First of all: Some background.
I just finished reading two books (Book 1, Book 2) that rocked my world. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been pondering many of the topics in these books for the past few years. Sometimes with much fear & trepidation. If I take just one step in the wrong direction, will my faith come crumbling down all around me? If I choose to change my opinion/belief on something in God’s Word, am I a loosey-goosey prodigal-liberal walking away from Jesus? After decades of being 100% secure in what I believe, am I heading down the dreaded slippery slope??
Second of all: Three disclaimers.
This post is neither exhaustive nor definitive. I am not giving answers so much as raising questions. And, friends, I don’t think we have to be afraid of asking questions. About God, about the Bible, about our faith. Questions are good. Questions are normal. Questions are healthy, even biblical. Questions do not make you less of a Christian or a bad Christian or a weak Christian.
I believe the Bible is 1.) true and 2.) timeless. My faith in God is solid and strong. These books I’m reading have done nothing but draw me closer to God and made me all the more eager to spend time digging into his Word.
Too bad I have a couple more things going on in my life right now than just reading books about the Bible and our interpretation of it based on our cultural experience. (such as: learning a new language, adjusting to a new culture, taking care of my family, writing/editing, & raising up a team of supporters) This is important to me, so I’ll blog about it as I’m able, but I can’t make it my full-time job, so be patient with me.
And Now Let’s Chat About This:
So, in the midst of my busyness in the past week, I read The Bible Tells Me So and Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes in about three days’ time. Did I agree with everything I read? No. Did I agree with a lot of it? Yes. Did it open up my eyes to my own cultural blinders and make me want to delve into big-time study of cultural context and make sure I’m getting this Bible-reading thing right? Absolutely.
I feel a little bit giddy actually.
And I want all of you to read these books so we can discuss. (And I don’t expect us to see eye to eye to eye on everything. Not at all. Being respectful and gracious to each other would be awesome though.)
For this first post, I’m just going to pull out some random ideas from both books and see if anyone has anything to say about them. Just some thoughts to get us started thinking/dialoguing about this whole idea of “Are we absolutely sure we aren’t reading our Bibles through 21st-century American eyes and thereby messing some things up (maybe even some really important things)?
Did the Gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) describe events exactly as they happened, or did they take some storyteller’s liberties, so to speak?
“To do their thing, storytellers ‘shape’ the past. They decide what to include, what order to put things in, how to compress or combine scenes to save time and get to the money shot, and so on. They also invent dialogue and scenes to knit the narrative together. They have to, since much of the past is inaccessible to storytellers–they themselves weren’t there to see and hear what happened.” (The Bible Tells Me So)
Do we believe the Gospel writers wrote things down word-for-word or no? If we say no, does that mean the Gospels aren’t completely true? How do we account for different tellings of the stories of Jesus’ life (and events being put in different orders)?
The authors of the books have some ideas, but I’m wondering what you think.
How do we explain all the times in the Bible when God ordered the slaughter of men, women, and children? When he commanded murder, sent plagues, drowned people, etc?
Sadly, I’ve never really questioned this one very much over the years. I just figured God is God, and he can do what he wants. If he commits genocide (including the murder of thousands of babies), he must have a good reason, right?
I won’t tell you what the author of The Bible Tells Me So believes (it’s an explanation I had never considered, and I don’t quite know what to think about it). I want to know what you think. How do we explain/justify this?
Do you believe we have a tendency to make the Bible all about me, me, me (even when something might not be specifically written for me)?
For example. And, I’m sorry if you love this verse and have it on your wall, but this makes me giggle.
Are we aware of the fact that Jeremiah 29:11 (For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord…) is not about our future career options? “Israelite children were not on their way to the university for the first time… At one level, our culture’s tendency to hijack this promise for high school grads is a symptom of our tendency to take the Bible out of context.” (Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes)
Do we see a problem with claiming promises out of context? Or not really? Does it matter to us that this promise was given to the Israelites in captivity and, yes, God did prosper them, etc, but only after SEVENTY MORE YEARS of captivity? And before that long-time-coming happy-ending was lots and lots (and LOTS) of suffering and killing and pillaging and ripped-apart families and heartache?
“Western Christians tend to read every Scriptural promise, every blessing, as if it necessarily applies to us–to each of us and all of us individually. We… think the universe centers around us.” (MSWWE)
Is this claiming promises and making them mean what we want a harmless thing? Or does it suggest a deeper, more pervasive problem than we’re willing to admit?
I think that’s good for now. If you have any thoughts/questions/concerns/insights, I’d love to hear them. And, if you’ve read either book and want me to discuss a certain topic, let me know!