Wednesday, March 14, 2012

How Far is Too Far in Biblical Revisionism?

Jefferson Bibles

This past Sunday's post on revisionism led me to reflect on the different types of revisionism that we come up against in the Church today. There is moral revisionism, doctrinal revisionism, theological revisionism, and what I think is fundamental, Biblical revisionism. The first three are all doomed to eventual failure unless the last, Biblical revisionism, is carried out properly. So, for the time being our focus should be on Biblical revisionism.

An anonymous comment to my last post raised this important question:

1) "When does Bibilcal revisionism become a denial of the Word of God?"

A similar question would be this:

2) "How far can you go with Biblical revisioning before you cross the line into apostasy or heresy?"
A final question comes to mind and it is this:

3) "Are there any parts of the Bible which are "off limits" to revisionism or are there any parts which are "fair game?" 
I hope Anon 2:02am forgives me for revising their original question.

As we saw this past Sunday, a revision of the ten commandments can come out as, "You are free from murder, stealing, etc..." Let's use this as an example, with simple pro and con arguments, for each question.

1) Does this constitute a denial of God's Word?
    a) Yes, because it changes the divinely inspired words of God.
    b) No, it is a simple rephrasing of the words in order to present a liberating view that will tie in with the notion to be presented later that Jesus, by overturning the money changer's  tables, was liberating the people at the temple who were oppressed by the money changers (who should have been giving away animals for sacrifice instead of charging for them).

2) Does this cross the line?
    a) Yes, because it changes the divinely inspired words of God.
    b) No, because this is a rephrasing for edification and if any changes were made, they were harmless, and  they were done for a good reason.

3) Is this a part of the Bible which should be "off limits" or is it "fair game" for re-visioning?
    a) Off limits, because it is the divinely inspired Word of God.
    b) Fair game, because it is Old Testament stuff and all of that can be considered fair game as it is meant to be read symbolically and has been supplanted by the new covenant anyway.

You just can't argue with these people.

I confess that my responses present two extreme opposing views, and that there exist more nuanced ways of answering the questions posed by Biblical re-visioning, but in the long run it all boils down to what the end result of the revision has upon the people of God, those who gather to hear His Word, and the effect it has upon current seekers or future generations who might be new to the Word. The revisionist's opinion is that the process helps people to better understand God by removing or recasting what might be considered stumbling blocks that have been placed (by human writers) in scripture, and this new vision is what people really need. The reasserter's opinion on the other hand, is that new visions are not really necessary because the old vision was just fine. Call it divinely inspired writing, or call it the Word of God, but who are we to change it? The problem for the reasserter is to squarely face the challenge of Biblical exegesis, whereas the revisionist enjoys the freedom to either dispute the meaning of the words, change the meaning of the words, do an end run around them, or ignore them altogether. For this reason, the ease with which Biblical revisionist exegesis can be accomplished, there will probably always be more revisionists than reasserters in a "liberal" church.

In addition, the Biblical revisionist in the Episcopal church enjoys freedom from challenge, from discipline, from deposition, and from the dreaded "Church Trial." Examples include the case of Bishop Pike, the Bishop Righter trial, the non-case of Bishop Spong, etc.

In fact, it looks like skillful Biblical revisionism might be the key to advancement in TEc.

Four days ago, the Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, our reasserting neighbor, said something that reminded me of question #2 which I submitted as today's title. Bishop Lawrence said,
"The remarkable English scholar, missionary and bishop, Stephen Neill once commented that 'To be a bad Anglican is the easiest thing in the world; the amount of effort required in a minimum Anglican conformity is so infinitesimal that it is hardly to be measured.'  But he went on to say, 'To be a good Anglican is exceedingly taxing business.'  If we substitute Episcopalian for Anglican we have just as telling and true a statement for our challenge today.  To be a bad Episcopalian is easy.  Just drift with the flow of whatever cultural stream carries you and you can be an Episcopalian. I remember reading as a seminarian, Bishop Allison’s debate with O.C. Edwards on evangelism.  Fitz, as you might imagine was for it.  If memory serves me well, Fitz opened with the line 'You can be anything and be an Episcopalian.  You can be immoral, and you can be heretical; as long as you are not tacky...'" (Bishop Mark Lawrence Address to the 221st Diocesan Convention of DSC).
So, to answer the question, "How Far is Too Far in Biblical Revisionism?", or "What constitutes tacky?" As far as TEc goes, I think it all depends on who is listening. In TEc, fewer and fewer pewsitters are listening, and of those that are, most don't care, some love it, a few hate it, and the end result is not just that "the ball keeps moving down the field" (Kendall), but that "the boundaries get pushed further and further afield." (U.P.) We get an ever enlarging playing field which provides endless opportunities for the sheep to roam further and further from their shepherd. The opportunities to publish a novel idea, create a best selling book, go on the speaker's circuit, increase dramatically.

If universal expansion is true, then the end will be in abject darkness and cold: zero energy,  zero motion, even the vibration of the atoms will have ceased.

That's what happens when you push the boundaries.

Heaven help us.

 (click here for a more satirical take on Biblical revisionism from a Lutheran pastor's perspective)


  1. These questions are best viewed as a subset of the infiltration of Christianity by linguistic post modernists. That is, they take a text and "deconstruct" it to create something new which the author, in this case God, never intended or meant. It's part and parcel of creating "new" truths from old verities. For example, I can read the Bible and know what God thinks of marriage--precisely what it is and is not. It is only by deconstructing, eliminating or re-purposing passage, do we come to an interpretation which, essentially, allows us to reach any conclusion we want.

    And people wonder why attendance and membership in progressive/liberal denominations is dropping through the floor. It's simple. If we interpret the Church to be just like the world, it's more fun to play golf on Sunday.

  2. Randall,

    Exactly. While it sounds complicated, the way of "deconstructing, eliminating and re-purposing" is in fact the easy path (for the revisionist). Shouldering the cross and abiding in His Word to the revisionist appears far too difficult. The revisionist would have to give up far to many of their earthly wants and desires to take the narrow path. They seem to forget that His yoke is easy and His burden is light after all.