(I decided to renumber these videos so this week’s would be #1, to correspond to SDA Fundamental Belief #1. I know no-one notices nitpicky stuff like that but I do so I have to say it).
It’s hard keeping these videos short! I meant to keep each one around 3 minutes, but this one on the Bible is over 4 minutes. Not surprising, really — just as the Adventist church makes its belief about the Bible the foundation of all its fundamental beliefs, my questions and doubts about the Bible form the foundation of all my other questions and doubts. If all our beliefs are founded on the Bible, then every question I have, in the end, is going to boil down to: can we trust the Bible? Why? How do we interpret the Bible? Is there another way to understand this text?
Of course, even in a four-minute-plus video I’m only scratching the surface, just as I’m doing here. I’ve blogged several times in the past about my relationship with the Bible (notably here, here and here) and will probably continue to share my questions and struggles every chance I get.
Seventh-day Adventist Fundamental Belief #1 says: The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration through holy men of God who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. In this Word, God has committed to man the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God’s acts in history.
I have no trouble signing on to that statement of belief as long as we are allowed some discussion around the word “infallible.” It’s not quite the same as “inerrant,” is it? We don’t use the word “inerrant” in our statement of beliefs, and the larger discussion around that statement in the book Seventh-day Adventists Believe makes it clear that our official position is that the thoughts and messages in the Bible are inspired, but the specific words are not — that the words, in fact, reflect the culture and background of the writers.
What does this mean for us in applying the Bible to our lives? To how great an extent can we take into account the culture in which it was written? To take just one example: Because the Bible was produced in a patriarchal culture, should we assume that the misogyny we sometimes see in its pages reflects the culture of the human writers, or the eternal will of God?
I also hoped that when I read this chapter in Seventh-day Adventists Believe I would find more about how we are to interpret and understand the Bible. Over the years I’ve become convinced through experience and observation that it’s disingenuous to say, “We can correctly interpret Scripture as long as we are guided by the Holy Spirit.” Every faithful Christian I know reads the same Scriptures and prays for the Spirit’s guidance, yet we reach some radically different conclusions about what the Bible is telling us. I wish as Adventists we could be a bit more honest about, for example, the extent to which we allow our tradition to shape our interpretation of the Bible (if you attend Adventist Bible studies you will learn that there is a “right way” to interpret certain texts which you might never have arrived at on your own despite praying for the Spirit’s guidance).
That said, I know that while my inability to view Scripture as a clear and simple roadmap frustrates some of my church friends, my determination to adhere to the Bible and make it a key part of my belief system is just as frustrating and incomprehensible to some of my more liberal and secular friends. As I tried to illustrate in the video above, the Bible is an integral part of my life and no matter how I struggle with understanding it, it always will be. The deeply Protestant approach of the Adventist church to sola Scriptura is in my DNA. When I hear someone from a different Christian tradition say that it’s more important to follow Jesus than the Bible, I instantly think, “How can you know anything about Jesus except through the Bible?” Or likewise, when someone says that being led by the Spirit is more important than following the Bible, I think, “Without the Bible as an external test, how can you distinguish the ‘leading of the Spirit’ from your own intuition?” The richness and, yes, even the strangeness of the Bible constantly intrigue and challenge me, and I cannot imagine my life without it.