On Sunday, The Independent newspaper published an article by Amber Dillon entitled ‘Christianity is not the problem. The Bible is.’ (The full article can be found here) On Sunday, I also preached a sermon which – in part – was about boldly standing for truth even where it is unpopular. I struggled a lot with Amber’s article, and for reasons which I think are quite unpopular.
Does submission have a place today?
Amber’s basic argument seems to me as follows (and I really hope I’m being fair here):
- Christianity is basically a good thing, since it stands for love, equality and support of the needy.
- The Bible, though, is a dated book and – since even Christians recognise that not all of it is relevant in today’s society – its teachings should only be taken seriously where it promotes things which are good, like equality.
- As such, Christians should read the Bible ‘intelligently’, not just follow it blindly.
- And so society should stop bashing Christianity, just those teachings of the Bible which are obviously wrong.
I should point out that Amber Dillon is not a Christian. She makes this clear, and as such I cannot reasonably expect her to treat the Bible with any more respect than she would another historical book. I may consider it to be God’s word and authoritative, but to expect her to would be unfair.
However, I also think it is unfair for her to expect me not to. Which is what she is asking me to do. She would have Christians listen to the Bible only where they think it is right, which is really another way of saying we should ignore it unless it agrees with us. As soon as we treat the Bible like that, we are no longer allowing it authority. We are asking the Bible to submit to our enlightened thinking, rather than submitting to it.
I’m not surprised. Submission in our society today is a very unpopular concept. Anything that challenges the idea that I can have complete freedom over my whole life, to decide what is true for me, to set my own moral compass, to live my life my way, is anathema.
This is one part of our prevailing society, though, which as a Christian I do not think I can adopt. To be a follower of Jesus requires a surrender of my life to Him. It is no longer my own to do with as I please. It is His to do with as He pleases. We must submit to Christ.
What does Submission look like?
The real question is, what is submission like? And to what (or who) do we submit? This is a massive question, and I do not hope to answer it in full. But I do have a couple of thoughts.
First, submission does not mean turning our brains off and following blindly. Amber Dillon rightly points out that Christians do not follow the biblical instruction about not wearing clothes made of two different threads. She assumes this is because Christians now rightly realise this command is pointless and ignore that text. On the contrary, I do not ignore this text – I interpret it. I recognise that this command was located in particular context and for a particular reason. Since I do not live in that context, and that reason does not apply to my context, I do not follow the command, but I do still learn from that text something about the character of God which can be applied in my context. This is where wrestling (and ‘Limping’) is important.
Amber suggests picking and choosing because we already do it. I do see Christians (real Jesus followers with a heart for His mission and His gospel) picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to believe in. But I do not think they are right to do so. I try very hard not to pick and choose, because I try to take submission to the authority of Scripture seriously. But I also suggest an intelligent reading of the Bible, one that tries to read it in its context and in a way that does justice to what it was meant to be.
Second, submission must be accompanied by humility. We cannot submit ourselves to the authority of Jesus (primarily, or scripture secondarily) and then be obnoxious, rude or unloving about the choices or beliefs we hold accordingly.
Amber was saddened by the ways Christians who believe the Bible to be true have engaged in debates about women bishops and gay marriage. So was I, at points because I did not agree with what they were saying, but far more often because of the way they were saying it. If we submit to God’s authority, we must also submit to the way He wields His authority. (For more thoughts in this line, head to my previous blog post on ‘Power and Authority’)
Can we have Freedom of Religion, please?
- I won’t try and force you to submit to anything, no matter how sure I am it is right and true and worth submitting to.
- You need to let me submit to that which I choose to submit, and to let me submit to it fully, not just where you think it’s right.