Weary of Literalism

I am weary of being accused of manipulating the biblical witness or being a tool of the Devil.

"Love One Another" by Tim Graves
“Love One Another”, Photo by Tim Graves

The implication of literalism when applied to those of us who study the Bible using historical-critical and literary methods is that we are at best naive and at worst lack integrity.

I do not have the answer. I am not sure that there is one right answer. Just as self-identified literalists, I begin my biblical reading as a human being with my own assumptions and biases.

My weariness lies in what feels like accusations of having biases by those who pretend they do not. Yes, as a human being I read the Bible through my own experiences of God. We all do.

I assume, and assume is the correct word, that it is ancient literature inspired by God. It is a collection of various writings by ancient people seeking to understand, explain, or express their experience of the Divine. This assumption is based on prayerful and rational reasons.

Others, those who self-describe as literalists, assume the writings in the Bible constitute the “literal, inerrant word of God.” Just as I make a decision about what the canon is before I ever turn a page, the “literalists” do the same. Both decisions are extra-biblical, meaning we decide what the Bible is based upon our personal and cultural experiences.

Just as I have well-thought out, prayerfully considered reasons for my approach, literalists have reasons for their approach. While I do not agree with their approach, I do not question their faithful desire to be true to God’s intentions. We are both seeking to be faithful to the One we describe as God.

But here is where my weariness of literalism’s proponents comes in. I grow weary of the accusation of bias when my interpretation of the Bible is different from their interpretation. The accusation that I have bias comes with an implicit (and sometimes explicit claim) that they approach the text without bias.

This is simply not true nor is it possible.

The arrogance of “rightness” and having the one right approach feels like judgement to me. It closes off discussion despite our need for one another. It makes it harder for all of us to hear and act upon the Divine persuasions to love our neighbors as ourselves. (See Mark 12:28-31.)  It separates us from one another and severs the body of Christ.

If that is not a sin, I don’t know what is.

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Related Post

Characterizing the Truth, August 26, 2011

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