This post is the second in a very sporadic series on “How Not To Read The Bible”, my take on the attitudes we have when we come to read the Bible and how they can get us into trouble. It has also sat in my drafts folder for over a year.
The Bible, for the most part, is a storybook. We might think it’s a book of timeless truths, or doctrines, or rules for holy living, but actually, most of it is stories: stories of wanderers and kings, stories of a man called Jesus, stories of struggling young churches. Stories which make up one big story: the story, ultimately, of God. But as part of the stories, the Bible does contain one or two rules. For some strange reason, though, we often end up reading the stories as if they’re rules.
You’ve seen it many times yourself, I’m sure. Whether it’s snide commentaries on “Biblical marriage”, or the preacher who tells you that “if you take a survey of the Bible, you’ll find that it’s in favour of corporal punishment for children”, (No, I really did hear that) people just can’t seem to see the difference between what the Bible says from what the Bible approves.
And with good reason, too… it’s actually very difficult to do so. Read more about HNTRTB: Invisible moral compass
Certain folk may misinterpret this post and think I’m commenting on a specific situation. I’m honestly not. I just read a book and thought it was interesting. That’s all.
I’ve been searching for inspiration to help me prepare my “Scripture, Strategy and Missionary Theory” lecture. This should be my pet topic, as I’m really into missiological hermeneutics, but I’ve had a bit of writer’s block after finishing planning the other lectures. Knowing that the best way to get the juices flowing again is to be stimulated by what others are saying, even if it’s not quite in the same area, I picked up a book that has been sitting unread on our shelf for a year or so now - “The Fall of Interpretation” by James Smith.
It’s about how we see the process of reading the Bible, and whether we should look for unity or plurality in our readings. Smith, coming from a Pentecostal background, argues in favour of plurality. Read more about Theological difference
Just to show I’ve not completely dropped the theological ball while I’m off doing some computer work, I’ve been thinking on and off over the past few months about something I read recently which has shook up my view of theology.
Since Bible college I’ve generally seen the world and the Bible through the lens of liberation theology; between being taught by Paul “Pablo” Davies and reading many times through the great Big Book of Bosch, I guess there was no way of avoiding it. All Nations basically teaches you about God’s preferential option for the poor. I guess I’ve been an uncritically naive liberationist since then. I still believe it. But David Thompson’s introduction to theology in Asia in Christian Theology in Asia pointed out something I hadn’t seen before. Read more about Liberation without revenge?
One advantage of a project like this, in which I was reading various materials about the same topic that had been written over a period of many hundreds of years, is that it gave me a feeling for the dynamic nature of Biblical interpretation. As people’s understanding of the world changed, so did their understanding of the Bible. Each generation of scholars would correct the misapprehensions of the previous generations. Sometimes they would come up with brand new ideas; sometimes they would realize that the ideas rejected in the previous generation weren’t so foolish after all.
I’m trying to start a series on “How Not To Read The Bible.” I often have intentions but never carry them out, so this series may become a once-off, who knows…
Recently we met a couple who came from near Henrietta’s home town, and they were telling us that they recognised and heard of our work. I told them that Henrietta had probably spoken at their church when she did her prayer tour of local churches. “Oh no,” they replied, “we don’t have women speak in our church.” This was, I was told, because they wanted to be true to the Biblical teaching - as opposed, presumably, to other churches which are evidently not true to the Biblical teaching - and in particular, 1 Corinthians 14:34:
The women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak.
Further investigation, however, revealed that those women do not have to keep their heads covered in worship, as commanded in 1 Corinthians 11, nor do their church members routinely kiss each other, as commanded no less than four times in Scripture. (Romans 16, 1 Corinthians 16, 2 Corinthians 13, 1 Thessalonians 5.) I wondered what they had against being true to those Biblical teachings… Read more about HNTRTB: "We've always done it that way"
I think I just end up sitting in all the wrong sermons. And he was doing so well, until…
I mentioned earlier that I was going to write something about the “Scripture interprets Scripture” school of hermeneutics. I may not succeed, but I'm going to try to see if I can explain some of the problems I have with it.
This weekend I've been at the first Japanese House Church Conference. It was quite an amazing and enjoyable event; I felt spiritually refreshed and privileged to be there. It was great to hear many stories from people around Japan who are seeing God do fantastic things through the house churches, to hear the problems they're facing and what they're doing about it.