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The current installment of the COEC began meeting in 2007.

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8.02.2008

How do/should we read the Bible?

Since our Xenos discussion, this question has been rolling around in my mind. There were several times during the session that Dennis used verses from the Bible to prove his points, and admittedly I didn't have much of a response at the time. After the session, some members of Xenos commented that they thought Dennis' points were better because they were supported by Scripture.

I've really been rolling this whole issue around in my head for the past few weeks, because it feels like a seismic shift in how I approach the Bible, read the stories found there, and interact with the God that inspired it. Is it a resource to interpreted? Do I read the Bible to shape my theology? Or do I have a theology and I search for verses that support what I already believe?

I mentioned this to Jane the other day, but I've been wondering if the Bible isn't supposed to inform us of truth statements about God, but rather there are stories and accounts of experiences with God, and they are meant to direct us to him. The purpose of the Bible isn't to just know about God but to genuinely and personally know him. Of course to divide between these two types of readings to the extreme is to create an unnecessary dichotomy....this is what I've been wrestling with.

Scott McKnight on his blog Jesus Creed linked to this very short post on why fundamentalism is unbiblical. Thoughts on this article? Thoughts on how we read the Bible and how that shapes our relationship with God, other Christians and the world around us?

5 comments:

Jane Johnson said...

Jesse,

As you have already heard from me, I love this idea (that the Bible points us to God, with whom we have an active relationship). I'm wondering if perceiving the Bible in this role might help us to steer clear of both fundamentalism and self-serving total relativism. Of course this assumes that God speaks to us directly and powerfully through the Holy Spirit.

Mike said...

We need to remember that the session at Xenos was not a debate. I listened to it, thought about it a lot, and found it was really informative. Especially since I wasn't sure what the emergent movement was to begin with.

Dennis did cite some verses in the Bible, but I don't think he was using them as prooftexts. Xenos has founded their church on the teachings of the Bible and very little else. If I was writing a book about global warming, wouldn't it make sense that I cite material from an expert in that particular field of study? To Dennis, the Bible is the expert.

Your concern for how people interpret this Bible is warranted. From what I have read, there are two ways to interpret scripture: Exegesis and Eisegesis. The former is a method in which the text is interpreted in a critical way. The latter is when the text is interpreted with a bias.

...but I've been wondering if the Bible isn't supposed to inform us of truth statements about God, but rather there are stories and accounts of experiences with God, and they are meant to direct us to him.

In my personal experience, it has been easier for me to have faith in God knowing what is true about him. I didn't fall in love with God, rather I slowly began to trust him. Here is an example: it wouldn't make much sense to propose to someone on a first date. You would probably want to know alot about that person before you made any serious commitments like that.

Scott McKnight on his blog Jesus Creed linked to this very short post on why fundamentalism is unbiblical. Thoughts on this article?

Do you think Xenos is a fundamentalist church? I can assure you that it is not. Fundamentalists traditionally use a literal interpretation of scripture. Xenos is very adamant about interpreting scipture using the grammatical-critical method.

I don't want to give you the impression that I'm upset at you for writing these things. Actually, I'm excited to see that you are asking the tough questions. Since I attend Xenos, I felt it was necessary to let you know how we view the Bible.

Nick Johnson said...

Mike - thank you for your comments. I went to Xenos home church for two years and, though I am no longer attending, agree that the people of Xenos are not fundamentalist. I don't think that is what Jesse was saying, by the way. I do, however, feel that they are as guilty as any church of choosing particular verses to the exclusion of others on which to base their theology. I have had countless conversations about salvation and heard many teachings on it I would say that about 90 percent of the verses quoted are in the letters by Paul, with very little of Christ's words quoted. That seems to be to be picking verses that back up a certain belief (I can elaborate if you would like). But no, I do agree with you that people at Xenos are not fundamentalist, but rather are loving, caring people, who are doing their best to follow God, though I have some disagreements with them on certain things.

I was thinking about a differnt issue that your comment brought back to my mind. I might make this an actual post, but I'll give it a run here first. It is commonly, and I believe rightly, said that during the reformation Protestants shifted authority from the Holy Church to Holy Scripture. I think there are logical and biblical backing for both views, as well as gigantic problems with both views - which we can get into later. So, where do we (meaning emergent) place authority? I personally feel the answer might be the Holy Spirit, recognizing that other groups have done this as well.

I have more to say on this issue, but I would like other thoughts first. I think this question might be very important in regards to how we read the Bible.

Jesse said...

Hey guys- just FYI, I'm on vacation w/ my in-laws this week, so I'll only be on sporadically. But since there were a few comments on my post I wanted to jump back in.

Mike- thanks so much for your comments and your kind tone. I really appreciate it. As Nick said, I'm not meaning to accuse Xenos of being fundamentalist in a bad sense. I just thought that short article was relevant. Did you read it? Thoughts?

Mike said: If I was writing a book about global warming, wouldn't it make sense that I cite material from an expert in that particular field of study? To Dennis, the Bible is the expert. I think this statement hints at what I'm getting at. I understand the writers of the Bible to be human like me, but having encountered God in a real sense and gifted to write about it in a way that directs others to the same God. I don't engage with God in the same way that I write a research paper or a book. I'm not looking for the expert that has it all figured out, but rather for the One Himself, which may cause me to realize I have very little figured out.

If we approach the Bible as an expert resource, what do we do with the sections that are contradictory? What about the parts that are painful and confusing? Furthermore, if we only approach the Bible as a resource, how does that shape our spirituality, our community life, our "religion?"

I'm not certain, but my hunch is that exegesis vs. eisegesis is an oversimplification, but I'm not very knowledgeable here....anyone else know much about these terms, or other methods of interpretation?

Your statements regarding loving and trusting someone after you know truths about them is certainly correct. Yes, I love God and seek him because of what I know about him, and that is a very important part of the whole thing. But is this the end? Only knowledge of God? We can't abandon all sense of objective truth knowledge and throw ourselves into a fully subjective and ambiguous relationship, but perhaps one directs us to the other? Just thinking out loud here....

Furthermore, a lot of this gets wrapped up in our ideas of salvation, which I guess are being discussed in another post :)

Mike - thanks again for your comments. Nick, thanks for jumping in and I appreciate you being honest about your experiences at Xenos. I'll give some thought to your follow-up question, and I think there is a lot there we could unpack. I want to try to research a bit too and see what others would say is the "authority" in emerging/emergent churches.

Mike said...

they are as guilty as any church of choosing particular verses to the exclusion of others on which to base their theology.

That is interesting. Could you expand a little more on this for me? I personally believe there are some aspects of the Bible that are not necessary. However, I do not consider them unimportant. For example: the ten commandments are a favorite amongst fundamentalists. The commandments all seem fairly easy to follow until you get to the last one. It says, "Do not covet". You see, they don't like that commandment very much, so they don't talk about it a whole lot. Instead, they like to look at other laws like Leviticus 20:13 (the law that forbids homosexuality). Or they will make up laws only they can follow such as, "Don't cuss!, Don't Drink!, Don't listen to secular music!, Women shouldn't wear pants!"Now, I still do consider the ten commandments important. I said earlier that they seem easy, but in reality, they are not. If you look at each law and consider all that it entails, you will see your inability to completely follow each one. So, I believe the law leads me to repentance. For me, Christ leads me to the Father. He says on my behalf, "this brother of mine wishes to live in peace with you forever, and I have already paid his debts to you". The law is important in the Bible, but is it necessary for Christians to follow it? No. Christ says in Matt 5:17, he came to fulfill the law.

As Nick said, I'm not meaning to accuse Xenos of being fundamentalist in a bad sense. I just thought that short article was relevant. Did you read it? Thoughts?

I did read the article, and I can't say that I disagree with him
completely about Fundamentalism. Now, his opinion of the Bible I can disagree and agree with him on a few points.

I'm not looking for the expert that has it all figured out, but rather for the One Himself, which may cause me to realize I have very little figured out.

The problem with modernism is that it did assume that we had everything figured out. As long as we had the right method, we could come to the truth. However, with post-modernism, I fear there is no hope for any truth. Is this where you guys believe the spirit intervenes and helps you?

But is this the end? Only knowledge of God? We can't abandon all sense of objective truth knowledge and throw ourselves into a fully subjective and ambiguous relationship, but perhaps one directs us to the other? Just thinking out loud here....

You're not the only one wrestling with this stuff. I think it is scary trusting God with your whole self. When I read a passage like Luke 9:57-62, the call of Christ greatly overwhelms me. I realize that I have to give all of myself over to him in order to be his disciple. By the way, this is something completely separate from salvation. It is when I trust God with my time, my resources, and myself, that I begin to see the rewards of following him. I'm not talking about money or some other material object, but the reward of having a fulfilling life. The beatitudes are a great example of this (Matt 5).