When I was young, Sunday school teachers described the Bible in many ways to make it practical for us. It was like a map for life. When a person applied its principles it would lead to a good life. I was like a toolbox, ready to be used for whatever was needed in life. It also was a treasure, precious and to be revered. One that was most intriguing, especially to middle school boys, was the Bible was a weapon. For whatever reason, fighting bad guys was part of our makeup. We were warriors fighting invisible foes for the sake of God and country. So then, we were ready to use the Bible to fight the devil’s fiery darts and, as in Pilgrim’s Progress, to fight the dragons that try to tempt, intimidate and destroy us.
Unfortunately, some of us have grown up to primarily use it as a weapon in debate. From arguing about the origins of the earth to political justification of opinions, the Bible has been wielded against opposition. Judgmental attitudes ensue. I have known people who argued for a literal seven days of creation to call people who disagree a heretic and walk away in anger. I have seen husbands use scripture against their wives for not living up to their expectations, but then not listening to the biblical injunction to love their wives.
This week I was introduced to an online discussion called “Respectful Conversations”. (http://www.respectfulconversation.net/) This project initiated by Harold Lee is meant to foster open dialogue on the nature of Evangelicalism and how it can “interact with other Christian traditions, other religions, and the broader society”.
One conversation asks, “What exactly is Scripture? What is Scripture’s purpose? What gives Scripture its authority?” We evangelicals hold to a high value of scripture. To critique it in any manner surfaces strong reactions. But those reactions have not often been kind, honest or open to those who differ from us. Nina Balmaceda’s comment entitled, “Contextualization” starts with the agreement that we all believe that in interpreting scripture we have to understand the context. The issue she raises is that readers of the Bible bring their own context to understanding the Bible. This is much harder for us to grasp. Some would call this our worldview. I have heard many times in my circles that Christians need to have a “Biblical worldview”. On the surface I would agree. Scripture is the basis of our faith and shapes how we see the world. This usually means a reduction of the Bile to Biblical principals by which to live out one’s life. What needs further understanding is that those very principles are shaped by the context with which we bring to the Bible.
Our worldview of the Bible effects how we read it. In our church young adult’s group they all have a high view of scripture. It is authoritative as it applies to each one’s personal life. One young lady said, “I don’t care what the Bible says on this topic I won’t change my mind.” While it may be she is dismissive of scripture, what it seems more likely is that she is rejecting the popular version of its interpretation. Contextualization matters. What Balmaceda points out is that our interpretive lens is very individualistic. This she says it causes us to spiritualize the Bible but lose the application in community. Balmaceda’s critiques excessive individualism for it does not take into account the importance of seeing though another’s eyes. In relationship with people whose see the Bible differently, I have had to read it anew. I have had to realign my reading of the Bible as I met the poor, interacted with other races and listened to those of the opposite sex.
What I propose is that the Bible is not merely to be read as proof texts to arguments. But it exposes our distance to God and our distance to each other. Paul encouraged Timothy by saying, “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be fully equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) Scripture believed and appropriated is energized by God, so that, people personally will be ready to do good works. It not only changes our mind, it changes how we live and interact together. I heard one pastor say that when we quit letting our lives be cleansed and healed by God, we attempt to attack others. It is not a weapon to use on others, but a weapon to destroy what separates us. This I think helps us understand the Bible not as a weapon to use on others, but lets the Bible be like a surgical scalpel that can aid in healing of our sin. Respectful conversations can help us be the presence of Jesus to which the world just may listen.