Monday, December 03, 2012

How We Read the Bible - Part 6

My second hermeneutical bias is to interpret Scripture in light of God's restoration of all things.

What do I mean? Let me explain...

Many of us make an error when we read Scripture. Many people start reading their Bibles in Genesis 3 and stop reading them in Revelation 20. OK...not literally. Every Bible begins with Genesis 1 and ends with Revelation 22, but we act as if the main storyline of Scripture disregards the first two and last two chapters of the Bible.

What do I mean? Let me explain...

If I were to ask you to explain the gospel (good news) to me, what story would you tell? It's a crucial question. And your answer ought to deeply impact the way you interpret the text.

Most current explanations of the gospel answer the question: "What must I do to be saved?" So, the good news goes something like this: Humans have sinned and been separated from God. On our own, we are unable to pay our debt, so God sent Jesus as a substitute sin offering so our relationship with God could be reestablished.

The old song describes this view well. "He paid a debt he did not owe. I owed a debt I could not pay. I needed someone to wash my sins away...Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay."

The problem is where this version of the gospel starts reading Scripture. It begins in Genesis 3 rather than Genesis 1. Genesis 3 presents the problem. And the rest of Scripture is trying to fix the problem.

But did you notice who the main character is in that story? Somehow I became the main character in the story. God is a supporting actor who works to makes me acceptable again.

It's a gospel of personal salvation. It's a gospel of justification.

But what if that's not the whole story?

What if the story actually began in Genesis 1? Then, the story doesn't begin with a begins with a vision of a good world. And if the story ends in Revelation 22, then maybe this story isn't primarily about me. Then, it would be about the entire world, which incidentally happens to include every one of us.

Give me a hearing...

The Bible begins in a garden...a perfect garden. And God calls his creation good. And when he creates humans, he calls us good. And once Adam finds Eve, he calls it all very good.

But things go badly wrong. These good humans rebel. It starts with a piece of fruit, but it quickly escalates into murder...which escalates into every inclination of people's hearts being evil all the time. Several relationships fall into disaster (God & humans, creation & humans, humans & humans). The world is now broken and in need of repair.

In Genesis 3, the curse is announced. And while many have concluded the curses are prescriptive. I don't see them that way. I believe they are descriptive. Once sin is unleashed on the world, tornadoes begin to wreak havoc, men tend to treat women as property, and work becomes our taskmaster.

But God never intended those consequences would last forever. He had in mind a community that would begin to reverse those consequences. And if you believe those curses shouldn't be reversed, then be sure to get rid of your epidurals (Gen. 3:16) and fertilizer (Gen. 3:17).

And so in an effort to reverse the curse, God covenants with Israel as his contrast community. Israel is to be a community unlike any other nation in the world. Rather than Israel dominating the world, God longed for his people to fascinate the world. But soon enough, they looked like all of the other nations. And then they were exiled and lived among the nations.

But God...clearly the 2 most important words in Scripture...but God sent his son Jesus into the world to live a life of contrast in ways that Israel never could. Jesus was the exact representation of God's being.  He announced and incarnated the Kingdom of God, which is the perfect reign of God in the world.

And through Jesus' resurrection, a new power was unleashed that made it possible for a contrast community (the church) to emerge that could live as the new humanity. Jesus called his church to live as a sign and foretaste of heaven on earth. We pray heaven to earth and we invite the Holy Spirit to bring heaven to earth through us. And that's why we consider ourselves like exiles and aliens who have our citizenship in heaven.

Yet, our hope still lies on the horizon. Because we dream of a day when God will restore everything back to the way he intended it in the beginning.

Which takes us back to Revelation 21 & 22. In the end, Scripture doesn't describe an other-worldly existence on the clouds with harps and chocolate fountains. In fact, the goal isn't to escape the earth and go to heaven, as I grew up imagining. Instead, Revelation 21 describes a picture of the New Jerusalem descending to the earth from above.

In the end, despite the Left Behind series and its message, God doesn't seem to want to create World War III. Instead, he fulfills the hopes of the prophets who describe a day when the wolf and lamb will feed together, swords will be turned into plowshares, and we will train for war no more.

So, how do we live? We live bearing witness to the world on its way. We give people a taste of heaven on earth. We live like Jesus.

And that has everything to do with how I interpret Scripture.

It's why Galatians 3:26-28 is such a crucial passage in my theology. Without the metanarrative I've laid out, it's easy to read Scripture in a way that supports slavery. It's even possible to read Scripture in a way that urges racism and tribalism. And in the minds of many, Scripture still supports a hierarchy, which relegates women to second class status in the church.

In Galatians 3:26-28, Paul argues that in God's new creation there will be no more racism, slavery, or gender hierarchy. Because we will all be one in Christ Jesus.

Unfortunately, the culture has led the way in fulfilling Galatians 3:26-28 ahead of the church.

It wasn't the church leading the battle against racism in all of its forms. Even today, 10:00 on Sunday morning is the most racially divided hour in our culture. And the church defends segregation on Sunday mornings in the name of "Church Growth."

It wasn't the church that led the Abolitionist Movement. Many preachers were writing sermons defending slavery rather than pointing the way toward God's future.

And all too often the church isn't lessening the divide between genders. We're perpetuating the curse rather than reversing it through our public silencing of the gifts of half of our church. And the body of Christ is worse for it. Culture is ahead of us again.

It should not be this way! The church should be the contrast community that points the world to heaven, but instead, we've followed the very culture we're called to fascinate.

Heaven is on its way. And it's the church's role to live into God's future. We are to put heaven on display to the world.

And that's a bias that's not just about me. It's about the entire world.


1 comment:

K. Rex Butts said...

The way we read the Bible will always change for the best when we start reading from Genesis chapter one rather than chapter three and do so in light of Jesus Christ.