Channing’s Views on Religion
Channing begins by defining scripture as "God’s successive revelations to mankind." He believes that any doctrine clearly given in the Bible should be a part of Unitarian doctrine. He gives priority to the New Testament, believing that the majority of their religion is found therein. He explains that the Old Testament, revealed chiefly through Moses, was designed for a human race in its infancy. Thus the New Testament is a more complete and applicable text for modern times. This view and all others of Channing stem from his belief of how reason should be applied to the Bible. Channing states, "the Bible is a book written for men, in the language of men, and…its meaning is to be sought in the same manner as…other books." Thus, the Bible should be scrutinized in the same manner as any academic book.
This places great importance on one’s mind and ability to evaluate. It relies on the individual to take into account historical setting, intent, and so forth, while also integrating one’s own perspective to deduce a meaning from a passage of scripture. This is how humans are supposed to read the Bible, Channing believed, because when God inspired the Bible he put it into the language of men. In a sense, God translated his own holy tongue into the language of men. Thus, it is not at all impractical to strive to interpret the Bible by traditional academic methods. For if the Bible were written in a concealed holy language, not only could humans not understand, it would be of no earthly use! Channing adds that there is no other book that requires as much human reason to understand as the Bible. He goes on to compare the Bible to the Constitution in that we are to "inquire into its general spirit, into the intentions of its authors, and into the prevalent feelings, impressions, and circumstances of the time when it was framed."
Channing continues by answering hypothetical oppositions to his reasoning approach to Bible study. He responds to the thought that humans will wrongfully reason with the Bible and thus interpret messages that aren't intended to be found in the Bible. Channing concedes that this could certainly happen, as humans will err in many things, Bible study being no exception. In rebuttal, he makes a comparison to the human study of science. The fact that we have erred for all of history in the field of science, as is evidenced by the fact that the field continues to improve by correcting previous inaccuracies, is no reason to stop studying and trying to interpret the field of science. If we were to stop studying science there would be no progress and we would be stuck accepting thousand year old applications of the field.
The same approach applies to the study of the Bible, it is clearly meant to be scrutinized constantly. Every generation, every individual should study it with fresh zeal and strive to objectively find their truth. This can be done because God is the perfectly wise teacher who makes his wisdom known and understandable to all human beings, his students. Thus, it would be highly unwise of God, and make him a bad teacher, if he were to only give us a confusing text that no mortal could even begin to interpret.