There is constant conflict both within and between religious groups based upon different interpretations of scriptures. Christianity is no exception, with numerous groups separated by differences their members aren't even aware of.
I see the conflict within the Church as the result of different ideologies, or different world views on how the Bible should be read.
Recently I listened to an interview with the late prominent theologian Marcus Borg on the radio. The discussion was centred on interpretation of the Bible, and how the meaning of the Bible isn't dependent on its historical accuracy. He emphasised that the spiritual truth of the Bible is what really matters; despite the fact he believed significant portions of the Bible may not be historically true.
This is partially correct; spiritual truths are independent of the Bible, much in the same way the sun still shines when you have your eyes closed. This sits well with the Christian understanding of salvation through accepting Jesus rather than through knowledge of scriptures. However, taking this too far leads onto the path of relativism and a world where nothing truly matters but oneself.
A challenge of evangelism
One of the greatest challenges of evangelism is confronting the modern notion of personal truth being as important as universal truth. The difficulty of this approach to reading the Bible is that if not everything in the Bible is factually true then there is no benchmark of truth.
Without historical and factual truth, spiritual truth is intuitive and thus entirely subjective. If the Bible isn't necessarily true factually, this means spiritual truths cannot in fact be true, as people have different subjective spiritual experiences and interpretations.
Indeed, if the interpretation of the reader is considered as important as the intention of the author (a post-modern approach) then there could be no unified Church, but a collection of people who have read the same book. A relativistic approach places man at the centre determining spiritual truths—not God.
Our self-centred society focuses on choice and personal truths which encourages spiritual relativism. By accepting subjectivity in place of the objective truth of the Bible we are supporting people to believe inconsistent spiritual beliefs, such as the existence of heaven without the need for hell. Instead we should extoll the centuries of research into the history of the Bible and its objective truthfulness.
Context is important
However, this emphasis on scriptural truth is different from saying the entire Bible is to be interpreted literally. The book of Revelation, for example, is unlikely to describe exact historical future events, but rather describes spiritual—yet objective—truths; primarily truths about relationships with God and the nature of sin.
Interpreting the Bible as a textbook is as flawed as the relativistic approach. Fundamentalism removes the need for thoughtfulness and insight by taking things at face value. Fundamentalism also fails where relativism does: it ignores the intention and context of the author by enforcing a modern view on ancient texts. Furthermore it allows no room for the Spirit to intercede with our reading of scripture.
As a Christian the truth is always at the forefront of my thoughts. Yet when it comes to interpretation of the Bible it can be difficult to walk the line between fundamentalism and relativism. Both are easy paths to follow, requiring less careful judgement and consideration of Christianity and the Bible. However, the moment we follow either we risk losing either true spiritual or objectively true insights from God.
Nathanael Yates from Perth, Western Australia, is an award winning young scientist completing a PhD in the neurobiology of schizophrenia.
Nathanael Yates' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/nathanael-yates.html