A Provocation: Twelve Myths Too Many Christians Believe, Pt 1

Part 2 is live.

  1. Christianity is not a religion.
  2. The Bible is the word of God.
  3. The Bible is true because it says it is.
  4. The only marriage espoused by scripture is between one man and one woman.
  5. Everything in the Bible must be literally true, or we should just throw it away.
  6. America is a Christian nation.

Christianity is not a religion.

“Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” The ever-reliable Wikipedia defines religion as “an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to the supernatural, and to spirituality.” Christianity is definitely a religion.

I can understand Christians’ reluctance to allow our organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to the supernatural, and to spirituality to be considered a religion. You’ll find that religion means relationship anyway, so it’s silly to say that it’s not.

I think this insistence against considering Christianity a religion is that the next logical step seems to be that Christianity is *a* religion – one among many, rather than The One True Faith. This pluralism, our imaginary Christian skeptic could infer, will lead invariably to a sort of relativism (more or less belief that all religions are equal), then to universalism.

Fortunately for our skeptic, it is entirely possible to believe that there are more religions than one while still holding to the perspective that yours is the right one. I feel that it is important to keep in mind that Christianity is indeed one religion among many because it will help us to see the Other as real – someone with beliefs that they hold as dear to them as we do ours. Naturally we think Christianity is the best religion available; if we did not, we would hold to a different one. Further, we believe that our particular church or denomination is the best expression of that faith; if we felt otherwise, we would go elsewhere.

We must, however, allow ourselves to remember that there are others who do feel otherwise and are not idiots. The latter claim becomes more difficult to maintain when one takes apologetics classes.

The Bible is the word of God.

This one is freakishly huge. From its preeminence on the “beliefs” section of almost every church web site, you would think that this is orthodoxy. It’s not. Neither the Bible, the nicene creed, or the apostle’s creed even imply that the Bible is the word of God. II Timothy 3:16 says that all scripture is inspired by God.

Inspired ≠ God’s word, or God’s words.

Go ahead. Skim any church web site that affirms that the Bible is the word of God. Notice two things:

  1. They don’t quote those verses.
  2. When you look up those verses, you’ll find that they don’t say what the web site is using them to mean.

It’s ridiculous. It’s proof-texting, except without the text part.

Besides that, you’ll find that John 1 clearly says that “The word was with God, and the word was God.” To affirm this scripture passage and that the Bible is the word of God leads straight to bibliolatry:

  1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
  2. The word of God was (is) God.
  3. The Bible is the word of God.
  4. Therefore, the Bible is God.

(1) is scripture. (2) is inevitable from (1). (3) is the premise at issue. (4) is inevitable given 1, 2, and 3. The only way to avoid the silliness that is (4) without disposing of the scripture passage in question is to dispose of (3), The Bible is the word of God.

Scary, isn’t it? I actually had a conversation much like the previous one with a dedicated Christian who told me that the Bible was God – and didn’t see anything wrong with that statement. There is, I assure you.

  1. For the Bible not to be God, the Bible cannot be the word of God.

It should be obvious by now that the Bible not only is not the word of God, but cannot be. Jesus is. Jesus can both be God and the word of God quite handily. The Bible cannot.

The Bible is true because it says that it is.

This one is especially silly. No one should ever believe this. The Book of Mormon has many more explicit claims to being true than the Bible does, and Christians don’t believe that the BoM is true. There’s a bizarre principle going on here:

  1. A book is true because it says that it is.
  2. Behind that lies the fallacy “A book can be verified to be true by whether or not it claims to be.”
  3. This leads to “Any book that claims to be true is.”

Which is obviously silly. There must be another claim here.

  1. We can know that a book is true if it is the Bible and if it says that it is true.
  2. The Bible is a book that is the Bible and says that it is true.
  3. Therefore, the Bible is true.

At this point, we realize that we have absolutely no reason to believe (1). Let’s try one more time.

  1. The Bible is true.
  2. Therefore, if the Bible says something, what it says is true.
  3. The Bible says that it is true.
  4. Therefore, the Bible is true.

If you look up the phrase “circular reasoning,” you’ll find a picture of this argument.

The only marriage espoused by scripture
is between one man and one woman.

The skeptics annotated Bible has a fairly exhaustive listing of references to polygamy in the Bible. The three most salient:

  • 2 Samuel 12:7-8: “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel … I gave thee … thy master’s wives…”
  • Exodus 21:10 “If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.”
  • Deuteronomy 21:15: “If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated…”

While I certainly do not endorse polygamy, the Bible is most definitely not “clear” on marriage being “defined as between one man and one woman.”

Naturally, people will argue that “that’s old testament,” as if the first testament doesn’t matter, except when it talks about gay marriage, which is when it most definitely does matter.

Everything in the Bible must be literally true,
or we should just throw it away.

I should first clarify that literally nobody believes this. Some people claim that they do, but as soon as someone starts pointing out contradictions, the person who claims to hold this view will jump onto the slippery slope toward some things being literal and some things being figurative, based on nothing other than their particular interpretation of the Bible, which they claim is based on the Bible. Next thing you know, they’ll be agreeing that Genesis 1 and 2 are ancient near eastern cosmology.

Nah, probably not.

I admit, it’s terrifying. Every now and then I’ve wished I could take the Bible literally again. It would be so immensely comforting to be able to open my Bible and know that whatever I read was guaranteed to be more true than anything I could read in the morning news. Unfortunately, “whatever I read” is really just shorthand for “whatever I understood,” which is not the same as “whatever I read.” And I have far too many uncertainties about what I read as it is, let alone what I interpret.

That being the case, we should not just throw away the Bible. As Christians, we do believe that all scripture is inspired by God and useful. But what does “inspired” mean? God-breathed? Or is it more like a film that is “based on a true story?” How can we pick out the pieces that are and are not accurate depictions of God?

Greg Boyd uses the image of a sieve to help interpret scripture. He (and I) see the fullest expression of who God is (“the word of God”) as Christ dying on a cross sacrificing himself for his enemies. That is our hermeneutic, or interpretive principle.

A further issue with this is that many people are browsing the internet and going to college and learning for almost absolute certain that some things in the Bible must not be literally true, and as a result, these people leave the faith. Hence:

  1. If everything in the Bible is not literally true, we should just throw it away.
  2. Something in the Bible is not literally true.
  3. Therefore, everything in the Bible is not literally true.
  4. Therefore, we should just throw the Bible away.

Christians tend to respond to this issue in one of two ways: (a) They choose their faith and become what is considered anti-science, forcefully arguing that (2) cannot be the case, or (b) they choose their mind and accept (4), never realizing that (4) falls apart without (1), which, as discussed in “the Bible is the word of God,” is not even necessary to the Christian faith.

America is (or was) a Christian nation.

This fails for two reasons:

  1. Greg Boyd wisely points out in Myth of a Christian Nation that the United States of America is what scripture describes as a “Kingdom of This World,” and as such, it cannot be “Christian” in any sense of the word. if the USA followed the principles of the Kingdom of God, Boyd argues that it would probably collapse.
  2. Even if such a thing was possible, America as a Christian nation (a nation founded on Christian principles) never existed. We’ve been killing our enemies since day one, and as Shane Claiborne (and a number of others) have pointed out, “When Jesus said to love our enemies, we think he probably meant don’t kill them.”

We’re not a Christian nation. The USA never has been, nor can it ever be.

– – –

Come back next time for the next six:

  • The goal of Christianity is to leave your body and have your soul go to heaven when you die.
  • The rapture.
  • Jesus talks more about hell than about heaven.
  • Biblical = the historic Christian faith.
  • Salvation means that your eternal destiny changes from hell to heaven.
  • The Bible can be relied upon because it doesn’t have any mistakes in it.

David M Schell About David M Schell

David M. Schell is a doubter, a believer, and a skeptic. He writes about God and stuff. He is happily married to Kristen, and that’s why his posts don’t come out as often or as angry.

  • I like this post unreservedly.

    It seems to me that the Bible being the Word of God is an ancient Christian pun.

    Without irony or sarcasm I look forward to you disproving “Biblical = the historic Christian faith.”

  • Ray Horst

    Good work, David. God gave us “a sound mind,” the Bible says – the opposite of believing stupidities.

  • Ryan Robinson

    The first one depends on definition of “religion.” By what would probably be a more technically correct definition like you’ve given, you’re absolutely right that Christianity is a religion. I also agree that it is usually used as an apologetics technique to show why Christianity is better.

    That said, what happens if we use the more emotional definition that comes to mind for a lot of people: religion as a list of rules, a list of rituals, concerned with getting you in the right group, judgemental, etc? In that case, I think it is very helpful for Christians to remember that these things are very clearly not what Jesus was going for.

    • That… is an excellent point.

    • Matthew 5:19-20 seems appropriate here.

      Religion without ritual is a relationship made of passions, grounded not in fidelity but feeling.

      • Ryan Robinson

        Oh yes, I’m definitely not suggesting that we ignore the teachings of Jesus, just pointing out there is a huge difference between doing those things out of love for your King (“relationship”) compared to doing it because you want to fit in with the right religious group or because you grew up that way or because you think that makes God love you more (“religion”).

        • @The Ubiquitous: Ahhh….

          “Religion without ritual is a relationship made of passions, grounded not in fidelity but feeling.” I don’t know where you got that, but I want one.

          @Ryan Robinson: You have two good points there as well.

        • Etymologically speaking, religion means relationship. This is not playing word games. The relationship between relationship and ritual is not quite identity, but it is so interwoven that to distinguish works and faith too harshly is the height of folly.

          Faith, and “relationship”, is the response to God, as are doing things in his name.

          Mechanical ritualism is rarer than most folks think, I think, because those who are ritualistic are either clueless, which is rare, or lazy, which is common.

      • Mr. Schell — Thank you kindly, sir!

        Direct inspirations include, if I remember correctly, blogs and Youtube and Dante. Also, I can credit an overall spiritual formation by way of Lewis and Chesterton.

  • Here’s my favorite quote defending #3:
    But herein is the Bible itself greatly wronged. It nowhere lays claim to be regarded as the Word, the Way, the Truth. The Bible leads us to Jesus, the inexhaustible, the ever unfolding Revelation of God. It is Christ “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” not the Bible, save as leading to him.
    -George MacDonald

  • Pam Holmes

    I’m a progressive Christian who would like to add some more myths to that list:

    13. The Bible is the best expression of who or what God is.

    As we move from the Old to the New Testament, we witness an evolution in the understanding of the nature of God. Why should we assume that this evolution should stop in the first century? There are serious philosophical and logical problems with traditional theism. Perhaps we claim to know too much about the ultimate mystery.

    14. Jesus is God.

    Sorry, but no. You can actually trace the evolution of Christology from the oldest Gospel of Mark to the youngest of John. In the second century we also observe sects that didn’t take this idea literally. As Christianity became increasingly Gentile, the pagan idea of a human as God became more palatable.

    15. Christianity is the only way or at least the best way to God.

    I am not a Christian because I believe it to be the “best” religion. I recognize that the resonance that Christianity has for me has as much to do with my cultural conditioning as anything else. There are many valid paths to God, and some of them may not even involve religion.

    • For the sake of anyone else reading, rebuttals:

      13. Doctrines of faith delivered once and for all, to which nobody may add anything, reached their culmination in the Word Incarnate. If there was evolution in understanding between the Old and New Covenants, there can only be development and not change in the understanding of the New Covenant. There has been no change of understanding since, only deepening through the rejection of heresy. Heresy sharpens dogma.

      14. The second century came about a century after the first. Odd that the Gnostic sects, which also jettisoned other unpopular ideas like the value of women, preserved some hypothetical Markan Christology. Meanwhile, Mark was written to Jews, has evidence for a divine Christology by hints and suggestions. There was no need to make the claims explicit until later Gospels, especially John. Again, heresy sharpens dogma.

      15. If Christ is not the way to God, and there are other ways to God, then we’re stuck tossing out Paul along with the divinity of Christ. You don’t get to be the “one mediator” if there are any others. I should hope that the heresy of indifferentism sharpens the dogmas regarding the unique nature of the Church. This, I think, will be the coming attack, now that the fun of dismantling sexual ethics is passing like a tide.

      References upon request.

      • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

        Yes, I would enjoy seeing your sources, as your claims are bold, and entirely unsubstantiated. If, as you say, “doctrines of faith delivered once and for all, to which nobody may add anything, reached their culmination in the Word Incarnate,” then what do you say of the Doctrine of the Trinity, which was developed much later, or for that matter, the “doctrine of the virgin birth,” (and we could no doubt have lots of fun debating that one!) which is a later invention of the Church, based on a dubious translation at best?

      • Rev. Dreher-Wiberg:

        Please note the last half of the paragraph. Doctrine is in the beginning used in a looser sense than it is usually, as the other sentences in the paragraph should demonstrate. I’m sorry if I should have used a better word — maybe “revelation” would be better?

        Trinity: An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.

        Virgin birth: “Virgin Birth of Christ“, Original Catholic Encyclopedia.

        I should also point out that the full history of the development does not really matter once it is proclaimed part of the classical Christian tradition by the community founded by Christ. It is sufficient that the Church remember that a thing is true and proclaim it is true. That signs appear regarding it in Scripture — and in the writing of St. Justin Martyr, who goes so far as to say Mary is the New Eve (!) — is appropriate. Though it is very helpful to return to the sources, it is not done in the spirit of debunking, as if the proclamation could be overturned. This is the sense of the claims made by the original comment.

        • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

          I appreciate your sharing your sources. Our difference, I suspect, is that I do not place very much value in Roman Catholic apologetics.

    • For me, as an I’m-not-sure-where-I-land-anymore-kinda-progressive Christian, I would have to disagree on 15, or at least push back a bit. If you don’t think Christianity is the best way to God, why take it? Why not take another way? For me, that’s what I’d do. I can respect other faith systems and religions while still maintaining, at least in my own mind (as they do) that mine is superior. Naturally it’s a bit egotistical of me, but aren’t we all a little?

      As for 14, I still believe fairly strongly that Jesus is God, but I respect your disagreeing opinion. 🙂

      • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

        Dave, here is how I express these matters. Christianity is the best path to God FOR ME. It may not be the best for everyone. As to Jesus being God, my take is that Jesus is the definitive revelation of God; the one in whom God is fully incarnate… but again, I must add the qualifying phrase, “for me.” In this way, I claim the authenticity of my faith tradition, and for that matter, my world view, but without discrediting that of another, or for that matter, claiming superiority of my faith to that of those of another tradition. I take great joy in sharing my faith with others in the context of mutual respect which involves at least as much listening as speaking.

  • Reblogged this on Big Blue Dot Y'all and commented:
    Brave post.

  • Em Pulse

    Very well-written, however, the author of the article is not God, so he could be wrong about a few things. Unless, of course, he says it’s all true… right?

  • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

    I have been a Christian teacher and a preacher for 40 years… teaching pretty much what you have written here for all those years. What a wonderful tool the internet is… where I was able to reach maybe 100 people at a time for most of my active ministry, with the internet, one can reach 100’s of thousands. Count me (and most of the people to whom I have ministered) as among “Christians tired of being misrepresented.” The genius of the “Christian Right” has been it’s early adaptation to mass media… radio, TV, and the internet. In this regard, the rest of us are still on a steep learning curve. Of course, if our teachings were more appetizing to Madison Avenue, as theirs often are, or to the rich and powerful, as theirs often are, then we, like them, could afford to do so much better with our marketing! In the end, though, truth will out, and God will not forever be mocked.

    • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

      Oh yes, BTW, that part about God not being mocked… I read that in the Bible! (Gal. 6:7)

  • Karen

    An argument could be made that Christianity is a theology and the practice of it (i,e, the church you belong to) is the religion.

  • Karen

    And the Book of Mormon is believed by Christians – specifically the Christians belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (sometimes called the Mormons…). Jesus the Christ features prominently in it.

    • My apologies. I was referring to protestant, catholic, and orthodox variety Christians.

    • Strictly speaking, baptism is what makes Christians Christian, right down to Hitler and Stalin. (It is not what makes them the elect, &c.)

      Therefore, because they do not have a valid baptism, Mormons are not Christians. For what it’s worth.

      • I have to ask, then: What makes baptism “valid” or “invalid”?

      • Since you asked! 😉

        1. Matter — Water only, no spit or soda.
        2. Form — roughly, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
        3. Intent.
        4. Disposition.

        Nos. 3 and 4 are messed up for Mormons because they don’t hold to No. 2 very well, rejecting the Trinity in favor of tritheism at least, polytheism at worst, and the intent of the celebrating minister and the disposition of the baptizee are specifically trained to reject the Trinity.

        Because the Trinity is as important to baptism as water is — see No. 2 — it spoils the attempt at baptism.

        • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

          TU, I’m curious. Regarding your #2, what say you alternative forms, such as “In the name of the Creator, the Christ, and the Present One”, or “in the name of the Holy One, the Christ, and the Holy Spirit”? In short, do you accept formulations that honor the trinity, but reject male-dominated language? Just wondering!

      • “… and the intent of the celebrating minister and the disposition of the baptizee are ruined because they are specifically trained …”

      • Don’t know where you get “spit or soda”, and the form we follow is precisely as you suggest. I’m not sure if there’s some mainline Protestant jargon behind your use of Intent and Disposition, but generally the INTENT is to recognize a person’s repentance and DISPOSITION to follow Christ by allowing them to make a covenant to do such. If that decision is only made after 6-1/2 years of indoctrination, as your “specifically trained” quote seems to allude to (source?), then all we can do is wait and see what fruit is borne, whether it’s self-righteousness and hypocrisy or compassion and self-sacrifice.

        Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have handcart pioneers for our fathers: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto the handcart pioneers. 😉

        • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

          Touche! While I have “issues”: with much of Mormon theology, I am loathe to judge whether those whose theology differ from mine are, or are not, Christian. I will say that, in my opinion, Mormonism wanders far afield from classic, orthodox Christian theology… but in my opinion, so does the belief system of the Southern Baptist Convention! We Christians are, at the end, an incredibly diverse people!

      • Mormon baptism:
        * Popular.
        * Advanced.
        * Technical — does not specifically mention Mormon baptism.

        (Not a single bit of mainline Protestant jargon intended! Click the links and you’ll see what I mean. 😉 )

        Briefly, as alluded to before, disposition regards the recipient of baptism. This includes rules like “cannot be already baptized.” Intent regards the minister of baptism. This includes rules like “cannot specifically deny the trinity.”

        • This is, however, the Catholic perspective. Mormons may see things rather differently. And God may as well 😉

          • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

            Right, Dave. In like manner, I find much with which to disagree in Catholic Doctrine, but I do not therefore deny that Catholics are Christians.

            “He drew a circle that shut me out-
            Heretic , rebel, a thing to flout.
            But love and I had the wit to win:
            We drew a circle and took him In!” -Edwin Markham (from “Outwitted”)

      • No doubt! That’s why questions of authenticity are closely related to questions of antiquity …

      • Rev. Dreher-Wiberg:

        Looked it up — “Father”, “Son”, and “Holy Ghost” are all necessary. “Holy Ghost” could be “Holy Spirit” but that’s about it.

        So far as rejecting language of maleness, I am curious what you make of this very good talk on YouTube. Text here.

        The relevant portion begins with:

        “Masculine and feminine, or yang and yin, are universal, cosmic principles, extending to all reality, including spirit.”

        • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

          As to Kraft, he presents an interesting apologetic for his position. I simply do not agree. What he calls universal cosmic principles I call cultural relativism.

          Re: “Father, Son, Holy Ghost (Spirit), you say you looked it up. Where? I can find someone, somewhere, who will substantiate just about anything. That doesn’t make it authoritative. BTW, “Holy Ghost” is based on a very poor translation, thanks to King James and his early 17th Century scholars, who were commissioned to be apologists for the Anglican church and it’s polity and doctrine. “Spirit” is a more accurate rendering of both the original Hebrew “Ruach” and the Greek “Pneuma” (which, BTW, is feminine!)

          But in the end, words are only words. They have the capacity neither to confine nor to adequately define God. I believe that God is quite concerned with what is in our heart, and how we reflect God’s love (which, according to the Fourth Gospel, is definitive of God… love, not order) in the world. Therefore, I really do not believe that God gives a fig about the words we use in baptism. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christians took all the energy we expend on debating what we say in the act of baptism, and focused instead on how best to nurture the life of the one we have baptized? I long for the day when no Christian cares a whit about a sister or brother’s stated theology, because we are all too busy feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, healing the sick, and visiting those who are (in many diverse ways) imprisoned. On that day, the Reign of God will be very near to us.

      • Do you deny cosmic universals as such? If so, what and why? If not, why not?

        • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

          I’m not even sure what you mean by “cosmic universal,” but it sounds a bit platonic. I’m really not into Plato, except to note that over the millenia, there’s been lots of syncretism of Platonic and Christian thought… one of the problems I have with much classic theology.

      • Do you believe that anything is actually true?

  • Jennifer

    Amazing! Thank you so much. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

  • Christine E

    Surely you really meant in the next six that “Salvation means that your eternal destiny changes from HELL TO HEAVEN,” not the other way around. That would be the myth they believe that you are to disprove…right?

    • I did indeed. I got it backwards because I wasn’t paying super-close attention.

  • The author of this piece is making fundamental misunderstandings about what the ‘Christian’ statements mean. You need look no further than the very first one:

    ““Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” The ever-reliable Wikipedia defines religion as ”an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to the supernatural, and to spirituality.” Christianity is definitely a religion”

    Apparently the answer is based on the idea that Christians don’t even know what the word ‘religion’ means. On the contrary, the person is asserting exactly what they are saying: That Christianity is NOT a religion. If we unpack the word ‘religion’ using the definition offered, we’re saying:

    Christianity is not a collection of beliefs, it is not a cultural system, it is not a world view relating humanity to the supernatural.

    If that were not what we were saying, then it wouldn’t be news to so many people. It wouldn’t be necessary to repeat it so frequently (i.e., “Hey! You! You misunderstand what Christianity is! It isn’t about believing something! It’s about having a relationship with God.”)

    • I meant no offense by providing a definition; I only needed something from which to work. I chose wikipedia and referred to it as ever-reliable with tongue firmly planted in my cheek. However, wikipedia’s definition does include all of those things as relating to the supernatural, not just a world view. It is all of those things relating humanity to the supernatural: a cultural system, a set of beliefs, and a world view.

      Like me, you seem well-equipped to list off things that Christianity is not. From your perspective, what do you think Christianity is, then?

  • CeCe

    Wonderful post! I agree with each and every point without reservation.

  • I have very few regrets, but the greatest is telling a young woman whom I was dating, 30+ years ago, that she had a religion (Episcopalian) and I had a relationship (Baptist). Now…after a decade in The Episcopal Church, I still seek her forgiveness. Cindy Duffy, wherever you are, I was an arrogant young man!

  • The “Word” isn’t the Bible or scripture — it’s Jesus Christ himself, Logos.

    • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

      Barbara, I almost agree with you… but I have to offer a small theological editorial. The WORD (logos) in John’s prologue is that which was present with God, and was God, at the beginning of Creation. That WORD ultimately became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who we acknowledge, therefore, to be the Christ. But it was this Christ/messiah/essence of God, or what John calls the Logos, that was present at the beginning with God, and that was God, not Jesus, who was a 1st Century man in whom the fullness of God came to dwell. The logos, which can loosely be defined as “the living, creative, purposeful, life-giving will of God” that existed from the beginning, and which was incarnate, eventually, in the man Jesus. From my perspective, it is correct to say that the WORD existed from the beginning. It is also correct to say that “The Christ” so existed, since it is the WORD, or the life-giving will of God that brings salvation. But is it inaccurate to say that Jesus pre-existed. This misconception has become the basis for the idolatry of what I call “Jesusology.”

      • Paul, I agree with you totally — but could never in my wildest dreams have expressed it that well. I confess to being sloppy sometimes and blurring the distinction between the man Jesus from Nazareth and Logos/God Incarnate. I get queasy sometimes with the “idolatry of Jesusology” — well put! — and it’s great to hear someone articulate the issue so well. Thank you!! A follow-up question, if you don’t mind: When do you believe that “the fullness of God came to dwell” in Jesus? I pray that having different answers to that question will someday be less divisive. Isn’t exactly that divisiveness what Jesus was taking about in Matthew 10:34?

        • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

          Barbara, thanks for the compliment. As Rev. Dr. Herrill Beck used to say, “A little flattery won’t hurt you, so long as you don’t inhale it!”

          As to Mt. 10:34, I don’t imagine that Jesus (if, in fact, these were Jesus’ words, rather than Matthew’s – but that’s a whole other debate!) was pointing to the current heated, and sometimes rancorous, debate among Christians, but rather between those pharisees who demanded strict adherence to every fine point of the law (as they interpreted the law, of course!), and those who sought to follow the spirit of Jesus’ teachings.

          As to your “fulness of God” question, that’s also the subject of much debate and disagreement among those who love to argue such things (and I confess I do find such arguments recreational!). A close reading of the synoptic Gospels (Mt, Mk, Lk) suggests that Jesus experienced a growing awareness of his own identity (Messianic Consciousness). If the doctrine of Incarnation is understood to mean that God became fully present with us, and knowable to us, in the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus) then I think it follows that we have to say that the fulness of God came to dwell in Jesus, the Christ, beginning with his birth (or perhaps his conception?), and culminating in his death (historically verifiable) and his resurrection (affirmed by the witness of the earliest church and, for us, through the experience of faith). In my understanding, this is why we define the whole process (conception to resurrection) as “the Christ Event.” I think attempting to pinpoint “when specifically” beyond this formulation is pointless.

          My apologies for another essay… nobody has ever accused me of being succinct!

      • Paul, I love your answers and also really enjoy discussing these issues — thanks for taking the time! I’d like to split a hair with you: Isn’t it possible that Christ foresaw that the split between the Pharisees and those who sought to follow the spirit of his word would develop exactly into the religion-based conflicts we’re seeing today? Isn’t the current situation — progressive Christians and non-Christians alike trying to follow the Christ path while their fundamentalist Christian brothers, sisters, parents, or children chase after them with swords (mostly metaphoric) while fundamentalist Muslims chase after those they think are violating the most important and holy central message of social justice — a fulfillment of the exact split Christ was talking about? I decided a while ago that the nature of God is a hugely enjoyable topic to talk about with open-minded individuals, but far less important than actually trying to live in accordance with what I believe Christ was trying to teach us. Unfortunately, so many fundamentalists get that order of importance backwards, in my honest opinion, and simply miss the forest because they’re too busy worshiping the trees (or rather the paper produced from the trees). My two cents: I believe that Jesus was inherently fully Divine at birth — that even at the moment of his conception he was with and of God in a way unique to human history — and that he was also simultaneously fully and totally human. And, of course, it took a while for his humanity to develop to a point where he could express his fullness of God. I think the myth of Mary & Anne’s virginity is ridiculous, harmful, and totally unnecessary. I believe that by confronting our egos and our neuroses, and growing past them, we grow toward the divine. And I believe that we all, as a species, were indelibly and eternally changed by the presence of Jesus amongst us, in a way that is still to this day enabling us all to evolve toward the divine. I believe he ‘transformed’ us from our tribalistic and in some ways even residually animalistic selves, and created a new paradigm through teaching us how to awaken our higher, more noble, innately divine selves. I believe Christ created that new paradigm (which to me is the Kingdom of God) through his life and teachings, but in no way did he create it only for those Christians who get the right answers on some final fundamentalist comprehension test at the Pearly Gates. By the way: I lived in Bangor in 1984-85, when I was finishing my studies at UMO! 🙂

        • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

          Barbara, I finished my undergrad work at UMO in the late 70’s while doing my Masters work at Bangor… so we are almost classmates! I could quibble over a few words and their meanings with you (I confess that I really enjoy the quibbling!), but in essence, it seems that we share very much the same ideas on doctrine. The current chasm in the church between fundamentalists and mainline/oldline/liberal/progressives does seem quite analogous to the rift between the early followers of The Way and the pharisaic legalists of Jesus’ time. Whether Jesus “foresaw” this, or was merely an astute commentator on the human condition is probably a matter of no importance.

          I must say that I have found the quality of discourse in this thread to be refreshingly thoughtful and stimulating, compared to the drivel posted in many others. Nice chatting with you!

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  • Reblogged this on bolang5768 and commented:
    it’s true,,

  • Very interesting post and comments! I wonder if you’d mind, David, if I linked your blog on a Facebook post? I’d like to see what people think, especially of the “America as a Christian nation” part. Please let me know. Thanks.

  • Opened my eyes and heart to the truth. Very enlightening. Thank you.

  • Rick

    Thanks heaps for this post. I’m a Christian, but I really appreciate the way you’ve gone about these points. I’d be keen to offer some thoughts on each of yours because I think there’s some good analysis and some misunderstandings in your myths.

    1. Christianity is not a religion
    Love it. Christianity is, in heaps of ways, a religion. It does adhere to a set of beliefs etc. I think why a lot of us don’t want to call Christianity a religion is because it isn’t about following rules that makes us cross some bar to be good enough, like other religions or some over-traditionalised forms of what is called Christianity. That uniqueness makes me buck at the title “religion” because that can mislead people about what we really believe. But fully on board with your reasons for this.

    2. Bible is the Word of God
    I can see your reasoning here, but I think I disagree on a couple of points. But I think the title “Word of God” might be an unclear title here. The Bible doesn’t call itself the “word of God” as a whole. That phrase verbatim isn’t used to refer, within the Bible, for the whole Bible. That’s kind of impossible unless the Bible were written at one time, by one author.
    The John 1 passage you’ve mentioned is supposed to be referencing Jesus, showing that Jesus is God (your logic for those verses, when shown to be Jesus, is a strong pillar for our belief in Jesus’ divinity).
    But the Bible does refer to other bits of the Bible as the words of God. Hebrews 3:7 says “as the Holy Spirit says” and then goes on to quote a passage from the Old Testament, written by King David. Acts 4:24-25 is even more explicit “through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit…”. Acts 13:35 is talking about things that God has done and then says “Therefore he also says in another psalm”. There’s chunks of these all over the place.
    I also think that 2 Timothy 3:16 is more literally translated “breathed out by God”, which you’ll find some version of in most of the major translations. The idea of being breathed out is very closely tied with words, messages etc in their culture. We use it the same way in phrases like “save your breath”.
    The idea of a “word” is a strong theme in both Hebrew, Greek and Roman cultures and so it makes sense that this concept could be used multiple times, once for Jesus (being the word/ message of God) and then Christians, taking cues from the way the Bible talks about itself, and calling it the Word of God.

    3. The Bible is true because it says it is
    This is one I whole-heartedly agree with you on. I don’t know any Christians who would say the Bible is true because it says so though. I would say the Bible is true, and that is says so, but not one because of the other. I think the Bible is true because of what it says, being an Ancient History major, among other reasons. If something is an ultimate truth, you would expect it to claim it’s own accuracy, but you wouldn’t just say “It’s true because it says so”. That would be really misguided for heaps of reasons like you’ve said.

    4. The Bible is literal
    I again, fully get your point. I think the Bible is literal, in the sense that it is true and must be read in context and knowing it’s genre etc. I wouldn’t say it is literalistic in the sense that when God said he brought the nation of Israel out in eagle’s wings, I start flipping to find where those giant eagles from Lord of the Rings made a cameo. It’s a figure of speech. I think sometimes the claims of the Bible are big and sometimes well-meaning Christians will want to say that real events didn’t happen or whatever just because they’re tough, but I disagree there, so reading within the genre takes work and discernment.

    5. USA a Christian Nation
    No qualms here either. 1 because I’m an Aussie and 2 I think no nation is really a Christian nation. It’s really a misnomer.

    Sorry for the essay in response! Thanks again for the well articulated thoughts

    • No worries on the essay in response 🙂 You could have just posted your own and linked to it, though. That’s what I do when my responses start getting too long.

      As for #3, I actually learned this in AWANA. The question was “how do we know the Bible is true,” and the answer was a couple of quotes from the Bible (that didn’t actually affirm that). Thanks for your reply!

      • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

        Dave, Re: AWANA, etc, you and I are both, apparently, living proof of the wisdom of the first thing I learned in my first Christian Education course at seminary. The professor said, “If you do not remember anything else from this course, remember this: NEVER teach a child anything that someone will need to un-teach him/her later!” If only we could get away from the notion that the task of Christian Education is to teach children doctrine, but is to nurture in them a love of God and of other persons. The wisdom of ancient cultures is illustrated in how they taught their children… not with doctrine way beyond their ability to comprehend, but with stories. As one Native American colleague used to say, “I will tell you a story. It is a true story. I do not know if it happened.”

        May I add that I find it interesting how easily, when expressing our opinions on such matters, we slip into pharisaic legalisms! Surely, God, watching us, must spend a great deal of time shaking her head in dismay!

        • “I will tell you a story. It is a true story. I do not know if it happened.” YES!

          Yeah, God shaking his head in dismay sounds about right. Or amusement, I’m not sure which.

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  • The question of religion and christianity was actually a polemical one raised by Karl Barth in one of his work, and which was again raised by other authors, including Jacques Ellul. So, depending of the meaning we give to “religion”, Christianity is or is not a religion.

    And to add another theological definition, on the question of “Everything in the Bible must be literally true,or we should just throw it away.” Bultmann answered to this question in a quite interesting and challenging way with his idea of “demythology”.

    But this article is anyway interesting and accurate, it just lack one or two good references in my view 😉

  • maybe i like this because your writing is as irreverent as mine. maybe it is because i tend to agree. or, maybe it’s because it is interesting and i’m glad you give a damn enough to write on such subjects. any which way, i like. carry on.

    • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

      A little irreverence is a very good thing, especially in the face of what a professor of mine called “Certainty at the expense of understanding.”

  • You have successfully articulated something I’ve been coming to understand over a long time. You said it far better than I could. Thank you!

  • Reblogged this on Transcending the Stereotype and commented:
    David Schell provides some interesting insight into twelve commonly believed “facts” many Christians take for granted.

  • tennessean_man

    Most of this is OK, some of it ‘old hat’. #2, The “logical proof” that the Bible is not the word of God, is actually pretty thin and silly as stated. It only succeeds if one thinks that every word (like ‘word’) has one and only one meaning, and it falls apart if one states the same MEANING – of the Bible being the text through which God’s own messages for humanity are conveyed – is expressed using different language; the “proof” depends on both the use of the word ‘word’ in the statement under critique, and on the belief that every word just has 1 meaning (so that ‘word’ can’t have different denotations in ‘The word was with God’ and ‘The Bible is the word of God’. But users of almost any language commonly assign multiple denotations to every word, especially to words so basic as ‘word’ (specific ones like “phenylketonuria” are likely to have just 1 meaning). By the way, the statement as rephrased (and as it could be twiddled by people who might pick fault w/my rephrasing) is in no way incompatible with saying with the Gospel of Joh that “Jesus the Messiah is the SUPREME self-expression of God”. Don’t get too carried away with cheap tricks!

    • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

      If you want to properly understand the word “logos” employed in John 1, translated (with much loss of meaning) into “:word” in English, then you might begin by a study of the works of Philo, whose work heavily influenced the writing of the fourth Gospel. My own study has led me to define logos, in terms comprehensible to the modern western mind and as it is used in the Prologue of John, as “The powerful, creative, purposeful, life-giving will of God.”

      As to “Bible is the word of God,” I believe the original blog is taking exception to the literalist view that the Bible contains the literal words of God, as though God sat down and dictated the text. For myself, I believe that the Bible is the word of (one could easily substitute “about” for “of”) God in the sense that it is the witness of the community of faith over millenia in regard to it’s experience of God in its midst. It is roughly analogous to saying “the news of the day.” This does not mean that the news was dictated by “the day,” but rather that the news reports the experiences of the day from the perspective of the observer.

  • tennessean_man

    At risk of outwearing my welcome let me take up #1 about Christianity being not a religion but a relationship. Let me ask you which you think is more essential to following Jesus, the corpus of ”organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to the supernatural, and to spirituality.” – – i.e. what humans have construed – – or what God has done and does, and the person of Jesus Christ. If you have the first without the second you have practices that may make for social order as Kant has stated, but you have no salvation, no consolation of the Holy Spirit; if you have the latter without the former, on the other hand…

    • Rev. Paul Dreher-Wiberg

      But, you see, one can make the same argument about Buddhism… that following the Buddha is not a religion, but a relationship. In both cases, it is a relationship whose followers are informed, organized, and brought into community by a common understanding of what “following” means… and that is a religion.

      • I personally feel that the greatest loss is to have a relationship with Jesus Christ without doing the work required to allow that relationship to actually transform us. It seems to me that sometimes fundamentalist Christians focus on the ecstatic bliss they feel in contemplating the love they give to and receive from Christ, on the forgiveness of sins, and on how their answer is better and/or the only right answer, without spending much time or energy contemplating what they themselves could actually be *doing* to be better people, to better follow the example of Christ in their behaviors, and in so doing to redeem themselves. To me, belonging to an organized religion is obviously not essential to having a relationship with God. I personally feel that my relationship with God is of primary importance and my membership in a religion is of secondary importance. But why try to deny that you’re part of a religion when your definition of and relationship with God is so clearly defined (and sometimes constrained) by a religion? Over the millennia, our collective beliefs about the nature of God have codified into a variety of religious systems; those systems have evolved as our species has evolved, and, like every other aspect of our cultures, our religions will continue to evolve along with us. That’s just simply the nature of humanity: religion is a aspect of human culture — both evolve. To me, it’s far more dangerous to have ‘salvation’ and ‘consolation’ without understanding that Christ was trying to teach us what to *do* in order to evolve toward God. I’m curious, Paul, to hear your reaction and if it’s obvious from this post what my religion is… 😉

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  • Alexis

    For your second point on the Bible… Last week in the middle of the night while I was praying I had this epiphany that I had been deifying the Bible. Then, of course, as is my humble nature (ha!), I assumed I was the only person on earth to think this way ever. Then I read your post and am like, okay, this is a thing. Well, I’ve spent 30 years memorizing and studying the Bible with a very specific systematic theology. So I can’t go off “common sense” or “what feels right” without really doubting myself. Now what? *lost at sea*

    • I identify with that “lost” feeling. Sometimes when I’ve hit hard times I’ve desperately wished that I could go back to believing that the Bible was the word of God without any mistakes and I could just pop it open and grab God’s promises for me right now… but I couldn’t. There is definitely a feeling of loss there.

      • James D. Panetti

        For what it’s worth, I swing between discomfort and comfort on this one (the Bible not being fully literal or necessarily 100% infallible), because more often than not I find it comforting that it attests to God being bigger than the Bible. Oddly and ironically, fundamentalists tend to restrict God and place Him in this little box. They themselves fail to realize how inconceivably huge He is, so much so that it goes way, way beyond the pages of the Bible itself. The Bible should not *confine* God.