Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Thursday, July 21, 2005

handling, mis-handling, and ignoring the Bible

So when it comes to understanding the principles to glean from any particular passage, one needs to consider the author and the historical context. Everyone does this to some extent, which is why all women don't wear head coverings, and we can wear cloth made of mixed fibers as underwear. Historical context dictates our conclusions in these matters.

So it is with respect to ALL matters of Bible interpretation. Who was the author? What was the cultural context around which the text was written? What has the church had to say about this matter historically? How do other Scriptures either reinforce or dismantle our tentative conclusions? Without doing this hard work, there's a real danger of misinterpretation.

The problem, however, is that the danger of misinterpretation exists even in the midst of this hard work because history, context, authorial intent, etc. are all subjective considerations. Post-Modernism has realized this disheartening reality and come to the conclusion that the real truth of a text can't be attained. Seeing the plethora of interpretations to reinforce pre-existing conclusions, be they liberal or conservative, the post-modernist has concluded that all interpretations are power plays. This pessimism, however, fails to consider the vital role of God's spirit in the matter.

What to do then? I am convinced that OUR intent is just as critical as authorial intent, for the Bible indicates that the Holy Spirit is needed in order to come closer to gaining the mind of God on any matter. If my own motives approaching a particular text are anything other than to listen with humility and dependence on the Holy Spirit, to what God has to say, and discover the heart of Christ, then I'm in grave danger of missing the point.

When the point is missed, the Bible becomes the pretext for hate, murder, colonialism, imperialism, greed, and lust. Yes, the same words that God intends should lead us to generosity, peace, hope, mercy and reconciliation are used to reinforce their opposites. Never humanity's capacity to pervert truth!

For this reason, we need the Spirit of God when studying these matters. We need the kind of humility that says, "I'm coming to the text, trusting that God will use these words to pierce my heart." (How different than approaching it as a legal brief). And finally, we need an utter confidence in the truth, knowing that truth can stand on it's own gives us the freedom to listen, explore, and prayerfully consider all angles of a matter before coming to conclusions. I hope this is happening all the time, not just in discussions on homosexuality.


At 21/7/05 17:04, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Pastor Richard for these wise words. Having been immersed in a fundamentalist existence during my childhood, the term, "inspired by God" meant that the Bible was the literal truth. No wiggle 'ands, ifs, or buts'...and to NOT think of the Bible in this way was sinful and a one-way trip on a slippery slope to hell. Imagine my frustration when debating whether "pure, PURE gold!" is clear (ref: Rev 21:21) with my mother.

I have previously stated that I am merely a seeker of truth. I do not claim to have a monopoly on truth, especially for others. I have my own filters and agendas, but I also have my own wisdom and life experiences which I use to help understand truth.

Two things that Richard wrote stick out for me:
1) "Post-Modernism has realized this disheartening reality and come to the conclusion that the real truth of a text can't be attained."
I think that it is vitally important for all Christians to understand this concept. How many people have been killed, abused, or injured because of an intepretation from the Bible? And yet these people rationalize their actions by quoting Scripture, probably out of context, and then forgetting the greatest commandments.

2) "...and prayerfully consider all angles of a matter before coming to conclusions."
This is what was referred to as "critical thinking" in my college English classes. And as I've stated in my other blogs, it is impossible to find truth while looking at only half of the picture. What happens when a long-held 'truth' is found to be untrue? For some people, it has the unenviable result of making them dig farther in which probably does not have a positive effect on their psyche. Some folks quit being in denial, though, and realize how much pain they have caused certain people by their words and/or actions. But real healing can begin during this necessary, but painful, timeframe. For others, it makes them re-think about so many different teachings.

Let us continue to strive for truth, to simply love one another, and agree to disagree when we find ourselves with different interpretations. I believe we will all find "...the peace of God, which passes all understanding..." when we do so.


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