My sources for revelation

As a seminarian of the liberal Protestant tradition, I do not believe that everything in the Bible is necessarily (a) the Word of God, or (b) intended to be literally applicable to our lives.  I believe neither that the Bible was penned by God personally, nor “divinely inspired” – insofar as that means that God actually told its authors to write everything in it verbatim.  I don’t accept that view because I cannot, at this time, reconcile such literalism with passages like Numbers 5, Judges 19, 1 Timothy 2, nor the bizarre practices alluded to throughout Leviticus and Deuteronomy, just to name a few.

So what, then, are my sources for revelation? There are three: I know God and receive God’s message through personal, direct experiences and prayer, I know others who are personally in relationship with and have ideas about God, and yes, I have also come to know God through revelation about God as written in the Bible. I take seriously the command to love God with all my heart, soul, and mind (and might!). But I can do none of these if I must attribute all of the crazy, violent, and disturbing passages in the Bible to God’s own dictation, rather than humans operating within the science and social circumstances of their time.

Let me be clear: the Bible is essential, not optional, and contains great truth about God and from God – and perhaps even more truth about humans, even in the most terrible passages.  But to try and interpret the whole thing, good and bad, through the rosy lens of “God said it, so it must be true,” is to let oneself off of the responsibility to critically interpret the text through our present day lens, in the context of what God is trying to tell us about what’s happening today.

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8 Responses to “My sources for revelation”

  1. FranIAm Says:

    Preach it my brother, Amen Amen Amen.

    Signed with great love and many prayers your favorite (at least I am hoping) neo-pagan idol worshipper papist.

    I took some scripture study last week and am starting a new class tonight. We are working on John for the most part. How I love to immerse myself in the Word, I truly do, how I long for its wisdom and its peace.

    That said, you named at least a few of the passages that are just too hard to reconcile.

    The sad thing is that I encounter many Catholics who have a hard time believing that there are actual Vatican documents that encourage us to enter into the genre of story and not hang on every word as hard fact. In fact some of said documents were written in the last 40 years by a certain man now known to wear funny hats and red leather shoes. Go figure. That ol’ Holy Spirit blows where it will.

    Anyway, we must be responsible and be in the dynamic, to live in what I consider the tension of how we are called to live and love by our God.

    Thanks Tom. This blog is always an oasis for me. And I just linked to another blog about the movie Jesus Camp. Come on over if you can.

    Peace my brother.

  2. David Says:

    Tom,

    I think your list of revelation sources is a little shallow. Surely you get some revelation from people you don’t know, via books and the like. What about other significant books from the Christian traditions, and other traditions?

    I know that it’s a mistake, as a straight white american guy, to restrict my sources of revelation to just people I know.

    What about the Wesley quadrilateral? Tradition/reason/experience/scripture?

  3. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Hey David,

    You’re right, my list is definitely not complete. I’m not attempting to limit my sources, but rather define spheres. I agree that my second sphere (“people I know”) is poorly worded. I mean goodness, MLK wouldn’t even make the list as it stands! So that’s not right. If my first sphere is [God manifesting in a direct line to me], my second might be [other people’s experiences/stories of God], and the third be [other people’s experiences/stories/divine revelation? from the Bible].

    Thanks for the head’s up. Also, thanks for the Wesley quadrilateral suggestion…I’ll look into it.

    Peace,
    Tom

  4. FranIAm Says:

    You are a gentleman and a scholar and a beautiful child of God Tom Ryberg, you are indeed.

    How grateful I am to read your words always.

  5. John Singer Says:

    I don’t think believing the Bible literally (aside from recognizing various figures of speech .e.g. metaphor,etc.) is to wear rose colored glasses. I also don’t believe that to take the Bible literally is to give up on the task of finding appropriate application of the Bible to our daily lives. You have made statements but you haven’t backed them up; which is rhetoric rather than logical argument. Argument is premise and conclusion. If people use white-out on the Scripture passages they find objectionable we will have nothing left. Jesus said that the Word will judge us in the last day, not the other way around.

  6. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Hi John,

    Welcome to the site. I’m intrigued by this idea of using “white-out on the Scripture passages,” resulting in having nothing left. I have two responses to this notion.

    First, to claim that a passage is not useful for literal application in our lives today is not the same thing as whiting it out. I believe every passage in the Bible is extremely useful and instructive when it comes to providing context for who the biblical authors were and the world in which they lived, as well as their spiritual priorities. But that doesn’t mean that every passage is necessarily the Word of God, nor that it should be applied literally to our lives today.

    Second, I don’t believe that I am alone in the view that not every passage should be applied directly to my life. I have yet to meet a Christian (or a Jew, for that matter) who implements every freaky thing that gets mentioned in the Law – or even Christ’s own mandates (sell all your possessions, give the money to the poor, etc.). So we’re all drawing lines at some level, or if you prefer, using the whiteout. We may as well own up to it consciously and be clear on the standards by which we do so.

    Peace,
    Tom

  7. George Says:

    Hi Tom,

    This topic put me in mind of a recent post on slacktivist: http://slacktivist.typepad.com/slacktivist/2008/12/clean-shoes.html

    Purity codes have gotten us humans into more difficulty…


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