This week's topic was the Old Testament. I figured that the most profitable thing for everyone would be to spend the time trying to get our minds around the basic contours of the story of Israel. I'm talking mainly about the political history: enslavement, exodus, entry into Canaan, monarchy, exile, etc. Any piece of the Old Testament, from the short stories we learn in Sunday School to the prophetic books and even the wisdom literature, cannot be fully understood except in relation to this long narrative of God's gracious election of Israel to be a light unto the nations.
We did some of that, and you can view the information I prepared here. But predictably, we also spent quite a bit of time discussing the interpretive challenges that the OT poses for (some) modern Christian readers. When I asked what these challenges are, class members quickly brought up divinely sanctioned violence, divine anger & retribution, and the male focus of the narrative. Nobody directly brought up the question of how to see Christ in the OT while still respecting the OT's integrity as Hebrew Scripture. But in a way, all those questions are related to our impulse to disregard the difficult parts of the OT -- to consider it, in a word, old.
We ran into a few pretty strongly held alternative perspectives. I understand the desire to feel free to pick and choose which Scriptures are normative for me, but I am surprised with how comfortably people talk about actually doing that. There doesn't seem to be much sense that such an approach even needs defending. I didn't respond as well as I wish I could have; how can I take three or four Divinity School lectures and turn them into bite-sized nuggets that I can use in a setting like this? Sometimes you have to throw up your hands and say, "Well, yes, if I thought God was some sort of ethereal process, then I probably would feel free to do whatever I wanted with the Bible, too." I was helped a lot by having Heather in class with me; she was visiting Chicago and Indianapolis over the holiday weekend, and she brings a lot of knowledge about the Bible and biblical studies to the table. Also, she don't mess around.
I'm starting to see that each week, we are getting into the topic I intended to cover in week four: how to approach the Bible both critically and faithfully. I don't have any idea yet what we will do during that class, but I actually am preaching that day, and my subject is our reverence for Scripture. That's fortuitous, but it leaves me thinking, "What do I say during the hour-long class that is different than what I say during the sermon?" Maybe I can just give them an hour of B-material that didn't make it into the sermon itself.
Next week is the New Testament. I'm not sure what direction we'll head yet, but I think I am going to put on the brakes a little bit. This is supposed to be introductory, background information, not a discussion of hermeneutics.