Category Archives: Bible
The Bible is not a flat book. It’s all God’s word, but every verse is not equal to every other verse. Love your neighbor is more important than don’t eat shrimp.
I’ve heard many people say, “I don’t interpret the Bible, I just read it.” I may well have said it myself. But, that’s simply not possible. All of us read through the lens of who we are and what we’ve experienced.
We all have a perspective. Everything we read or hear comes to us through the filter of our background, influences, preconceptions, and worldview.
I have to listen deeply when I read scripture or hear a sermon or lecture. When it comes to the Bible, I’m learning to ask questions – How do we know that’s true? What’s the context of this passage? What kind of literature is this? To whom was it originally written? What do I know about them? How would they have read and understood this text? How does this passage point me to Jesus? How am I to apply this passage in my life? What do a wide variety of commentators say about this passage?
When I scan the collection of books in my library, I notice a commonality. The majority of commentaries and books on Christian living were written by affluent heterosexual men of northern European decent. That’s because those were the only people who had the means to gain the education, the time to write books, and the connections to get them published. It’s not that there was necessarily any overt plan to exclude others, nor any conscious racism. Nevertheless, as a result, the only voices available all shared the same perspective. I never thought to ask how a biblical text might look through the eyes of a Native American, a descendant of African slaves, or a woman.
Moreover, there’s the danger of reading our favorite theological position into the text. The original authors knew nothing of Calvinism, Arminianism, Catholicism, or Pentecostalism.
Over the last decade or so, I’ve made a conscious effort to expose my mind to brilliant scholars from widely diverse backgrounds. The result is amazing. When the rains fell on the rich soils of the northern plains, the farmers in my congregation used to say you could hear the corn growing. I can almost hear myself growing spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually because I’m listening to voices across the ethnic, economic, gender, cultural, political, social, and theological spectra. Diversity is a vital divine gift. I’m trying to learn to listen to and learn from everyone I meet.
But then, how does one sort out the true from the false?
We have to start with who God is. God is love. Jesus is God incarnate, God in human flesh. God is exactly like Jesus. There is nothing unchristlike in God. We have an amazing and historically accurate record of what Jesus spoke and did.
When reading the Bible, I try to filter the text through Jesus, through the loving incarnate God. I’m learning to read the Bible with a cruciform hermeneutic, to look at every text in light of the cross.
I read the Bible this way because Jesus said to. All scripture is divinely inspired, and all scripture points to Jesus. Jesus challenged the religious scholars: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” (John 5:39)
Jesus changed everything on the cross. All evil was absorbed and obliterated. Perfect self-sacrificing, enemy-forgiving love conquered sin and satan.
Eternal life is not in reading the Bible. It is in Jesus. The Bible points us to the true, eternal, infallible Word of God, whose name is Jesus. Every passage in the Old Testament bears witness about Jesus. The Gospels are the stories of the life of Jesus. The rest of the New Testament points us back to Jesus. What does this passage mean in light of the cross? How can I see the love of God behind every Bible passage?
Doing so takes a great deal of deconstruction. I’m learning to recognize and set aside my biases, to acknowledge my natural lenses. I’ve dispensed with a lot of dogma.
And, I try to be humble – to keep an attitude of teachableness, of recognition that I have a lot to learn, and some of what I think is true may need adjusting.
Biblically, we are saved, we are transformed, we serve, not as individuals, but in community.
That runs contrary to the American ideal of individualism and contrary to the American perception of individual salvation. We have invented a Christianity that is all about us. Jesus died for me. I pray a prayer. I am saved. I hang out with others as I see fit. I go to church if I want. Not if I don’t.
Those who have a financial interest in having people attend churches seek in various ways to entice me to their campuses. They use everything from the latest marketing techniques to extravagant showmanship to condemnation and guilt to get me (or at least my money) in the door.
If I am a successful and wealthy businessperson who gives a lot of money, they will put me on their board, the pastor will greet and visit me with enthusiasm, I will be honored in various ways, and everyone will careful not to offend me. They will likely appoint a staff person whose primary job is keep me happy. Together, we will build multi-million-dollar facilities with top-of-the-line lighting, sound, visual, and special effects systems that can compete with the Strasbourg Opera House.
We will hire excellent musicians and licensed child care workers. We will put on amazing shows weekly. People will “walk the aisle” as the congregation applauds. We will produce programs of all sorts. We will promote help for the addicted, the divorced, the bereaved, the cancer survivors. We will fund missionaries who will go across the globe spreading the good news of white American culture. We’ll have youth groups filled with the “in” crowd from the local schools, and children’s ministry to rival Sesame Street. Our staff will have a C-Suite with a CEO, CFO, CXO, CIO, and COO, but of course we won’t call them that. We’ll call them pastors and ministers. They will be compensated handsomely. Mid-six-figures handsomely.
Ostensively, we will do all this for the glory of God. In reality, we will do all this to feed our individualistic, capitalistic, success-driven egos. “And what has the wheat to do with the chaff?” asks YHWH.
Emphatically landing on the personal pronouns, Jesus declared, “I will build my church.” “Church” is ecclesia (Greek: ἐκκλησία). It has nothing whatsoever to do with either an institution or a building. The word was used both in the Greek and Jewish worlds. In the Graeco-Roman world, the ecclesia was a kind of town council. Free citizens met to determine what was best for their community. Kind of like a homeowner’s association. In ancient Judaism, the ecclesia was a group of people specially chosen by God. By virtue of birth, they were God’s ecclesia. In both cases ecclesia was a gathering of people. Combining the Greek and Jewish meanings, ecclesia is a group of people specially chosen, set aside, to positively influence society. Salt penetrating to preserve the good. Light penetrating darkness. Fire penetrating chaff. Love penetrating hate.
For three centuries the followers of Jesus formed communities in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. They owned no buildings. They met in koinonia groups in houses. They did life together. They ate, worked, prayed, worshipped, studied, and celebrated Eucharist. They understood the importance of solitude. They had a common purse. No one owned anything. The community owned everything. Everybody’s needs were met. They were mostly poor folks, ostracized by family and society. Their leaders were servants appointed by the Holy Spirit. They waited expectantly to hear God’s inner voice of love. They recognized that the satan’s power was behind empires with their militarism and greed, so they refused to work for the government. They followed Jesus’ command to love enemies and turn the other cheek, so they refused military service. They were denounced as traitors and cowards. Theirs was the community of faith. It was peaceful, communal, and focused on service. They went out and gathered in unwanted babies. They tended the sick. They were joyful.
Then, around 400 AD, the intended Bride of Christ married the Empire instead.