Saturday, May 02, 2015

Some quick thoughts on interpretation

Interpreting the Bible is a tricky business. You can't try to make exegesis so complicated that you get lost in the "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin" arguments. You also can't get so wooden about your interpretation that you start to see the Bible as a giant collection of unrelated independent verses. What is really difficult is trying to set aside your own presuppositions because often you don't even realize they are there. "Those people are shackled by their traditions but I am not" is a sure sign that you absolutely are!

For example, I listened to a talk yesterday where the presenter spent 40 minutes proof-texting and at the end railed against people who proof-text. I actually guffawed out loud (GOL?) in the car. He is a smart guy but he had no idea that he was doing the exact thing he accused others of doing. This is something that a lot of people accuse "fundamentalists" of doing but I find it as least as prevalent among "progressives" and anti-fundamentalist crusaders as I do among the most staunch fundies. I might go so far as to suggest that most of what goes on the church is eisegesis rather than exegesis. I am 100% confident that I do this as well although I hope my awareness of this helps to temper it.

The usual response to this problem of the difficulty of interpreting the Bible is to subcontract the entire process of exegesis to a hired religious professional. We will go get a specialist who has been to seminary and let him interpret the Bile for us (within our denominational boundaries and presuppositions of course). That is a sure way of getting into trouble via cultist behavior or, more commonly, ending up with a huge population of Christians who are so disengaged from Scripture that they become merely observers, pew warmers and plate fillers (offering and potluck alike). My proposed solution, such as it is, involves the practice of a community hermeneutic, where the entire body of brethren is collectively responsible for practicing interpretation in a community setting so that no one relies on their own private interpretation nor does the community as a whole rely on the interpretation of one man. I don't see that in practice very often but it is still the ideal (based on my own interpretation, of course). On the other hand there are some, and an apparently increasing number of, people who wear their Biblical ignorance like a badge of honor, claiming to just simply take the Bible at face value but clearly these folks have never worked out the implications of this tactic or gone beyond a bumper sticker level approach to Scripture.

I don't really have a deep or meaningful point to this post, just some random musings. We are a people who claim to revere the Bible but so few of us really stop and think about how we read, interpret and apply the Scriptures to our lives, to the church and to our families. I think we have put some serious barriers in place that keep most of us from really being as engaged in the Scriptures as we ought to be and the church is a poorer place because of it. With a lopsided discipleship structure where a tiny percentage of the church has a ton of the resources and research locked up and a huge percentage of the church where very little study is expected or encouraged, it is little wonder the church is so flaccid and powerless.

We need to get back into the Scriptures, all of us and not just the professional few. We need more Bible scholars without fancy titles and honorifics, just plain Christians who love Christ and want to know Him better so we can follow and serve Him more. The greatest asset in the church is not our bulging bank accounts or our influence on the powers of the world or our institutions of higher learning or our gleaming palaces we call "churches". It is the Christian people with an open Bible our hands and the Spirit in a regenerated heart, seeking after God and serving others as we walk with Him. Let's encourage and unleash the church and see what happens!

No comments: