Have you no scriptural basis though?

And so Mark comes back to me after the last two blog posts with another question. As there has been quite a lot of interest in the answers I’ve already given, I think I might as well carry on responding to his one-line versions of the big questions of faith.

Most recently he has asked:

What would you say to those that argue you’ve no scriptural basis though?

Well, there are a number of things that I would say. The most important thing to say though is that I don’t believe that we should live life as though the Bible is the supreme authority in all things. It is far more interesting a collection of literature than that and it is too important to be trivialised in that way.

It seems to me that those who apply a sola scriptura mindset to things are always going to be dancing around trying either to prove their fidelity to a complex ancient text or alternatively trying to show that they are not really fundamentalists after all when it is obvious to even the most casual observer that such a viewpoint is the place at which fundamentalism begins. (Or, it will lead to good-hearted people damning and condemning people like me, and damning other folk isn’t an attractive side of religion, is it?)

No – none of that. I don’t believe it and am not required to believe it. I do believe the historic creeds of Christianity. I might want a discussion about how I believe them but believe them I do. And they don’t make subordinating everything to the Bible a requirement.

Incidently, one of the reasons I could never affirm the Anglican Covenant is its insistence on the Bible being “the rule and ultimate standard of faith”. (A Lambeth Conference affirmed this in 1888, but it ain’t for me and I prefer the original version of the Chicago Quadrilateral).

No, I’m very happy to look to the way of thinking about the scriptures which allows one to respond to them whilst also responding with an eye to both reason and tradition too. Richard Hooker famously said that scripture, reason and tradition were like the three legs of a stool. Now, there have been some who have tried to argue that Hooker still wanted scripture to have the highest authority. I’m unconvinced by their efforts though and I think that it was nothing short of genius for us to come to a view where there was no one, single infallible source of authority but to recognise that each shines brightly in the light of the others.

Now having said all that, I think it is worth saying that I love the Bible and read it rather a lot. I’m often surprised how little Evangelicals read it. We read it every day in public in St Mary’s and most days we discuss it. Our Sundays are dominated by great, powerful chunks of the Bible and I enjoy engaging with it in the pulpit. Indeed, the playful, generous way in which we engage with the texts at St Mary’s is one of the things which is attracting people to the congregation and the preaching is one of the reasons the congregation is growing.

Now, with regard to what I said yesterday about providence and whether or not I have a Biblical basis for saying what I said, we have to recognise that the Bible tells us about all kinds of people, some of whom would have believed that God had a great plan for their lives and others who wouldn’t. We have to contend with the mystery of Jesus praying that God would take away the cup [of crucifixion] from him. We certainly encounter a great deal about vocation, but we also encounter the likes of Ecclesiastes too – one of my favourite books, which takes a very different view of such matters, for example, to the tales of the calling of Samuel, Isaiah or Jeremiah. (And we’ll pass over for a moment the observation that these tales of vocational calling seem to be all about God and men, not God and all people).

The Bible is in some respects a collected edition of human responses to God. It isn’t just that, of course, but you’ll find all human life is there.

I tend to take an existentialist approach to Scripture anyway. I don’t think it is about the past or a recipe for how to live the present. I think it is the present and I encounter people who appear to be living out the archetypes, stories, parables and ethical battles of scripture daily in Glasgow.

Do you believe god has a unique plan for us all?

My interlocutor from yesterday has asked me another very good question on twitter.

As I discussed your blog with other Christians its led me to another big question Do you believe god has a unique plan for us all?

The first thing to note is that Mark is very good at asking questions. I came to meet him because he was wanting to do a video interview with me on the usual topic. What made it memorable was that his questions then were so much more thoughtful than they generally are in such circumstances. Generally when I do those kind of interviews I get asked the usual questions and reply with the usual answers, however Mark’s interview was much more interesting than that. So, I know he asks good questions.

So what about God’s plan for us all.

Well, by and large I sit light to the doctrine of providence, which is what we are talking about. Like yesterday, I’d have to say I don’t believe in it on a superficial level. However the complicated thing is that I think that is sometimes what life feels like. However, we must beware of mapping our own feelings onto a presumption of God’s intent. Life is much more interesting than that.

Generally speaking I find it easy to talk about providence in any given moment but not in terms of a life-story. I find it easy to think about what God would have me do in this choice or that choice. I find it much harder to make sense of the idea that there is a grand plan and that somehow either God needs to push me through that plan or I need to find my way into that plan in order for the universe to work.

I tend to be able to say much more about vocation than providence. Vocation is where we have a hunch about the direction of life which is then confirmed by the outside world. The hunch without the confirmation isn’t a vocation, it is a notion.

Suppose someone wants to be a Doctor and has the passion and the committment to try to do it. If they don’t get accepted onto a doctoring course or don’t pass enough exams or for some reason don’t make it to the end, then the truth is, their sense of vocation has not been affirmed by the world and without that affirmation it ain’t going to happen.

Things get a bit more complicated when folk introduce God into that kind of conversation. After all God is supposed to be the great authority figure that none can argue with.

However, wise institutions don’t let people become doctors (for example) simply on the premise that they believe that God wants them to do that. They still need to pass their exams and so on before that vocation will be affirmed, whether or not they express it in religious terms.

So, do I believe that God has a plan for us? Not in the simple sense, no. However I do believe it often feels as though that is true or even worse, should be true. That does not make it so. It does perhaps make it confusing.

We have general hints about God’s intent for our lives – “Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God” ought to be a good enough vocation for most of us. However, it doesn’t answer the question of what career I should follow.

Those questions are best answered by looking at our passions and desires, our hopes and our dreams.

Do I believe that God dances around in the midst of our passions and desires, our hopes and our dreams?

You bet I do.