Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What should a pastor know about the Bible?

I'm thinking about starting a new series. What should a pastor know about the Bible?

I'm not talking about content. I'm assuming a pastor will know the content of the Bible. I'm talking about things contextual and hermeneutical.

What is the Bible?
So I think it is appropriate to make the first post hermeneutical. Hermeneutics, by one definition, is the study of meaning and interpretation. How is it that the Bible comes to have meaning to us?

I imagine a common response to the question, "What is the Bible?" would be, "the inspired word of God." That is the appropriate salute, but what do we mean when we say something of this sort?
  • It is, at the very least, a salute to God's authority as mediated in some way through the words of the Bible.
  • It usually implies that the Bible gives me the right answers to the questions of life.
  • It usually implies that the Bible gives me commands on how to live.
1. However, these responses do not answer the most crucial question of all--how am I to understand the words of the Bible? There is usually an assumption in this answer that the meaning of the Bible is self-evident and obvious, which experience tells us it is not.
  • This is the first insight I would like to mention about what a pastor should know about the Bible. The words are susceptible to multiple interpretations. The panoply of differing denominations is not an indicator of our godlessness. It is a direct reflection of the ambiguity of language, especially religious language (we tend to read Scripture differently than we read ordinary communication). It also reflects the pervasive lack of training in how to read the Bible in context, which at least potentially can delimit the polyvalence of the biblical texts.
I don't see how anyone could even begin to argue anything to the contrary and still drive down your average city block in America with its ten different churches.

2. A second point is much more crucial. These responses to the question, "What is the Bible?" tend toward an informational reading of Scripture. But think about it, if the primary function of Scripture is informational--what I should believe and how I should live--then it is not formatted very helpfully. If the primary function of the Bible is informational, then the best thing to do is to break it down into a systematic presentation of what we should believe and how we should live.

If the Bible is only informational, then we should stop worrying about preaching from the biblical texts themselves and should focus on its implicit theology in preaching and teaching. If its purpose is primarily informational, then its actual genres (stories, occasional letters, prophecies to Israel, etc) are distracting. We should boil the content down and extract it for more efficient use.

This leads us to a second realization about Scripture:
  • The Bible is as much or more transformational as it is informational. We have a different experience when we read Genesis as a story than when we try to extract its implicit ideas and practices. In that sense, it is not primarily a book of answers or ideas. It is a sacrament of transformation, a divinely appointed place to encounter God.
That's enough for today. Today I suggested that a pastor should have a larger sense of the Bible than it simply being an answer, idea, or worldview book. It is a book more for God to do something to us than a book for us to find out something.

More to come...

1 comment:

Brian LePort said...

Several years ago I heard the Catholic theologian Scott Hahn say, "Before the Bible was a 'document' is was a 'sacrament'." That stuck with me and I think it is similar in tone to what you're saying here.