Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A Trend I've Noticed Among Christians...

...is the idea that one cannot simply read what the Bible says (with minimal understanding of literary forms like hyperbole and metaphor) and let that be enough.

What I'm discovering is that more and more people in the Church have decided that one must have read certain books by certain authors to make a more informed decision about the Bible. That the text itself is not enough to point one toward the truth of God. That one must filter the text through several layers of theopolitical and literary theory to have the closest understanding of what God actually meant. (And even then, we can't be sure he meant this for everyone.)

In short, traditional reading and interpretation of the sacred text is not nuanced enough.

When I started hearing this system explained, what first occured to my mind is that we are taking a step back toward medievalist church politics vis a vis Biblical reading/interpretation. In those benighted days, only the priests could read the Bible, because the people were not educated enough to understand it. (Only allowing the Bible in Latin helped with this.)

Now, it seems that those "properly educated" among the church are, in a sense, dismissing the bulk of the common man's understanding of God. If the theo-academics are to be believed, then the rest of us must either trust them for the "true" insight, or jump through the requisite flaming hoops to achieve such knowledge ourselves. Any view, other than the multi-filtered view, is just too simplistic. Too provincial.

This reminds me of another movement, further back into the mists of time. The Greek Gnostics in the 2nd century taught, among many other things, that the way to God and salvation lies in acquiring knowledge that is hidden to most.

In Sunday School, we've started a study of the book of Colossians, one of Paul's letters to the churches he helped plant. Paul never actually went to the city of Colosse--one of his converts, Epaphras, started that church. Paul wrote the letter when Epaphras informed him that certain heresies were spreading in the church: mainly, ceremonial legalism and false philosophical ideas. One of these philosophical ideas was very similar to what the Gnostics later taught concerning hidden knowledge.

In Colossians 1, Paul writes:
"I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." (v. 25-27)
Here Paul talks about the mystery of God being disclosed. But it still sounds like it's only to a few. At the beginning of chapter 2, he writes:
"I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments." (v. 1-4)
I'm most struck by the phrase, "...all who have not met me personally." Does this include those who have come after--namely, us?

I want to point out one more section. In Chapter 4, Paul writes:
"And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should." (v. 3-4)
This seems to indicate that the "mystery" of Christ and the Gospel can and should be proclaimed clearly.

So what does this have to do with what I talked about earlier? Simply this: there is a vast difference between striving for proper interpretation and exegesis, and adding "lenses" to discover the "real meaning," so that the Bible is more digestible and more easily accomodating.

What I fear, based on what I've heard and read, is that the highly-educated among the Church are drifting further and further toward the latter.

But then again, I'm a lay person. I've never gone to seminary, as many respected and educated men and woman have. I'd imagine that if such folk read this post, they would let me know that I've misinterpreted Paul here.

And that's possible, certainly. I've made peace with the fact that I don't know everything about God or his revealed Word.

But I also believe that He's not going to hide from me, either. If I seek Him, I will find Him, if I seek Him with my whole heart.

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