warns about the dangers of unforgiveness and tells us to place our identity in Christ, the book conspicuously lack a by the numbers methodology.
Somewhere along the line, Gothard… and the Ranch…, got lost in their list and began to read the Bible as medical and dietary guide. Gothard started publishing pamphlets about the dangers of the medical establishment. Bill decided that the Bible should be read as a medical handbook. He started finding homeopathic cures in the Bible, mandates about male circumcision, and restrictive guidelines for how often and when married couples could sheet dance.
I had a friend who decided to live at the Ranch as an apprentice. Years later she told me that pepper was a banned cooking ingredient as it wasn’t mentioned in the Bible. One of the wives who set herself up as an authority/prophetess taught fashion color analysis seminars, with a “Biblical twist.” She discerned which colors were spiritual and which weren’t.
I know. It’s so bizarre that I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit that I ever got sucked up in the that cult-ish world. It’s easy for me to point to those wacky fundies and shake my head. And then I look at the ways we handle scripture.
The Book of Ruth becomes a guide for dating instead of the female counterpart to the Book of Job, a profound portrait of the tension between suffering and God’s goodness.
We write books about “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” instead of reading Genesis and accepting that both genders are given to us gifts.
We treat the Bible like a parenting and marriage handbook and look for DIY advice. We create an ideal family and miss the stories of the wildly dysfunctional families that God mercifully allowed play major roles in salvation history.
We “Daniel Fast.”
We frustrated each other in our attempts to find the one perfect way a church should be governed.
The Ezzo’s, God bless ’em, discovered the Levitical basis of scheduled breastfeeding as a way to prevent children from becoming secular humanists.
We fund a man who is neither a trained scientist nor a trained theologian to build a Creation Science Museum so we relieve the mental tension between the Creation account in the Bible and evolution. We don’t consider that God didn’t write Genesis 1 and 2 as a preemptive strike against Darwin. Instead we the Bible as a science text book and generate suspect science of our own. Take that Galileo.
Meanwhile, God counts from ten to one, taking long drawn out breaths between each number. He gave us his scripture to point us to Jesus. He told the story of why things are not the way they should be and everything he’s accomplished to destroy that problem. He asserts his divine authority over us by telling his story and demanding that we find our place in it.
Deep down, we aren’t comfortable with the freedom that comes with improvising our place in God’s story. Moral fences provide so much more security. Reading the Bible as a science book keeps us from struggling with complex ethical decisions. Ironically, in our efforts to escape the intolerable freedom that comes with living in God’s story, we enslave ourselves with the very text whose authority we run from.
What if part of the price that comes with believing that the Bible is the authoritative word of God is to accept the freedom and responsibility that comes with it?
Larry Shallenberger is pastor and author from The States. He’s never been to Australia, but enjoys the Outback Steak House. Mistakenly, he thinks this makes him an honorary citizen. For more information on him and his books, visit www.larryshallenberger.com.