My own Private Idaho and the Bible

So we all grow up different, but we don’t realize this fact. What do I mean?

Some examples: for a lot of people in Mexico, none of their friends has central air conditioning. They hear about it, but none of their friends have it nor do they. In England, everyone knows about the world cup (soccer) , even if they do not watch it. But if you asked a Texan, “Who was in the world cup?” They probably do not know. I sure would not know!

We all live in our own private Idaho.  (this is a song reference..btw)

How does this relate to the Bible?

I grew up in a tradition called the bible church. It is part of larger movement that, in it’s purest form, makes up 8% of Americans that would be called “conservative evangelicals.” These could be Pentecostals, church of Christ, some baptists, non-denominational, etc. This statistic is according to Barna Group, an evangelical polling company that is part of this 8%.

A much larger group of people fit some of the beliefs of conservative evangelicals but not all. In the mainstream media, conservative evangelicals like to portray themselves in an either/or manner. Meaning that you are either one of them, or you are a non-christian/secularist/unbeliever.

But this is not true. And it only seems true when you stay in your own ghetto of the 8%.

Let me share my own story. When I was 18, I went to work for a law firm. The men that worked there all went to church, and went to either a baptist or Presbyterian church. But their church attendance was social/political, not personal or spiritual. They were not part of the 8%. They told me things like “Wow, when you go to college you get to party, get drunk, and sow your wild oats!”

This was bizarre to me. Because my father, and all his friends, were part of the 8% and true evangelicals. When they talked to me about college they talked about majors, career choices, and making sure I did not get too secular, etc. But even not all the 8% are in the same private Idaho.

None of my dad’s friends drank alcohol. For me, a normal Christian did not drink alcohol. But 12 counties away, if I had been in New Braunfels, a German-Texan county, all the church going, conservative Lutherans who are part of the denomination know as the Missouri synod are part of the 8%. And they are almost all beer drinkers. They come from Martin Luther, who drank beer as he talked theology.

In New Braunfels, the deacons and elders of churches would of course think those lawyers were losers, but unlike my dad and his friends, they did not equate alcohol with “partying.” Each group lived in a ghetto. The lawyers grew up in families that were culturally christian but did not take God seriously. My dad grew up amongst tee-totallers. And the Germans.well they grew up German! 😉

How does this relate to the bible? We all approach the bible the way we were told by our parents and church.

I attend a local church in Austin with about 400 members. I am in the process of being ordained in a church called the UCC. We hear the bible and the gospel preached every Sunday. We teach our children bible stories. The church members are some of the most moral, kind, and Christ-like people I know.

But unlike the 8% of evangelicals, virtually no one at my church thinks the bible is literally true. None of us believe Adam and Eve were real people. We know that scholars of the bible learned over 200 years ago that the Genesis stories were a way of telling truth that were not about history but about theology. We know that Moses did not write the Torah, but rather it was collected 100s of years after his death. You may disagree. Fine. But there are many theories about the bible. And each private Idaho/ghetto tends to only hear their version.

Virtually no one at my church thinks the bible is inerrant. We do not think it is a book of literal history, though some of it did happen. It has many historical errors. It is not a book of science. The old testament was written by people who thought God lived in the sky and that if you went high enough, you would find God above the clouds.

What progressive and moderate Christians teach is that the truth of the bible is not literal but spiritual. They teach that the writers of the bible experienced God and were inspired to write down their experience. Later, Jesus came, and his followers recorded their versions of his life and their ideas about what he meant to them and to the world.

It is important to point out that the books of the bible were not picked out by God, but by roman catholic/orthodox bishops. And I am not a Catholic.

Add to this fact that protestants, Catholics, orthodox, and Coptic Christians all have different books in their bibles. The protestant bible is the shortest with the least amount of books.

So when people say, “I just believe the bible!” I ask, “Which one? Do you include the apocrypha, which Paul himself quotes in the new testament?” (this usually just confuses them or makes them mad. And then I get judged or they walk away.)

The fact is that 1000s of churches and Christians do not take the bible literally. Some of them are pretty conservative. At Austin Presbyterian Seminary I met a lot of young pastors who knew the bible had errors but were pretty close in their beliefs to what the 8% of conservative evangelicals believe.

But I also met pastors who were all over the spectrum.

What they all had in common was that they loved God, they loved the church, and they followed the teachings of Jesus.

Unlike some people, I don’t have the gall/pride to judge other Christians based on dogma. When I went to seminary, some of the people who loved Jesus the most, who were the most generous, and prayerful people were way more liberal than me. And some were way more conservative than me. I would never be as unchristlike as to say that being in either direction meant someone was “not really a true christian.”

But you hear that all the time from many in the 8% . They constantly set themselves up as judge and jury of fellow Christians, and other fellow humans who love God and/or Jesus. These modern day pharisees feel the need to say “I am the right one, you are wrong.”

So when you are shocked because other people see the bible or God differently, maybe it is time you got out of your own private Idaho. And stop judging people. Start listening to people. I have learned so much from people who do not live in the same private Idaho as me.


Post script: Paul once boasted of his credentials. So let me boast.

I was raised in a bible believing family. At the age of 5, I walked the aisle and accepted Jesus as my Lord and savior and prayed the sinners prayer. At the age of 15, I experienced the holy spirit and spoke in tongues. Some would call that the Baptism of the Spirit. It was a life changing moment. In my teens and 20s I would go witnessing, led people to Jesus, and went on mission trips. I have read the bible too many times to count. I can’t count the number of hours I spent singing praise and worship songs.

But none of that means anything compared to the fact that I experience God as a reality and that the old hymn is true for me:

“they ask me how I know He lives, He lives within my heart.”

The skeptical side of my brain can admit that my experience of God and Jesus does not prove God and Jesus are real. But I want the people that live in the 8% ghetto to know that I love Jesus. But also, I do not think the bible is inerrant. I do not base my life on the books of Leviticus or the old testament. And when I feel God taking me to task, it is never over my theology. It is always over how I have treated or not treated a fellow human being. God does not seem that concerned about my doctrine. But seems very concerned with how much love and compassion is in my heart and how I treat the people I meet each and every day.



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