I was going on about not having had an opportunity yet to pick up a copy of Adam Hamilton’s new book on the Bible, when someone very graciously sent me a copy. It arrived today. Is there anything better than free books in the mail?
Rather than skip to the chapters on hot-button issues, I skimmed through many chapters of the book and then went to the back where Hamilton turns from questions and critical reflection to what he calls an “honest and reverent view of Scripture.”
Here is one paragraph in which he summarizes things:
To reiterate the basic premise of this book: You are not dishonoring God by asking questions of scripture that seems inconsistent with modern scientific knowledge or geography or history. And you are not being unfaithful to God if you ask questions of a verse that seems inconsistent with the picture of God seen in the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This is possible because you recognize that the Spirit’s inspiration of the human authors of scripture was similar to the Spirit’s work in your own life. The Holy Spirit prompts you but does not dictate. The Spirit whispers to you, but you don’t always hear correctly. The Spirit’s work in your life does not make you inerrant or infallible.
Hamilton’s emphasis on the Spirit reminds me of his charismatic background. I take his argument to be that the Holy Spirit today inspires people the same way it inspired the biblical authors, so our experience of the Spirit can and should inform our encounter with the Bible.
This might lead to ask why we treat the Bible as special. Aren’t worship songs and religious writings of our day — or other religions — just as inspired as the Bible, then? Hamilton responds to these questions in his chapter about whether the gospels can be trusted when they tell us about Jesus. He argues that the historical proximity of the authors — at least the New Testament ones — to the events they describe and the value the church has found in the writings warrant our giving them special attention and authority. I take this as saying the Bible’s authority comes from the circumstances of its writing and its usage in the church, not the unique nature of its inspiration.
In the end, if I am close to reading Hamilton correctly, most of the arguments that he makes on specific questions, including his controversial “three buckets” framework for classifying parts of the Bible, come down to this matter of what it means to say the Bible is inspired.
I’d be interested in the thoughts of others who have read his book or who have thoughts arise by reading my all-too-brief description of this point.