You know that I reject the inerrancy of the Bible, but now I will identify some of the themes that I do affirm within the pages of Christian scripture and tell you why I believe in them. This is just a brief overview that I am providing to answer someone’s question about what I actually do affirm. Keep in mind that I do my best to use reason (logic and evidence) and spirituality (internal enlightenment) to determine truth, so this overview is as much about method as it is about content.
1. The imago Dei. Genesis tells us that humanity was created in the image of God. I love this understanding of human beings. We aren’t like all the other animals. We’re different. Sometimes the difference is quantitative, and sometimes it’s qualitative. We’re little pictures of God, and we really are more valuable than the other species. In my opinion, our culture has become confused about the relative value of humans and animals as a result of evolutionary theory (which has some truth in it) and environmentalism (which has some validity). I think knowledge of our own uniqueness and worth is innate (and therefore rational), and the imago Dei expresses this self-evident truth well. Of course, animals matter too as sentient and intelligent creatures, and the imago Dei should never be used to justify cruelty to animals or environmental irresponsibility. The same Genesis story that teaches the imago Dei tells us that we are to exercise dominion over the world as stewards of creation, and this too comports with reason. Humans are the only species capable of managing the world. So even if contemporary evolutionary theory turns out to be completely true, I will still affirm the result of the process–humans–as divine image bearers. I don’t care how God did it or how long it took. Look deep within yourself. Don’t you know that we matter more?
2. Prophetic virtue theory. The Law of Moses has over 600 rules. Prophets sometimes gently undermine the priestly claim that God requires obedience to a long list of rules. The Psalmist (David?) claims that God does not take delight in sacrifice or burnt offering (contrary to the Law) and that a true sacrifice in God’s eyes is humility (Ps. 19). (The last two verses of Ps. 19 were probably added after the Babylonian captivity by someone who was trying to reconcile Moses and David. Do you think they belong?) One of my favorites is probably one of yours too: Micah 6:8. “…[W]hat does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Hosea agrees: “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (6:6). These are universal principles confirmed by both reason and spirituality and expressed eloquently by the prophets. I happen to believe that character development is the primary purpose of life in this world.
3. The virtue theory and example of Christ. Jesus also affirms (and models) the priority of virtue over conformity to social and religious expectations. “You have heard that it was said…but I say” occurs repeatedly in Matthew 5. He clearly exalted the spirit of the law over its letter. Whatever one makes of the miracle stories in the Gospels, they clearly demonstrate the compassion of Christ. He even refers to the Hosea passage noted above in one of his debates with the Pharisees (Mt. 12:7), wherein he underscores the importance of mercy over law. Furthermore, Christ models virtue by affirming and keeping company with those whom society had marginalized. God loved them, too. “…[T]he Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (Mt. 11:19). (As an aside, this probably means that Jesus drank real wine and that his opponents falsely accused him of abusing it.)
4. The story of dying and rising (crucifixion and resurrection). Paul uses the story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection as a paradigm for spirituality (Romans 6-8). The story, of course, is in all four Gospels. I’ve already noted that I think the New Testament contains at least two incompatible accounts of resurrection (Luke and Paul). Regardless of what happened historically on the third day, the early Christians clearly continued to experience the presence of God through Christ after the crucifixion. Dying and rising is quite possibly the most powerful spiritual metaphor in the world of religion. Every day is a new beginning. Each moment we can die to selfishness, shame, regret, and failure, and rise to a new life of virtue and love. Reason tells me that I need to do this (I know myself) and experience (also a form of rationality) confirms the power of the metaphor. Right now, nail your demons to the cross and leave them there. Right now, rise to a new life. Every moment of every day. Die and rise. It’s a mental exercise with spiritual power. It works.
5. An eschatological vision. The book of Revelation has always been controversial in the Church. Some of the early Christians didn’t even want to include it in the New Testament canon. We all know that it’s full of bizarre imagery. But one of the most beautiful visions of the afterlife is included in it. In Revelation 21:3-4 we read, “See, the home of God is with mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” The best description of the afterlife anywhere! For the atheists in my audiences who read my blog, I believe in an afterlife. Justice demands it, which makes it a rational concept, and spirituality confirms it. My spiritual vision causes me to value humanity more than one short, mortal life can fully account for or affirm. For all my readers, I reject everlasting punishment. It offends every rational and moral impulse within me. More on that later.
So, this is a sample of what I believe in the Bible and why. Hopefully, it made you think.