ILLUMINATION
Published in

ILLUMINATION

My Battle with the Bible

(An excerpt from my unpublished memoir “Beliefs that Hurt — Faith that Heals)

Most former Evangelicals like myself have a love/hate relationship with the Bible.

One part of me views it as a source of inspiration. I find encouragement in the Psalms as the ancient Hebrew writer finds hope in troubling times.

My inner skeptic has a “How can that be?” response to stories like a man walking on water. Last time I tried it I almost drowned.

For four decades I lived in a bubble of a dogma-centered Evangelical group. My former Tribe calls themselves “people of the book”. They believe every word and pronounce that everything contained in this book is normative for all time.

Here’s how I’ve come to terms with the Bible as a source of truth.

What the Bible is

It is the story of personal or national encounters with the transcendent world. And the way the experience was reported was through an oral tradition. The written word came decades and centuries later.

It was also written for a different set of eyes than mine. The authors brought their own cultural and personality bias to their story. The former slaves on a march from Egypt to the “Promised land” encountered local resistance. God telling them to stamp out the enemy is hardly a mandate for genocide. The apostle telling the early Christians not to allow women to speak in the assembly of believers is hardly a gag order for women today in any context.

My Story

I began my battle with the Bible forty years ago when I wrote “The Psychology of Biblical Interpretation”. Here I point out that the human mind and emotions play tricks on our supposedly rational thoughts. My training as a psychologist showed me how human perception can be distorted in everything from witnessing an accident to interpreting the Sacred Scriptures. Evangelicals like to claim, “we don’t interpret the Bible but just read what it says”. Not so.

Why then are there so many different ways of explaining these ‘truths’ amongst the different brands of Christianity?

But my battle with my Evangelical Tribe really heated up when I questioned the absolute authority of the writers of the Scriptures.

They too were subject to internal and cultural bias similar to that of the reader. These ancient Jewish authors spoke through myth (something that is universally true). Turning water in wine is not about getting a great bottle of Cabernet from the backyard faucet. It’s about the transformative nature of a genuine divine/human encounter.

The whole penchant for literal interpretation came on the scene in the first centuries after Gentiles became a part of the church. John Shelby Spong calls it the “Gentile heresy”. And that literalism persists today.

Even in my most ardent Evangelical days I found it a stretch to believe that while Divinity was certainly revealed in Jesus 2000 years ago he was not God’s first dance with us humans.

I taught World Religious Traditions at the university level in the early 1990’s. One thing that struck me was that each major world religions subscribed to the tenet “love your neighbor as yourself”. Also in considering ancient Eastern religious that predate Christianity by thousands of years many of their sacred texts have similar themes to the Bible like creation stories, the flood, and the Virgin birth.

Christians don’t have a corner on the market of truth.

I had quite a few students from Evangelical traditions in my class. They were at first horrified that I as a supposed Christian was teaching the universality of truth.

“How can you call yourself a Christian if you do nor see Christ and the Scriptures as the only way to God?”

My typical answer was “Look at the data”.

Millions of folks over hundreds of thousands of years have had direct experiences with the world beyond and within. Where are those folks today? In hell?

Followers of all world religious traditions and people in every culture have stories of how they encountered Presence — the word I have chosen to replace God — beyond earthly perception.

How then did these seekers come to their conclusions about their quest for truth?

Other Ways of Knowing Truth

The Bible or any Sacred Scripture are not the only way we come to a knowledge of transcendent truth.

Consider gut knowing (intuition) and direct awareness or consciousness of Presence in each person.

I am not talking about knowing through one’s emotions. These are just as subject to bias like the thinking mind. How many times have we reflected during an emotional storm “Am I out of my mind to have responded that way?”

I speak of knowing through an inner operating system that goes by various names like the Image of god, true or soul self, or deeper consciousness.

The path to such knowing often comes through a silent walk in the woods where we allow our restless mind to chill out. Another path to truth can come through focused meditation. Here we inform our swaggering ego that it has no problem to solve. It is surprising how that technique takes the wind out of its sails.

Trusting the depths of our being to reveal truth to us is the holy grail of all truth seekers.

Above all we need a dose of humility when we claim to understand the mystery of anything transcendent.

To me the Bible is not the Word of God. It contains some word from that other world. Discerning the difference is the path to authentic knowing.

So burn me at the stake if you will. But please don’t burn my steak!

And yes, I don’t have all the answers. Nor does the Bible.

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Cedric Johnson, PhD

Cedric Johnson, PhD

Leadership consultant and psychologist. Heart-based spirituality and inspirational leadership. Unpublished memoir “Out of Your Mind — Into Your Heart”