Why Quote the Bible?

by Berry Friesen (July 10, 2015)

The convention I referenced a couple of posts ago stirred up much controversy among the Mennonites in my circles.

Primarily, the controversy related to same-gender sexuality and how Mennonite congregations should respond to gay and lesbian Jesus-followers.  But there also was an evenly divided debate on how to support Palestinian Christians suffering under Israel’s military occupation and affirmation for a resolution calling on congregations to renewed reflection on how to be “faithful witnesses” to Messiah Jesus while living in a nation perpetually at war.

Christians quote the Bible a lot when engaged in debates about sexuality, justice or national security. John and I do that too; If Not Empire, What? is evidence of that.

The Bible is quoted because it is considered to be an authority, one that will influence, persuade and decide important questions. I expect most Bible-quoters would agree with that.  But what makes it authoritative?

For starters, it’s old, as the Paul Simon song says.  More importantly (many would say), it describes how we can regain the immortality that Adam and Eve let slip away back there in the Garden of Eden.  Get to heaven, in other words, and live forever.  Others see in the Bible an explanation of how to be in a loving relationship with God and gain access to spiritual resources that will enrich our lives.

Without contesting any of that, John and I find the Bible authoritative for an entirely different reason.  It records a 1,000-year debate about how to live on Earth over many generations in a way that is just, sustainable and life-giving.  It’s an argument about wisdom (in other words) in which historical accounts, stories, poetry, prayers and persuasive rhetoric are brought to bear on a highly political question:  how shall we live with one another and with people who are different from us?  Not just until I get old and die, but also throughout the lives of the generations to come?

What is at stake in the debates John and I find engaging is not heaven or God’s love, but what is a wise path into the future.  And because the Bible is an argument, we expect debaters with very different understandings of wisdom to find supportive texts in the Bible.

God is a participant in this debate because God is the creator and sustainer of Earth and the life here.  Obviously, a wise path forward will work with—not against—the One who is creator and sustainer.  So this wisdom debate takes us into prayerful consideration of how life on Earth works and how God is at work “to make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).  What works well and what doesn’t?

Again, the Bible gives us 1,000 years of reflection of that kind.  It’s the most diverse and time-tested set of writings we have on the subject.

This doesn’t end the controversies about sex, justice and war; we’re arguing about future generations here and it’s important!  But no, we’re not debating whether anyone is going to heaven or whether God loves them.  It’s much more down–to-Earth than that.