“All Those Contradictions”
By Chuck Collins
What about Anglicans and the Bible? Some say that it’s only helpful for his teaching on morality — when, in fact, Jesus’s harshest words were reserved for moralists of his day. Others say, “the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality (or choose your own controversial issue), it’s just how you interpret it” — when the Bible actually speaks very plainly on more matters than we sometimes think. Or, “the church wrote the Bible so it can rewrite it any time it wants to” — which actually takes away any sense that God had something to do with its inspiration in the first place. And my favourite: “there are so many contradictions in it, how can an intelligent person possibly believe it?” — which gives no consideration for the fact that more books have been written about the Bible’s veracity by more intelligent people than any other book in history, and it stands the test of time!
There are really only two ways someone can relate to the Bible: either we stand over it as the final authority of what it says and means, or it stands over us as its own interpreter, and the interpreter of our lives. If the Bible is a wax nose that can be moulded to fit whatever we want it to say, then why bother reading it? On the other hand, if it is the inspired Word of God, as Anglicans say in their prayers and in the promises made at ordinations, how can it be read and understood with confidence that it will accurately lead people to know God and his plan for our lives? The Anglican formularies give us an “Anglican way” of reading and interpreting Holy Scripture.
The 16th century reformers had one compelling goal: to get the Bible into the hearts and minds of the English people. They were confident that God would use this to transform individuals and the whole of society. They were true catholics who were returning to the Bible that they saw as the original original-source for their centuries-old faith. The primacy of Scripture, or sola Scriptura, means that the Bible is the norm for faith and morals by which every other norm is judged (including the creeds, church traditions and councils, confessions, and private revelations). When we speak of the Bible being primary, the spectre of fundamentalism often comes up. While we seek clarity about the fundamentals of the faith, Anglicans are not fundamentalists. Fundamentalists (or biblicists) tend to raise the Bible to the place that only God deserves, creating a world in which the Bible is a proof-text manual, with characters exhibiting behaviours to emulate or to avoid (be like Daniel!), that neglects the fact that the Bible is God’s story and not ours. On the other hand, theological liberals swing to the other extreme, creating a world that removes any sense that God is active in creating and sustaining the world. They explain away the miracles and the fact that God has revealed himself in the sixty-six books of the Bible under the single authorship of the Holy Spirit.
Anglicans hold a balance between these two extremes: we believe that real people wrote the Bible with their personalities in clear view, but also that God inspired them and blessed them in their writing to accurately communicate God’s Word. This honouring of dual authorship (God and man) is where Anglicans begin as we consider how to understand and interpret Holy Scripture. For example, what an incredible miracle it is that the Apostle John’s personality and his unschooled understanding of the Greek language is evident in the book of Revelation, and yet we still believe that God stands behind this book as its author and inspiration.
The Revd Canon Chuck Collins is the Director of the Center for Reformation Anglicanism.