We need to be honest here, friends: There is no such thing as a “Bible-Believing” Christian.
There are Bible-reading Christians, Bible-studying Christians, Bible-preaching Christians, and even Bible-loving Christians—but no one believes it in the way they say they believe it when they say that they are “Bible-believing”.
Invariably when a Christian utters that phrase and makes that claim, he or she is attempting to dismiss your perspective, your worldview, or your interpretation of Scripture by claiming that your authority on the matter at hand is somehow less reliable than their own—because they believe all of the Bible and follow all of it. They do not.
They are claiming that the Bible has a simple, irrefutable silver bullet verse for the topic of the moment, one that silences all discussion and ends any debate. It does not.
One of the go-to criticisms of these BB Christians is that the rest of us “cherry pick” Scripture; that we roam through it like a buffet, grabbing huge helpings of what looks good to us and passing by the things we find unpleasant or difficult. We do. Everyone does.
That’s not to say that we’re consciously doing that or that we intentionally ignore or discard portions of the text, but even the most committed among us, even the most well-intentioned among us bring something inherently flawed and limited to the table of scholarship and inspiration: ourselves. We all carry our prejudices, fears, experiences, upbringing and influences along with us to the Bible, and this causes us (even at our very best) to be extremely selective in what we see as gospel, in what we give weight to, in what we practice and amplify and share.
For example, in conversations about sexuality, professed BB Christians will boldly and readily toss out Leviticus 20:13 in conversation, as some supposed sanctified mic drop against the gay community:
If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
Whenever they do, I’ll always ask them to kindly move their heads a half an inch higher, where the same author in the same chapter of the same book says: Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death. Because they have cursed their father or mother, their blood will be on their own head. If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife—with the wife of his neighbor—both the adulterer and the adulteress are to be put to death.
I ask these BB Christians whether they also believe that disrespectful teenagers and those committing adultery should be stoned to death. Silence usually follows, or a quick switching of tactics to attacking my apparent ignorance of the difference between Ceremonial Law and Moral Law, or a hopping over to the New Testament and drop quoting Paul’s letters while ignoring Jesus’ silence on the matter.
Or, when discussing the Muslim Travel Ban, someone claiming to be a BB preacher will conveniently ignore the dozens of references to welcoming refugees and treating foreigners as ones own, while clinging to a single verse about the wolves coming to kill the sheep, in order to justify their position. Again, when presented with the actual words from the text they’re claiming to be their full authority, they begin to squirm and become angry and look for loopholes. And when further reminded that Jesus himself was a dark-skinned, homeless refugee—they usually depart the conversation and go back to preaching to the choir of BB Christians who agree with their selective exegesis.
I’m not having these conversations to create some sort of gotcha moments. I’m reminding people that to one degree or another, all Christians create a Bible in our own image. I’m showing them that we can’t simply believe or not believe the totality of Scripture. It’s intellectually dishonest. We all have to sift through it and interpret it and try to apply it as best we can given what we learn and what we experience.
The Bible is not a book. It is a sprawling library of 66 separate books, written over thousands of years in multiple languages by dozens of authors, many of unknown origin. The writings range from the poetry of the Genesis Creation accounts, to the professed historic records of the Israelites in Deuteronomy, to the worship songs of the Psalms, to the alleged biographies of Jesus in the Gospels, to the pastoral letters of Paul to churches in Rome and elsewhere, to the apocalyptic visions of Revelation. To say that one believes every word of these disparate works, or that they somehow adhere to everything contained in them equally, is at best an impossibility and at worst a lie designed to make someone else feel morally inferior.
I love the Bible. I’ve studied it for twenty years and shared it with thousands of people—and it’s because I love it and because I’ve studied it that I would never dare to say claim that I’m “Bible believing” because the phrase isn’t helpful or honest or complex enough for the subject matter.
There’s a legendary platitude that professed Bible-believing Christians offer in the face of any sustained disagreement, pushback, or challenge; whenever an impasse has been reached:
God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.
I think we can do better. I think we can be honest. I think we can say to people:
These words (translated from the ancient manuscripts and written thousands of years ago) appear to say this based on what I’ve studied. Sometimes I think God said it and other times I’m not so sure. Through study and prayer and reflection I’m trying to make some sense out of it, and I’m not certain how it aligns with something I read in another part of it, and that bothers me—and maybe we can talk about it.
I think that would be a redemptive path for each of us as we have conversations about this faith of ours with those both inside and outside of it.
The Bible isn’t a textbook. It isn’t a formula. It is a spacious, sometimes nebulous place that we are invited into as we seek to understand this life and the life beyond it. It requires faith and wonder and digging, and comfort with paradox and unknowns.
We are Bible-reading.
We are Bible-studying.
We are Bible-excavating.
We are Bible-loving.
And at some times and with some verses and in some ways—we are Bible-believing.