The latest theater in the Methodist proxy war over homosexuality has involved attacks here and here on the “so-called” Wesleyan quadrilateral. It’s really painful to me to see the “so-called” adjective being added to it.To me, the quadrilateral is one of the jewels of Wesleyan theology regardless of its derivative status. I don’t see it as a method of Biblical interpretation per se, but rather open honesty about what everyone really does when they interpret the Bible using the plain meaning of the text itself, the church’s interpretive tradition, our deductive reason, and the meta-rational intuitions of our experience. The conservatives don’t like “experience” because it’s not something they can pin down and adjudicate decisively. But to drop-kick “experience” from Biblical interpretation is really to say that the Holy Spirit is not allowed to speak to us outside of the Biblical text. It’s very apropos for us to be having this conversation on the eve of Pentecost.
The 2nd century Gnostic heretics were very good at constructing airtight, scripture-based arguments for their beliefs. In response to this, church father Ireneaus wrote that the verses in the Bible are like a mosaic of painted tiles that can be arranged in any order. He said that the same set of tiles that ordered correctly create the mosaic of a beautiful lamb had been reordered by the Gnostics to make a fox. This is a very important point about the problem of proof-texting Bible verses out of context and the naivete of assuming that we can or should give perfectly equally weight to each verse. In Christian Smith’s book The Bible Made Impossible, he takes this metaphor a step further. Continue reading
This is a post where I’m raising a question that I flat-out don’t know the answer to. I watched a conversation yesterday between Derek Rishmawy who represents what I call the “Calvinist you can talk to” perspective and Stephanie Drury who is a “post-evangelical feminist.” Derek had written a post about the importance of not dissing King Solomon and the sacredness of scripture just because Mark Driscoll has misused Solomon’s words in Proverbs and the Song of Songs. Stephanie’s response was that for people who have been spiritually abused, some words in the Bible are permanently toxic as a result.
Hey friends, so I’m going to do a series on most contentious Bible verses and I need your nominations. I was going to call it most abused Bible verses and/or most ignored Bible verses, but I wanted to keep it a little bit flexible and not set myself up as the perfectly (arrogant and) erudite interpreter of the scripture everyone else has screwed up. So whether the verse is contentious because it’s an obnoxious proof-text or it’s an embarrassment to Biblical literalism or it’s been heavily debated or it makes secular liberals howl, hit me up and let me know which ones you want to write about!
It was really good to take a break for Lent. I did a lot of reading, and I even read some fiction (!) by Reynolds Price and Joyce Carroll Oates. I wanted to share some ideas I have for series that I might run on the blog in the next few months and get your feedback on what you want me to write about. I’d like to be a little bit less haphazard with my topics. I’m also going to try to keep my posts shorter (ideally <1000 words) for the sake of my sanity. So please help me decide which of the following series to pursue. Continue reading
When I was in seminary, one of the things that impressed me about Augustine was the way that his language was haunted by the words of the psalms, in particular my favorite one, Psalm 42. Books 11-13 of his Confessions break into one of the most beautiful hermeneutical dances I have ever encountered. I wrote a term paper on his stream-of-conscious, allegorical interpretation of Genesis 1 in which the “dry land” which is eternal life has at its center the spring of living water which that deer in Psalm 42 was longing for. Throughout Augustine’s letters and other books, he keeps on returning to Psalm 42′s articulation of the infinite mystery in human nature: “Deep calls unto deep.” When you live inside the Biblical text like Augustine did, your relationship to its language is poetic and intuitive; it becomes how you narrate your journey of discipleship. This is very different than an ideological appropriation of the Bible in which it becomes an encyclopedia of potential proof-texts to be word-searched and scrutinized with a scalpel in order to develop a defensible argument. Continue reading
I’ve been reading Thomas Merton’s The Ascent to Truth while on retreat here at Richmond Hill. It’s an attempt to explain Christian mysticism largely looking at the writings of St. John of the Cross. I just started reading a chapter about the university environment in Salamanca, Spain in the 1560’s when St. John attended school there. Merton describes a battle over scripture in Catholicism resulting from the Reformation crisis between the conservative “scholastic” faction and the progressive “scriptural” faction. Continue reading
I just read a chapter in Adam Kotsko’s Politics of Redemption which engages feminist critiques of the cross. One aspect of the feminist theology I have encountered that makes me squirm as an evangelical is its willingness to toss out pieces of the Biblical canon if they seem to promote misogyny. I am willing to read the Bible with the same liberationist agenda that Jesus and Paul both had, but I consider myself bound to the epistemic foundation of canonical fidelity, meaning that I don’t throw anything out, even when God tells Joshua to slaughter all the women and children of some Canaanite city or when the Levite in Judges 19 pulls a Jeffrey Dahmer on his concubine. Biblical authority is a line in the sand for me, but given that, to what degree am I accountable to what I would call empirical integrity? Do I owe any responsibility to the reality that I share with people who aren’t interpreting it through my canonical filter? Continue reading
This photo has been circulating in response to the Connecticut shooting. I don’t disagree that people should know how to use guns safely and read the Bible. Many American Christians think that the word “Biblical” is just a tribal category which refers to people who own guns, love America, and hate public schools. So it would be great for people like that to actually open their Bibles so they can get to know Jesus. This photo offends me because the Bible is serving as a prop. This exactly what the Third Commandment against using the Lord’s name in vain is referring to. Because it has nothing to do with God’s word. It’s a certain kind of white America using God’s word for ideological cover in order to say if we were still in charge, then our kids wouldn’t get shot in school (the slight hiccup of course being that it’s young white men using legally registered guns to do it). I don’t own a gun. I’ve got a lot of friends that do. They’re good people. But please don’t throw guns and Bibles together, because then you confirm the worst stereotype that people have about Christians: that the Bible is what we hide behind while the gun represents who we really are. Jesus deserves better, especially for Christmas.
For the last month, I’ve been reading David Bentley Hart’s Beauty of the Infinite, which is one of the most profound and difficult texts I’ve read. Hart uses the theology of Gregory of Nyssa and other sources to talk about the relationship between our desire and God’s beauty. On the first weekend in December, Rachel Held Evans spoke to our annual Virginia United Methodist youth retreat about “living in the questions” as a way of understanding our faith. The Saturday morning talk was about seeing the Bible as a “conversation-starter not a conversation-stopper.” Rachel questioned whether the Bible should be viewed as a self-evident “blueprint” for every aspect of life. Weaving her talk together with Hart’s book left me with the thought that reducing God’s word to a finite blueprint not only snuffs out the conversation and fellowship that are supposed to emerge out of our sacred canon; it also kills the worship of our infinite Creator.