You may have noticed by now that I've been doing something a little different in this space this year. But we need to take a break from that for a minute because something is eating at me.
It comes in part from the Twitter pastor I follow who continues to say some of the dumbest things, but it also comes from a book I won last year that I'm finally getting around to reading. And both have come together in a single, very important question:
How should we read the Scriptures?
For much of Christian history, the Scriptures - the Bible - were the way that persons of faith interpreted the world. It has been our starting point, the place where we begin. We start with what we know about the Scriptures themselves - that they are inspired by God, that they are useful for teaching, rebuking, reprimanding, learning, growing. We have always started with the truth about God and worked our way outward from there.
But there is currently a shift in this perspective, and...it raises a lot of very important questions.
For example, the book I am reading tries to bridge the gap between evolution and creation. This is a question that we've been asking for a hundred or so years since Darwin proposed his theory of evolution. How do we reconcile science with faith? What do we do when the two disagree?
We used to be epistemologically humble. We used to admit that our understanding of anything is finite, that it is limited, and we used to readily confess that maybe we don't know as much as we thought we knew. Today, we seem to say the same thing, but only about the Scriptures. Too often, what we say is that we just don't know as much about God as we thought we did.
And, in fact, the book I am reading proposes that evolution and faith do not have to be at odds at all (which is true). But the angle that it takes is that we simply need to read the creation account differently in light of all that evolution teaches us.
That is, it takes evolution to be true and then reads backward into the Bible from there to try to harmonize the two ideas.
The pastor on Twitter, who has been so much fodder for this space in the past year or so, has recently gone on a tirade about how we simply cannot read the Bible literally. We shouldn't expect to. The Bible, he says, was written by specific men in specific cultures at specific times, and we should not believe that it speaks directly to us. Rather, what we must do is discover what the Bible said to the persons of its time and extrapolate from there.
This has become a really popular talking point in biblical studies in the past few decades. Academics love to talk about this kind of stuff. It's all "contextual," they say, and unless we understand the context of the Bible, we will read it "inappropriately" or in other words, we'll create a lot of errors in understanding God.
At the same time, these guys usually try to say that Jesus Christ is written throughout all the pages of the Scriptures, that thousands of years before He was conceived in a virgin, a people who could not possibly understand what "Messiah" meant were talking about them.
So on the one hand, they say that you can't take the Bible literally because it is so time- and culture-specific that it's impossible to have anything timeless come out of it and on other hand, they insist that times and cultures without an understanding of Christ have written about Him. Because God, uhm, "inspired" them to do so.
To make the confusion even more plain, let's say it this way: we cannot assume God's inspired Word is timeless, but we must absolutely believe it transcends time.
Confused yet? Precisely.
These two examples raise important questions about how we're reading our Bible, about how we're supposed to read our Bible, about how we're supposed to use our Bible to engage our culture, our lives, our times. And my fear is how authoritative these kinds of things sound, so much so that they easily convince those who are not thinking critically about them.
So let's talk about a couple of these ideas for a few days. (I don't know right now how many days that will be.)
Let's talk about what our starting point should be with Scripture. Is it the Word? Is it culture and time? Is it science? What do we actually know?