The 2,000-year-old collection of writings… Beloved by many. Skepticized by many. Studied by many. It’s a jungle of content waiting to be explored.
Before I get started, I will let you know that I am going to try to keep this post as focused as possible, although if you know me at all, that’s a futile goal. The reason this post is so difficult to keep organized is that the topic of Scripture can lead us down many paths from discussing interpretation, historical accuracy, genre, application, etc. There will be plenty of posts in the future diving into our assumptions about the Bible and how it works in the world, but for this post, I want to simply introduce the lens of Scripture, as it is crucial to our formation of understanding the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.
Rather than a debate, this post will be more informative in nature to lay the groundwork for our deliberative theology and to help us see different ways in which we can examine our closely held beliefs. That being said, this topic can be tricky to navigate. After all, when talking about examining Scripture, questions are inevitable:
- Whose interpretation are we talking about?
- Is there one true interpretation?
- Can the Bible be interpreted in a variety of ways?
- Whose canon are we talking about? Roman Catholics and Protestants have different books included in their canon.
You see how this can get messy… nevertheless, a deliberative theologian has no choice but to face these questions head-on.
In the life of a Christian theologian, Scripture is one of the lenses through which the world is viewed. It is one of the core metrics by which faith and life are navigated, historically anyway. People have and continue to spend their whole lives dedicated to the study of the Bible. Many will tell you, after years and years of study, that they are still gaining insight day by day, season by season. One will never grasp the entirety of the canon because it’s nearly impossible, but that’s what makes this interesting; the journey.
Of course, different interpretational methods attempt to examine and apply the collection of writings in our modern day context. The ways in which one can read and interpret Scripture is diverse:
“Often an appeal to what one passage says on a particular subject can be met by a counterclaim based on another passage that says something different. The tendency for people to pick and choose portions of the Bible to support their own favorite views — often called proof-texting — is so familiar that, as the saying goes, ‘You can prove anything from the Bible.’” — Stone and Duke, How To Think Theologically
This is why Scripture is very exhausting to read at the moment, personally. I have battles in my head about how I currently interpret passages through my deconstruction, knowing very well the little Evangelical in my head, as I like to call him, has another passage to debunk my interpretation completely, and then, of course, I have another passage that backs up my view, and the war goes on and on. It can be truly draining.
My particular journey on this topic has been and continues to be quite interesting. When I was first introduced to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, my first assumption was that Scripture must be the one lens from which all other lenses were examined. I don’t really know where I stand on that declaration anymore, and of course, there will be future blog posts to explain where I’m currently at and why, but this lens has been very formative in my life. Scripture is the lens through which I used to view EVERYTHING (at least my interpretation of it, anyway). It has played an enormous role not only in my life, but also in the lives of others. I am torn, though. While the writings have given me peace, various interpretations have led to considerable anxiety.
However, no matter your view of Scripture, you can’t deny it’s impact and influence on people for years and years. Its presence has pervaded time and culture. Whether you believe Scripture to be the inerrant Word of God, or merely a collection of writings documenting how people have connected with the divine in the ancient world, no one can doubt its occupancy in the here and now.
That being said, you can have respect for the Bible while no longer believing in it in the way you once did. You have permission. This may come as a surprise to some, but not all Christians believe Scripture to be ultimate truth… Christians are Christ followers for a reason… for Christ… not the Bible. As I stated in my previous blog post, different people give different weight to each lens through which we view life and faith.
If you happen to be doubting Scripture, or at least your original interpretation of it, know you are not alone. It can be scary to view the Bible differently than you once did. It can feel like a firm foundation has been demolished before you.
Right now, one issue that is really invading my thought process from my Evangelical days is dealing with dichotomistic thinking; in this case, the assumption that if one part of the thing is bad or untrue, then the whole thing must be bad or untrue. Here is an excellent example of this dichotomistic thinking in action: I once asked my friend’s opinion about questions regarding interpreting the story of Adam and Eve. You could view the story as historical fact, like one would read in a history textbook, and hold to the belief that Adam and Eve were historical figures. Another option is a more symbolic view, believing the story could have been written to explain why we sometimes make bad choices, why work is demanding, why childbirth is painful, etc. The response I got went something like this: “If you don’t believe in a historical Adam and Eve, how can you believe in Jesus and the resurrection? After all, if one part of the Bible can be reduced to myth, why can’t all of it?” A valid point if your view of Scripture is dichotomistic and doesn’t account for the fact that genre has a significant impact on how and why we interpret passages differently. Although I realize the importance of paying attention to genre and authorial intent, this dichotomistic thinking, unfortunately, still affects me.
Since I’ve been hurt by the way some people have interpreted the Bible, my instinct is to “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” or just chuck the whole thing out since it has caused destruction in my life. My thought process says that “if it has been used for harm, then none of it is good.” That’s a very false assumption that I am making, but I am aware of it and am actively challenging the way I was raised to think dichotomistically. Recently, I’ve been surprised that so many progressive Christians who have shaped my journey haven’t thrown out the Bible altogether, but that’s because their view is no longer dichotomistic; they have broken down the barrier that Evangelicalism taught them to uphold. Their passion makes me rethink my instinct to discard. These people are interpreting Scripture in ways that are very different from how they were raised to read it, and perhaps that’s why they can still hold on to the Bible and say it is good, helpful, and life-giving.
Since Scripture can be interpreted in a variety of ways, it is imperative that we really understand the assumptions we have when examining it. There is an alternative to proof-texting; one that can be helpful as we explore the lens within the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.
“Is there an alternative to proof-texting? Drawing on the resources of Scripture in the course of theological reflection calls for deciding how the parts relate to the whole and vice versa… It also helps to look for prominent themes… consider how the themes are developed and what you perceive to be points of connection among them.” — Stone and Duke, How To Think Theologically
As has been emphasized throughout this post, Scripture must be interpreted. Watch out for anyone who says, “Scripture needs no interpretation.” Those people are blinded from how their culture, upbringing, socio-economic status, geographical location, etc., have all influenced the very ways they read the Bible. No one comes to Scripture without presuppositions.
Although this is not inherently bad, many people aren’t even aware that they are influenced by a myriad of outside factors. This unawareness is what we must work to dismantle. Some presuppositions are good, and some are harmful. That is why this work is difficult. We have to weed out the reasonable assumptions and interpretations from the bad. This process is crucial to deliberating our theology.
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