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This article is an excerpt from my Personal Creed article. To leave a comment online, visit that article and look for the link.
This is a tool
for rationalizing one's beliefs through Bible study and a relationship with God.
| God is
When we read the Christian Bible, we perceive the literal historicity of each passage. The description of an event in the Bible may be viewed as a historical account, or it may be viewed as a metaphor or parable, or it may be in between. None of the stories are copies from a diary; they were all written centuries after the Old Testament events and decades after the New Testament crucifixion, so the literalness of any story is always debatable. The Bible calls out some passages as metaphors, so no one really treats every single passage as a historical event, but different people do see a different truth in each passage, and they can all be TJACB even if they seem contradictory. Is the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes a historical account of a physical miracle, or is it a parable that teaches that the fair distribution of wealth leaves more than enough for everyone? There are as many interpretations of the Bible as there are people who have lived on earth, Christian and non-Christian.
We also think about God, sometimes separately from the Bible. The Bible tells us stories about God, but it doesn't necessarily define God. God ranges from an omnipotent, omniscient and supernatural being who (or that) acts unilaterally to affect our lives, to a supportive but vaguely defined presence within and beyond the universe. God ranges, then, from interventionist to collaborative. As far as I can tell, this context of the these terms was developed by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. I also point to the related phrase, "immanentize the eschaton" which was coined by Eric Voegelin in The New Science of Politics in 1952. This work is historically interesting but I won't further define it here.
Plot yourself on the graph. Plot Jesus on the graph. (Ha ha, I made a funny. Presumably, we each plot ourselves exactly where we place Jesus, aside from any variance due to human imperfection.)
Literal, Interventionist: "Fundamentalists" are shown in the lower-left quadrant. Such a person believes that Jesus is the one and only way to the one and only Heaven. Typically, fundamentalists do not believe that there is much we can do on earth, while alive, to affect our salvation. Our role is to worship correctly according to the unerring Word of God provided in the Bible in order to express thanks for salvation. In particular, the New Testament including the prophecies of Revelation is a historical account of a fairly limited period, no more than 150 years from the human birth of Jesus Christ through the post-crucifixion activities of the followers of Jesus. Fundamentalists recognize Jesus as the Savior. Anyone who does not recognize Jesus is not saved, even if he or she lives like a good Christian. Proper worship and Heaven are defined in the Bible, and God judges unilaterally.
Literal, Collaborative: Unlike the fundamentalist perspective, the traditional Roman Catholic perspective places importance on works while alive. In order for God to recognize the worth of human works, God must allow some negotiation or provide obvious help. This can lead to corruption, such as treating financial donations as works, and such corruption led to Protestantism. While that RC corruption has generally been overcome, the relationship between works and salvation remains with.
Metaphorical, Interventionist: Many Protestants fall into this category. The Bible is reinterpreted, over and over, against modern cultural mores. This has resulted in many Christian sects focusing on different reinterpretations. One would think that a metaphorical interpretation tends to lead one to a collaborative God, but it's hard to shake the notion, taught since birth, that after all our faults, the Second Coming approaches and God will send us all to Paradise.
Metaphorical, Collaborative: Some people in this quadrant believe we define our destiny with God's help, but this is theologically suspect. Our sinfulness constrains our abilities. The literal existence of Heaven is not as important as using our God-given gifts today for peace and justice on earth. To the extent that salvation is even an issue, all people can use their gifts and be invited into the kingdom, not just Christians. The question of where non-Christians spend eternity loses importance because God's kingdom is here on earth. God becomes abstract, impossible to define; events in human time are not attributed solely to God.
Literalists do not claim that there can be no metaphorical interpretation, but their approach is to say that the verses are literal, physical, historical accounts that also provide a symbolic meaning. Metaphoricalists focus on the symbolic meaning.
Metaphoricalists do not necessarily believe that the accounts in the Bible did not literally happen, and in fact it is usually not theologically justifiable to say so. It's just that the literalness of certain events is not as important as the meaning behind the events. Is the literal, physical and historical reality of the emergence of Jesus from the tomb as important as the lessons Jesus taught while He was a living human? For metaphoricalists, it is more important to ask that question than to answer it. In the minds of the metaphoricalists, the "apologetic" approach of defending literalness interferes with focusing on that which is really important, i.e., the lessons Jesus taught. Literalists don't see an interference because their focus is indeed on that which happened after Jesus died on the cross.
Both literalists and metaphoricalists are known to treat opposing perspectives as "wrong", or at least "less right". It is not typical for metaphoricalists to damn literalists as unrepentant sinners, but there is still the accusation that literalists are not the best Christians they can be. These perspectives and any point on my graph are all TJACB, but they conflict and every side thinks it's the right side.
Click to view the bibliography.