A recent report issued by Gallup featured a headline entitled, “Record Few American Believe Bible Is Literal Word of God.” The article goes on to highlight the growing trend that more and more Americans are no longer considering the Bible to be the literal Word of God—that is, that the Bible is the actual word of God and should be taken literally, word for word. The poll highlights that a growing number of American Christians are becoming far are more curious about their sacred library(the Bible) than they were from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties (I wonder: Does this suggest a growth in biblical literacy, too?). Today American Christian are far more open to wrestling with the text, asking hard questions about the text, and concluding–as we say in the United Church of Christ that God is Stillspeaking. The church is no longer settling with the “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” ideology that I grew up with–because people are doing more critical thinking and biblical knowledge has become much more accessible, not just to theologically trained.
This willingness to grapple, wrestle and question the biblical text is really good news for us all–because for far too long Christians have been encouraged to check their minds at the doors of the church, and pick them back up on the way back out— a “No Critical Thinking Allowed Here” flashed throughout too many sanctuaries. The church needs more people who critically thinking and praying over our sacred texts, not just settling for what was said or soley relying upon what folks like Augustine, Barth and Wesley tell us what the text says. This is not to suggest that we should reject the historical thinking of the church, but it is to suggest that God did not speak soley then and is silent now. I believe that the church needs more people, especially those from diverse and non-majority backgrounds, to sit in Spirit-filled community and share what they see in the text, how it makes them feel, and what it compells them (and us) to do or not. It is good news that more Christians are thinking–and it is even better when they are empowered with tools and strategies that encourage critical and contextual thinking about text…
As our views on the bible continue to shift and change with every new generation—what should not change is our expectation; our expectation to discover God anew in the Spirit-inspired reading and hearing of sacred texts.
See Michael Graves, The Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture (Grand Rapids: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 131-146 for a good academic read on the role that the biblical text has played in history and how it best functions today in the life of the church. Also see Stephen E. Fowl and L. Gregory Jones’, Reading in Communion (Eugene: Wipft and Stock Publishers, 1998) for a really fantastic community reading strategy that we use here at Christian Fellowship UCC during our Wednesday evening Bible Study.