One aspect of a bigger thought process I’m in right now.
There are some things in the Bible that just aren’t clear. When Paul talked about mystery (e.g. Ephesians 6:19), he wasn’t joking! If you read your Bible honestly and extensively, you’ll see why there are controversies among modern believers. Just to name some of the big ones,
- Timing of the rapture
- Role of women in church leadership
- Baptism’s relationship to faith
- election/free will
There’s a part of me that says, “If the brightest minds haven’t resolved these issues in the 1500-ish years since the Bible was codified, I’m not going to figure them out.” But there’s another part of me that says, “I need to know the right answer, and I need to know it now!!!!!” I’m still trying to find a balance because I believe God enjoys our inquiry and wants us to pursue knowledge of Him (Romans 11:33—my favorite, Hebrews 11:6), but He also expects us to practice our faith, which often means we trust without evidence (Hebrews 11:1).
I want to be faithful to the text and to the Author, and I want to authentically represent the text to my readers. As I said recently, I take the warnings for teachers and leaders very seriously (e.g. James 3:1). For these reasons, I haven’t often offered my opinion on controversial subjects. Today is not the day to start.
In fact, I’m not offering answers to any of these theological debates today. Instead, let’s “zoom out” a little and think about why these passages are in our Bible.
God knew the passages we would
debate, yet He included them
in His Word.
God is omniscient (1 John 3:20). He knew the things we would debate here in the 21st-century and all the controversies throughout the years, yet He still included these passages or didn’t include any clear teaching on topics that feel very important to us.
Why would He do that? Why would God allow controversial passages into the Bible? Why not make it clear to us so we could do it right from the beginning and save ourselves a lot of infighting?
A couple of possibilities…
- The Bible was written for all times and all cultures. Many of our questions are culture-driven, so answering us would not benefit, say, 8th-century China or 22nd-century Africa. Nor would the answers to their questions benefit us.
- Studying the Bible should increase our faith, not explain it. By leaving some questions unanswered (I’m looking at you, dinosaurs), God stretches our faith to trust Him.
Or maybe it’s because we need to show each other grace.
This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. –1 John 3:23
The most important things are these: believe in Jesus and love each other.
We must learn to give
and receive grace.
When we disagree, it’s harder to show love. Even in the best of times, it takes effort to preserve unity. We have to learn, practice, dispense, and receive grace. Out in the world, people disagree (especially these days—whew!), and their conflicts escalate. Within the church, we’re called to model something different.
There are controversial passages in the Bible. How will we distinguish ourselves from the world when we talk with another believer who opposes our view…when we walk beside another believer to serve or advocate?
Will the conflict escalate, just like it does in our culture, or will love counter-culturally prevail?
Will we demonstrate unity to a watching world, or will we allow that thing which is not a commandment to divide us?
Maybe God allowed these controversial passages into the Bible so that we can show each other grace and thus demonstrate love to a watching world.
Why didn’t God just explain everything clearly? Why leave the Bible with controversial passages? Maybe so we would have to show each other grace. My #doctrine is #NotAboutMe, via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)
What are you thinking? Does this idea resonate with you? What hesitations do you have? Have you seen a healthy model of dealing with church controversy? Please share your response in the comments below. Seriously. I would really appreciate some feedback on this.
By the way, I’m fairly sure these questions have come to mind in response to the recent death of progressive theologian, Rachel Held Evans. She lived only a couple of hours’ drive from me, but I didn’t realize it until after her death. I wish I would have known she was so close. I would have driven down to Dayton and bought her a cup of coffee. I think we could have had a good conversation.