Do you read the Bible for ideology or discipleship?

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

Is Paul a moral relativist in Romans 14:13-23?

I really was trying to stay out of trouble by sticking to the daily office readings as the source of my blog material for a little while. But the daily office reading for today, Romans 14:13-23, is filled with trouble, because in verse 14, Paul says something that sounds morally relativistic, and usually the more that Christians love Paul, the more they hate moral relativism. Here it is: “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.” Now I know somebody will say dismissively that Paul was just talking about sacrificial meat which has nothing to do with anything we deal with today (he doesn’t really mean “nothing” when he says “nothing is unclean” just like his “all” isn’t really “all” when he’s talking about grace). But why not confront this statement in its full radical nakedness? Because Paul seems to say pretty plainly that our perception of our actions is what makes them clean or unclean. And if that’s not relativistic, I’m not sure what is. Continue reading