This month of working through major sections of the Bible leaves me sad. This grief comes from post-reflection comments by different people which suggest the Scriptures have been relegated to ‘uninteresting and irrelevant’ in some minds.
I would use different words – puzzling, obscure, ancient, or fascinating! Since humankind tends to cycle through the same kind of issues in relationships, work or politics, I believe even ancient scriptures from any religion can illuminate our way right now.
I understand how disaffection with the Bible has happened. I hope though, that the same intelligent people who react (properly) against literalism and authoritarian theology/biblical studies can also see that a different approach can be taken. We can still learn even from the most ancient of our sacred texts if they are carefully interpreted and viewed in context.
This is a modern problem. The first modern universities (as opposed to medieval or postmodern) were founded from 1810. Since then there has been a widening gap between academic study and followers’ devotional, ‘faithful’ use of scripture. It is impossible to convey all the scholarly research in a 15-20 weekly reflection. It is all the more difficult because different vocabulary is used in the two settings. Not everyone attends the monthly study group which sheds light on some passages. There is much deconstructionist work available in popular literature but less opportunities for constructive reassessment of the original biblical context and more careful re-interpretation. Some of the big, bold claims made for scripture, about holiness and infallibility, have blurred what we can take with a grain of salt and what should have the authority of a ‘word of God’. We then hesitate to disagree with words written in such a ‘holy’ book when actually we might need to! The Bible is a library of different books which contain varying views, not all of them compatible with ’God’ or divinely inspired.
I have heard appreciation for John Dominic Crossan’s comment: “My point, once again, is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.”
I wonder if progressive and liberal Christians realise he is talking not only to fundamentalists, but also to we who might reject Scripture out of hand because it needs careful and symbolic reading to mine its treasures. Let us not lose out on the wisdom we need more than ever before. Wisdom for vital living is crucial in our crazy and confusing context.
We continue this biblical exploration in July on Sunday as we consider letters written to the first century churches. We will look at how they were first century social media. In the process, we will see what we can accurately take as the words of Paul the apostle and which are written by others in his name – and what difference that makes anyway.
After church, the Exploring Faith group will continue with its explorations into Islam – a course which is proving fascinating and thought provoking. See you there!
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