As I traveled through my home state of Georgia not long ago, I came upon a little Baptist church stuck away in the woods. That’s not unusual. At times Georgia seems to be overrun with Baptist churches; that and kudzu.
What was unusual was the name of this church. It was the “Entire Bible Baptist Church.” Not “Bible Baptist Church,” a very common church name, and it was not like the church in which I was reared, where we had all our declarative doctrinal statements on our sign out front.
Our sign read “Independent, Fundamental, Premillennial, and KJV-Only.” This was not an invitation to come in. It served as a warning. Any would-be visitors had better believe what we believe. Otherwise, just stay away.
I didn’t get the impression that the Entire Bible Baptist Church wanted people to stay away, but the church did want people to know where it stood. Obviously, they intend to practice the “whole counsel of God” and do everything the Bible commands. But nobody, not even the good folks at the Entire Bible Baptist Church, practices the unabridged Bible. This is a good thing, because there are parts of the Bible that are nothing short of confounding.
Consider that owning slaves, selling your children into servitude, and executing adulterers are all permitted in the Bible. Further, holding hands with your wife at the wrong time of the month, eating shrimp and pork chops, or wearing clothes blended from two different fabrics (so much for my favorite pants) are not allowed.
Does the Entire Bible Baptist Church keep all these commandments? I doubt it, and that’s okay. Actually, it’s more than okay. It’s a sign of spiritual maturity when one can move beyond hardened rule-keeping. And besides, turning the Bible into a tool to hurt others just isn’t right, no matter how zealous toward obedience a group of people might be.
What then do we who love the Bible do with these tangled texts? This will be an overly simplistic answer to some, but for me, I have come to read the Bible through the lens of Jesus of Nazareth. In other words, I take a “What Would Jesus Do” approach and use him, his words, and his way to better understand.
So when I come to these inexplicable and sometimes bizarre passages, I look to Jesus to make sense of them. And I discover that most of the time Jesus is silent on these issues, and when he does speak, it is speech seasoned with love, grace, and shackle-breaking freedom. That’s why for me, the “entire Bible” is not the foundation of faith; Jesus is.
Once, after having a similar discussion, a listener came to me with the news that I had to believe everything in the Bible – the entire corpus of the church’s theology – to become a Christian. So I asked this dear person a question: “When did you come to faith in Christ?” He answered that he had come to faith when he was nine years old. “Good,” I said. “I came to faith in Christ when I was ten. I don’t know about you, but at the time I did not believe in the Virgin birth – did you?”
Of course he didn’t! At that age he didn’t even know what a virgin was, and neither did I. At that time I could not discuss the reasons for the Protestant Reformation, recite the Apostle’s Creed, expound upon the eschatology of the Hebrew prophets, or quote Calvin’s “Institutes.” But I knew Jesus loved me. That was enough.
Decades later, there is so much I do not know. In fact, I may know less today than ever in my life, but I’m okay with that. I’m okay being unable to reconcile every conflict between faith and science. I’m okay not having a clue what the book of Revelation is about. I’m okay being uninterested in the hundreds of strange, technical prohibitions found in the “entire Bible.” Just give me that with which I started. Just give me Jesus. That is enough.