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.