the bible ALWAYS has to be interpreted. it is not possible to read the bible ‘unfiltered,’ as it were. we always bring to the scriptures certain assumptions about what the words mean, about what issues we feel it’s addressing, about the context and the historical setting of the text, our philosophical and theological biases (or those of our preferred teachers, preachers, leaders and communities), et cetera. we always view it through a certain set of ‘lenses‘ if you will. it’s simply our nature as human beings. it’s unavoidable.
it’s important to recognize this because whenever we read the bible we shouldn’t assume that our interpretations are the correct ones. to best interpret a text we need to understand the literary, textual, historical, and cultural context.
as we interpret, it ought to be our goal to do so responsibly. context and usage determine meaning.
the traditional use of scripture (read as a constitution) has permitted christians over the centuries to defend all sorts of embarrassing, ignorant, and even atrocious ideas and behaviors, in both the past and present. we’ve vigorously defended erroneous beliefs about science; we’ve stifled women’s rights; we’ve rationalized genocidal killing, war, torture and violence; we’ve ignored our responsibility as stewards of the earth God has created and entrusted to us; we’ve mistreated our brothers and sisters to the point of slavery — all while using the bible, read as a constitution, to defend our actions.
‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.‘ we need a new, more responsible and mature approach to the sacred scriptures. if we expect to engage with our culture in a way that points toward reconciliation, then we must both admit and correct our misuse and abuse of the sacred text. ‘repentance means more than being sorry — it means being different.’
the bible was not created to be read as a constitution; instead, it is a collection of writings, stories, poetry, letters, history, questions, visions, dreams and narratives. this collection of writings stem from the people of God wrestling with the same questions over thousands of years — who God is and who he calls them to be — as a people, as a nation, as a community of faith, and as individuals within that community. read as a collection of writings — as a library — that seek(s) to better understand God and how we fit into his story, we find a much different approach to texts that seemingly contradict one another, without the need for theological and mental gymnastics.
seen as a library rather than a constitution, we see a graduated understanding of God’s people in their knowledge of who he is, what he has done and is doing (and is yet to do) for us, and who we are in him.
this graduated understanding of God can be seen throughout the overarching narrative of the bible. our next post at the WayWard follower discussed what we mean by this, and outlined at least some of the dominant steps seen in the scriptures.
similar to the journey of elementary arithmetic to the new rules of graduated mathematics in jr. high, high school, and college, the stories of the bible carry with them a graduated understanding. the building blocks of the narrative of scripture were woven together in a divinely orchestrated symphony for the purpose of gaining knowledge of the holy. bit by bit, through the law and the prophets, God revealed himself as powerful, righteous, just, holy, jealous, independent, unchangeable, eternal, omnipresent and omnipotent, invisible and wise, and full of knowledge and truth that supersedes our own finite ability. he also revealed himself as both wrathful and peaceful, beautiful, merciful, good, loving, glorious, blessed and perfect.
2 + 2 = 4.
as the people of God continued along the spiritual journey of knowing their Creator, and knowing who their Creator had called them to be, they began to move beyond just the basics of their knowledge of the God of israel.
these graduated understandings of the person and character of God are, of course, culminated in the story of the gospels, revealed in the person of jesus christ. as we seek to emulate the God of the bible as we understand him and as we have seen him — in the flesh, in the God-man, jesus of nazareth, this graduated understanding allows for and even demands a grace and freedom in our thinking and dealing with people of other theological persuasions, other denominations, other religious backgrounds, and even other faiths (can you imagine?).
(an excellent article that explores this idea even further with the immediate context of muslims and christians in egypt was written recently here.)
think about it. a day is coming, said jesus, when where you worship — on this mountain or that mountain — doesn’t matter, but that what matters is worship in spirit and truth. the veil of the temple, separating the presence of God that had been cooped up in the ‘holy of holies’ was ripped –from top to bottom — and God is on the loose. he is no longer confined to a specific part of the temple in jerusalem, nor the temple itself, nor in the jewish (or dare i say, even christian?!?) religion, but is rather to be experienced through reconciliation with our Creator God.
ambassadors of reconciliation.
i would argue that the gospel — the good news — has implications that are far more reaching and redemptive than simply the afterlife. it is much more than merely ‘the romans road to salvation.’ in the words of nt wright, ‘heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world.’
by turning knowing jesus just into the ‘right’ to get into heaven, we have completely missed the point. we have cheapened everything about the incarnation, his life, death, burial and resurrection. we have diluted his teachings into a single moment in eternity that leaves no bearing on our responsibility as followers of christ other than to convert as many people as possible to our way of thinking. we’ve turned his life into a ticket allowing access to a cosmic amusement park called heaven; and not only do i find this terribly offensive, i find it terribly unbiblical.
could it be that the way God saves is through jesus? that as we believe in, trust, and follow him (in his message of reconciliation which has been entrusted to us, placing the primary priority on loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbor as ourselves), that salvation comes not to just the few, but to many? could it be that the universal fulfillment of the abrahamic covenant (that all nations will be blessed through the blessed nation of israel) is realized in our ability to be agents of reconciliation on behalf of christ? could it be that we —you and i — have a part to play in the redemption of God’s creation?
‘the message of easter is not that christ has been raised, so we are going to heaven. it is that christ is raised, and God has ushered in a new world, and now we have a job to do.’ –nt wright
we do have a job to do.
our job is to be ambassadors of reconciliation.