Charlotte and Janie talk about the Nature of Scripture

Janie and Charlotte grew up in the same Southern Fundamentalist denomination and were best friends in college. Now – after years of growing in some different directions – they are back in touch sharing blogs about how they see faith, politics and culture. Here are some brief interchanges as they engage Charlotte’s Living in The Story project.

Janie responds to Charlotte’s blog:

I understand what you’re saying here, Charlotte (at least, I’m pretty sure!). Sounds like a Barthian approach (Karl Barth), and there’s much to be said for it. Certainly we apprehend scripture subjectively, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no objective meaning.

I recall someone telling me that the Bible is not propositional, but personal. In a way that’s true. But what do we do with the many, many propositional statements (the Ten Commandments, for example)?

Here’s how I might amend that idea: the Bible IS personal, and in its pages a very definite Person emerges: God himself. He is the main character in his story, and in his gracious condescension he invites us to take part in it. We encounter him subjectively, but as we grapple with the word he shapes us through it, conforming us to the image of Christ.

I agree with much of what you say here, and you say it beautifully, but I would disagree on points that turn out not to be minor. How do we “know” that the words in Deuteronomy were not spoken by Moses? How can determine that the letters to Timothy were “probably” not written by Paul? (A fragment of the gospel of Mark recently discovered has been dated all the way back to the first century.) It seems to me that those are assumptions that look for evidence, and tend to undermine the traditional understanding of “authority.”

Maybe we can talk about this sometime . . .

Charlotte responds:

Thank you for reading and for commenting, Janie. I love our conversations and am a smaller person since I dropped the ball earlier on keeping them going. Yes, let’s begin again talking about things that matter.

Biblical authority is indeed one of those things that matter deeply. You know I have made a journey that has changed my own understanding of what authority looks like. The Bible continues to be authoritative to me and within my circle of progressive Christians, but the “how” is different from what it was when I was a fundamentalist Christian. You and I could have much to talk about within this conversation. Let’s find a way to do that.

In the meantime, here is a quote from William Willimon and his wonderful book: Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry (2002)

We call the Bible “inspired” because the Bible keeps reaching out to us, keeps striking us with it’s strange truth, keeps truthfully depicting God…We trust the Bible because on enough Sundays we discover that God’s Word has the power to produce the readers that it requires.

In the reading of Scripture, the Creator is at work, something is made out of nothing, the church takes form around the words of the Word. (page 128)

Janie comes back:

Beautiful quote from Willimon, and I’m up for that discussion if we can find a suitable format. Here’s a proposal: Several years ago I co-wrote a series of Bible studies on the scope of scripture–the redemption story taken as a whole, with pivotal characters and overarching themes. The rationale, which you may identify with, is here:

If I read your weekly posts, would you read mine? They’re very different in focus; mine are more educational and yours are meditative. As you’ll notice I don’t get into textual concerns like the two creation accounts (and I acknowledge there are two but it doesn’t bother me much). I’m focusing on the events and what they might mean to God and what they mean for us.

A couple months of reading each other’s–perhaps without responding–might give us a better platform to address each other.

Charlotte’s response:

Good idea! You’re on! I downloaded the first few lessons and I’m saving them in a file. I’ll respond to your blogs soon. I think it’s wonderful that we both came up with something similar, motivated out of similar concerns and interests!


See Janie Cheaney’s Bible Challenge project here.

See more of their conversations here at Charlotte’s Intersections: Faith Culture Politics website.

Author: Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte lives and blogs in Paris TX. She is ordained within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and developed Living in The Story while doing doctoral work at Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth. Charlotte also blogs about intersections of faith, politics, and culture at