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Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Exchanging a Leather Bound God for an Imperfect Bible

imperfect bible

Gabriel Gordon

Gabriel Gordon graduated with a double major in Anthropology and Cross-Cultural Ministry from Oklahoma Baptist University. He is currently working on his Masters of Theological Studies with a specialization in Biblical Studies from Portland Seminary. He has authored two books and is featured in an edited volume of essays on Christian leadership. In addition, he is a confirmed member of the Episcopal Church, part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, a self-identified Anglo-Orthodox; and one of the co-founders of The Misfits Theology Club, a blog, podcast, and annual conference dedicated to providing a place of dialogue and working to build unity amongst diverse Christians. He currently lives in Grand Junction, Colorado, with his wife Hannah, and his dog Karl Barth.

I don’t know what to do with the Bible anymore” is a refrain that too many of us have come to find ourselves saying. It’s not that the Bible did anything wrong, but the theology around the Bible, namely a theology that amounted to the Bible being our God, has in light of modern biblical studies and modernist perspectives left us with a God full of holes, one sinking to the bottom of the ocean. As one fundamentalist has written, “It is clear that for Jesus, God and Scripture can be spoken of synonymously, demonstrating that Scripture is the very Word of God. We should not attempt to drive a wedge between the two.” This kind of theology ties Jesus (whom Christians have professed to be God in the flesh) to the metaphorical boat, as it were.

So when holes begin to appear in the boat and it begins to sink, Jesus, whom we have chained to that boat is dragged down with it. The risk is losing that faith that is so precious to many of us, so life giving. Even if we don’t lose our faith in Christ, we’re still left with a Bible full of holes at the bottom of the ocean.

Growing up with a leather bound God and subsequently encountering a less than perfect Bible left me with the very real possibility of losing my friend Jesus. Out of that personal struggle, I wrote a song that encapsulated my experience of faith in Christ and the fear of losing him as a result of my biblical idolatry:

For my boat has sunken and my idols have fallen, 
Jesus, in this storm, you asked me if you were enough, 
Jesus, in this storm, you asked me if you were enough
So hold onto Jesus, he is my friend 
Hold onto Jesus, he is my friend

Don't let these chains hold you down, 
Don't let my idolatry take you away from me
This leather bound Bible, which we made a god
Has been chained to you for too long
So I'll hold onto Jesus, for he is my friend
So I'll hold onto Jesus, for he is my friend

Break these chains that drag you down
I've wrapped them around you and drug you down
x4

So hold onto Jesus, he is my friend
So hold onto Jesus, he is my friend
And you taught me that you are enough Lord
And you don't need a boat to be on water
For you have shown me that breaking this chain will let me walk on the water

Don't let me go down, teach me a new way
Cause Jesus, all that I want is for you to be by my side
So hold onto me, cause you are my friend
So hold onto me and please don't let go.

You see, we have so identified the Bible with God that when the imperfections of the Bible and its sheer humanness become clear, we are at risk of losing our faith in God. But what I have come to learn, experience, and embody is that God and the Bible are two very different entities.

The imperfection of the Bible does not equate to the imperfection of God.

But even if we come to understand that God and the Bible are not synonymous, we are often left with the question, “What do I do with the Bible?” Now that we know the Bible is but an imperfect human product, presupposing as we have that anything, imperfect, material, or human cannot be used by God, we are now left with a useless Bible. Yet, what the best of the Christian tradition has said since the beginning is that the imperfect, the material, and the human is exactly the locus of God’s incarnational or sacramental activity.

The world, although broken, is good; the material realm, God’s chosen means for salvific presence and healing action. As God became human, so we are shown that the material has always been the incarnational vehicle of our God. And so here too with the imperfect, material, and vastly human Christian Scriptures we see picked up as the incarnational and sacramental instruments out of which we encounter that eternal Word spoken by the Father and mediated by the Holy Spirit. 

A human, imperfect, and material Bible need not be the end of our faith, since our faith was always meant to be in the person of Jesus, not the church’s book in and of itself. And it need not be an end to the usefulness of the Bible. Just as Paul once wrote that, “Every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father,” so too does and will the Bible bend its pages to the Lordship of Christ and confess that Jesus alone is King. So let us give up our leather bound god for the true Lord and King; and in the end, we will find that in doing so, we will also be given the Bible back to us, but in its rightful place as a faithful witness to our friend and Lord Jesus Christ. 

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Need more Gabriel Gordon in your life?

Website: The Misfits Theology Club

Book: God Speaks: A Participatory Theology of Biblical Inspiration

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