When it comes to believing what the Bible says, there are many atheists – and many Christians for that matter – who insist that it’s an all-or-nothing decision. They say that if one wishes to accept any part of the Bible as fact, then, by necessity, he or she must assume the facthood of the whole. Cherry picking is not allowed.
I agree that cherry picking is an abuse of scripture, but I also think the same of the all-or-nothing approach to defining biblical truth. Such a false dichotomy is dangerous for the Christian, and, for the atheist, is a pitiful straw man argument.
I have been accused of cherry picking scripture on numerous occasions, but this accusation has little ground. Yes, I accept some parts of the Bible as factual while rejecting others, but I am not cherry picking. When it comes to scripture, there is a difference between cherry picking and separating wheat from the chaff. Cherry picking is when a Christian isolates the convenient and sensible parts of the Bible, while ignoring any ugly parts that might do their worldview a disservice. Separating wheat from chaff, on the other hand, is a consistent method of testing the character of scripture to discern what parts come from God, and what parts come from man.
When I separate wheat from chaff, I stand of the threshing floor of biblical criticism. All scripture is at once thrown up into the air and, once the wind of reason has done its work, the flawed things that are of man are blown away, while the good things that are of God return to the floor for harvest.
Before I begin filtering scripture in this way I must first cast out the indefensible idea that scripture is inerrant and directly authored by God. In my eyes, the Bible is a human document – an anthology – telling the story of humankind’s experience of God. Indeed, it is a story about God, but the reality of this God is veiled by the cultural-historical trappings of it’s imperfect, but nevertheless, inspired authors. It could be said that the Bible is inspired by God in the same way that one’s diary is inspired by the events of daily life; it’s a careful reflection on past experience. By understanding scripture in this way, it becomes subject to the honest interpretation of reasoning minds guided by the Holy Spirit.
With scripture removed from its pedestal, I can begin applying my criteria. My personal experience of God leads me to conclude that the the expansion of the life and love of the Trinitarian community is God’s ultimate intent for all creation. It is this lens – the lens of self-emptying love – that filters my view of scripture. This lens, placed over reasoning eyes, yields an understanding of the Bible that enriches and empowers the Christian life and thereby brings good to the world. When I read the Bible, I continually ask myself if the character of what I’m reading reflects the character of who I know God to be. Does this part of scripture reflect the self-emptying love of the Trinity? The answer is not always immediately clear, but with careful study everything falls into place.