I'M RIGHT AND YOU'RE WRONG: Why we disagree about the Bible and what to do about it (Topical Line Drives Book 16). By Steve Kindle. Gonzalez, FL: Energion Publications, 2015. 44 pages.
Why are there so many different Christian denominations and sects? The easy answer is that while Christians generally affirm the authority of the Bible they disagree among themselves as to the meaning and the application of that text. While Billy Graham would often declare that "the Bible says" in reference to something he was trying to say or prove. The fact is, whatever it was he was trying to say it reflected not what the Bible “says” but his interpretation of the words of the Bible. Issue after issue has come up through the centuries and Christians have appealed to the Bible against each other. Paedobaptists (those who baptize infants) have their texts, while believer Baptists (those who baptize persons upon confession of faith) have their texts. Since I’m part of a denomination that practices the later, I’m a bit biased toward the biblical defense of believer baptism.
So, why do we disagree? We can’t we just all read the Bible and agree to its meaning and move on? Life isn’t that easy—just look at the different ways in which Americans read the U.S. Constitution. If you think that the Supreme Court simply reads the Constitution and applies it as it was originally intended without any bias present, then you may find it difficult to understand why we have all these 5-4 decisions that tend to be decided along ideological/partisan lines. What is true there is true of the Bible.
Steve Kindle takes up the challenge of trying to make sense of all of this in a very brief book that comes in at forty-four pages. While Kindle can’t cover every issue, he does provide the starting point for an important conversation about how we have come to read the Bible the way we do and how we might have more fruitful conversations as Christians. He does this in two ways. First he briefly takes us on a historical journey through attempts to read and interpret the Bible, introducing us to Origen, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, and more—all the way to the present. He brings to the reader’s attention the various ways scripture has been read, from literal (face value) to allegorical methods. He also notes the development and influence of historical critical methodology.
Having shared this history with us, he moves on to the question of why we so often disagree in our interpretations. With this he lifts up the question of world views. Again he must do this briefly, but one’s world view will have important implications. Thus, if we accept an evolutionary understanding of the universe’s beginnings and development, including our own evolutionary development, then that will influence how we read and understand creation stories and texts, among other things. In this section he also notes theological starting points—from evangelical to progressive. Of course, these categories often breakdown when applied, but they give us a sense of theological foundations and the way they influence our readings. Fundamentalists may read the Bible with a greater degree of flatness than progressives, who differ from liberals in that they may not be quite as committed to the dominant world view of the day. Of course, there are Denominational differences to take into account. Conservative Presbyterians and conservative Baptists will differ on certain issues, despite their conservative, even fundamentalist understandings. The same would be true of liberals in both streams.
The final chapter addresses the important question of how we might address these differences in a way that will facilitate more conversation and better understanding. The starting point here is humility and a willingness to listen to the other. Steve writes:
Truly listening to each other is a difficult task because it makes us vulnerable. Listening at its heart is opening up oneself to the possibility of change. If we are not vulnerable, we are not really listening. Humility is the willingness to learn, the acknowledgement that not all is known, and the mark of a true disciple. [Kindle Locations 562-565].
If we start with humility, then the next step is to commit one’s self to reading the biblical story in its complete context. With this in mind, Kindle offers these suggestions as a guide to our conversations:
- Adopt a prayerful attitude of listening to scripture: you are the disciple, it is the teacher.
- Be open to discovery: Don’t tell the Bible what’s there; discover it for yourself.
- Leave assumptions aside.
- Reserve your judgment: Hold your conclusions tentatively and mull them over for a period of time before camping on them. (Kindle Locations 616-627).
If we can keep in mind these guidelines, then the final thing is to agree to live together despite our disagreements. It is easier, of course, to be part of a denomination or congregation where everyone agrees on everything, but that may mean missing out on important insights. Serving as I do a congregation that has a pretty wide array of views makes for an interesting life, but perhaps that is a healthy place to be.
It is important, as Kindle makes clear, that we acknowledge our biases when we come to the text. If we can do that then we might be able to move forward in fruitful dialogue. That might not end the differences, but at least it might lead to understanding. It may also allow us to be more attentive to the text of Scripture and its implications for today.
Steve Kindle has done us a great favor by putting together this book. It’s brief, as are the other books in this series (I’ve contributed three of my own to the series), which are designed to be under fifty pages in length. Because it is brief it doesn’t exhaust the topic. There is plenty of opportunity to explore these issues further. That said, it is a good place to start.
In conclusion to this review, let me say that I’ve known Steve Kindle for more than a decade. We don’t agree on every issue, but we’ve had many fruitful conversations. We’ve wrestled with texts together, suggesting different ways of reading the text. Sometimes I’ve offered a convincing perspective, sometimes he has. Often we end up agreeing to disagree. Steve and I both started out in very conservative contexts – he among the conservative wing of the Churches of Christ, while I was a conservative evangelical/Pentecostal. We both moved left, though in some ways he’s moved further left than have I. Both of us agree that we need to listen to a wide spectrum of views, even as we hold to our own deeply held convictions. So, what Steve and I have done in our conversations down through the years, he is suggesting that others can do as well. In the end, we do need each other. Take and read; you will be blessed as a result.