According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Monday, July 15, 2013

Should Christians Resist the Pressure to Interpret the Bible Culturally?

 


Have you ever overheard comments that seem at first erudite - filled with great wisdom, learning and scholarship - but after some time of unconscious, mental gnawing in your heart-and-soul you begin to find such statements gnawing on you in a way that is no longer erudite? In fact, it has by then become one of those linguistic cankers you wished you never had heard, or ever hear again?
 
One such popular, de facto, statement that seems to pop-up all-too-frequently is the one that states confidently, "You know, with today's issues and contemporary news events Christians must resist the pressure to interpret the Bible culturally." A statement which seems harmless at first upon hearing it, until it ruminates in your head all day long, ceasing to go away like a bad song that endlessly loops around-and-around-and-around. Until finally delivered to your soul, added with a little salt-and-pepper and a dash of smug self-assurance, as if there could never be, at any other time or place, disagreement with this homey dialectic.
 
It is at that point that I realized how excluding, how pompous, how short-sighted and delimiting, such a definitive statement like this can be. I was left wondering just what news items we are talking about? What ideas of man that might be challenging the Bible to cause it to bow down to the pressures of the day? Whether there might be a select group of Christians called by God to be His own specially endowed shepherds to guide us lowly masses into the Biblical lands of learned, revealed, truths? A special group of mystics and revelatorys who have liturgically conjured up the proper boundary waters in which to dive-and-play less God becomes angry with mankind's endless questions, searches for truth and justice, and spiritual restlessness?
 
If whether today's Christians must resist living within the hoary bounds of contemporary cultural pressures of interpretation and nuance? To withdraw to a monastery, or missions lands, or even nature's temples itself, if only to define the limitations of God's holy existence within this world. To somehow retrograde all human affairs and mindsets in order to hold on to the conjugations of the church's past generations of sanctified Christian writings? If whether it is fair play, or not, to ask the God of the Bible whether today's concerns might be His concerns at all? Or if whether He only spoke for yesteryear's more literately attuned generations in a specially adapted cultural language that has long since past? If whether my daily concerns, and my generation's excruciating scholarship, have become one of those "lost" Sodomistic societies visited by God's holy angels only to be excluded from the temples of His all-compassionate wisdom.
 
At some point I realized by the tone, tenor, and delivery, of the conscripted statement above, that I was being excluded from that hallowed body of Christians who alone are privileged to act as God's chosen Levitical priesthood maintaining all that is hallowed and godly. That they alone were the selected ones divined by God's call to determine what may be culturally biblical or not. And whether such events are news worthy or should be damned and judged with the soiled masses of mankind.
 
No less was the idea that there existed a preferred interpretation of the Bible. One that was learned in hermeneutically extricating the hallowed script of God's Word so that when all was said-and-done we had arrived in the holy lands of Jerusalem lying between the two realms of light and darkness in a justifiable manner that extracted the ends to justify the means. And without this sanctified method (or literal code) of biblical interpretation we may never be able to enter into the holy lands of God's rest and refuge.
 
And so my heart-and-soul debated daily within itself until at-the-last I arrived exhausted, confused, and not a-little-angered by the culturally-reflective statement designed to be self-sustaining to an exclusionary body of "proper" Christians who-only-themselves, could hold to the "correct(ed)" truths of God's Word. Become its select purveyors of truth and dissemination. They alone had attained to a preferred, self-reinforcing hermeneutic that disallowed anything but their own ideas and beliefs about cruciform ministry, interpretation, and outreach. Their epistemological corrollaries and systematically derived theorems, much like their arguments and beliefs, were self-propagating without remediation or onslaught. Here was were God resided, and to be of God I too must likewise reside within their conscripted congregations lest I be banned as unworthy of templed conversation.
 
Issues of evolution, homosexuality, gender equality, religious pluralism, cultural ethnicity, biblical literacy, literalness and classic statement, had long ago been decided in their minds by past generations of Christians steeped in blood, war, injustice, greed, unworthiness, oppression, and pride. Mere mortals such as myself were not allowed to question the revered likes of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Moody, or Piper. These are the sacrosanct men of record to whom we must bow allegiance. Not the Jesus of the Scriptures who questioned the learned of His day.
 
All then has become "Amen and Verily" in common cultural assent by dying religious traditions and denominations that even now, in their death throes, look blindly upon the moiling tempest seeds of humanity held not-unlike themselves, in epistemological turmoil, seeking a Redeemer lost from speech within the congregations of God's own churched people. Though holding onto the keys of their own assured redemption, they continue clutching to keys that cannot unlock the hearts-and-minds of those lost beyond their own cathedral walls of golden truths.
 
Unable to speak to the masses the church today speaks a religious language that heaps contempt upon any who may disagree with its "cultural" interpretations of the Bible. Making of the Bible an idol of the very book they would attest (known as bibliotry). And making a religious image of a sacrificed Savior meant to be received by all. This, to me, is the most egregious, contemptible form of Christianity. Making of itself an object and a religion, of the God whom seeks to love us as we would seek to love Him. Become closed to the needs of the world abounding around itself. Unable to speak to its needs because we are too threatened by our own fears of losing the truths we deem important to uphold if we are to be faithful. Speaking of God through a Christianity become closed, exclusive, and self-justifying. Unwilling to challenge itself in its own logics and self-perpetuating closed beliefs. A system where God will not reside so long as He has become quantified by our own religious reasonings and fallacies. This is neither godly nor God-like. It smacks of man, and of man's corruptible, proud, heart.
 
"If we must judge, let us first use the mirror on our own wall for practice."
 - anonymous
 
"Perhaps a greater tragedy than a broken dream is a life forever defined by it."
- Sheridan Voysey
 
R.E. Slater
July 15, 2013
 

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2 comments:

  1. Yes, I too have come across statements that linger as cankers that I wish I had never heard. Statements that seek to twist and distort a Biblical truth set forth by an ageless God thousands of years ago.

    I guess my question is: How can we seek to interpret some parts of the Bible culturally and not others? Either God's word is timeless and true on all points or it is not. How would you interpret 'God sent his son as a ransom for us. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sin, so that I can receive full forgiveness and have everlasting life?' Is there a new "cultural" interpretation for the plan of salvation? What about adultery? I would dare say, Not! Just as I would also hold to the Bible's teachings on creation, homosexuality, gender equality, etc., etc.

    I would not consider myself to a be pompous, short-sighted, or delimiting individual. I'm not a "select group of Christians." Just one who fears God and wants to hold to his teachings literally.

    My goal is to ground myself in God's word so thoroughly that I won't be swayed by the changing tide of today's societal pressures and social 'norms'; to hold fast to the inerrant word of God, embracing it as absolute truth and loving sinners (myself included) in a way that reflects God's love for them, but doesn't water down the seriousness of sin or the consequences that sin brings. There are STILL black and white issues as much as many would want to make them seem gray.

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  2. My partial answer in interpreting the Bible is several:

    (i) Use the best of today's knowledge, discoveries, and multifaceted disciplines to ascertain the ancient histories/cultures/mores written of in the past (whether Hebraic, Greek, Roman, Hellanistic, etc).

    (ii) Do the best you can in redacting the writer's point of view (or his culture's point-of-view) for that time (which is usually removed from the events s/he is repoting on);

    (iii) Do the same with yourself (preferences and biases), with your church and denominational preferences and biases, and with the culture you find yourself within. The social conventions you were raised with (or taught) will pervade your Scriptural understanding. However, these may not necessarily be biblical (as I've noted in past articles re gender equality, homosexuality, inerrancy arguments, etc).

    Part of the postmodernist movement which is just now affecting the church (though our world has actually moved on past this time to a "post-postmodernist" time)... is to deconstruct and reconstruct man's understanding of himself, our global societies, faiths and religions. As such, I do not think anyone of us will ever be free of ourselves but we can be responsible for what we (re)present through prayer, spiritual discernment, education, and fellowship outside our circles of (moral or religious) definitioin and comfortability.

    Understand too that the article I wrote here was filled with a little personal angst and not normally how I would write. When thinking of this subject I got a little passionate about listening to unqualified, definitive statements made by the speaker standing on the religious high ground looking down upon others. Its the kind of statement that sounds socially acceptable within one's own group but becomes short-sighted and naïve to those outside that social group.

    Thanks for your comments.

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