Some texts may not teach what they at first appear to teach. Some people, however, have studied particular Biblical texts carefully and come to understand what they teach, and yet they still find them outrageous and regressive. What should they do then?
I urge people to consider that their problem with some texts might be based on an unexamined belief in the superiority of their historical moment over all others. We must not universalize our time any more than we should universalize our culture. Think of the implication of the very term "regressive." To reject the Bible as regressive is to assume that you have now arrived at the ultimate historical moment, from which all that is regressive and progressive can be discerned. That belief is surely as narrow and exclusive as the views in the Bible you regard offensive.
Consider the views of contemporary British people and how they differ from the views of their ancestors, the Anglo-Saxons, a thousand years ago. Imagine that both are reading the Bible and they come to the gospel of Mark, chapter 14. First they read that Jesus claims to be the Son of Man, who will come with angels at the end of time to judge the whole world according to his righteousness (verse 62). Later they read about Peter, the leading apostle, who denies his master three times and at the end even curses him to save his skin (verse 71). Yet later Peter is forgiven and restored to leadership (Mark 16:7; John 21:15ff). The first story will make contemporary British people shudder. It sounds so judgemental and exclusive. However, they will love the story about how even Peter can be restored and forgiven. The first story will not bother Anglo-Saxons at all. They know all about Doomsday, and they are glad to get more information about it! However, they will be shocked at the second story. Disloyalty and betrayal at Peter's level must never be forgiven, in their view. He doesn't deserve to live, let alone become the foremost disciple. They will be so appalled by this that they will want to throw the Bible down and read no more of it.
Of course, we think of the Anglo-Saxons as primitive, but someday others will think of us and our culture's dominant views as primitive. How can we use our time's standard of "progressive" as the plumb line by which we decide which parts of the Bible are valid and which are not? Many of the beliefs our grandparents and great-grandparents now seem silly and even embarrassing to us. That process is not going to stop now. Our grandchildren will find many of our views outmoded as well. Wouldn't it be tragic if we threw the Bible away over a belief that will soon look pretty weak or wrong? To stay away from Christianity because part of the Bible's teaching is offensive to you assumes that if there is a God he wouldn't have any views that upset you. Does that belief make sense?
The Reason for God by Tim Keller.
The post above is a direct continuation from the slavery quote I just used. And I'm freely admitting right now that my analysis of this might not be the most unbiased piece of work to ever hit a blog, because it frustrated me, and emotions color logic.
My expectation upon this was set up with the idea of Mr. Keller addressing the issue of someone understanding the cultural context of a statement -- such as the slavery issue -- and thus dealing with handling the outrage even in the cultural situation. And thus he addresses what should be done in that instant.
Yet I don't see him doing that in the following paragraphs. Both the Anglo-Saxons and the contemporary British people are analyzing the Bible through their own cultural lens, which is exactly what Mr. Keller advised against in terms of the slavery issue. So how is this supposed to help people come to terms with the Bible if they still find the cultural context outrageous? Because neither group now reading the Bible is attempting to process the knowledge through how the society worked back then. The Anglo-Saxons understand the text to be wrong because of how honor-driven their society is, rather than seeing Peter's actions in terms of the Jewish society.
Not only that, in his examples he goes from a huge moral complication in terms of slavery, to much narrower complications -- the Anglo-Saxons grasp of honor, and contemporary view of judgement and exclusiveness. And my favorite line is this: "To stay away from Christianity because part of the Bible's teaching is offensive to you assumes that if there is a God he wouldn't have any views that upset you." Put that line in context of the slavery issue just discussed, and I have a difficult time reading it as anything but: "To stay away from Christianity because you're offended that the Bible doesn't say slavery is wrong is to assume that if there is a God, he wouldn't have any views that upset you."
I'd be much more impressed with this line of thought if he had tackled the big moral reasons as to why people can't absorb the Bible: how it factored into the New World slave trade, how it factored into the treatment of women, how it factored into situations such as the Crusades or the Inquisition. Even elements such as Numbers 31, or the serious problem people have with a vast majority of humanity in eternal torment for all eternity. This is what makes people have a huge problem with the Bible. At what point are those points of view going to be "weak?" Or "wrong?"
There's also the complication with the fact that we're not allowed to universalize our culture. I'm not sure if that's a blanket statement at our entire culture, or just parts of our culture. Our culture today forbids slavery, has civil rights for all races and genders, has much better child labor laws, has much better opportunities for many of its citizens. Why are we not allowed to universalize that? It's hardly narrow or exclusive to say that if our society previously derailed the freedoms of 90% of its people, that is wrong.
Plus, we can't universalize our culture, but we must universalize the Bible for all moments in time? We keep getting told here that as we go forward in time, many views held now will seem ridiculous in some fashion, and yet we're supposed to hold to a book that was written before all these other examples?