Guest / Limited Access /

I attended a Christian university in the long ago days of acid wash denim and Commodore 64s. One of my classmates, Ken Jacobsen, had a gift for impersonation. He was renowned for his imitation of Bono on the U2 song "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." "I have spoke with the tongue of angels," he'd croon when he got to the fourth verse. "I have held the hand of a devil." But then he'd alter the lyric and sing, "N-o-t literally. It's only a metaphor." That always got a huge laugh.

It's been decades, but I still remember the joke. I realize now it was humorous not only for its inherent silliness, but also for the way it held up a mirror to something funny about ourselves.

Most of us were earnest, sincere evangelicals. We weren't biblical studies majors, but we saw the defense of the Bible as our sworn duty. Against the onslaught of those who sought to undermine Scripture's authority, we committed ourselves to upholding it as the reliable Word of God.

One of the unintended side effects of our fervor was that we took almost everything literally, at least in spiritual matters. Generally, we weren't very good with oblique metaphors and analogies. And if, like Bono, you talked about spiritual things in a seemingly unorthodox way, well, we worried.

There was much that was good about our impulses, and maybe they were necessary in a time when the "battle for the Bible" was raging. But for me, and, I suspect, others like me, our "literalist" convictions left us confused in significant ways—not only about song lyrics, but, much more tragically, about Scripture itself.

All these years later, I'm learning that understanding the literal meaning of the Bible is a more nuanced adventure than my college friends and I imagined. We'd ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
RecommendedHow to Date Jesus' Wife
How to Date Jesus' Wife
New tests suggest a manuscript fragment is ancient after all. Is it important? We asked noncanonical gospels expert Nicholas Perrin.
TrendingFive Errors to Drop From Your Easter Sermon
Five Errors to Drop From Your Easter Sermon
If you want to help people see Holy Week with fresh eyes, start by dropping these familiar fallacies.
Editor's PickYou Probably Love (or Hate) 'Heaven Is For Real' for All the Wrong Reasons
You Probably Love (or Hate) 'Heaven Is For Real' for All the Wrong Reasons
It's not a travel guide. And Colton Burpo isn't the first Christian to have an ecstatic experience.
Leave a Comment

Use your Christianity Today login to leave a comment on this article. Not part of the community? Subscribe now, or register for a free account.

hide thisApril April

In the Magazine

April 2012

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.