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Sunday, January 8, 2012

"The Babe" and the Doctrine of Inerrancy


Today Ted and I spent his last day of freedom from teaching by driving into the Sierras. Tomorrow, it’s back to long weeks of grading. We took a nice walk by a river. Then we drove up a highway and decided to make a small town in the middle of the piney woods our goal. On the map it was quite simple. Turn off Hwy XX onto a paved road, stop at this tiny little town for a cup of coffee, continue through town on the same road, loop back to Hwy XX, and go on home. I’ll call the town Pittsville, because I have some not so nice things to say about it.

Not only did we have the map to guide us, we had “The Babe,” Ted’s GPS. How could we lose?

It turned out that Pittsville was not a cute little town with barns and antique shops. It was the armpit of the Sierras, full of broken down houses and scary looking people. Two kids playing outside were quite stunned to see us driving by them on their one-lane street, the main street in what you might call a town, except the only business in town was a scary-looking bar.

So we programmed the Babe to get us out of there. She sent us onto a dirt road on the other side of town. It was a rough road. We bounced along until we came to a bridge with a sign recommending that only four wheel drive vehicles proceed further. On the other side of the bridge was a grade so steep, we knew our car would never make it. So, we turned around and bounced back to town, past the two kids and an old dog. Ted tinkered with the Babe, and she started sending us around in circles to get us back to that road. “Recalculating. In .1 miles, turn left.” I began to envision a paranormal horror story where two na├»ve flatlanders wander into a dark portal where the town’s roads all close in on themselves and you can never get out again. I told Ted, “Either the Babe has turned to the dark side and she’s trying to kill us or she’s just stupid.” In my imagination, the flatlanders battle evil for three days and finally bust out, bringing the two kids and the dog with them … just as the earth is opening up and swallowing the town of Pittsville.

Ted tinkered some more. We passed the two kids and the dog a third time. I was praising God at that point that I hadn’t ordered a diet coke for lunch. The Babe led us onto a decent, unpaved Forest Service road that wound and snaked through the trees seemingly forever. As the sun began to fade below the horizon, we broke out onto Hwy XX. Just as my emotions were beginning to register on the crabometer, we were home free.

Driving down the freeway, I couldn’t help but think of how the doctrine of inerrancy is often like The Babe. It’s useful, but it has a dark side, not because it’s stupid but because it’s mechanical. It can’t think, can’t change, can’t breathe or stretch, can’t apply common sense. It’s an old wineskin, rigidly locking the church and synagogue into attitudes, particularly about women, that are millennia old.

I just finished reading an autobiography written by Theresa of Avila. She is one of two women that the Catholic Church has designated as a Doctor of the Church. Toward the end of her life and ministry, many of her own churchmen were questioning her travels and activities. In 1571 she wrote, “It seemed to me, considering what Paul says about women, how they should stay at home—people reminded me lately of this, and, indeed, I had heard it before,--it might be the will of God I should do so too. He [Jesus] said to me: Tell them they are not to follow part of the Scripture by itself, without looking to the other parts also; perhaps, if they would, they would like to tie My hands” [from: The Autobiography of St. Theresa of Avila, Tan Books, 1997, p. 447]. She has brought to light one of the conundrums of inerrancy, that it is usually applied to just this Scripture and not to that one. Not to both blended or held in tension together.

As if to bring home the point, tonight I watched another Independent Lens documentary on another African woman who has transformed her nation (in this case Kenya), another African woman who has won a Nobel Prize for showing decades of innovation and courage in educating her people, showing them a better way of life. She was one female leader standing against another selfish, brutal dictator, pillaging his nation to enrich himself and his cronies. The women who followed her were beaten and their families were thrown in prison, but in the end, the dictator fell and the nation moved to a multi-party democracy.

I believe that to marginalize the potential leadership of women in the church, society, education, and government is truly an abomination in the sight of God. I believe that obedience to the Spirit of God in the issue of promoting women in pastoral and denominational leadership is more precious to our Lord than big churches, high praises, or years of service.

I believe that God is looking for male denominational leaders who are as courageous as the many women of the world who suffered years of persecution, often from men who want to hide behind small portions of Scripture to promote an agenda that really comes from the human flesh. What a victory for the devil. Suppress half the Christian army in the very name of God.