Recovering From Abusive Christianity Pt.2

A few years ago I was having coffee with two women. One of the women was talking about how hard it had been on her and her husband for years of struggling to conceive a baby. The other woman, who had four kids, opened her mouth and said, “Well you know what Paul says in the Bible: Women will be saved through childbearing, assuming they continue to live in faith, love, holiness, and modesty…. Do you think you have been saved? Have you confessed your sins to him and accepted him into your heart? This is one of the great oppressions that the Church has done and has continued to do; it uses the Bible as a weapon. In the case of the woman who was struggling to get pregnant, it wasn’t her fault that she wasn’t able to at that time (which she did a few months later!). Christians have used the Bible to validate slavery, to deny women equal rights, and slaughter people just because they didn’t agree with their mission.

David Fitch, in his great book The End of Evangelicalism? describes what he calls the master-signifier of the inerrant Bible. He explains that what those who angrily fight over that belief don’t realize is that they might have also fallen into an inerrant interpretation. An Inerrant Bible often leads to an empty belief in an inerrant interpretation. Much violence has happened because we have wielded our narcissistic over-certainty against one another. These people have failed to even understand what an actual inerrant Bible might look like. It would not look like the Bible they held, but the original manuscripts that they have yet to retrieve. What happens when people don’t understand the Bible, or they pick and choose verses out of it, is that they take it out of context and spiritually abuse someone (like the woman I had coffee with).

While I very much affirm the inerrancy of those original manuscripts (and think we have an extremely trustworthy version of those today), what I do fear is the isolation and egocentricity of the inerrant interpretation. If there is anything that the great theologians of the 20th century (Barth, Bonhoeffer, Moltmann) have taught us, it is that theology and reading the Bible are meant to be done in community. Everyone has a voice. Everyone should be heard. The Bible very much teaches dependency upon the other resources of the body. Transformation always happens when we bump up against something that is not us. This might mean that we learn to love somebody who we do not see eye-to-eye with at all, or that they have something to teach us, something to offer us. The idea of welcoming the stranger is prevalent throughout the whole Bible. The Bible was not meant to be a weapon against others but something that liberates us and draws us closer to one another.

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10 thoughts on “Recovering From Abusive Christianity Pt.2

  1. Alan says:

    Is it not well past time to label biblical inerrancy what it is: idolatry? Even making the assumption the “original manuscripts” were inerrant seems to me to make the overreaching assumption that God’s scribes (Paul and the other epistle writers, the unnamed authors of the Gospels and the Hebrew scriptures) were able to write down what God (or in the case of everything except the epistles, and maybe some of the Hebrew prophets, many, many, human, verbal re-tellings) told them _exactly_, and even if they did, that what the writers meant with any given word is what anyone else means, again _exactly_. Indeed, so much of what’s in the Bible is poetry, because what’s meant can only be hinted at with words.

    I think taking the Bible for what it is (the work of many, mostly men, inspired by their understanding of God), is humbling, and a call to a more in-depth study of the Bible, and seeking more in-depth, direct relationship with God.

  2. Pat Pope says:

    “Inerrant interpretation”–I like that and it’s so fitting.

  3. Paul D. says:

    “While I very much affirm the inerrancy of those original manuscripts…”

    Why on earth?

    • Mike Friesen says:

      Paul, that’s beside the point. We don’t have the originals, so the question is not whether I do or do not affirm them. The point is in the exegetical and hermeneutical humility that I live with.

  4. rlrobinson says:

    I don’t believe in inerrancy, but I agree that it is almost beside the point. If, like most inerrancy proponents, you say that inerrancy is only the original manuscripts, then it is irrelevant since we don’t have those (although yes, we have pretty close copies). More importantly to the point, even if the text is inerrant, it is not simple – loaded with genre changes, cultural metaphors, historical events that we may or may not even know about, etc – and therefore our interpretations never are. It becomes a statement of faith that doesn’t connect to anything in real life. So all that to say, I’ll respectfully disagree on inerrancy as long as proponents of it don’t turn it into bibliolatry (as one of my profs put it, the Protestant Trinity in practice is usually Father, Son, Bible) or into a tool for claiming one interpretation as clearly more correct than another. You’ve hit on the latter quite well, so thank you.

  5. afi says:

    You mentioned, “While I very much affirm the inerrancy of those original manuscripts (and think we have an extremely trustworthy version of those today), what I do fear is the isolation and egocentricity of the inerrant interpretation.” I’m of the same mind. I believe that the bible as it is today is inspired by God and that we can and should look to it to guide and shape us on our faith journey.
    I think you make such an important point about what we do with our interpretation of scripture. It was never meant to be used “as a weapon.” Christ’s life and ministry reveal that God’s heart towards humanity was (and is still) all about lifting up, delivering, healing and most of all loving us. If we as followers of Christ come up with anything less than this as we interpret scripture and as we relate to others we dismiss our opportunity to share the gospel (love) which is, of course, our mission and our charge.

    I just had a conversation about this with one of the leaders in my church. Great content and right on time.

    Blessings!

    • Mike Friesen says:

      Afi,
      Thank you for your kind words. I think that you are hitting the heart of things and are revealing the heart of what loving, faithful, and even biblical Christianity teaches.

  6. Ben Moushon says:

    Reblogged this on Thinking & Driving and commented:
    “Using the Bible as a weapon”. I really appreciate this series and the well formed and grace filled thoughts that flow throughout it.

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