“They hold on to their beliefs, even though all other men oppose them. But I’m for religion that is tolerant of the times and not a threat to my safety. They are for Religion when he dresses in rags and is considered contemptible. But I am for him when he walks in his silver slippers, in the sunshine, and with applause.”
― John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress
The American church is increasingly being dressed in rags. Christians are labeled hateful bigots and hypocrites, who refuse to accept progress. In response, many churches are trying to comply with the culture around them; trying to cling to silver slippers and applause. As we sit in our pews on Sundays, our churches become ever more divided and the very nature of Christianity is being called into question.
In Inception of a Brigade, J.M. MacLeod addresses many of the issues facing today’s church, through a fictional world of glowing swords and dreadful monsters. His action-packed tale of valiant warriors parallels the Christian walk, turning the life of faith into a thrilling journey. One of the most relevant issues he addresses is our tendency to reshape Christianity to better fit with a modern, scientific mindset.
In his narrative, Logon (who represents Christ) gives to each of his followers a sword (representing Scripture). Through sharpening their swords, Logon’s people discover runes on the metal which teach his ways. As the main character, Artka, joins the ranks of Logon’s army, he meets with a daggerman, Debator, whose ideas strongly resonant with mindsets prevalent in our modern society. One of these ideas is the belief that the Bible isn’t meant to be taken literally and that the Bible isn’t infallible as many believe.
The daggerman says to Artka, “There you go again. Everything Logon said wasn’t meant to be taken at face value. He often reverted to the terminology and concepts people of that era understood. Don’t you get it? The runes aren’t the real truth, but only the relative truth. The real truth is hidden inside the relative truths” (pg 194-195).
I read almost this exact argument in a blog post yesterday. Jay Parini in his article “When We Read the Bible as Literature, Do We Retain Its Truths?” writes, “Many of the best stories—Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Jacob wrestling with his angel, and so forth—have a mythical quality in their telling, and they were never meant to be taken literally.” He continues farther down: “The Bible is not true in the way Gibbon’s history of the rise and fall of Rome is true. This is mythic truth. . . The truth is real, but it’s not subject to epistemological proof.”
Both Debator and Jay Parini are happy to admit the importance of the Word, but both argue that the truth is different from what it appears on the surface. The sword runes are imperfect; Scripture is a story, and as such, the truth of each is not found in literal interpretation.
And, just like for Artka, it is easy for us to want to accept their words as right. Parini never says that we should ignore the Bible; in fact, he claims that myths present a tear in reality, and so through the Bible, divine light shines into our world. Despite his belief that the Bible is not historic fact, Parini argues that the text “can help us to live our lives.” His ideas are attractive, because they allow us to believe in the Bible without having to defend it against secular historians and scientists who claim the narratives of the book are impossible.
But is it enough? Is it enough to believe that the Bible’s relative truths contain the real truth, rather than accepting Scripture as real itself? Is the Bible only a myth, or is it as C.S. Lewis would claim, a myth become fact?
J.M. MacLeod asserts in his story that Scripture is the ultimate source of truth, and only by learning God’s word and applying it to our lives can we persevere in our faith. If the Bible is only a myth—if the accounts of Jesus’ life are just stories—then the very foundation of our belief cracks. How can we believe that we are sinners and Jesus is our Savior if all accounts of His life are just exaggerated tales? How can we accept the Bible as an authority in our lives, if the Word is not infallible? If we believe Scripture is only literature with some true lessons, then our faith is no longer Christianity.
Paul writes to Timothy that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). He then charges Timothy to teach the Word, warning him, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
As Christianity becomes less accepted in society, we must resist the urge to wander into myths. Believing that the Bible is wholly true and can be taken at face value may not win us applause, but it will lead us to a stronger faith. There is little comfort to be found in the promises of a myth, but there is every encouragement to be discovered in the living and active Word of God. If we remain steadfast in our beliefs, we may, like Artka, be able to enjoy strength and peace in the presence of our king.
What do you think? Do you have any books that you’ve found helpful as you’ve formed your beliefs about the Bible? What do you believe about the truth of Scripture?
(P.S., Links below to both Parini’s article and Inception of a Brigade. Both are well-written, thought provoking reads, and MacLeod’s book has the added benefit of also being an exciting, unique fictional world, rather than a stuffy sermon.)