Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Bible as Christian Scripture

I taught an intensive class last week called "Bible as Christian Scripture."  Today I wanted to add it to my wish list for what is taught in each required seminary course, along with

Pastor, Church, and World and
Cultural Contexts of Ministry

Now, Bible as Scripture, which most students take the August after they have started the program.

My sense is that most pastors (like most Christians and indeed people in general) largely preach and teach the Bible through a pair of glasses they don't even know they are wearing.  I often call this lens the "dictionary" we bring to the text. This dictionary has entrees from our American (or other) culture, what we assume words mean in our language, which includes the assumptions about the world we have inherited.  It also includes the assumptions we have about Christianity that we have inherited from the churches we have grown up in and the assumptions about Christianity we have caught from our environment.

Probably I could sum my uber-goals for this class by saying that my goals for it are to 1) affirm most of what they are already doing with the biblical text while 2) holding a mirror up to them so they can see that they have not been doing what they think they have been doing.  On the one hand, reading the Bible as Scripture is to read it with contemporary relevance.  It is to see the stories of the Bible as our stories.  It is to recognize that the commands and promises of Scripture may apply to me if my context stands in continuity with their context and if their context stands in continuity with the coming kingdom of God.

The condition of the last sentence packs a punch.  We intuitively recognize that some parts of Scripture are locked up in the past and that others do not yet fully play out kingdom principles.  We recognize a progress of understanding between the Old and New Testaments on some issues.

Analyzing these things leaves things messy in our heads, although the end result is to affirm most of the "spiritual common sense" we have already been exercising intuitively.  In the process, however, we also recognize the rough edges of our dictionaries, the idiosyncrasies of our own traditions and the places where we have fallen into "letteralist" interpretive practices.  An ideal effect would be less to go to the text with analytical categories and assumptions (this is what the text is and does) and more go to the text to experience God, to be formed by God speaking through it in whatever way he pleases.

The end result would ideally be that we preach and teach Scripture with much of the freedom we had before, but we do it more fully aware of what the biblical text actually meant and also more self-aware of our own biases and glasses on the text.

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