Among the important progressive movements of the present time, perhaps there is none more far-reaching in its relations than the emancipation of the Bible from literalism and formalism. This great work is many-sided, and it invites the aid of every one who can make any contribution to its moving forces. The aim of the writer is spiritually constructive. He would undermine no one's faith in the Bible, but rather brighten and deepen it, and aid in its establishment upon a surer basis. We are living in a period of transition and unrest. To conserve a true faith in the midst of the present uncertainty should be both the duty and pleasure of every friend of vital Christianity.
At a time when professional and technical scholarship is so widely engaged in Biblical interpretation and criticism, it would appear that there is little room for anything additional. The clerical profession, to its honor, is taking up anew the study and solution of the inner significance of the Scriptures, and the general search for truth for its own intrinsic value was never before so keen and thorough. And yet, it hardly can be questioned that many of the broadest and best of the higher critics are not entirely free from the bias, conscious or unconscious, of denominational training and association. Again, owing to the technical and voluminous character of their researches, their work is more especially fitted to the capacity of scholars than to the popular mind. It involves a thorough specialization, for which, even the clerical profession, in general is not well equipped. But the product of these eminent scholars may be taken at a reasonable valuation and used as common capital, and any one is at liberty to make it the basis for more general and popular deduction and implication.
But aside from very valuable historical and literary criticism, the relations of the Bible to science, philosophy, psychology, and modern thought in many directions, are intimate and of deep significance. The passing of literalism is causing alarm among a large class of people, who feel that their belief, supposedly settled, is being undermined. Their Bible seems to be losing its authority and sanctity. A great transition is upon us, and nothing can hold it back. The vital problem which demands solution is: How shall popular faith in the Bible be spiritualized and made more intelligent, rather than weakened or destroyed? Transition periods are always full of unrest and misunderstanding. The incidental iconoclasm which is involved, to the average observer seems like an unhallowed attack upon precious sanctities. Why harrow up the peaceful and complacent surface of religious life and disturb devout confidence which long ago was settled and finished? Only because the soul is constituted for progression and the inner nature cannot be stilled by any surface application, however historic or approved. The conservation of a living faith must find its essential supports in the diviner depths of the soul nature. This work from an independent standpoint has for its purpose the preservation of all that is intrinsic in the Written Word. It is addressed to the intelligent lay mind, which has neither the time nor training for dealing with the intricacies of technical criticism and spiritual symbolism. "The letter killeth but the spirit giveth life." The literalism and inerrancy which have been put upon the Bible, under a mistaken obligation of loyalty, are burdensome, and largely obliterate its harmony, beauty, and unity. Thus, the basis has been formed for numerous divisions and rival sects, for under detached textual interpretation each finds its own endorsement. The intellectual form or shell has been grasped instead of the inner verity. The Church has been split into fragments and dogmatized upon non-essentials. Under the confusion of varying polities, and the complexity of ecclesiastical machinery, the essence and vitality has exhaled and escaped. The truth of the Bible, which was originally expressed in warm Oriental symbolism, is marred, or hidden, by its rendering into rigid, cold, and prosaic English. Here is the real cause for most of the prevailing skepticism and agnosticism. The sceptic is as much of a literalist as the extreme orthodox, and his unbelief is the logical outcome. The believer in absolute inerrancy, not only misses the intrinsic treasure of the Bible himself, but he furnishes the weapons for an attack by its opponents.
If the general, even though simple survey of this great subject which is attempted in this volume be of any popular use in the rescue of Scripture from mechanical hardness which largely hides its deeper harmonizing and transforming power, in freeing it from the barnacles which have glued themselves to it, in emancipating it from the unlovely dogmatisms with which it has been identified, in making it more natural and attractive, instead of abnormal and far away, in interpreting it as a variety in unity, instead of a collection of discordant texts and sayings, in showing inspiration in each part to the degree that it inspires, in recognizing that its divinity comes through man instead of being a projection toward him from without, in discovering the immanence, oneness, and love of God, as well as his formal legality and anthropomorphic kingship — if, in any measure, these principles be made more popularly apparent by the perusal of this volume as one of many auxiliary influences, the author will feel that his effort has not been in vain.