8. Christians need to read the Bible in dialogue with diverse others outside the church.
There is a special need for Christians to read scripture in respectful conversation with Jews who also serve the one God and read the same texts that we call the Old Testament within a different hermeneutical framework. There are also diverse others to whom we need to listen and from whom we need to learn. This includes critics who charge us with ideological captivity rather than fidelity to God.
How do we pursue the tasks of learning (again) to read scripture faithfully in the church while also being in dialogue with those outside? How should we understand and engage people who find themselves, in some sense, simultaneously inside and outside a fragmented church?
I dig learning about our Jewish roots. For example, a lot of the stuff about ancient Judaism that Rob Bell points out (in reading Velvet Elvis and watching Noomas) really illuminates and complements my journey to discover how I relate to God. I can imagine that there are Christianizers out there who think we have no business trading stories or comparing theology with modern Jews (whether Hasidic or Messianic or whatever…). All they ever need to know was handed down in their canonized text book at Bible college, right? Yeah, well I’d like to watch them learn about the profound significance of something as minor as the dust from a rabbi’s feet, and then listen to them tell me that their faith journey can in no way be enriched by that tradition. Feel free to tell me Judaism has nothing to offer when you (and your actions) can also honestly say scripture is a daily treat of honey on your tongue.
The pomo religious forecast doesn’t leave much room for old-school romanticism, and that’s ok, but I do not doubt that the profound spirituality and vivid imagery of Judaism will play a major role in our ability to seek our Creator in the uncreative, sequels-are-best, passionless, technocratic, just-recycle-what-already-works, overly satiated days that lie ahead. Jewish tradition holds a lot of potential for helping us reclaim our intended role as mini-creators. Long story short: I really appreciate what Judaism brings to the table. I’d jump at the opportunity to sit down with a devout (or even a non-practicing but well-versed) Jew and compare notes on our interpretation of scripture.
Now for the “diverse others” part… If anything, sitting down with people outside our faith communities will be a great wake-up call. Go ask a recently DUI-convicted celebrity how the “Christian community” has responded to their downfall. I seriously doubt you’d hear how about how well we’re doing at carrying out the “restoration” outlined in Galatians 3 (literally from Greek, the imagery is of a doctor tenderly re-setting a broken bone). Or, let’s look at an example of economic hermeneutics… Go find a homeless person in the vicinity of Osteen’s Lakewood Church (where Jesus sure beats Meryl Lynch at managing your portfolio) and ask them what they think about the “true religion” set forth in James’ letter. I wish I was in better dialogue with diverse others. I’m not looking for a guilt trip, but I am curious about how those outside my sheltered world of being a professional Christ-follower perceive my efforts. My life is surprisingly and disappointingly conflict/tension-free when it comes to hermeneutical dialogue. It’d also be interesting to see what they think of “our” efforts in general.
- How do we pursue the tasks of learning (again) to read scripture faithfully in the church while also being in dialogue with those outside? Be honest with everyone around you about where you’re at with your faith. If you’re hung up on how the heck God decided to rig Circumstance X like he did, share it with your bank teller when they ask how you’re doing. Sure, you’ll come off as crazy, compared to the norm, but people will begin to see that there are real honest Christ-followers out there for whom the crux of their faith is exploring how they can grow closer to God (not pointing out how far off others are from God). Bringing about such a perception will be fertile soil for profound and productive future dialogues about our unique hermeneutic.
- How should we understand and engage people who find themselves, in some sense, simultaneously inside and outside a fragmented church? Just like your pastor or bank teller. Their perception of their relation to church is just one part of how their view of church and culture combines with their larger hermeneutic. (Forgive me if that sounds like the easy way out.)
Matt’s post here.