For many, the Bible is the dictated word of God. Every word meaningful, every verse significant, every chapter pregnant. Literally.
I myself have made a journey in recent years and discovered many new facets of exactly this Bible, indeed developed a new understanding for it.
This journey, this changing perception in reading the Bible and the resulting new understanding of God are exciting, educational, challenging, difficult, scary, fulfilling, liberating, even if it temporarily pulled the rug from under my feet.
But now, I breathe a new freedom and authenticity that was not known to me in the past, which I even did not know was possible.
I will write several articles about this road trip.
The starting point – sort of
In 1968, I was 5 years old, and my mother was 26. Why am I talking about this year in particular? Is is the year postmodern ideas broke through in this world with force – the ’68 revolution.
While my father led a performance-oriented, modern life, my mother’s postmodern thoughts slowly developed. Their situation as a couple, but also the new insights of my mother led to their divorce in 1976 and an anti-authoritarian style of upbringing.
My refusal to do anything, even to partake in life and learning after the divorce earned me 6 years of boarding school. A traditional Catholic boarding home, a modern school, a postmodern home. Today I would say: a typical reflection of our society.
From a very early age, I got to know the advantages – and the shadow sides – of all these worldviews. I learned to move in these worlds, to integrate them, to play with them, without truly belonging to one of them. Homeless.
I had early contact with Christian communities. Baptized as a Protestant, in a “Jesus People” house church when I was 7, an evangelical church from 12-14, a Catholic boarding school at age 14-21, a year in the US among Quakers, Lutherans and Liberal Jews at 17/18. The whole history of the church, just scrambled.
The question of where I belonged led me to a charismatic church at the age of 22 where I traditionally gave my life to Jesus. Around 40 years old, I joined an apostolic network, only to leave it at 57 as I do not quite fit anywhere anymore.
Around 22, I had an experience that today I can only explain as an altered state of consciousness: I experienced a deep unity with God. Everything seemed to dissolve and there was no distinction between God and me. We were one, with many others. I had an experience of what I would come to describe as the body of Christ, even though neither that phrase nor the whole description can do justice to the experience. There were and are no words, metaphors at best. The vision was a confirmation of a similar experience some 15 years prior.
When I came back, it was clear to me: I had a job in this world to realize this unity.
At that time, I had found a home in Christendom. My need to belong somewhere was satisfied. I seemed to have arrived.
Therefore, I interpreted my experience in the context of the traditional world view of Christian independent churches. For me it was a vocation into full-time ministry. My thinking went like this:
The anointing oil, and thus the authority to lead and initiate change, flowed from Aaron’s head to the beard to the feet. I could only work on realizing my vision when I was in leadership.
Leadership at that time was one of these: pastor, missionary, administrator. After a thorough deduction process, only pastor remained: Administration is deadly to me, and I am very unreliable in these matters. And I did not want to go to Peru, the mission field of our church.
So I decided to become a traditional pastor. and with that began the journey which I am about to describe.
How did I put it at the beginning of this article? For many, the Bible is the dictated word of God. Every word significant, every verse meaningful, every chapter pregnant. Literally.
I was fighting with that. My modern worldview, which I received from my father and through my humanistic education, had its problems with such a traditional reading.
Science and the Bible seemed to contradict each other. Well, I knew of two strategies on how to handle that problem. Either the Bible was right, or science. One had to give in and move closer to the other.
In the first approach, I assume that the Bible, as I interpret it in my worldview, is right.
But what about Einstein, the theory of evolution, the Big Bang and the story of creation? How can we explain a worldwide flood that is not geologically detectable – even if there have been floods around the world, spreading over a long time well before the age my interpretation of the Bible expected them?
Science is moving, ever changing. New theories are being developed all the time. So I expected the scientists to come to the realization that the Bible is right.
Point in case: Quantum physics seems to show that the universe does not just consist of matter only, as sciences seemed to believe for a while. If the universe is monistic, that is made from one homogeneous something, it seems to be energy in different forms, or spirit, as it might be called. A step towards the Bible, isn’t it?
There is an inherent danger when the church interprets science. Sometimes, the church abuses scientific knowledge. The Higgs Bosom, which science has called “the God Particle”, became proof of the existence of God, while it is just another manifestation of matter or energy. Choosing that name was calling for claims by the church such as: finally, scientists agree that God exists.
Wasn’t it Paul that pointed out that we can recognize God Himself in nature? So science has to converge towards the biblical world view. It just has to, I tried to convince myself.
However, I had observed exactly the opposite: the interpretation of the Bible moved, albeit slowly, towards the scientific findings.
One example is the process of the church to accept a helio-centric view of the world, taking years, even centuries to complete.
But something much more fundamental happened also: the church adopted the concept of truth that modernity has come up with to analyze the Bible.
Modernity defines something as true if it matches the facts. Sounds plausible. Things that you can prove, that you can empirically or experimentally understand, are true.
But this concept of truth does not correspond with the concept of truth that the writers of the Bible used.
For them, something was true if it produced life.
This has profound consequences. I will describe this section of my journey in my next article. I hope you continue on with me.