Today, I want to interact with ideas in two of James McGrath’s posts. The first one is from July, and the second one is more recent:
In the first post, Dr. McGrath essentially calls fundamentalists “kindergartners.” He gets criticism for that, and he even criticizes himself. But his definition of spiritual maturity is in the following quote:
But what if God has providentially placed in the Bible clues that are meant to lead you to eventually realize that what God wants from you is precisely what the loud voices of fundamentalism condemn: taking responsibility for your own actions, for your moral judgments, and learning to live with uncertainty, yet not without faith?
By “clues,” Dr. McGrath means “the fact that the Bible contains what appear to be differences of viewpoint, discrepancies, and in some cases apparently irreconcilable contradictions.”
My problem with this statement is that I don’t define spiritual maturity in that way. Everyone, from the strictest fundamentalist to the most adamant non-believer, has to take responsibility for his or her own actions. All of us live in the real world, where our actions have consequences. We all have to sleep in the bed that we made, in some way, shape, or form. That’s just life. So I can’t say that fundamentalists don’t take responsibility for their decisions, or that liberals do and are thus more mature. Everyone makes decisions and lives with their consequences.
Some choose to get their guidance from the Bible as they go through life, and they are not less mature than those who make up their morality as they go along. Most of us receive guidance from someone–counselors, family, friends, etc.–for we do not have all of the answers. Even Dr. McGrath says that there resources for those who want to follow the path of being honest about their religious doubts and questions.
Those who receive their moral guidance from a Bible they consider inerrant are not that bad off, in my opinion. They’re getting instruction about keeping their passions in check, and many of us know that passions can lead us where we don’t want to be! They are also hopefully learning how to be kinder, more loving, and generous.
I also don’t think that “uncertainty” is a sign of spiritual maturity. If one person wants to acknowledge that there are contradictions in the Bible, and another seeks to harmonize them through any means he can find, the former is not necessarily better than the latter. I have met liberal Christians who lacked any ounce of humility. And I have encountered conservative Christians who are the warmest, most loving people I’ve met. I’ve experienced the reverse as well.
That’s why I like this quote from Dr. McGrath’s second post, which reviews Robin Meyers’ Saving Jesus from the Church: Meyers points out that neither claiming to believe the virgin birth as a sign of one’s faith, nor claiming not to believe it as a demonstration of one’s critical thinking, necessarily leads to “a changed heart or a self-sacrificing spirit” (p.37). In his own way, Meyers highlights the true sign of spiritual maturity: the fruit of the Spirit (e.g., love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, generosity, etc.).
UPDATE: The following comment McGrath made under his post, Inerrancy, Historicity, Maximalism and Minimalism, qualifies for me the picture that I paint above. McGrath does believe that God had something to do with the Bible and that it can offer people guidance. I may wrestle with his comment in a future post, but I just want to post it here so I can find it:
As for what I believe about the Bible, I believe that its authors in places set forth a vision of the good that is so high that even the Biblical authors themselves did not always live up to it. And I believe that, just because its authors were fallible human beings, that doesn’t mean that many of them did not have a life-transforming experience of that transcendent reality we (and they) refer to as God. Fallible human beings often have important things to say, and we should not demand perfection before we listen. But as Eric Reitan has emphasized in comments on another blog entry, when we come to believe that a text is inerrant, we use that as justification to stop listening to others that may have wise but fallible things to say, that we need to hear. And so I believe that the case for the Bible’s errancy, far from being opposed to a Christian reading thereof, can play an essential role in our coming to hear it for what it is: part of the ongoing dialogue that is Christianity, rather than the end of dialogue…
[W]hether that view is “high” enough is a subject on which many will differ. But one thing I’ve felt more and more strongly recently (and is one of the reasons I’ve been posting on the subjects I have) is this: it seems to me that a lot of us (myself included) prefer to debate the precise nature of the Bible’s inspiration/(in)fallibility/(in)errancy because discussing theology, history, and other subjects that are genuinely difficult, is still ultimately far less challenging than the challenge to sacrifice our lives for the sake of others. And so lately my sense of inadequacy as a Christian has nothing to do with my doctrinal precision, but my failure to sell all my CDs and use the money to feed some family that is starving.