Sunday, February 1, 2009

Opinions and The Bible

No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means." ~~George Bernard Shaw

Before my blogging hiatus, I received an email from a reader who rebuked me for reading so many books about God and the Bible. (Apparently, she took a gander at my Shelfari book list.) She said, "You should take the Bible for what is says alone and not listen to what others think about it."

I've heard others express similar sentiments, either directly toward me or as a general rule of thumb. In one sense, I agree with the heart of this sentiment (or at least what I'm hoping is the heart of it), which is read the Bible for yourself and allow the Holy Spirit to guide, teach, and give understanding. Far too many fall back on their preconceived ideologies, pastors' teaching, and church affiliations to "seal up" the scriptures for them, instead of personally engaging the Bible and opening themselves up to the Holy Spirit.

Now, here's why I part ways with the concerned woman's recommendation to cease listening to other people's "take" on the Bible.

1. It assumes that I, the individual, am free from bias, prejudice, preconceived interpretations, cultural and historical ignorance, and the ancient language gap. Let me assure you, I am not free from any of those factors and neither are you. :)

2. This approach just further polarizes Christians from one another, as well as boosts our own pride and unwillingness to listen to other perspectives, because we can just dismiss any other point of view with "Well, if they just would read the Bible for what it says, then they wouldn't think that," since we have convinced ourselves that's what WE do. I said almost those exact words once to a friend who attended a church with a woman preacher. Needless to say, now that I'm passionately for women in all ministry roles, I know exactly how my friend felt when I dismissed him without ever looking into the evidence. This attitude allows us to negate all other positions but our own, without having to weigh the evidence or critically examine the other perspective or our own.

3. Some passages taken for "what they plainly say," leave us with lots contradictions. If I take the verse in 2 Timothy "as is" where Paul writes, "Women will be saved through childbearing" and never consult the original language, historical/cultural context (which I have to rely on other people to find), on my own, I would be left to believe women are SAVED, not by grace, but through the act of childbearing. And even this verse by itself could mean many different things. This is just one example.

4. This approach is nearly impossible. Since all people are prone to a particular set of lenses and most Christians place themselves under a particular denomination, movement, or pastor, which all have the weaknesses listed in #1 above, this undoubtedly influences HOW believers read and understand the Bible.

Let me use the example of Christians who experienced church/Christian parents at an early age, which accounts for a large chunk of American Christendom. Do these children read the bible for themselves to determine its meaning or are they taught what it says and means by their parents, Sunday school teachers, pastors, and so on? The answer is obvious. Right from the beginning Christian children are taught a particular understanding of the Bible before ever opening the good book themselves. Depending on the affiliations of the parents and the church, children are geared from the beginning to understand the bible in a certain way, a way that supports the theology of their family/church, whether it be in the areas of Calvinism, Armenianism, Complementarianism, Egalitarianism, charismatic practices, baptism practices, whether or not alcohol is permissible, whether or not tongues are a gift for today, whether we ask or demand for healing, the nature of hell, a particular understanding of eschatology and so many others issues...

All these lenses become so ingrained within segments of the Church, that we don't even see them for what they are: interpretations. We see them as absolute truths that the Bible clearly says and teaches, end of story. We can shut our brains off and rest in the fact that we "know" exactly how it is. Anyone who thinks differently is suspect of embracing heresy or being a wolf in sheep's clothing. It becomes unbelievably difficult for people in this situation to even consider that there may be other valid understandings of a particular biblical topic or scripture. And far too often, the evidence for any other understanding is either never presented or is never examined.

So, the "Don't listen others' opinions on the bible, but read it for what it says" stance usually means "Don't listen to others' opinions on the bible, read it for what I think it says..."

The next post will be about why I find it so imperative to sincerely listen (not blindly follow) to the various voices in Christendom......


Rachel said...

Very well put - my sentiments entirely. i am happy to admit that I need lots of help in order to grasp the truth. I do not know Greek or Hebrew, I have a weak understanding of the social and political context. I can not read the metre or chaistic patterning etc. We can only turn to the expertise of others and ask the Holy Spirit's guidance there too.

Joyful Melody said...

Quite true. Thanks for spending the time on that. :)

Ramblin' Red said...

I agree wholeheartedly. If nothing else, we can be sharpened by reading others opinions that we don't agree with and contrasting them to our own understandings. It's a growing thing. But, on that same note, I know many people who pride themselves on their openness and growing exercises, so it is a balance.

musicmommy3 said...

I cannot even tell you how happy I am that you are BAAACK!!!

Missed ya!

Love, Angela :)

linda said...

tia lynn, sometimes i think we were separated at birth we think so much alike! ;) i just posted something on this very topic of people saying "don't read anything but the bible". not being raised in the church i tend to look at them like they are just a bit crazy.

i only have one complaint with your's arminian not armenian. arminian is a type of theology and armenian is a mediterranean culture (with tasty food) of which i happen to be. :)