Shuck and Jive

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Interpreting Scripture for Our Time: A Hesitant Start

Can't beat the entertainment of Conversations with Bob! Here is my latest!


Beautiful! Loved your comments and your honesty regarding social issues. One good dose of honesty deserves another. I am not fond of the Democrats. I think they are caught up in the same "Domination System" (to use Walter Wink's phrase) as the Republicans. They are not our saviors as much as some other progressives think. I don't like the politics of faith in order to get votes. I don't like Democrats who try to sound religious or wear their faith on their sleeve in order to do that, even as that has been successful for Republicans. Frankly, I don't like appeals to Jesus, YHWH, or the Bible to authorize a viewpoint. If one's viewpoint does not stand on its own merits, then no amount of "supernatural authority" will make it any better.

To alienate more of my progressive friends, as much as I appreciate Al Gore's attention to the environment, I don't think all the facts are in regarding Global Warming. That does not mean I think I will go and by a Hummer (as if I could afford it), but I worry that we may be missing a larger issue, namely, the combined effects of peak oil, food production and distribution, population, human rights, corporate imperialism, and increased international violence to secure resources.

I further alienate my progressive friends by focusing on theological issues. This is where you and I tangle a bit, but most of my progressive colleagues do not challenge the theological ideology that supports the domination system as much as I would like them to do. Many think we ought to continue to retain traditional theological dogma and focus on social and political issues. I think theological dogma needs to be de-constructed and re-constructed in order to deal with the ideology (disguised as theology) that I think supports imperial violence. I can talk more about that as we converse further.

I agree with you on the abortion issue. I think we need a combination of efforts regarding personal responsibility, education, community support, and resources. I am with you also on the issue of ecocide. I also respect your view of the afterlife as motivation to be a steward of this life. I think we both agree that a belief in the afterlife is not an excuse to avoid our responsibility in this life.

I appreciate all your responses to my Bible affirmations! I will let all of those stand with admiration for your clarity. We both stated our points on those. I will address your question to me:
Finally I’m not entirely sure what you mean when you use the word reinterpretation. If it means that the Bible shapes doctrine and not the other way around, I entirely agree. So what do you mean by this?
First, something we agree upon. Our confessions are a reinterpretation of scripture to respond to the needs of the historical context. Our confessions are time-bound expressions of faith to a particular situation. No one would have thought of the Confession of 1967 in the time of Westminster or Westminster in the time of the Nicene Creed. As situations arise, we look to the scriptures to discover its wisdom. Yes, scripture shapes doctrine. Yet, of course, as I write that I realize that the Bible is the Church's book. Its final shape was determined by a long, complex process of canonization.

Second, something we may not agree upon. This gets back to some of the other things we are floating past each other, perhaps, and that is the extent to which the texts and themes in the Bible are revelatory of God or are apologies for human sinfulness. I think it is difficult to determine that, perhaps impossible. This is why we need the Holy Spirit. That Spirit engages us to analyze our time and the time of the biblical writers. The result is always at once time-bound and timeless. There is nothing as idolatrous as yesterday's word of God.

I am reading a fascinating book by John Dominic Crossan, God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now. We finished the first chapter in our Thursdays with Jesus group. This book is an example of what I would call reinterpretation for our current context.

More about that as we go ahead.


  1. To paraphrase Thom Hartmann, in America, we don't elect leaders, we elect representatives. If enough of us form a big enough parade, any politician worth his/her salt will run to get in front of it. He suggests that we (meaning his mostly liberal/progressive audience) need to take over the Democratic Party and the Green Party, as honest conservatives should the Republican Party.

    While (as I mentioned earlier) I don't think this extends to the church (which should for the most part stay out of politics--nonpartisan advocacy for social justice & peace notwithstanding), I think it does apply to individual Christian persons. More to the point, I feel it is an obligation of American citizenship (regardless of faith) to be involved in the political process; after all, it's OUR government. My faith CAN inform some of my political views, but I believe strongly that the ultimate source of American polity is not the Bible, but the Constitution. While "supernatural authority" isn't and should not be a prerequisite for policymaking, it can certainly inform the debate: leaders of religious groups from all over the world calling for action in Darfur helped to remind us why it was a moral issue, and we've finally seen the UN put together a peacekeeping force.

    A criticism I hear from secular liberals is that we religious liberals aren't providing an effective counter to religious conservatives. That concern is understandable but misguided. I think the vast majority of religious liberals don't want to be that nasty and believe in the separation of church and state.

    I just started American Fascists by Chris Hedges (himself son of a Presbyterian minister), and it's a fascinating read so far.

  2. **I agree with you on the abortion issue. I think we need a combination of efforts regarding personal responsibility, education, community support, and resources.**

    I wanted to say that I appreciate both your stances on the topic of abortion. To me, it does no good to make it illegal, because making abortion illegal does nothing to address the causes behind why a woman has an abortion. And people will still find ways.

    We need a better education, a better support system for those who find themselves pregnant, and better access to the very things that prevent pregnancy in the first place. Is abstinence the best way to prevent a pregnancy? Yes. But realistically, not every teenager will follow that policy, nor will every adult, so they need to be aware of what can prevent a pregnancy.

  3. Thanks Heather, good thoughts!

    Flycandler, good thoughts and a great book by Hedges.

    One of the issues that comes up for me is the belief that one needs to believe in the supernatural in order to be moral. You didn't say that, but I was thinking that atheists are just as moral as anyone who points to supernatural authority, in probably as many cases as not, more so.

    I am with you on the Constitution!