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When we take the Bible literally, we fail to take it seriously.

4th January 2018
Chalke Talk 10: Take the Bible seriously, not literally

An obsession with creation vs evolution has caused large parts of the Church to miss the true message of the creation story, says a prominent Christian leader. “In fact”, he explains, “here we are in the 21st century and most of the world has still not come to terms with Genesis’ radical message of inclusion and equality.” 

Chalke Talk 10 - Take the Bible seriously, not literally from Open Church network on Vimeo.

In the latest instalment of his ‘Chalke Talk’ video series, Rev’d Steve Chalke argues that because aspects of the Church have for too long tried to defend the historicity of the Genesis 1 creation poem, Noah’s Ark and various other stories, they have failed to grasp the opportunity its real message presents us with.  At the same time, they have unwittingly played a role in the erosion of confidence in the Bible’s authority and relevance.   

By teaching people to take every word of scripture at face value, church leaders fail to equip young and old to know how to hold and then apply their faith to the world around them. By encouraging people to take the Bible literally, we have too often failed to take it seriously.

Do you agree with Steve?

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Hi. I have read books by Pete Enns and others that essentially agree. 

My question is can you recommend companion guides / studies that can help read the Bible in its genuine historical and cultural context?

Most study books explain the Bible using the Bible e.g. preachers / teachers would use Thompson's chain reference.

I think this self referencing approach and wholesale rejection of other sources (Sola Scripture?) is not helpful.

But what are the best other sources to use?


Hi Steve,

You are quite right. The Bible is developmental, nay, evolutionary. In it we see the development of the understanding of God with the ultimate 'New Man' Jesus Christ Emmanuel - God with us at the apex. He contradicts some of the Old testament by word and action as He lives His life, dies and rises again.

You hinted at, but did not express it explicitly at how I have understood the Bible for quite some time. My perspective comes from building models of systems - business and others over many years. First of all a model can be defined as an abstraction with a particular purpose. Let me give an example the London tube map.

The map is very much an abstraction and the purpose of it is to allow someone to navigate the tube system. If someone uses it for some other purpose e.g. to work out the relative distances between the Bank station and Morden compared with the distance between the Bank and Epping they will come a cropper. A different model is needed for that - an ordnance survey map. Another important thing about models is that they have context. While one is in the 'tube system' the map is invaluable. When one has exited the tube system and is on the street above - the tube map is useless - you need a street map. The Bible is full of models. For example John's Gospel tells us it is an abstraction - there are many more things that Jesus said and did not included in the Gospel and John has a particular purpose - that we may believe that Jesus is the Son of God and have life in Him. (my paraphrases). In many other books they tell us the purpose e.g In Jonah God speaks giving us the key "shall I not have mercy on a people that do not know their right from their left and also on the animals" It is not about arguing as to whether a Big Fish( AKA whale) can swallow a man.. Take Ecclesiastes some one had added a few verses at the to explain the purpose"So let us hear the conclusion of the matter. hold God in awe and keep his commandments dor this is the whole duty of man" or take the Book of Ruth - someone added at the end "Boaz begat Obed, Obed begat Jesse, Jesse Begat David". Certainly part of the Book is to emphsise the non- Jewish lineal descent of David.- from a Moabitess Ruth.

I could go on. I am only  a member of a congregation and have no formal Christian academic training - I just have been reading the Bible for some 65+ years and before that it was read to me. Sometimes  when I hear some preachers I wish I had a platform to respond and question them, but in the main in the pulpit they are 6ft above contradiction.

I cannot emphsise enough the idea of the model - unless you know the purpose you will come to wrong conclusions, just as you will. if you do not understand the context.


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