17 July 2008

Just believe in the Bible, okay?

The biggest issue I've had to wrestle with this summer has been how to understand the authority of Scripture. It's a lively question here at the church; many in the congregation are retired clergy, and many others have gone to seminary. There's a strong current of folks who find Marcus Borg and John Shelby Spong to be the most helpful biblical theologians. They are great people, really active in the ministries of the church, and really sincere in their desire to grow as disciples. But they're alarmingly comfortable with dismantling biblical texts in order to identify the "spirit" of the text - God's real meaning. I have yet to meet someone who has uncovered a "spiritual reading" that convicts them of anything.

So that's been the backdrop for my teaching the Bible 101 class, and my preparation for this Sunday's sermon. I've heard the horror stories of seminary interns or new pastors who come out into the church, guns blazing, trying to set everyone right. It's always a disaster. I think I am more humble and sensitive than that. But how do I encourage people to see the presuppositions they are bringing to the Bible - that it must make rational sense, for example, or that God must be "moral" by some objective standard - and to consider a different presupposition: that this is the word of God, for the people of God?

I emailed one of my preceptors from the Divinity School to ask him if he had a book recommendation - something that might be a sort of indirect response to Borg's Reading the Bible Again for the First Time. He came back with a superb suggestion: N.T. Wright's The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars to a New Understanding of the Authority of Scripture. I'm almost done with it. At only 140 pages, it is an ambitiously concise survey of the history of approaches to Scripture, including his assessment of how we find ourselves snarled by the false choice of literalism-or-liberalism. The final chapter contains a lot of specific ideas for moving forward, but I haven't read that yet.

In the meantime, check it:
“There is a great gulf fixed between those who want to prove the historicity of everything reported in the Bible in order to demonstrate that the Bible is ‘true’ after all and those who, committed to living under the authority of scripture, remain open to what scripture itself actually teaches and emphasizes. Which is the bottom line: ‘proving the Bible to be true’ (often with the effect of saying, ‘So we can go on thinking what we’ve always thought’), or taking it so seriously that we allow it to tell us things we’d never heard before and didn’t particularly want to hear?” (Wright, 95)

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