In the current issue (Winter 2007) of the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Krister Stendahl writes an interesting piece about the development of his relationship with Scripture entitled "Why I Love the Bible." He began with the approach of "it's all about you,"* but years of study led him to an approach to the Bible that is deeper and more nuanced, but also simpler and less rigid:
"So let me share with you as a tribute to the Bible—and perhaps in a strange way—five "no" statements. It is usual when one is describing love to describe it in positive and glowing terms. But my friendship with the Bible gave me the joy, and the courage, to express my love in five statements of "not." The first is the one I have pointed at: It is not primarily about me. Second, it is not always as deep as we think. Third, even Paul isn't always totally sure. Fourth, don't be so uptight. And fifth, it is probably not as universal as we think.
"It is perhaps odd to express my love in such negative terms. But it is also perhaps in the line of that wonderful word of Jesus in chapter 15 of the Gospel of John: I do not call you any longer servants, but I call you friends. Somehow I became friends with the Bible. In the biblical tradition, and in the Jewish tradition, to be called the friend of God, you had to be one who argued with God. Abraham, arguing about Sodom and Gomorrah, was called a friend of God. Job was called the friend of God. To me, Jesus is the friend of God, because he argues with God. And so, these five "no's" of mine I bring to you as a sign of love and friendship."
Stendahl's words reminded me of the false gods of Star Trek. SF as a genre is often considered atheistic because of its radical humanism, perhaps best represented by Trek episodes like "The Apple," in which the Enterprise crew destroys a false god and brings the true gospel of science to its followers. At first glance, the conclusion of Star Trek V fits this mold—Kirk confronts a being that presents itself as God and demands the use of the Enterprise as his chariot, leading Kirk to ponder: "What does God need with a starship?" McCoy berates him for interrogating the deity, but I see in Kirk's challenge a hint of Abraham's bargaining over Sodom and Gomorrah. Kirk, the ultimate humanist hero of SF, wants a God he can argue with. SF's humanism is not inherently opposed to religion, but it does encourage us to be critical, to be argumentative, to be friends of God.
For more on Kirk and God (both false and real), see chapter one of The Gospel According to Science Fiction.
Other things to check out, the full text of Stendahl's "Why I Love the Bible" and StarTrek.com's roundup of "Godlike Beings."
*This attitude is exemplified by the Personal Promise Bible, which replaces every occurrence of the word "you" with the user's name. The PPB strikes me as extraordinarily self-centered, and that kind of egocentrism is one of my main problems with evangelicalism. In any case, it's much more fun to put in phrases like "a monkey named Franklin" rather than a name. For example, John 15:15: "No longer do I call a monkey named Franklin a servant, for a servant doesn't know what his lord does. But I have called a monkey named Franklin a friend, for everything that I heard from My Father, I have made known to a monkey named Franklin." But enough about that. Go back up to the main post now.