Is anyone out there a fan of Whose Line is It Anyway? (It was news to me, but I found out that the show originated in the UK before it crossed the pond.) In it, comedians are given an open idea but no script on how to play their part. Imagine not being scripted, and how one must improvise to create a sketch that has any meaning. The actor must not rely on a canned, verbatim recitation but must lean into the moment, staying faithful to the intent of the director, yet creatively expressing it. You never know what’s around the corner.
Here’s a taste of how comedy improv works.
As I read through the spirited, challenging debate of Loader, DeFranza, Hill, and Holmes in Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church, I couldn’t help but thinking of how traditional evangelical practices have evolved over my lifetime, let alone over the past century or two. Are new expressions incorrect? Are old ones obsolete? Were we wrong in the past? Are we wrong now? Could both be right depending on the culture and context?
Megan DeFranza mentions N.T. Wright as describing that the Bible communicates God’s authority as five acts in a Shakepearean play. “According to Wright, the fifth act begins with the New Testament church but extends until the return of Christ – the promised conclusion to the biblical drama. As such, it is the unfinished story in which we live. But in order to move the narrative to the final conclusion, we are not called to simply repeat lines from earlier sections of the script as if all Christians are first-century Jews and Gentiles living in the Roman Empire. Rather, by following the major theme of earlier acts, we are to push the plot forward by faithfully improvising in our own time.” This process of faithful improv must be learned in our complex VUCA world where there are only general plotlines tracing out the story, but no screenwriter to detail every action and response.
In her process of faithful improvisation, DeFranza starts with Biblical passages to reveal how each have been interpreted with a certain hermeneutical lens that has produced traditional evangelical interpretations. However, with a new set of lenses, more finely attuned to culture and context, these familiar passages read very differently. One example cited is the lack of amphibious creatures mentioned in creation accounts. These were animals of both lakes and land, living creatures that crossed the boundaries listed in the Genesis 1 story. Could it also not be possible, therefore, that male and female are the two general categories that we hold up as definitive, yet that there are intersex people along the spectrum in between? The Bible leaves plenty of room for ambiguity.
Moving beyond black-and-white polarities and accepting the concept of fluid positioning for gender, orientation, and marriage is where she is going with her hermeneutics. Though this may sound scary and quite intimidating, we must ascertain the framework and attitude behind specific declarations. “Instead of piecing together a handful of verses, … we [must] look to the overarching emphases of Scripture to ground our ethics.” It’s how many of us typically interpret Scripture – we often feel free to ignore Old Testament lifestyle commands and images of God as a genocidal warrior knowing that a new way has superseded the old with the coming of Christ, and where love prevails.
My friend and neighbour, Dr. Peter Fitch, Dean of Ministry Studies at St Stephen’s University, makes this same argument in his pastoral book Learning to Interpret Toward Love, in which he journals his own evolution on the topic of same-sex marriage. As we interpret toward love, St Paul reminds us that “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
I suspect most of our cohort have wrestled with this topic this week, we would do well to understand that interpretation is our simple attempt to comprehend sacred text for application in a world that is light-years away from Biblical writers. David Dark, in The Sacredness of Questioning Everything, reminds us: “Unless we claim a direct line to God (and we’d do well to worry when we hear other people, especially our leaders, imply that they do), interpretation is all we’ve got, be it prayerful, prideful, dim-witted, or discerning….Like our impressions, our interpretations can always do with a little refining. But if we’re unwilling to have our interpretations questioned, we immunize ourselves to the possibility of wisdom.” Let us embrace this wisdom, and let it be expressed in love in our faithful improvisation of the divine story at work in and through us.
 Megan K. DeFranza, “Journeying from the Bible to Christian Ethics in Search of Common Ground,” in Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church, ed. Preston Sprinkle (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016), 93.
 Volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.
 Megan K. DeFranza, “Journeying from the Bible to Christian Ethics in Search of Common Ground,” in Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church, ed. Preston Sprinkle (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016), 87.
 Peter Fitch, Learning to Interpret Toward Love (St Stephen, NB: The-volution Press, 2013).
 Galatians 5:6b (NIV).
 David Dark, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 147.
18 responses to “Faithfully improvising”
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Outstanding, Mark! I resonate very much with Wright’s five act play concept and it has been so helpful for me to see myself as part of a bigger story within which I am invited to improvise, with both the original and final acts in view. It’s interesting that Wright himself has maintained a traditional stance of marriage and sexuality based on his non-fluid (static?) interpretation of gender and human sexuality in the creation account. Perhaps he simply didn’t buy the fluid argument. Who knows? I still don’t know what to do with it all, but I am with you on interpreting the text through the lens of love. It’s all we really have. The challenge is to know what love really looks like, which is why we look to Jesus and then…faithfully improvise. I trust that Christ is going to gather all this up in the end.
Yes! Another book that helped me was Brian MacLaren’s Generous Orthodoxy which also models interpreting toward love not just on this topic but on many hot potatoes in the church today.
I love that show! I wish I could improv a fraction as good as those talented actors…
I had not thought much recently about “intersex” until you brought it up. Thank you for that!
I have a family relative who is androgynous, born with both female and male parts inside. Not once has anyone in our family bullied, prosecuted, judged, ostracized, etc.
You have an amazing care for your fellow humans, Mark. Please keep loving well…
And you, Jay, as well.
The Brits have such a wry sense of humor don’t you know. I lived with several British expats in Africa and they had plenty of opportunity to poke English humor at their Western counterpart.
I see you describe your friend’s “evolution” on same-sex marriage. Sorry, I disagree with your friend. While I might intentionally extend love, grace, understanding, and hope I do not feel led by the Holy Spirit to evolve and for me that evolved notion is a subtle wile of the devil. A slipper slope as one might say. I maintain a chaplain-missionary outlook on ministry and as such have confidence to hold strong in my beliefs while reaching people with other beliefs for Christ.
God gives us a “spiritual gut” and on challenging differences, new knowledge, advanced interpretations I think I will just “go with my gut.”
Stand firm my good friend,
God bless you in all you do, Mike, and let it be framed in love. Thanks for your comment.
While I do agree with you that our faith be born out in love, we have to be careful to make bible verses say what we want them to as opposed to what they say. That being said I need to love others no matter what they believe, we can have dialogue on things we disagree on and still love each other as Christ has loved us. I am careful not to lean on a legalistic view of church but also careful not to reinterpret scripture to fit my life. We are all sinners saved by grace and should respond to the world with grace.
Amen, may it be so.
Great post, Mark!
It’s interesting to read everyone’s perceive; however, most of us are in the context of a US-based interaction with the LGBTQIA community. What has been the consensus in Canada? Are many excluded from the church as much as the US?
The traditional vote made famous by the Methodist church is still echoing in dialogue. Many are talking about forming a subset or dividing themselves entirely. However, this division is JUST facing America. Many of us have stood up for those in the LGBTQIA community and served to provide inclusive opportunities, yet we’re still about 20 years behind many countries.
What has been your reaction as a Canadian? Have you found the US slow to progress?
Regarding my experience in Canada, here is what I commented to Jay’s post.
The issue has been just as divisive and polemical and confusing in Canada as in the US.
Great post Mark! I always appreciate and value your thoughts and writing! I think we are on the same page on this topic :). How are things at St. Stephens?
SSU just has come out as an affirming university – there are people of diverse orientations in our community at all levels. And there hasn’t been significant pushback yet even though it is groundbreaking in many ways. And I do expect pushback to come.
Mark, I typed a response it won’t let me post…I’m getting an error code that “It looks like you already said that”. Sorry!
Thanks for the reminder regarding biblical interpretation. We are indeed light years away from the 1st century church. I do not doubt that the principles we have in our sacred text are applicable today. I believe of all the sacred texts it is at one and the same time the most applicable to the contemporary context and the most controversial because of the interpretation it permits. We must be motivated by love exclusively if we desire to keep hearts and minds open to the Gospel of love, justice, and peace that Jesus initiated.
Yes, I agree, Dan.
Mark, missed everything you said…was too busy watching “Who’s line is it anyway.” Okay, just kidding.
Though I appreciate the point you are making, and in no way to I profess to have a “direct line to God,” I do believe that God’s Word is understandable and direct. The “ambiguous” nature of Scripture is usually referenced that way when they did not like what they read. “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27). That is not ambiguous. Jesus later reinforces this same message in Matthew 19:4 & Mark 10:6. Though we are always working to understand the full context of Scripture, I fear too often we are just trying to find away around it. That is a dangerous thing to do.
Yes, I agree that Gen 1 shows an unambiguous portrayal of sexuality (ie. male and female) which is fundamental to human life and the future of humanity. And I think this is God’s design.
Where I would disagree is that we need to make room for pastoral accommodation on this issue.
Im going to see “whose live anyway” this upcoming friday in sacramento. It will have Ryan Stiles and Greg Proops! love that show.
Great post. the whole creation theology and idea of the frog really made me reconsider some things.