Disclaimer 2: I am not a theologian. I am not a minister. I am not a philosopher. I have no training in interpreting Scripture. I have not read the Bible in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek (or even in Latin). I have attended church (including Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, Caravan, Bible Quizzing, Christian youth camps and retreats, worship team, choir, youth group events, and chapel twice a week for four years) ever since i was born. I went to a Christian school for four years, where in addition to the aforementioned chapel services i took two religion courses (Biblical History and Literature and Christian Tradition), one philosophy course (Contemporary Questions, an honor's-level philosophy seminar), and one ethics course (Living Issues). All of my professors were Christians and incorporated faith into their lectures, and i also took a couple of elective courses that addressed issues of faith (Science and Religion and Psychology of Religion). While all of this has given me a large body of knowledge, experience, and information, i do not have any faith-related degrees. I am not an expert in any of the things i am about to say. (But it's the internet, so who cares?)
Rachel Held Evans, author of Evolving in Monkeytown and blogger extraordinaire, visited my school a few months ago. She had dinner with the Honor's society, gave a talk about being a writer in a largely virtual world, and spoke in chapel. Her current project is researching and writing about the idea of Biblical womanhood, a topic i will allow you to research on your own, if you are so inclined. I'm not going to do your work for you. I gave you a link to her site already.
In chapel, Rachel was talking about this concept of Biblical womanhood, and the idea espoused by many that the Bible contains blueprints for our behavior. "Just read the Scriptures," they say. "It's all there, very clear. Just do as the Bible says and you'll be fine." The problems with this philosophy are numerous, and Rachel addressed a few of them, but the thing that really stuck with me was what she said about the "blueprint" analogy.
"With a really good blueprint, there is no need to talk to the designer," she said. The better the blueprint, the less need for the contractor to ever have anything to do with the architect. It's only a poor architect who has to communicate with the builders.
This leaves us with three possible conclusions: 1) God is the world's worst architect, and we need to consult Him constantly on His design, 2) God is the world's best architect and we never need to talk to Him at all, 3) God is a really great architect, and if His purpose were to build a house we'd never need to talk to Him at all, but the Bible is not meant to be a blueprint, and God wants to talk to us constantly, about everything.
The Bible is great. It has a lot of commands directly from God about how we should live our lives. It has a lot of general advice about how to get along with people, grow spiritually, and avoid immorality. It has some incredible stories, some beautiful poetry, and some history (which, while not "accurate" according to modern Western definitions of historical accuracy, is nevertheless true and important to the world and to faith). But it is not a blueprint. It does not contain clear-cut, diamond-hard instructions for how we should live our lives.
While we're at it, let's take a moment to examine the claim of Biblical inerrancy. Where, exactly, does this idea come from? From the Bible. That's right: we believe that the Bible is inerrant because the Bible says it is. That's like if i went around saying, "I am always right about everything. Therefore, the statement i just made is correct. Therefore, i am always right about everything." That's not a convincing argument.
The Bible is very clear about a lot of things. But most of it, while it may have been inspired/dictated/based on things said or done by God, was actually written by people. We won't get into the massive game of telephone involved in the transcription, copying, translation, transliteration, editing, editorializing, and interpreting of Scripture over the last several thousand years (again, a topic for another day). I will say this: I believe that God often talks to people pretty directly. I know He's talked to me. But i don't know that what God says to one person in one context about one situation is necessarily true or right for every person in every context for every situation. It is helpful to see what God has said. It's like how lawyers and judges read old cases and rulings to research precedence. But at the end of the day, every case is unique, and while history may give you a sense of context and background, the final call always comes down to you (or you and God, if we're talking about faith and not legal proceedings).
This is what i know for sure: Salvation does not happen in a moment. It is an ongoing process. We have to keep searching for God's will in our lives, and keep checking in with Him to make sure we're in a right relationship. If we're really looking for God, we will find Him. God knows the difference between someone who is looking for Him and someone who is merely looking for the right answer.
Here is something else i know for sure: everything that God has ever told us to do, all of the law, the prophets, the commandments, the parables, everything, can be summed up in these words:
'And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these. -- Mark 12:30-31
These words came from Jesus. Even allowing for issues with transcription, translation, etc, they're pretty clear: Look for God and you will find Him, and love God and other people. All theology, all philosophy, all teachings and sermons and scriptures and everything else are simply footnotes to this.
I think the Bible is great. I think it has some stunning literature, some fascinating history, some important moral lessons, and some holy commandments from God Himself. But i don't think it should be our only resource for faith guidance. I don't even think it should be our first resource. I think our first resource should be the influence of the Holy Spirit. God speaks to our hearts directly, and leads us in the way He desires. Sometimes, sure, the path gets a little murky, and sometimes we need clarification, further instruction, assurance that things will turn out okay, or backup to advise a friend. The Bible comes in here, to support and clarify the things that the Holy Spirit has told us. But when we are facing a crisis of faith, or trying to make a major decision, or simply trying to deepen the roots of our souls, i think our first step has to be prayer. Talk to God. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Bask in the presence of Jesus. And then, for further clarification, consult the footnotes.