Self Defense from a Fundamentalist Attack
12 Scriptures No Fundamentalist Believes
“Whatever is true”
I was once on a plane reading a Buddhist text. The woman sitting next to me leaned over and asked me what was wrong with Jesus. When I asked her what she meant, she said if I was reading another religion I must have found Christianity lacking. Her position was that the Bible is the only book a Christian needs to read.
Like many Christians she had the mistaken idea that the Bible contains all the truths a person needs to live a good life. The list of official scriptures is called a “canon” which comes for the word for yardstick. A ‘canon” is like a blood sample. The doctor doesn’t take all your blood, just a large enough sample to know what the rest of it is like. The Bible is like a sampler platter of old revelations that helps us know what truth will look like when we see it in new forms.
As Paul approached the end of his ministry, he left a very strange charge to the early church: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Let’s break the passage down a bit:
First Paul says we are to think about whatever is true. This means we have not only permission, but a responsibility to outgrow the scientific worldview of the Bible. Jesus apparently believed that the mustard seed is the smallest seed. Even the hardiest fundamentalist would not give that answer on a botany test. We’ve learned new things about the world. Another place in scripture claims that rabbits chew cud. When Galileo discovered that the earth is not the center of the solar system the fundamentalists claimed he was attacking the Bible. Galileo defended his work by saying that the Bible is about how to go to heaven not about how the heavens go. Paul is telling us when we learn new things about the world, “faith” does not mean pretending biblical science still works, but seeking out whatever is true.
Then Paul says we are to think about whatever is good. Thank God most of us have stopped doing science using scripture, but it is even worse to use the Bible to replace doing ethics. Ethics requires that we adjust the rules to fit the real situations people are in. The Bible was written in a world before the abolition of slavery was thought possible. So the Bible tells enslaved people to obey their masters. Looking back we can clearly see the spirit of scripture was always calling to a freedom and universality that the letter of scripture had not yet obtained. Today no one uses scripture to justify slavery, but there was a time when many of the tracts defending slavery in the United States were written by literalistic clergy. Scripture says if a bride is found to not be a virgin on her wedding night she is to be stoned on her father’s doorsteps. Even a restaurant requiring shirt and shoes does not require a legless person to bring shoes to get in. So Paul is saying when human need is not served by a narrow understanding of the Bible, we do not need to pretend that Scripture can replace a human heart, we need to seek out whatever is good.
Finally, Paul says we are to think about whatever is beautiful. The church has often been a center of censorship and shame. We have been told that certain feelings are bad, and that art should be controlled by the moralists. Art requires a freedom of spirit beyond societal control. Too many churches let the candle of creativity get snuffed out by damp moralism, which is perhaps why the one time Europe was completely controlled by the church is remembered as the dark ages. Paul is calling us out of that artless lifestyle and saying the church should not tell us what to feel but should call us to seek out whatever is beautiful.
Today’s scripture to seek out whatever is true, good and beautiful gives the church permission to stop pretending we don’t know what we know or that we don’t feel what we feel. If the church had listened to Paul, we never would havestarted pretending in the first place.