This last week I have been reading two very fascinating books; ‘How (Not) to Speak Of God’ by Pete Rollins and ‘The Jesus I Never Knew’ by Philip Yancey. Both of these set out to get us to question the image we have of God.
Yancey’s book describes how he realised that his vision of Jesus did not marry with the description found in the Bible. Rather than reading it through the sanitised lens of children’s stories and Christmas Carols he re-learnt to read it through the eyes of First Century Palestinians. It takes great courage to put aside what you were taught to believe by those around you and embrace doubts and questions in re-reading the Gospels afresh.
Rollins encourages us to do the same, but from a philosophical point of view. He argues that although God has revealed himself through Jesus and the Scriptures, the accuracy of our knowledge of him is always constricted by language and intellect; we can never say for certain that we have completely understood the Bible as demonstrated by the many interpretations that can be found of what it says even within Christianity. Furthermore, if God is truly god, then it is impossible to contain him within the text of a book. Although the Bible’s contents are true, they can’t be the whole truth, saying everything that there is to say about him. Rollins balances this with an important clarification, although there are many different ways in which the Bible can be interpreted, there aren’t infinite ways. The Bible places boundaries around what it can be taken as meaning, e.g. although there are many different ways of understanding The Cross, the Bible doesn’t permit us to say that Jesus didn’t die on the Cross – it places a boundary that says he died on Good Friday and was raised on Easter Sunday.
So what does this have to do with us? Isn’t this just scholarly talk, important to those in academia’s ivory towers but of little relevance to us living in the real world? I don’t think so. In fact, I believe it has a lot to say about the way we talk to others about Jesus. It is tempting to see evangelism as telling non-Christians the truth that we have discovered. Rollins and Yancey, however, warn against the arrogance of such an approach. Instead they encourage us to engage in dialogue with others and explore together what the Bible might mean, being open to learning from each other. Not only does this demonstrate grace and humility, but also it shows an honesty which I believe should mark the followers of one who called himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. And maybe, just maybe, it will help us find a way as Christians to actually reflect the unity in the church that Jesus called for, as we learn to appreciate our differences for what they are.
A church newsletter article for 27.03.11