Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How We Read the Bible - Part 1

The phrase above has been the bumper sticker motto of Christian Fundamentalism for quite a while. And while I didn’t exactly grow up indoctrinated with this view of Scripture, it was the prevailing hermeneutic (the art and science of textual interpretation) I assumed throughout my childhood.

Churches of Christ brought some nuance to this bumper sticker saying. We stated that if there was a biblical command, example, or necessary inference, we could assume the practice should be continued in our restored New Testament church.

This hermeneutic functionally served as a way for us to agree to agree. It was a biblical “scientific method” of sorts that allowed us to read Scripture together in the modern, Enlightenment period.

When the Restoration Movement was established, the West was in a time of great advancement in science, philosophy, and human progress. It seemed that humans were on a path of progress that could not be stopped.

Until…the 20th century.

Sure we had made great strides in the medical field. But our ingenuity in warfare and the emergence of super-diseases outpaced our ability to heal.

World War I…The Great Depression…World War 2…Vietnam…the AIDS epidemic…9/11…Iraq/Afghanistan. All of our advancement and progress didn’t create a safer world. The 20th century was likely the bloodiest century in the history of the world.

So much for progress.

And then there was the economic collapse that deflated our most certain progress.
And when you undergo that much disillusionment, it’s hard to be certain about much.

And the result is what we call Postmodernity. The Modern Project failed. And we were so uncertain of everything that the only name we could use to describe what came after Modernity was Postmodernity. (At least creativity was still at an all time high???)

So, what does all of this have to do with how we interpret the Bible?

Well, add to all of that social change the multiplication of denominations (23,000 and counting) and some questions start to arise about our lack of unity. And even within Churches of Christ, we have become less united than ever (which is saying something).

Something failed.

And it was our hermeneutic. The very hermeneutic that was supposed to be our ticket to unity was ultimately a major factor in what has divided us.

So, what happens when you are reading the same Bible and disagree about how to apply it when your hermeneutic has been “The Bible says. I believe it. That settles it.”? You start to question “other people’s” agendas. You say to those on your side, “Those people must have an agenda if they don’t agree with me because I believe what the Bible says.”

In that hermeneutic, there is no room for disagreement. Either you agree with me or you’re a heretic.

But if there’s anything that has pointed out the error of our Old Hermeneutic, it’s the division that exists within Churches of Christ.

The way we agreed to agree has failed. It doesn’t work.

I’m not the first to give the eulogy, but I haven’t heard many people do more than deconstruct the way we used to read the Bible. And deconstruction is harmful at best without an alternative proposal for how we might interpret Scripture moving forward.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to make some suggestions for how we might take a helpful step forward in our reading of Scripture.

I look forward to the conversation as we think about Scripture together.