On being useful

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16).

Never mind who wrote the Pastoral Epistles, whether it was Paul or someone writing in his name. Either way, they probably weren’t aware that they were writing Holy Scripture, just that they were writing a letter. What strikes me most here is the modesty of the claim the Bible makes for itself. No mention of infallibility, inerrancy or even authority. ‘Inspired by God’, yes – but not written or dictated by God. Yes, I know some translations say ‘God-breathed’, but that doesn’t rule out human agency or intelligence. ‘Useful’ – what a lowest common denominator. Surely we could all agree on that: the Bible is useful.

But what use is it? Not for settling arguments or working out whom to exclude from your fellowship, or indeed whether Jesus had one nature or two, or whether God is a Trinity. We will debate these issues till – I almost wrote ’till the cows come home’, but what I really mean is ’till Jesus comes home’ – for the Gospels and Revelation make it quite clear that God’s intention in Christ was and is to make this incredible creation God’s home. Whoever was writing to Timothy, however, has his (and it is probably ‘his’) eyes fixed firmly on praxis. Teaching, reproof, correction, yes – all these things may concern what we think and believe. But the bottom line is ‘training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient’. Proficient in what? Goodness, which is not a matter of what we believe, how we formulate our faith, but of how we behave and live out our faith. Without this, Scripture is, if I may borrow from it, ‘a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal’ (or even a clanging symbol – I’ve met a few of those…).

As an Anabaptist I believe orthopraxis is central, perhaps even more important than orthodoxy. Not that false beliefs don’t have consequences, or that right action can’t spring from right understanding. Of course it is important to know what the central thrust of the Bible is. But if you believe that the central thrust of the Bible is to make us believe right, you have already misunderstood it. The central trajectory (to use a less penetrative word!) of the Bible is for us, in the words of the words on the noticeboard of an evangelical Anglican church local to me, ‘to live as Jesus lived, to love as Jesus loved’. And for that, Scripture does not need to be inerrant or infallible, for it still to be the most useful tool we’ve got.

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About veronicazundel

I'm a professional writer and amateur mother, and belong to the only (so far) non-conservative, English-speaking, Mennonite church in the UK. I live in north London with my husband, adult son and a fat fluffy cat. I eat Marmite on matzo crackers every morning.
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One Response to On being useful

  1. Thanks Veronica! I like to argue that there is a real need to maintain a careful balance (or dynamic tension) between Spirit, Letter and Tradition. However, the ultimate test of our faith must be its fruit, the transformed life, the liberated and liberating praxis.

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