A huge part of “thinking faithfully” is learning how to approach the scriptures with both spirit and intellect fully engaged. It’s curious how readily we tend to throw random verses like grenades, drawing conclusions and making judgments without considering the essential teachings of Jesus, or understanding context, or reading the rest of the story. Too often we ignore scene, setting, background, history, culture, translation challenges, word meaning, and – most importantly – the great arc of the biblical story, by which I mean God’s constant initiative of reconciling love through the saving grace of Jesus.
In other words, some of the people who make the most noise about “the authority of scripture” effectively strip God’s word of its authority by refusing to approach the Bible in any way other than – and this is a new phrase that just came to me – selective literalism.
Some of the people who make the most noise about “the authority of scripture” effectively strip God’s word of its authority by refusing to approach the Bible in any way other than – and this is a new phrase that just came to me – selective literalism.
By selective literalism I mean the practice of taking isolated passages as literal, no-questions-asked, face-value judgments – but only when they line up with our personal and cultural preferences; and then approaching other passages (for example, scriptures pertaining to divorce, the condemnation of people who wear clothes made from mixed fabrics, instructions to kill disrespectful children by stoning, and denying handicapped people access to worship) with less of a fundamentalist slant.
How do we engage the scriptures?
To this end, Rebekah offered a two evening, four-hour class designed to give church members an introduction to a more complete set of tools when it comes to Bible-study. She talked about what the Bible is, how what we have today was assembled, the scope and variety of approaches that have been used, historically, for study and interpretation, how scholarship has evolved over time, the science of word-study, and the challenge of finding accurate translations for words and ideas that were so rooted in the culture of the time there is no direct corollary in English today.
She also shared – with great passion – how deeply she loves God’s word, how she continually immerses herself in scripture, how she has learned to listen more closely when scripture makes her uncomfortable, and how she is constantly “transformed by the renewing of her mind” (Romans 12). And she shared the core principle that drives everything for her in ministry, and that is the admonition of 2 Corinthians: that God has, entrusted the message of reconciliation to us…
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
The class was offered twice, and almost 200 people took advantage of the opportunity. This is huge, because we would have considered the offering a success had 25 people shown up.
The purpose of this study was not to change anyone’s mind about any given issue, but to talk about how we engage the scriptures, to encourage people to take the Bible more seriously, and to equip people with the tools necessary to bring heart, soul, mind, and strength together as we move forward as The Body of Christ.
Personally, I was encouraged. But I am convinced the only way we can move into the future together as effective witness to truth and light, is to be more distinctly people of the word. People of the word, who follow The Word – Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
In peace and promise – DEREK