“Taking the Bible Seriously”

Tyron Inbody, the long-time professor of theology at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, was fond of saying to his students: “Let me grant you for a moment that the Bible is word-for-word the perfect and precise words and thoughts of God.” His comments were often well received by the biblical literalists in the room, who were glad to have Dr. Inbody champion their view of the Bible’s authority.

But then he would continue. “What then? So what? Even with that view of Scripture, the text still needs to be interpreted, doesn’t it? And that interpretation is always done by people. Imperfect people. Well-meaning people, yes, but people who are far from perfect.” [1]

Much of the debate over LGBTQ inclusion has centered on the nature of Scripture, often over five texts: Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:9-10, and Romans 1:26. To some traditionalists, these scriptures provide ample evidence to support the Book of Discipline’s current language on homosexuality as incompatible with Christian teaching. In response, many progressives re-interpret these texts in light of contemporary reason and experience, which traditionalists view as an affront to the primacy of scriptural authority.

Is it possible that well-meaning people on different parts of the ideological spectrum can agree on scriptural authority, but follow different interpretive means to different conclusions? If Tyron Inbody is right, then it is possible – and even likely – that the truth and authority of the Bible may be fixed, but our interpretations of it may vary.

Perhaps the answer is not to be found in whether we take the Bible literally or metaphorically – the two tired, binary categories most often used to describe the traditional and progressive approaches – but a third category, a way in the center, which is to take the Bible seriously.

Matt Miofsky, pastor of The Gathering in St. Louis, Missouri, models this approach in a sermon series he preached in 2013 called “The Birds, Bees, & the Bible.” In the third sermon, he tackles the relationship between homosexuality and the Bible head-on, and looks carefully at each of those five controversial scriptures. He demonstrates in that sermon a kind of attentive, earnest, and humble approach that all Christians would do well to follow, and leads his congregation to a place of warm-hearted, open-minded embrace of God’s grace for all people.

His sermon contains challenging words for both conservatives and liberals alike, acknowledging that all of us can be guilty of championing our interpretation as authoritative. And he bases his whole approach on this premise, which he names at the beginning:

I take the Bible seriously. I don’t believe we can ignore it or counter it with our own opinions or experiences. We have to make sense of it. We also have to work hard to interpret the Scriptures. We cannot simply say, “The Bible says it, I believe it.” We have to make a whole bunch of choices when we read the scripture, and we make those choices under the Spirit’s guidance. So, we have to read the scripture, understand what it says, and then apply them to our lives. That process is not always an easy one, not a clear one, and all of us, no matter what camp we’re in – liberal or conservative – have to make a set of choices to apply scripture to our lives.

Miofsky’s sermon is well worth viewing, sharing, and using as a basis for how all of us might take the Bible more seriously.


[1] Ty Inbody explores these ideas more fully, and references the perspectives of beginning students in his theology classes, in the second chapter of his book The Faith of the Christian Church (Eerdmans).