Tell me a story – the problem

October 10, 2007

bible / theology

In another introduction to the forthcoming series, I want to look at the problem that exists in most conservative and liberal versions of biblical interpretation.

This problem is that we are both putting God into a box. We’re saying, “Ok God, this is what you were saying, and those people who think you’re saying this are wrong. They’re reading it wrong, because this is how they should read it.”

This is a vast simplification of a number of different issues and methods and theories, but I believe that the reason we can’t ever come to a consensus on much of anything is something similar to this root issue.

And this is why people like Brian McLaren, N. T. Wright, and a number of other scholars and writers and so on, are attempting to find a third way of looking at things. We in postmodern, emerging culture, are not as big a fan of the either/or dichotomy as people have been for the last few hundred years. We want both/and. We don’t want conservative or liberal. We want both (or maybe neither). We see this in ministry, politics, spirituality, theology, and any number of other things. This is a good thing, and it’s a bad thing.

The question to be asking isn’t, “Should this change happen?” Either/or was a good thing, and it was a bad thing. The question to be asking is, “What does this mean?”

So, when I speak of “a third way,” with regard to the Bible, that’s what I mean. Both sides are putting God into a box, and both sides need to learn something from the other side. I’ll leave you with an example.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. – John 1:1

Liberals love to use this verse to prove that Jesus is the Word of God, and that the Bible isn’t. Fine. Jesus should be viewed as the Word. But come on. They’re using a prooftext to prove their point, ignoring countless other things in scripture that suggest that scripture is also the Word, which is the same thing they accuse conservatives of doing.

Lest we leave conservatives looking better than they deserve:

Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the LORD. – Leviticus 19:27-28

Conservatives love to quote the second verse in support of their dislike of tattoos. But, you’ll never see a fundamentalist with peyos (the Jewish sideburn-looking curls).