Recently, I taught on the story of David and Bathsheba, from the perspective of a Woman. Being a woman myself, this was not hard to do. In my preparation for the teaching, I not only prayed, but I also read many scholarly commentaries and journal articles on the interpretation of the story. Although I came with many preconceived ideas, I tried to think critically about all that I read.
The problem with teaching a Biblical story that many have heard over and over again is that most have decided the merits of the story based on “Egocentric Thinking”. Elder and Paul describes Egocentric thinking in The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts & Tools, Kindle ed., as resulting from not considering the rights and needs of others and also not appreciating the point of view of others nor the limitations in our own point of view (Elder and Paul 2009, Kindle loc. 247). Unfortunately, many teachers and preachers of the Word of God do not use critical thinking when reading and teaching the Bible.
I cannot be too hard on these well-meaning proclaimers of the Gospel. I have done this many times myself with stories I have heard several times. I did not know how to ask the right questions when reading the stories. Some, like the story of David and Bathsheba, did not sit well with me, since many taught that Bathsheba was partially at fault for bathing in plain view. I remember arguing at a Bible study why this did not make sense in the society of Bathsheba’s day, but I was told I was wrong.
I believe the lack of critical thinking has caused many to abandon the Bible and churches because their questions or objections cannot be answered by their teachers. People find today’s Christians as polarizing in a bad way, with many unable to explain why they believe what they believe. It is no longer enough to say, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it”. Society wants real answers to their Biblical questions and not just empty platitudes. Although we know that many will not agree no matter what we do, there is another solution to this dilemma.
Critical thinking does not have to be incongruent with faith. I found “The Elements of Thought”, described by Elder and Paul, to be quite helpful in examining Scripture for the purpose of teaching. Knowing the purpose of the story or pericope assists teachers of the Bible in understanding what is being said and helps us articulate the same to others. The questions being asked by the writer, such as “Is there no balm in Gilead?” asked in Jeremiah 8:22, should be articulated as well and should also raise other questions in the mind of the hearer. Asking ourselves if the writer or the book is making any assumptions, of those reading or hearing the story also helps us understand the point of view of the writer. Examining any historical data or evidence in the story, such as the measurements used, types of coins mentioned, give us additional information that adds meaning to the story, helping us to understand the society in general that was being written about. Additional concepts and theories held by other scholars, such as the various theories of atonement, aid in understanding symbols and ideas that are frequently found in Scripture. Knowing what inferences or interpretations we are intentionally making and communicating with those we are teaching, contribute to our accuracy and relevancy of interpretations. Finally knowing and communicating implications and consequences of what we believe presents a stronger case for the faith we proclaim.
All of the tools I am gaining from The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts & Tools, Kindle ed. are crossing over into all of the areas of my life and I am glad. Re-reading the story of David and Bathsheba with critical thinking tools aided in articulating with clarity those ideas I believed so many years ago, but was unable to articulate. I was also able to read articles and commentaries and understand why I disagreed and be okay with others positions. Truly, the church today needs help with critical thinking. Hopefully, we can all become modern day ambassador of critical thinking in Biblical teaching and preaching.
Elder, Linda, and Richard Paul. The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, Kindle ed. Tomales, CA: The Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2009.