[[I wrote this column for the Samford Crimson last week and thought I’d share.]]
My least favorite word in the English language is not too hard to spell, difficult to pronounce or obscure to reference. Rather, we hear this word more often on our campus and in our “Christian” culture than perhaps any other adjective—at least when it comes to anything “important.”
How often do you hear about biblical lifestyles, biblical marriage, biblical economics, biblical education and biblical manhood (or womanhood for that matter)?
I hate the word “biblical.” Strictly speaking, the word “biblical” should only refer to the text of the Bible. However, people often use “biblical” to justify their own position regardless of whether it has anything to do with the Bible at all. Even if their opinion (note: opinion) has something to do with the Bible, using the word “biblical” to describe their position automatically shuts down discussion. “Biblical” suggests that one opinion is final, absolute, infallible, and unquestionable. There is not room for dialogue when someone plays the biblical card. The game is over.
Using the word at all also suggests that Christians all agree on what they think about certain issues. The biblical position on gay marriage, for example, seems to be that we should be against it. However, in October 2011, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 46 percent of American Christians favored it, while 44 percent opposed it.
What about the death penalty? 64 percent favor it and 29 percent oppose it. What about evolution? The official positions of the Roman Catholic Church, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church do not see evolution and the Bible as incompatible. However, the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church and Southern Baptist Convention clearly do not agree. On almost every controversial issue, there is no Christian consensus.
Just as Christians do not agree with each other on everything, the Bible itself does not agree with itself on everything either. James’s letter contends with some points Paul makes in his letters. Martin Luther found this disagreement so problematic that he wanted to remove James from the canon.
The Gospels tell different stories about Jesus. That is unsurprising, but in some cases, the Gospel accounts disagree with each other over particular details or perspectives. However, the Church rejected early attempts to harmonize the Gospels into one book. Instead, the early Christians chose to canonize Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as well as the Pauline letters and James. From the beginning, the Bible has been a canon of difference.
Christians should disagree with each other, and that should be acceptable. There should be dialogue, discussion and argument. These exchanges sharpen our perspectives, or worldviews. They either strengthen our own opinions or turn us to better ones. Disagreement is good and we should condone it—nothing, after all, is more biblical.