Episcopalians and the Bible: Don’t Check Your Brain at the Door!

You may have seen comedian Robin Williams’ Top Ten Reasons to be an Episcopalian. Williams lists as the number 7 top reason, ” You don’t have to check your brains at the door.”  Well if you ask me, his number seven reason should be listed much closer to the top.  I think that the Episcopal Church would agree because they used it in a national ad campaign!

Ours is an “incarnational” faith.  In other words we believe that God is present and discernable in the world.  God is made manifest in the world around us.  God is incarnate in the world.

That means that the things that we have learned about and through the world around us are a valid part of the equation when we seek to understand God, the scriptures, and who we are and the lives that we are called to live.

Some religious traditions and philosophies will tell you that the world is an illusion that we need to rise above, that it is a veil and a distortion from which we need to break free.  Other traditions and philosophies will tell you that the world is completely corrupt and that anything, any understanding, that comes from the world around is us bound to destroy us.

The Episcopal Church and Anglicanism affirm the reality and the relevance of the world around us and the reality and the relevance of the lives that we live.  The things that we have learned over the centuries, from the social and physical sciences and from one another are legitimate, and valid parts of the ongoing story of God and God’s beloved creation.

Sometimes Episcopalians are accused of abandoning the Bible, of rejecting the scriptures in favor of a social or popular gospel.  Sometimes Episcopalians are accused of rejecting the “authority” of the scriptures.”  If you look closely what you will discover is that it is not the authority of the scriptures that is being questioned but the authority of an “interpretation” of the scriptures that is being questioned.  That questioning often arises because of something that we have learned from the world around us or from one another.

We no longer believe that the earth is flat, or that all of the planets circle the earth.  We no longer believe that slavery is an appropriate state for those who find themselves enslaved.  We no longer think that ordained ministry should be reserved for men alone.  We no longer think that homosexuality is a sin.  There are lots of place where our increased understanding of the world around us, and our discernment of God through the world, has moved us to abandon previously held interpretations of the scripture and to re think what we have thought in the past.

I started with a line that the Episcopal Church borrowed from Robin Williams.  I will end with one that I think we should borrow from our brothers and sisters in the United Church of Christ.  “God is Still Speaking.”  The final argument for believing that God is still speaking, that revelation is ongoing, and that the things that we are learning need to be incorporated into our faith, our understanding of God and the world, comes from the Gospel of John.

“I have said these things to you while I am still with you.  But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26).

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth (John 16:12-13a NRSV).

God is still speaking and we will undoubtedly continue to discover ways and places where we have been wrong, where our understanding and interpretation needs to change.  S don’t check your brains at the door.  Bring your experience, your understanding of the world, and the things that you have learned to the table and add it to the mix.  Help us to increase our understanding by broadening and diversifying our collective perspective.    Help us as we work together, guided by the Holy Spirit, to discern God’s voice and live as faithful people in a world that is moving, living, breathing and alive!  Come experience the Episcopal Church!

3 thoughts on “Episcopalians and the Bible: Don’t Check Your Brain at the Door!

  1. Thank you. What a nice way to reflect and engage on a week when I did not make it to church. There has been a greater peace in my spiritual journey as I trust my experience and realize how God works through each person in unique ways. It has made my faith richer to trust God’s presence in the contemplative practice. So many ways to pray…..

  2. So you figured out the aesthetics! Curtis Prairie looking west 🙂
    Wonderful stuff, Andy. I’d like to add a qualifier, prompted by the famous Robin Williams quote which, like your theme, is a response to the way Christians are viewed by the the secular world.
    I know you agree that its not just Episcopalians who have been tarred with the brush of fundamentalist and literalist beliefs–its Christians as a whole. We need to tell the world, as you suggest, that this is not who we are. The secular left imagines that if we’re Christian we believe what the fundies do and approach the Bible in the same way. They also ask, “how can you BELIEVE this stuff–the wars, the butchery, the slavery, the views of women and homosexuality, and on and on. My only point is that we’re all in this together! We need to stand with progressive Christians in all denominations who brought this new theology and scholarship into our faith traditions. Episcopalians (most) view things this way, but we are only a part of the picture. A better title for your post would be “Christians and the Bible. . . ” When people ask me about my beliefs, they don’t know from “Episcopalian”–they assume that because I’m a Christian I hold to a set of beliefs formed by people who have checked their brains at the door! I don’t want to say, “I’m Episcopalian, I’m different.” My many Catholic, UCC, Methodist and Presbyterian friends are there with me, and often way ahead of me.


    • Thanks Henry. I took that picture while snowshoeing the winter we had 100+ inches of snow.
      You are right of course. There are lots of Christians whose understanding of their faith includes this kind of approach to the scripture and to their walk with God. And a big part of the energy that have around this project comes from my desire to hold up a picture of what Christianity is really about. I will try not to speak exclusively about Episcopalians in the future but that is who I am and that is who I know best. I feel much more comfortable speaking on our behalf. Perhaps you and other readers can pick up the banner for all of the other (and I hate to use that word) progressive Christians out there.


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