Dangerous Word – Toward Reading the Bible

Posted: November 11, 2010 in Bible, books, church, theology

Last night, I began teaching a new class I’m calling The Dangerous Word. Essentially we’re examining how we read scripture. It’s obvious – given the 1,000’s of Christian denominations – that people and ecclesiological traditions read the Bible differently. What’s less obvious – and this applies to all groups – is that “we” have a particular way of reading scripture. What’s more, “our” way of reading is largely culturally-conditioned and has it’s own beauty and blind spots. Texts that are crucial to one person or group are oftentimes marginalized or flat-out ignored by others.

To go even farther, some traditions can find themselves honoring and privileging one half of a sentence and ignoring the second part of the same sentence. For instance, the church of my childhood demanded that “Church of Christ” was the only proper name for a church because it was the only one mentioned in the New Testament (Romans 16.16). Yet, in those same churches, no one – and I mean NO ONE – ever exchanged a “Holy kiss” though that is also in Romans 16.16. As Scot McKnight has pointed out in his great book, The Blue Parakeet, “every one of us adopts and (at the same time) adapts the Bible to our culture.”

In preparing my class I was once again reminded how difficult it is to peel back our present constructs in an attempt to build a better and more constructive one. Like many theology students, the death of our “first naivete” and the introduction of  the “hermeneutics of suspicion,” can be oft-putting. People, including myself, are resistant to the process of deconstruction.

For one, deconstruction is hard. In the process we have to examine our preconceptions and offer the lamb of our philosophical and theological constructs up for sacrifice. Only truth-seekers can truly do this. Those who desire to use their version of truth or partial truth reject the process out-right. There’s simply too much at stake – namely power. In order to get to the heart of truth one must be willing to clear the debris of partial truth, idols and comforting platitudes.

Second, the deconstructive process puts our past on the line. We are who we are because of our history. Even our painful experiences shape us. Since most of us like ourselves we protect our history. How disorienting it is to willingly engage a process that critiques both our current belief system and past beliefs…especially for leaders. We’ve given advice and walked through life with other people, offering the seeds of a belief system throughout the process. We bring into question the good we have done if we allow ourselves to questions the beliefs that gave rise to those good works. For Christians, this should be mitigated by belief that God is working through us and it was never about us in the first place.

Third, it’s easy to believe that if we don’t recognize or acknowledge something, it’s not really there. For instance, if we never talk about translation issues, hermeneutics, the role of genres, etc…then they don’t exist. Questions regarding the function of Genesis 1-12, Job, Daniel or Revelation aren’t easy to wade through, yet we need to nevertheless.

Fortunately, the struggle is worth the pain. Why? Simply put: Truth!

I don’t know anyone who deeply wants to live with an ill-concieved or false worldview. We don’t reject deconstruction because we desire falsehood, we reject it because it’s painful. Yet, it is Jesus who assures us that the truth will set us free. Therefore, when we examine the scriptures, we are seek nothing less than truth. The best Bible readers – both laity and clergy – seek truth with the fundamental belief that whatever else we sacrifice on our journey to truth is worth sacrificing.

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Comments
  1. Exactly. You may already know about these sites, but I’ll share them anyway: http://jewalters.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/46/ and http://halfthechurch.wordpress.com. Both are from the views of longtime Church of Christ people who are ready to look past the cultural and literalist interpretations we’ve clung to for too long.

  2. Sean says:

    Justin,

    I didn’t know about the first blog, but I do know the second one. Since you brought up halfthechurch; from a hermeneutical standpoint the gender issue is a very important and almost defining issue for how individuals and denominations approach scripture.

    My friends in PCUSA are currently going to battle over the nature and function of scripture around another controversial issue. So much is truly at stake in the decisions we make about the text.

  3. […] a previous post, I began a conversation regarding reading scripture (The Bible)  and the process of […]

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