Ten Percent

I was recently listening to a Hermeneutics lecture by John Goldingay on iTunes U, and he made an interesting comment that caught my attention. He stated that he approaches the Scriptures with the notion that 10% of what he knows is wrong. “The problem,” he continued, “is that I don’t know which 10% is wrong.”

This phrase really struck me and caused me to consider its implications. I’ve determined that this is probably a pretty good mentality to develop while approaching the Scriptures.

First of all, this recognition will cultivate a humility when approaching God’s word and discussing it with others. It is important to acknowledge that we could be wrong, even in deep-rooted beliefs. Of course, we would all love to understand God’s revelation perfectly, but as long as we live this side of eternity, we will continue to be flawed and fallible. This should cause us to continually re-examine and consider anew the teachings of Scripture.

Second, just as we can not know everything perfectly, this statement indicates that it is possible to understand God’s word. There is a rather large percentage of understanding that we can glean from the Bible. Revelation from God is meant to be understood. It is a message for all people, which means its fundamental truths are meant to be readily understood by all people across all educational backgrounds. No doctorate is required (although plenty of them have been handed out dealing with the Scriptures).

The implication of these previous two conclusions is that there is always room for us to grow in our understanding of God’s word. In his perfection, God has no need for growth or improvement. As fallible human beings, however, we will always have room for growth, and the Bible provides a wealth and diversity of challenges. I am reminded of an analogy that the preacher in my childhood, Grover Stevens, often used. He said that the Bible is like an ocean: the shallowest of waters are available for children to play but the deepest depths no man can fully explore. God’s word lays the path for a life-long journey of study and growth.

The possibility of perpetual growth means that we will probably change our minds on certain teachings. We may need to correct our course based upon recent study and reflection. Then, any new positions taken will need to receive the same scrutiny and examination.

It is important to note the objective of Bible study here. The goal is not to get a 100% on some post-mortem Bible quiz. The goal of Bible study is to grow closer to God and to live with him eternally one day. Our beliefs should guide our actions into further godliness and a yearning to be immortally arrayed.

As I reflect upon this saying, I will make one last comment. It may or may not be apparent to you (the reader) that this blog is not intended to be a repository of simple, gift-wrapped answers. It is a place of reflection and questions. There are many things for which I bear strong convictions, but I would hope that I would test even these convictions. An unquestioned faith will not sustain life. May my questions always ultimately lead to greater faith and appreciation of God, not doubt or dismay. I believe that greater strength will come from having asked the question and struggled through an answer rather than simply accepting something unquestioned.

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2 Responses to Ten Percent

  1. Patrick H. says:

    Great thoughts. I read something similar by N.T. Wright: “I frequently tell my students that quite a high proportion of what I say is probably wrong, or at least flawed or skewed in some way which I do not at the moment realize. The only problem is that I do not know which bits are wrong; if I did I might do something about it. The analogy with other areas of life is salutary: I make many mistakes in moral and practical matters, so why should I imagine my thinking to be mysteriously exempt?” (The New Testament and the People of God, p.xvii).

    You’re the second person (along with the other preacher at church) to commend Goldingay’s iTunes lectures…I guess I really ought to get around to listening to them sometime…

    • Jeremy says:

      They are helpful words, and I’m sure it would be important words in an academic setting. It seems that all teachers would want a questioning mind in their students.

      Goldingay’s lectures are worth the time. It’s a class setting, so sometimes there are breakout sessions and interaction with students that is hard to hear, but that’s not too bad.

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