I am not a woman much given to illness, but yesterday I was felled by some quite bizarre thing which deprived me of my balance and ability to see straight. No, it was not an over-indulgence in wine. I’d been leading house group the night before and had consumed nothing more intoxicating than Bottle Green’s Spiced Berry cordial – which is lush by the way and kicks hot Ribena into the long grass. Anyway, for my own safety (seeing as I was falling over and crashing into things), I spent the day largely in bed. When I’d slept a bit more and my eyesight had stopped dancing about, I took the opportunity to read for a bit and one of the books I finally finished was Wayne Grudem’s Christian Beliefs, which I would heartily recommend to any new Christian, along with John Stott’s Basic Christianity. Grudem’s book is a greatly condensed version of his nearly 1300-page book Systematic Theology; which also graces my shelves and to which I turn in bouts of theological questioning.
At the back of Christian Beliefs, Grudem lists a number of creeds and historic confessions of faith. There’s the Apostles and Nicene creeds, which anyone who attends an Anglican church will be very familiar with. Along with it was the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978), which came out of a conference seeking to address current controversies in the church. We do have to take the Bible as truth, because if we didn’t and went around saying, ‘ah but, he didn’t really mean that, he meant this…‘ we’d be all over the place in less than a century. Mind you, that could’ve pretty much been said of Martin Luther, when he read his Bible, looked at the practice of the Roman Catholic church and uttered something along the lines of, ‘Hmm… That’s not what it says here.’ Cue Reformation.
But this piece isn’t about Biblical Inerrancy, which I’m completely signed up to. What I will say, is that the Bible does not tell us everything. It doesn’t, for instance, tell us the exact way God brought the Earth into existence, only that he did (which I believe); and that, to borrow from the film of Mary Poppins, is the same miracle whether it took six days or many thousands (millions or billions) of years. I mean look at it. Earth is awesome! How can this all fit together and work so amazingly well (before we got our hands on it), without something behind it all, directing proceedings? But I struggle to observe what I’ve studied in the Geological Record and boil that all down to six literal 24-hour periods, or even six periods of a few thousand years. But that God created the Earth and gave us the Reader’s Digest version of what he did – simply because back then we had no concept of aeons* of time – now that I can believe. It doesn’t make what was written any less true, it’s just put into words and concepts that we can get our head around. And it’s truncated because the message of the Bible isn’t about how the Earth got here, the message of the Bible is about how we messed ourselves and it up and how God goes about putting it all right again. It’s a rescue plan. Look at it. In the beginning God created a perfect world, we show up, have a bit of an incident with a snake and a bit of fruit (wholly regrettable), and then if you flip to the back of the book there’s a big fight, God restores everything back to how it was and we’re all home in time for tea and medals. In between the two incidents there’s an awful lot of us repeatedly getting it wrong; until at some point God must get a bit fed up and comes down and shows us how to do it. That’s the Jesus bit. There you are, the Bible in a nutshell. Well, my take on it.
And that’s actually a salient point. One of the Articles in the Chicago Statement of Faith says this:
We affirm that God in His Work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary style of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared. We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that he chose, overrode their personalities.
That bit jumped out at me yesterday; because one of the things that I get concerned about is how this is all coming out. I’m not exactly writing the King James Version here, it’s all coming out exactly as it would do if it was written by a 42 year old British woman, with this set of life experiences, education and world view. This isn’t coming out as Wayne Grudem or John Stott would present it (i.e. people with Doctorates and Theology degrees), it’s coming out, well, pretty much like vomit.
Now I’m not writing the Bible part 2 here, or claiming even a modicum of personal perfection (I get things wrong before I’ve even poked my feet out from under the duvet in a morning), but I am saying this: Is this how it’s coming out because God wants it to come out like this? Is he using my personality, my writing style, my knowledge and way of looking at the world for His own ends? That somehow, amongst all the colourful metaphors and mistakes that I make, something might be getting through? I’m not writing scripture here, but I am relating the world around me to what’s found in scripture. If you like, I hope my mission from God (and with sincere apologies to Caitlin Moran), is to write How to be a Christian Woman. Caitlin Moran isn’t Germaine Greer but she made a whopping case for feminism with her juggernaut of a book How to be a Woman. Caitlin wrote it in her words and an awful lot of us went ‘ah, yes, we get it now.’
So, if God is employing me and my somewhat clumsy writing style to do my bit in selling his way of doing things, then who am I, or you for that matter, to argue how it comes out? I might be getting through to someone. Interestingly, I had a comment on a blog post I wrote last week which seems to support just this view.
“You know how I feel about religion, and yet you can make it interesting to me – so if you can do that to this die-hard heathen, imagine what impact you’re making elsewhere :)”
Yeah, me, doing it, with my own personality, for God!
Now that, is a scary thought indeed.
* Aeon. A unit of time equal to a thousand million years (OED). Get your head around that. It’s tough isn’t it? Six days with a day off on the seventh? Yeah, easy peasy!