Some startling headlines are coming out about a major international survey of attitudes toward the Bible. Fundamentalists, it seems, don’t know their Bibles as well as Christians (and even non-Christians?) of the more liberal sort. They think Jesus wrote the Gospels and don’t know whether Paul or Moses fit in the NT or OT, respectively.
But there’s a problem with the survey which, I argue, is skewing its results. The survey asked respondents to describe the Bible, but it provided its own responses:
- “The Bible is the inspired word of God, but not everything in the Bible should be taken literally, word for word.”
- “The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man.”
- “The Bible is the actual word of God, which must be taken literally, word for word.”
I’m a fundamentalist, but I’m in a strait betwixt two. It’s all because of that tricky word “literal.” I believe that every word of the Bible is true, but surely no one thinks Assyria is literally a physical rod in God’s hand (Isaiah 10:5). It’s a metaphor—and no less “true” for being such! Surely no one who selected number three above would think that Jesus is literally a physical door and not a human being (John 10:9). That word “literally” kills this question for me. I can’t answer it.
I suspect that the “critical” view, number 1, had inflated numbers because it encompassed both mainline Protestants and Catholics along with thinking evangelicals. Those who selected number 3 were labeled “fundamentalists” by the survey. But perhaps that response garnered support mainly from people who, though my dear brothers and sisters, are unsophisticated in their hermeneutics. I need to see more data before I’m willing to believe the headlines.
There are three kinds of lies: 1) lies, 2) you know, and 3) statistics.