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Featuring guest Kate Boyd

Kate Boyd | Science and the Messy Middle

Jim and Kate dive into Kate’s story of her realization of the “untidy” nature of faith and how she has come to embrace the messiness without letting go of core beliefs.


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Photo by Colin Hoogerwerf

Jim and Kate dive into Kate’s story of her realization of the “untidy” nature of faith and how she has come to embrace the messiness without letting go of core beliefs.

Description

Kate Boyd has been learning to live out her faith in the messy middle in a culture that rewards picking a side. While her journey didn’t begin with a conflict between science and religion, her story explores the complexities of understanding the Bible in today’s context and anyone who has struggled with issues of science and faith will resonate with this conversation. Kate’s new book, which tells the story of her journey is called An Untidy Faith: Journeying Back to the Joy of Following Jesus. In the episode, Jim and Kate dive into Kate’s story of her realization of the “untidy” nature of faith and how she has come to embrace the messiness without letting go of core beliefs and how this might apply to the science and faith dialogue.

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  • Originally aired on August 17, 2023
  • With 
    Jim Stump

Transcript

Boyd:

And I think that’s what’s really incredible about the Bible itself, is the way in which it contextualized the story of God for the people of God, that it was a way in which God communicated in our terms what we needed to know. And so yeah, there’s sort of this translation that has to happen between there and here and figuring out what that looks like. And I think that’s such a gift that God gave humanity to be able to communicate these timeless, universal truths, albeit still a lot of mystery out there about God and the world, but that just because it wasn’t accurate doesn’t mean it’s not true.

I’m Kate Boyd, author, speaker, Bible teacher.

Stump:

Hey everybody, welcome to Language of God. I’m your host, Jim Stump. We’re excited to be back with some new episodes after taking the summer to do some planning and research for what we think is an exciting fall lineup. It starts today with our conversation with Kate Boyd. Kate recently published a book called Untidy Faith: Journeying Back to the Joy of Following Jesus. In it, she talks about landing in the messy middle of faith. For Kate, it wasn’t necessarily science that caused her to reexamine simple answers and straightforward biblical interpretation that she’d been given, but the framework she builds for how to exist and even thrive in the messy middle seems to speak directly to the kinds of tensions that arise for many people of faith around science.

Kate’s way of understanding what the Bible is, how to find truth in the stories is wise and helpful. Kate also tells her own story of coming to realize that faith wasn’t as tidy as she’d always been made to believe, but unlike so many who leave the faith completely because of the messiness, Kate had seen something she couldn’t let go of and decided that dealing with a bit of messiness was a small price to pay. Let’s get to the conversation.

Interview Part One

Stump: 

Kate Boyd, welcome to the podcast. We’re very glad to be talking to you.

Boyd:

I’m really glad to be here.

Stump:

Thanks. So, story is going to become an important part of our conversation today. We’ll talk about story, particularly as it relates to the Bible, but before that, let’s hear a story. Can you tell us about yourself? Where’d you grow up? What was your family like?

Boyd:

Yeah, so I grew up in Texas, not quite East Texas, somewhere between Dallas and East Texas, kind of in between there. And my family, I think it was somewhat typical. We were semi-rural, but close enough to big areas. I mostly grew up with my mom and my sisters. My parents were divorced, but we are still on good terms with everybody. I mean, I’m in Texas, so it’s the South with all the things that come with that.

Stump:

You don’t have too strong of a Texas accent in my estimation at least.

Boyd:

I know, I get that a lot. Well, if I’m around my family though, it really comes out because they’re very Texan in the way that they speak. I think I’ve just sort of been around enough people that it’s kind of worn off in most cases. I think I had a fairly typical childhood; went to school, went to college, went to church, all of those good things.

Stump:

So tell us about your faith community growing up.

Boyd:

Yeah, so when I was really young, I have a lot of Methodist heritage in my family. My dad’s father was a Methodist missionary and pastor, and actually worked at the seminary that I go to now, which is kind of fun. And then after that, once they got divorced, my mom and our family kind of hopped around to a bunch of different churches. We tried out Disciples of Christ and Bible churches and Methodist and Baptist and Presbyterian; we were kind of all over the map. Eventually, we landed in Southern Baptist circles, so I went to a small conservative Southern Baptist-affiliated Christian school for most of my education, from fourth grade on. So that’s sort of how we landed firmly in a lot of those circles because we wanted to go to church where our friends were and stuff like that. So that’s really the tradition that shaped a lot of my faith.

Stump:

What were some of the formative experiences of your faith as a young person that you remember now or that stand out to you now?

Boyd:

That’s a good question. As far as formative experiences, I think I’m a person who is very sort of knowledge-driven. So I think being in school and having bible class as part of that or even having stuff like Christian world viewy things, I really am good at school, I’m good at answers. And so there was a lot of that that was really appealing to me, and that tradition and that environment, really leaned into a lot of that, or encouraging personal study was really something that I took on a lot as I got older, and sort of carried with me. That of course gets complicated as you get into college and meet people who aren’t like you or have a lot of different opinions. And so that’s really where things started to get a little more gray or blurry.

Stump:

Where’d you go to college?

Boyd:

I went to Texas A&M Commerce, which is part of the A&M system, but it’s not Texas A&M itself.

Stump:

But not a faith-based institution where you would’ve had further sort of reinforcement constantly of the things that you grew up with?

Boyd:

Yeah, I did go to a Christian college for one year in the middle of everything. I transferred out and transferred back into A&M Commerce for a variety of reasons. So yeah, not on the whole. And I even didn’t get super involved with a lot of campus ministries or anything. I was busy, I had a job, I was a cheerleader, I had a sorority and I had school. So that sort of felt like a little too far when it felt like I could mostly manage my faith myself. I think that was one of the other things is that because I identified my faith with knowledge to such a degree that it felt like even when I would go to ministry things, it felt like I was ahead of them. And so it wasn’t challenging or fun for me in that way.

Stump:

What did you study in college?

Boyd:

I was a journalism major.

Stump:

Why’d you do that?

Boyd:

I was always good at writing, but not the kind of writing where you have to make stuff up. And so it just sort of appealed to me, something that you get to learn about a lot of different things and you get to write about them, which was a skill that I had and liked to use. And then you get to meet a lot of interesting people and talk about a lot of different things. And so that was really appealing to me. Unfortunately, I graduated in 2008, so everything was kind of going kaput at the time. So I didn’t end up in journalism after all, but I think it gave me a lot of good skills.

Stump:

So you’ve written this book called an Untidy Faith that we’ll talk about more specifically here as we go on. But from that, I gather that after college then you get this exciting job that takes you around the world. So how did that happen? Tell us a little bit about that.

Boyd:

Yeah, so I actually went to seminary right out of college, but my husband and I also got married about a year after we graduated, and we had no money, so I dropped out of seminary because I didn’t want to go into debt for it. Then there came a point when we both had jobs, I had very part-time work, and he was working full-time, and then he got this great new job and then eventually ended up losing that a few months later. And so we were kind of stuck, and I was like, well, what are some of the things that I can do? So I just sort of got on a bunch of job boards and said, “Anything that is potentially within my wheelhouse, I’m going to apply for it.”

So this organization had a part-time job and it was really just wasn’t even fully administrative stuff. It was a lot of working with the marketing team for this mission’s organization, as they were doing other things. I was mostly printing and editing and scheduling stuff, and that eventually developed into getting to use my writing skills as sort of their writer and then eventually their marketing manager. So I landed this job through this series of unfortunate events and ended up really loving it, and it gave me the opportunity, because I was in marketing, to travel around the world and document stories of what God was doing through the organization and through the people that were affected by it or touched by it in a lot of different places around the world.

Stump:

What have been some of your favorite places and what makes them that maybe?

Boyd:

Nepal is one of my favorites. I think mostly because that environment was, the spiritual environment there, was so different than anything I had experienced. And so the juxtaposition of what the organization did and what I did or what was happening there felt really strong and was really eye opening. And then just for great cities, Istanbul was wonderful and I want to go back there sometime soon. It was just a really great interesting culture that mashed up a lot of different places around the world and had this really great hospitality and great food, as well as culture. So I always recommend people go there.

Stump:

Nice. Well, many of these stories are what lead into the sort of central message of your book. So I mentioned the title of it before, An Untidy Faith, the subtitle, Journeying Back to the Joy of Following Jesus, and that sort of implies that there was a path that led away from that for a while that then brings you back. Tell us a little bit about how that happened, particularly connecting with this travel you’ve been doing and seeing the church around the world and how that leads you to question, at least some of what you had experienced growing up, as the final and absolute truth.

Boyd:

Yeah, so it’s interesting because this was even an evangelical church planting organization. So it’s not like the theology was so different from what I experienced or believed before that was happening overseas. But what was different was the application of it and the cultural expression of it, whether that was in the way that they met as a church or the way that they cared for their neighbors or the way that they just sort of thought about what the structure of their everyday lives should be. And I sort of came away realizing that a lot of what I had taken as absolute essentials of my faith were actually cultural, my own cultural expressions of faith, things like having to read the Bible every day or when you don’t have a Bible.

Stump:

Or can’t read.

Boyd:

Right, you can’t do that. Or you have to go to this building and pay for a lot of things and for this building to be supported and have a lot of ministries for this church when the other people in different places around the world didn’t have buildings, they only had a handful of people who believed and so they would meet in homes or coffee shops or classrooms, whatever. And so it just sort of made me rethink what it was that I had built my faith on, because all the things that I was committed to keeping or pursuing turned out to be sort of these more culturally perhaps relevant things. And that’s not to say that that’s bad, it’s just that when we export those essentials onto other people, that’s where we get in trouble.

And so that’s really what set me on this journey, and part of me felt sort of duped or deceived, but the other part of me… And I think part of that is natural. In the missions world, they talk about reentry and how it’s when you live in a different culture or you do different things in different ways, when you come back, there can be a lot of sort of disillusionment with the environment in which you came from. And that’s really what I was just kind of experiencing. And so yeah, a little bit of the joy had gotten knocked out of me because I wasn’t sure what I was doing anymore or what the foundation of my faith was. In theory, it’s Jesus, but in actuality it had been all these other things. And so what does it look like to shift all of those? And even that process is really challenging and lonely and hard. And so there was a lot of wrestling and toughness. That makes it sometimes hard to find joy in the middle of those things.

Stump:

Yeah. So I think there are lots of different triggers or experiences for people who grew up like you did, and like I did, within a pretty conservative understanding of Christianity and those experiences give them a new perspective on the faith they grow up in. For lots of people in the BioLogos community that was exposure to science. Maybe we’ll talk more about that later. For you, this international travel is a part of it, and part of your story too is even a more careful reading of the Bible itself that causes some of those questions to pop up. And there’s this now pretty well-worn path in American culture of people who grew up this way and then came to see that elements of their faith were less absolute than they were led to believe, and they walked away from the faith. Maybe they became spiritual but not religious or they’ve started ticking the none box on surveys about religious affiliation, maybe even go all the way to agnosticism or atheism. That was not your path though, why not?

Boyd:

I think part of it is because my process started with a good experience with the church. I think, though it was overseas, I think that sort of gave me a bigger vision to sort of latch onto as I rebuilt my faith, because I know for a lot of people there is a sense of either there was actual trauma or abuse that triggers a lot of this, or even just the idea of learning that there was information withheld from you, like you were saying about science, or that the things that you were told were really important. When you start looking at the patterns in some of the people that shaped your faith, you start to realize that they would say those things but maybe not believe them because of some of the actions or people that they support or continue to push forward.

And so there are a lot of reasons to go really deeply into questioning, and I don’t blame anybody who ends up in a different place than I did. But I think I had the fortune of having this start in a good space. And even though I was disillusioned, and even since then, have walked through some of those things that I just mentioned that were harder, I had already retooled to a point where that wasn’t such a big hump to get over for me because I was able to cling to Jesus, was able to cling to this idea of the church that I had found in a different place that helped me to hang on and maybe retool and figure out what that looks like in my place here. I think that’s why my experience may have started in a different way.

Stump:

So I really like how you described some of this in the book, that when people get to that point in their deconstruction journey that there are several choices they have to make. Some of them double down as you say, and become even more dogmatic and defensive about their own understanding and versions of Christian faith. The next one we were just talking about there you called demolishing, and this one has people saying, “I’ve seen too much to stay in the church.” But your response here, and I’m going to read just a couple sentences here, you say, “Demolishing didn’t seem like the right option to me because I had witnessed the goodness of God and the church in the world. Though I now recognize the version of faith I had grown up in as deficient, I decided I was still in, I still loved Jesus.” That sounds to me like you’re saying, “I’ve seen too much to leave.” Is that a fair way to put it?

Boyd:

Yeah, no, I think that’s a fair way to put it. I wish I had thought of that. I think there is a sense in which, and to be fair, there are circumstances in which that could even be harmful. Look at all of the good, this is why we should be okay in a bad system. There’s a lot of that that happens I think within certain spheres of Christianity too. But for me, it was more there is this really great thing that I cling to and it’s not a person or a specific leader or a specific segment. The thing that I grew up hearing was the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. And that’s sort of what I wanted to do is recalibrate the main thing and its expression in Christianity in my life.

Stump:

Can you talk a little bit about, so if it’s fair to say, “I’ve seen too much to leave,” and I would put myself in that camp too by the way, but can you talk a little bit about what you’ve seen and experienced that just rings true at the heart of your being? Instead of saying, I can just walk away from this because of all the junk that builds up around it, but what was that sort of authentic experience of Jesus and the divine like for you?

Boyd:

I think for me, it looked a lot like people who actually sort of upended their lives in a way that was just sort of the kind of thing that we would talk about but didn’t happen as much, because there is a sense of comfort or things only look a certain way here. And for me, that looked like people who would actually be facing really, really rough circumstances, whether that was their livelihoods were put at stake or their physical safety was put at stake and still, not just chose to follow Jesus and worship Jesus, but actually love the people and care for the people that were threatening those things in their lives. Or the way people would give of their resources to total strangers or people within their community that weren’t within the church that they were a part of and care for them.

Whether that was giving them medicine that they needed, or sitting there with them in a moment of grief. There was this sense of, and this is also just a cultural thing that’s not specific to Christianity itself, but this sort of focus on communal life and priorities versus individual ones that just sort of upended things for me. And then meeting people who had experienced actual miracles, people who had experienced healing and were willing to tell of that. I think it was almost like parts of the Bible were coming to life in front of me with people who were in different places, and instead of this theorized, hypothetical version of that, that was in my head. You know?

Stump:

Yeah. I’ve seen some polling data recently about Jesus versus the church or versus Christianity itself. I think one of the options that some people might say is, “Well, yeah, why don’t you hold on to Jesus and think Jesus is great, but why stick with the church?” And let me maybe ask that, you can think about an answer to that while I ask it a slightly different way here. And some people might be upset with me for saying this, but I think I can defend it, that our religious practices and institutions are human responses to the divine. And in that sense, the church is only ever going to be flawed and incomplete this side of heaven. And I wonder sometimes whether we expect too much from organized religion in that sense. Aren’t we always going to be disappointed in human institutions?

I don’t say that to let people off the hook for some of the really awful things they’ve done in the name of religion, but just to note that it might be setting the bar a little bit too high to expect individuals and groups of individuals to always be loving, to always do the right thing, or even to always have easy and correct answers to all of our questions. And the place that you’ve landed, I think gives some indication of that, when you call it the messy middle, and you call your book An Untidy Faith. So I wonder if you can unpack that messiness, that untidiness a little bit, in relationship to you’re still in church. It’s not like you’ve abandoned these institutions, these flawed human organizations.

Boyd:

Yeah, no, I think that’s a good perspective because I think it’s true, I am still in the church, and I think there’s a couple of things that are sort of at work. One, there are thriving parts of Christianity that, and even institutions or denominations or local churches have, that are good and faithful and keep all of these ideals in front of them even if they do so imperfectly, outside of evangelicalism. And so I think in sort of conservative evangelicalism, it was sort of, for me, a very narrow, we are kind of the only right ones and everyone else is outside of that. So I think the first step for me was even just realizing that there were opportunities for connecting in places that take scripture seriously, but also take some of these justice issues seriously, outside of the tradition of my origin.

But I think too, that being a part of the church doesn’t necessarily require being a part of an institution. And what I mean is, what I believe the church to be is more about function than it is about form. It’s the place that we worship. We are caring for one another, we are formed in our faith and that we come together to care for our neighbors. And that doesn’t have to look like an institutionalized version. So you can still be committed to even the idea working out imperfectly with a group of people whether or not that’s a specific institutionalized version of that.

And then I think the last thing is it’s more about how the humans respond to a failing than it is the failing. And I don’t mean that to minimize the failings because some of them are very great and very intense, but there is a sense in which if an organization or a local church or anything else sort of senses this failing or becomes aware of a failing or a harm done, and approaches that with humility and repentance and reparation and reconciliation and real accountability and a commitment to wholeness, especially for the people who were harmed, then that to me is a healthy way of being imperfect. As opposed to an institution that chooses to either ignore that or worse cover it up or double down on said thing because other things are going so great.

And so yes, there will always be failure, but it is how you respond to the failure I think that makes something healthy or not healthy in a broader sense. Obviously, you don’t want harm or anything to happen at any level, but like you said, we’re human. There is going to be some kind of failure and there are different levels and checks at which we can work on that to make sure that those are as minimal as possible. So I think it’s more of how it’s held than it is the failure itself that sort of keeps me in some of the circles who are committed to goodness and wholeness because I’ve seen the various ways that it can be expressed and the various ways that it can be held. And I have found a community that I can be committed to and that we are committed to each other and informing each other in faith that does hold those things in a way that sits well with me.

Stump:

That’s said well. While you were talking about that, my mind was going to the verse in first John, “You will know they are Christians by their love.” Whereas culturally, too often in my experience at least, culturally it’s become, you’ll know they are Christians by how they vote, by which parts of the culture war they take more seriously. Or maybe even, and this is, I want to transition a little bit here to talking about scripture and truth claims and such. You will know they are Christians by what they believe, that starts to get maybe into the messy middle here of there’s some aspect of that that’s right, isn’t it? I mean, we believe certain things, we believe Jesus is the son of God. We believe Jesus resurrected. But are Christians defined by their beliefs? Are they defined by these ways that you… You’re saying their attitudes or the way they hold things, the way they treat people. What do you make of that question?

Boyd:

I think it depends on which Christians we’re talking about, what Christianity. And I think that’s part of the point is that there are a lot of Christianities if we’re really being honest with ourselves. And I think what’s hard is that a lot of times we want to be the ones who are drawing the lines because it makes us more comfortable. And I do think that there are a shared set of beliefs, and I do think there are a shared set of ideals. The problem is that there’s a hundred traditions and we can’t all agree on what those are. And so I think there’s a sense in there are a few things that we hold tightly and that I would hold tightly, but even then, I mean I know that my limits in knowing absolute truth are absolute. I don’t have the ability to know everything. And so I think it’s sort of a both and, while also keeping open hands, knowing that again, we’re human, we’re fallible, we are not the gatekeepers or the line drawers. And I think part of our—

Stump:

Thank goodness for that.

Boyd:

Yeah, I think that’s part of where we get ourselves in trouble is that we’re always pointing at the people that we consider to be outside of our lines, rather than trying to connect with hands or invite people in or whatever that looks like. And so I do think it is a shared sense of ideals and I do think there are some shared beliefs, but it sort of depends on what Christians you ask as to what those are and how those look and express themselves in the world. And that’s sort of the tricky part that we have to kind of hold, is knowing that I have my convictions that I’ve come to through a lot of deep study and prayer and conversation, but at the same time, I have to trust that God is good enough to honor that, even if I’m wrong about something. And then if I believe that about myself, I have to believe that about other people too.

[musical interlude]

BioLogos:

Here at BioLogos we think that asking questions is a worthwhile part of any faith journey. We hope this podcast helps you think through long-held questions and consider new ones. But if you want to go further, you might want to check out our common questions page. You ‘ll find questions like, “How could humans have evolved and still be in the image of God?” “Should we trust science?” And, “Did death occur before the fall?” Each with thoughtful, in-depth answers, written in collaboration by scientists, biblical scholars and other experts. Just go to biologos.org and click the common questions tab at the top of the page.

Interview Part Two

Stump:

So we’re a science and faith organization, and so we hear from lots of people who are on the trajectory somewhere of deconstruction because of science. We even have data that shows science to be one of the leading causes of young people who grew up in the church that then question or even leave their faith. First, and this might be a quick yes or no question, but did science play any role for you in the process of deconstruction?

Boyd:

Yeah, I wouldn’t say it was a catalyst or an impetus, but I do think that as I was retooling how I process and filter the world and what wisdom and knowledge to bring into my faith or to use alongside my faith, relearning, I guess, some science was definitely a part of that experience for me.

Stump:

Okay. Well, I am more interested then in whether science can play a significant role in reconstructing faith. So I’m at the tail end of writing a book myself right now about that, and my short answer is, “Yes, I believe it can.” You don’t get into sciencey things in your book, but I’m curious if you’ve thought much about the relationship between truth claims, what we know as Christians through revelation and through scripture and what we learn about the world through science. Do you have any good, helpful ways of understanding the relationship between what are sometimes thought to be competing truth claims in this way or ways that we might understand these alongside of each other?

Boyd:

Yeah, I think part of the problem or part of a sticking point for me was, I was sort of taught to view the Bible as authoritative and the first authority, and I still stick by that as far as how I live my life. But that sort of trickled down into a way of looking at the Bible or holding the Bible as 100% accurate in every regard. And that’s sort of a problem when you are coming at the Bible from a 21st century perspective when the Bible was written in a very, very ancient Near Eastern and then later a Greco-Roman world that had very different ways of understanding the world.

And so for me, what sort of happened is I had to kind of understand not just parts of the world of the Bible or the paradigms that they had, but even the literature that they had. And that’s sort of more my bag because English class was my favorite class, I’m a writer. And understanding that even now, the stories that we tell ourselves shape our life, shape our faith, even science tells a story about how we work and how the world works and what’s going on and where we’re going. And so understanding that the stories that they tell in the Bible weren’t necessarily stories to give us accurate scientific information, it was first kind of mind-blowing, but then sort of like, oh, well that makes perfect sense because what do we do with information that we have now? Are we just supposed to ignore it or say that everyone’s lying to us, and so how do we hold these things?

And so I kind of hold them in separate camps but let them inform each other. So in the sense of, I let the Bible give me the character of God and what God wants me to know about his priorities and his relationship with humanity and his plan and vision for the world and what our life should be like together. And then I hold science over here about what it tells me about the world. And when I put those together, then I’m able to let those virtues and values that I get from my theology, from the Bible, inform the way I act on information with science, if that makes sense.

Stump:

In your book, you discuss at length story, and the Bible is a story, our faith is a story. I guess, I’m asking the English major here now more than the journalist, the literature major more than the journalist. What makes a story true?

Boyd:

Gosh, that’s a deep question.

Stump:

Some of what you’re just saying there makes me want to ask this, because we can go to factual statements in the Bible that, as you’re saying, we would now say oh— So even with Jesus, I mean Jesus said the mustard seed is the smallest seed in the world. Well, it turns out we invented microscopes and we found seeds like the orchid that are more than 10 times smaller than mustard seeds. Does that mean the parable that Jesus is telling about what faith is, is all of a sudden not true? What’s the difference between telling a story and the truth of the story as opposed to mining the story for factual claims that may or may not be accurate?

Boyd:

So I think stories tend to have morals, a point, a principle, a universal truth that they’re trying to communicate in some way and especially something like a parable or even I would say that this is kind of the case for biblical literature at large, and it’s even something that we do in the process of interpreting the Bible. We dissect the words and the sentences and the culture, and the person who’s writing and the audience that they’re writing to, in order to try to determine what they were trying to say. We then get this bigger timeless principle that we can contextualize to our lives today in the 21st century. And so maybe Jesus was wrong about mustard seeds, or maybe the author who was telling the story did that. But I think there’s a sense in which, does that change the point of the story to know that the mustard seed isn’t actually the smallest? Or is it that the point of the story was that it only takes a little to grow into this big thing? For it to move a mountain or whatever it was.

Stump:

It probably would’ve messed up the story if Jesus had said something like, “Now, I know you guys don’t know this yet, but here in 2000 years they’re going to invent these things called microscopes and they’re going to know then that these other seeds are smaller, but.”

Boyd:

But you’re not going to know that for many years. And it sort of distracts from the point, you sort of get distracted because it’s not in your language anymore. And I think that’s what’s really incredible, actually, I was just writing about this yesterday, about the Bible itself, is the way in which it contextualized the story of God for the people of God. That it was a way in which God communicated in our terms what we needed to know.

And we now have to do that extra layer of like, well, what did it mean to them? So we can figure out what it means for us. But that there is this sense of, of course God knows that there are smaller seeds than a mustard seed, but that wouldn’t have been helpful or would’ve been more distracting or wouldn’t have communicated in a way that got the point across. And so there’s sort of this translation that has to happen between there and here, and figuring out what that looks like. And I think that’s such a gift that God gave humanity to be able to communicate these timeless, universal and truths, albeit still a lot of mystery out there about God and the world, but that just because it wasn’t accurate doesn’t mean it’s not true. In the sense of what it was being communicated because it wasn’t about the seed, it was about what the seed represented.

Stump:

So the really hard part about this is that there are some facts that do come into play. So I mentioned before, Jesus is the son of God, Jesus resurrected from the dead. Paul says, “If that’s not literally true, then our faith is useless.” So do you have any good helpful tips for people in sorting out which ones of these factual claims really do have to be true and which ones are culturally relative? There’s no little asterisk in the text, even in the original Greek, that says this is the one you have to take seriously for all times and places, and these are the weird cultural things we’re saying about whether women should cover their hair or what sorts of other cultural practices should be embedded in your services or not.

Boyd:

Yeah, I mean to a point we’re all kind of taking, there’s still faith involved. And so I think the Holy Spirit does a lot of work in us to help us suss those things out. But I think too, part of that goes back to the principle that I was talking about before. A lot of the writings, the point was that Jesus raised from the dead, and that meant something. When Paul says that if that’s not true, then it negates a lot of things. And that was the point of what Paul was saying. And so it’s sort of what are the pieces of the puzzle and what’s the picture of the puzzle? And to be honest, a lot of people are going to draw those lines in different places and that’s what’s sort of tricky. We have a lot of history and tradition that we can lean on. But again, to your point, there are going to be changes in the way that we view the world and understand things.

I mean, there was a time when men thought women were deformed men. And so we have different information now, and we look at the world differently, mostly. And so yeah, I think there is a sense in which we have a lot of scripture that points to specific big truths, repeats them a lot, and then we’ve got helpful tradition items like creeds that can help us anchor into the base essentials that are more about God than they are about science. And I think maybe that’s the other piece of this, is that a lot of times we get sort of caught up in the scientific detail when, and not that that’s not important or interesting sometimes, but that really what we’re getting at when we’re talking theology and we’re talking the Bible, is that we’re really trying to understand the relationship and the history and the vision of God and God’s people.

And you kind of have to work in that area and look for the truths that the things written are telling about that rather than getting hung up on some of these details that are more contextual to a time. So I mean, I would probably draw those lines in different places than somebody next to me. And I know that for sure, but for me-

Stump:

Oh, who’s sitting next to you? [laughs]

Boyd:

Yeah, well actually no one’s next to me here. But in a lot of places there are places who draw different lines. And so for me, I find the creeds to be very anchoring because it’s sort of a thing that we’ve decided and we’ve largely held to across a variety of Christianity throughout time, and those seem to me to be within scripture and they’re less contextually limited.

Stump:

So for BioLogos, again, these kinds of questions come to play most prominently in topics like creation and evolution. What’s the true story of creation versus what are the scientific facts of creation? How do you think your own story, your own way of coming to understand scripture and wrestling with scripture, is there anything there that might help or that you could apply to people like these in our audience who have questions about that? That seems like a pretty important part of the story, right?

Boyd:

Yeah. So yes. So the first thing I would say is again, what is the point of the story of creation? Or rather I should say, stories of creation, because there are actually multiple, back-to-back. And what I have studied, or some of the things that I have looked at and found comforting or helpful, is that really kind of the point I think is that God cared and designed and put thought into all of this, but also that humanity was made in the image of God, because that sort of seems to be a point that is made and underscored. There’s a sense in which, in a lot of creation or myths or origin stories that exist from other cultures or especially ancient Near Eastern ones, that the only person that got to be made in the image of God was the king.

And actually, in our story, in the story God tells us in the Bible, the point is that not only did he make it and he handled it and he designed it, but that he gave humanity, all of humanity, male and female, and they weren’t kings, and didn’t have any rank or status, but they were made in the image of God. And so if the Bible is the story of the relationship between God and people and what that looks like and where it’s going, then that’s a pretty cool detail. That we started with, God made everything good, not just humanity, but how humanity and all of creation works together. That seems to be a point. And then that all of humanity is made in the image of God seems to be a point that I get when I really look at structure and cultural things.

And so yeah, if the point is not to tell us that it happened in seven days or six days and a rest, the point seems to be that creation is good and we are a good part of that and a special part of that. And so that for me has helped me release the need for a scientific accuracy as to the account of creation because I don’t think that was the point of the story.

Stump:

Yeah, good. That’s helpful. Sometimes people hear conversations like this and talk of structure and cultural context and original languages and they get a little worried that in order to understand the Bible, they’ve got to go get a PhD first. You’ve addressed this some in your book.

Boyd:

It feels like that sometimes, yeah.

Stump:

I think it’s worth letting you answer and emphasize the point here. So what’s the requirement of expertise in reading the Bible? And maybe, what’s the role of expertise or experts within the church for Bible scholars?

Boyd:

Yeah, I sort of like to think of putting the Bible in conversation with several different contexts. And I think these are contexts that are largely available to us even without a lot of fancy degrees or letters behind your name. I mean, I think when you look at the Bible, you can see that there’s a big story and connect that and a lot of the same themes that will come up over and over again. And if you just read it, you’ll catch those things because we sense patterns, we sense stories. In a lot of ways, they’re sort of our natural operating system, is to tell stories and listen to stories. And so there’s a way in which we can catch that. I think too, putting, if Jesus is a key point of the story and is the part where the story hinges, I kind of put him at the center. So what does it look like to be building to Jesus to life after Jesus? What does it look like to put Jesus in the Old Testament? There’s a lot of ways of looking at that.

And then I think one of the biggest ones is literary context, which we’ve kind of been talking about. What’s the point of the story? Who was writing it? Who are they writing it to? What are sort of, again, the themes and the stories that you’re picking up? And then finally, I think community is actually a key way that the Holy Spirit communicates to us, and especially when it comes to scripture. And it’s because we all have different points of view and backgrounds and ideas and experiences and expertise. And so when we come together, we are all looking at scripture through different eyes. And so being able to have a diverse group of people, even if that’s just that you read books from a variety of different people versus being in person, although I think discussion is a great, great way to do it, there is a sense in which you have the tools available to you in order to interpret scripture without a lot of fancy knowledge.

And we actually have a lot of access to a ton of free resources in order to be able to understand the Bible. But I think first and foremost that everyone should understand that they are not a second rate reader of the Bible, because the Holy Spirit is a part of them. And having God within us is such an interesting way of constructing a relationship with God. But the fact that that is available to us if we are attentive, and I think again in community, that’s helpful because we’re getting the way the Holy Spirit is speaking to a bunch of different people through their lenses, but that we have that availability. There’s a reason why people on the other side of the world would sit down and read the Bible together and have a totally different conversation, but end up in a similar place as maybe I was or in a place that I found really interesting or inspiring as to how the Bible applies to them, because even if they didn’t have the abundance of resources or a PhD in the Bible in order to get there.

And so I think there are a lot of barriers that we think we have to overcome, but if we sort of release the need for those and actually just sit down and sit with it and think through it and immerse ourselves in it. And find tools where you have questions, there are so many things available, that if we actually just take our time and sift through and wrestle with it, that we still find the truth that the Bible was intending to communicate.

Stump:

So anyone should be able to pick up the Bible and read it profitably. But it sounds to me like you’re saying, but also, it’s not a but, it’s an and. And it would sure be great if in your community in particular there were people who got PhDs that could help us, help our communities read this better, to read it more.

Boyd:

And not even PhDs. I think everyone just sort of has a way of approaching things. I think about this in the sense of, for a long time the Bible wasn’t read individually. That wasn’t a thing even available to a lot of people like before say a printing press came around and made that possible. Sometimes it wasn’t in your language. Sometimes there was just a few scrolls or a few pages and you went to church to hear it. And so there is a sense in which the Bible was written for community. There’s a whole lot more y’all than you in there. And so reading it in community is actually the context in which a lot of it is meant to be taken. And so bringing that back to it so that we can all bring our lenses and have a conversation, because I do think actually that a lot of the point is in the wrestling, in the discussion.

I think the Bible is less about the rules and the boxes that we try to construct and more about the virtues and way of living that we seek to live into in order to live up to being the people of God and what that looks like and exhibiting the character of God on the earth. And so we can figure that out in community, not just what we’re seeing in the Bible, but also what that would look like contextually to the communities that we’re a part of, whether churches or neighborhoods.

Stump:

Okay, audience, y’all listen up. What she’s saying is important here. Did my Texan sound too inauthentic there? I’m glad you got in a y’all to address everybody here.

Boyd:

Yeah, I can’t believe I didn’t say it before. It’s pretty normal for me.

Stump:

Well, thanks Kate. Our time’s coming to a close here. Let me remind everybody again. Kate Boyd’s book is called An Untidy Faith: Journeying Back to the Joy of Following Jesus. What are you working on next?

Boyd:

Oh, getting past seminary. I graduate in December, so that’s sort of the next milestone I’m working on.

Stump:

Congratulations. We like to end by asking people what they’ve been reading lately. Have you been reading? Probably, if you’re finishing seminary soon, you’ve been reading lots of academic kinds of things, but you read any good books lately?

Boyd:

Yeah, so I’m actually taking a class on ethics right now, and we’re reading a whole bunch of different, on Christian ethics, so a whole bunch of different things in that vein. I think we just read one by MLK that was really good, Strength to Love. And then for fun, I’ve sort of been reading an advanced copy of my friend, Kaitlyn Schiess’ book The Ballot and the Bible, which is really great.

Stump:

All right. Well, Kate, thanks so much. We appreciate talking to you and hope we can do it again sometime soon.

Boyd:

Yes, thanks so much for having me.

Credits

BioLogos:

Language of God is produced by BioLogos. It has been funded in part by the John Templeton Foundation and more than 300 individuals who donated to our crowdfunding campaign. Language of God is produced and mixed by Colin Hoogerwerf, that’s me. Our theme song is by Breakmaster Cylinder. We are produced out of the remote workspaces and the homes of BioLogos staff in Grand Rapids, Michigan. If you have questions or want to join in a conversation about this episode, find a link in the show notes for the BioLogos forum. Find more episodes of Language of God on your favorite podcast app or at our website, biologos.org, where you’ll also find tons of great articles and resources on faith and science. Thanks for listening.


Featured guest

kate boyd headshot

Kate Boyd

Kate Boyd is an Author, Bible teacher and host of the Happy & Holy podcast. She is studying theology with an emphasis in biblical studies at Perkins School of Theology.