I love reading the Bible. No other book comes close to consistently inspiring and challenging me. I read it every morning and, especially when reading the gospels, I often feel a tingle of excited joy about the depth and truth of what I am reading.
That’s one side of the story.
I am also horrified by the Bible too. The seemingly God-ordained violence and genocide in the Old Testament is repulsive. This morning I read about King Jehu ordering the murder of 70 princes ‘in the name of the LORD’ and insisting on their disembodied heads being piled up at the city gate (2 Kings 9).
This dissonance between these reactions creates significant problems. It undermines belief in the credibility and authority of scripture. Many Christians are embarrassed by parts of the Bible and are not at all confident when challenged about such passages.
These difficulties are a driver in the deconstruction of people’s faith because they feel they can no longer believe in how they have been taught to treat the Bible. This tendency has affected many of my friends – see the Faith 20 Years On research I conducted earlier this year. As Boyd puts it:
‘Like most evangelicals, I had been taught that the Bible was a perfect, errorless, heirloom of the Christian faith. Then, like a precious vase shattering on the ground, I discovered it wasn’t.’
People need good answers to understandable questions about the parts of the Bible which present a God that looks nothing like Jesus. Inspired Imperfection is all about this problem.
Keeping ‘biblical moorings’
Greg Boyd is a pastor and theologian based in Minneapolis, USA. His theology cannot be described as ‘liberal’ because he believes passionately in the ‘plenary authority’ of the Bible: meaning that all of it is inspired by God. He is concerned that ‘progressive’ Christians are often losing their Biblical moorings and becoming cast adrift in post-modern relativism.
But this does not mean that he believes the Bible is free from errors, contradictions and inaccuracies. He believes that attempts to defend the Bible’s literal inerrancy or explain away its morally dubious presentations of God are a ‘fool’s errand’.
Wrestling with ‘problems’
Boyd’s answer is the conundrum is the ‘cruciform model’ of biblical inspiration: using the crucified Jesus as the lens by which all Scripture is interpreted.
He argues that many of the depictions of God in the Old Testament as vengeful, retributive and violent are similar to ‘warrior deities’ who were commonly worshipped in the Ancient Near East of that time. Jesus roots himself firmly in the Old Testament Scriptures but also continually shows a contrasting picture of who God is and what his kingdom involves.
Boyd explains how the theologian Karl Barth helped him develop a Christocentric view on scripture:
‘For Barth…Scripture is breathed by God not to function as a revelation in its own right, but to serve as a witness to the one revelation of the triune God in Jesus Christ.’
Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s unchanging character. ‘Christ crucified’ is the lens we should use to understand the Bible:
‘The whole of the Old Testament points toward, and finds fulfilment in, Jesus’ death and resurrection…Jesus is the Word to which all the words of Scripture point.’
Boyd believes that ‘all Scripture is God-breathed’ but radically reinterprets what this means. Rather than an assumption that ‘a perfect God breathes a perfect book’, Boyd argues that God’s power in Scripture is made perfect in its weakness and fallibility.
This leads to a Bible which includes errors, inaccuracies and morally-offensive material, and which many consider foolish and weak. But the ‘cruciform’ message is that God uses the lowly and despised things of the world to display his greatness. Just as Jesus’ body bears scars, so does Scripture:
‘When viewed in the light of the cross, there is no more need to be embarrassed by the Bible’s scars then there is to be embarrassed by the scars on Jesus’ resurrected body – if only we set aside our old assumptions about what a God-inspired story is supposed to look like and instead boldly embrace the cross-centred story of God that we actually have.’
I bought this book a year ago and have read it 3 times right through. I have wrestled hard with its argument and found it hard to summarise in a short blog post.
But Inspired Imperfection has proved to be the most important book I have read this year because it has helped me understand the most difficult parts of Scripture in a new way. It has given me a new confidence and excitement in the Bible and the self-giving, sacrificial, non-coercive God who is revealed in Jesus.
The fact that Greg Boyd is a Pastor as well as an author is vital. What reinforces the validity of his argument is the pastoral and missional implications which pepper the book. As Boyd puts it:
‘I’ve come to believe that a person’s mental conception of God is the single most important fact about their life…which is why I believe its so vitally important that we base everything we think about God on Jesus Christ.’