A lot of disagreements between christians come down to how we see the Bible. And a lot of how we present the christian faith to outsiders (whether well or badly) is similarly determined by how we see the Bible.
I think there are four basic views, and I thought diagrams might make them clearer.
This uncomplicated approach is attractive to many people, but it doesn’t describe the Bible we read (there are many internal inconsistencies and it strains credulity to think every one of them can be explained) and it requires we disbelieve much of cosmology, biological science and genetics.
In the absence of any clear Biblical claim to be inerrant and totally relevant to today from Genesis to Revelation, it is difficult to see why we should take on the burden of this view of the Bible.
Progressive revelation allows one to differentiate between Old Testament, which applied back then even though incomplete, but is only partially applicable today, and New Testament, which is the more complete revelation which supersedes the Old Testament in many ways. It thus resolves many of the difficulties of the inerrancy view and is more easily presented to non-believers.
I think this has to be part of any thoughtful response to the Bible.
From myth to history
This the view held by many modern scholars, and was the view of CS Lewis. It says that the Bible started in myth and legend in Genesis 1-11, and sees history becoming more prominent as the Old Testament period goes on. Between Abraham and the monarchy we have history and legend mixed (the percentage of each is arguable), but after David or Solomon, we are in the realm of history with some exaggerations at times. By the New Testament, it is almost all historical.
This combined with progressive revelation seem to capture most of the evidence.
It’s just ancient literature
Sceptics, both liberal christians and non-believers, come somewhere close to this view. Of course there is history and culture in the Bible, but it just a human book and no more divine truth than many other books. This is quite a tenable view though it tends to ignore all the inspirational qualities billions of people down the ages have found in the Bible.
But if a person believes the historical evidence points to Jesus truly being the son of God, it is difficult to believe that the Bible is no more than other historical texts.
Does it matter?
It is often argued by those who believe in an inerrant Bible that any ‘softer’ view leads to loss of faith. My experience and observation is that the very opposite is true.
The extreme views lead to loss of faith
To maintain belief in an inerrant Bible requires the believer to put aside many of the obvious difficulties and avoid asking the hard questions. Some people can do it, though I believe at the cost of staying closed to real information and evidence. But, increasingly, young christians, particularly those who pursue an education, find their faith cannot survive if they stay with inerrancy.
The extreme liberal view doesn’t seem to provide enough for anyone to want to persevere in faith. They may remain ‘christian’ but there is little there to base their life on without a robust view of the historical Jesus at least.
The middle ground
I, and many others these days, can testify that coming to believe in progressive revelation and a gradual transition from legend to history in the Bible renewed their faith. It resolves many questions.
And it loses nothing that really matters. It preserves the historicity of Jesus, which is the core of christian belief.
What about you?
I hope these diagrams help you think through where you stand, and what you are making your stand on.