ESSAYS | THE BIBLE AND ITS PLACE IN CHRISTIAN FAITH
Our doctrines help us to interpret our own personal journey. They also help us interpret how to best live out our faith within our current context (McGrath, 1997). This essay centers on The Salvation Army’s first doctrine; which states that ‘the Bible was given by inspiration of God and that it constitutes the Divine rule of Christian faith and practice’.
As this essay unfolds, it will become apparent that as a Christian community we are dependent on the Bible in its entirety as inspired by God for our life, integrity and mission to the world.
Throughout my life I have approached the Bible and understanding its text in a variety of ways. In my early years I understood the Bible as an answer book, that by reading Biblical accounts I believed that I could find the exact information that was necessary to answer questions. I can distinctly remember asking how the dinosaurs existed for so many years without human beings but creation happened in only seven days. That question was never adequately answered even to a seven year old. Growing up in the church I experienced a variety of flannel graph stories about Jesus and it was through these stories that Jesus won my heart.
From there, during my teenage years my interaction with the Bible changed as the way in which I understood the world changed. I looked to the Bible to find exact information regarding evolution, war, ethical issues, and human rights and I could not find a clear cut answer. With my very literal understanding of the Bible it was difficult to see how God was at work in these important issues. As I searched to recognize God’s place within our world and within these important issues I began to ask many questions while I was reading the text. I questioned what the stories actually meant, how the stories related to me and the world around me and how the first listeners would have understood the stories in their original context. Though unconsciously, I began to understand as Don Thorsen (2006) suggested that there is a dynamic interplay between scripture, tradition and experience.
As I have grown in my understanding of God’s word I now approach the Biblical narrative within a framework that suggests that Jesus became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood (The Message John 1:14) and that He invites us as His church to join Him in His mission. In essence, I have come to understand that the Bible is not an encyclopedia but rather it is an unfolding of God’s narrative, of His work and His love to a sinful world. Do I have it all figured out? No. But I continue to seek, knowing that as I seek to understand more, more will be revealed to me, but I am not yet finished.
It is also important to understand that while the church has often used the Biblical text to justify themselves and its mission the Biblical story must not be treated as an unbending book of law that is meant to control Christian faith and practice (The Handbook of Dcotrine, 2010). The Christian church must present a Biblical narrative that does not neglect, marginalize or do violence to other people’s stories (Thorsen, 2006). As followers of Jesus, we need to learn how to read the Bible in ways that allow it to speak truth through both personal and contemporary experience (The Handbook of Doctrine, 2010).
Within our world the Bible is often presented as an archaic text with nothing to say to us. On the other hand, people exclaim that the Bible offers excellent moral teachings to us living now. However neither of these options is what the Bible is about. The Bible is living, active, powerful and productive (Isaiah 40:8, Isaiah 55:11, Hebrews 4:12). It is not just a book to be read but rather it is a story to be lived out.
The postmodern critique requires that we consider carefully the Christian claim to the truth and authority of the Biblical narrative. It is important that the Bible be understood as an inspired text that tells an essential and amazing story (Wright, 2005). As a collection, it is uniquely beneficial for teaching, rebuking, correcting, training and equipping people so that they can accomplish good works for God (McLaren, 2004).
The Bible was called into being as the living Word of God; it is inspired and continues to inspire the minds of men and women from itspages (Handbook of Doctrine, 2010). In the culture climate in which we live, any claim to scriptural authority will be challenged and may be resisted (The Handbook of Doctrine, 2010). In order to offer an alternative to our world, believers must lead lives that are authentic, lives that take the claims of the scripture seriously not just with what they say but with how they live. To be witnesses to this fact is an extremely valuable image and allows us to join in solidarity with others in hope for the Kingdom of God here on earth.
As a community of believers within The Salvation Army it is important that we are dependent on the Bible for its life and its integrity. The first article of faith identifies the Bible as the source of both Christian faith and practice (Handbook of Doctrine, 2010). Using the scriptures as the divine rule of Christian faith and practice is a faith that is prepared to give an account of itself and give careful consideration to the ways in which we as believers chose to live (McGrath, 1997). This first article of faith reminds us that it is within our Scriptural foundations of both the New and Old Testament that we are found and that apart from these foundations we will cease to be the church. It is important as The Salvation Army to identify and to embody the word of God as this is what lies at the heart of who we are and what we are meant to be (Wright, 2005). It is through the scriptures that our identity can be found.
Essay by Cadet Kristen Jackson-Dockeray
McLaren, B.D. (2004). A generous orthodoxy: Why I am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative. California: Youth Specialties.
The handbook of doctrine. (2010). London: Salvation Books.