Monday, December 22, 2008

Why I don't like "Biblical" Anything

A while back, I gave my Thoughts on Biblical Maculinity in response to Brad over at Confessions of a Seminarian. I get really bothered anytime someone tries to label something "Biblical" like "I believe in Biblical masculinity/feminism/marriage/family values/ethics/etc."

I touched on this discomfort in that post, but it wasn't fully articulated. I will try to do that here.

ONe of the hardest problems is interpreting the Bible to our modern context. some will say "The Bible doesn't need interpreting, you just read what's written" advocating a literal interpretation. I will now say that the majority of the people who say this ARE NOT reading the bible literally, but traditionally. Just take Christmas for example... the innkeeper who tells Mary and Joe to hit up the manger, Mary remaining a virgin and not having any children OR sex, that there are 3 wisemen, and Jesus is raised to be a carpenter in Nazareth are NOT in the Bible! Those are traditions PLACED on the Bible... Sola Scriptura indeed.

Plus we need to look at the social structures assumed in the Bible and ask, are an essential part of God's revelation? We no longer live in a world of absolute monarchies, slavery, tribal and clan warfare, patriarchy nor animal sacrifice in their ancient Middle Eastern forms. Instead of an agrarian world we're urban, instead of assumed male superiority there is women's rights movements, instead of absolute monarchy democracy is a pervasive ideal, instead of an all-encompassing religious, economic, political and social legal system we have patchwork of laws that govern different aspects of life.

The story of God in the Bible is inseparable from an understanding of the kind of society Israel was meant to be nor can God not be removed from Israel's context and view of the world.

However, look at how progressive Israel despite the context! Within the context of slavery, Israel was to free all slaves and give them a nest egg every 7 years (Duet 15). within monarchy, they knew how this system would be a form of oppression (1 Sam 8) and there's no greater king than God (2 Sam 12). In an agricultural economy, Israel was to ensure everyone had a fair share of the wealth and resources (Lev 25). Within the context of patriarchy and polygamy, Israel was to protect the rights of women (Duet 21:10-14; 22:13-29).

How do we bridge the 2,000+ year gap? I would say the last thing we need to do is recreate the context of ancient Israel! We can't get out of our own symbols and cultural context and we read Israel's story and Jesus' story through our own cultural experience. We CAN'T apply the Bible literally because we'd ultimately being applying our own bias and prejudices. Our experience is not on a higher plain than the scriptures but it is our beginning and ending.

We cannot approach the Bible as a narrow rule book that sets out models of behavior for every single circumstance. What does the Bible say about a flat tire on the side of the highway? What does the Bible say about interacting with societies completely alien from your own? Some stuff, surely, but the application isn't exact. Every time we pick up the Bible there needs to be serious consideration of context, culture, and other communal structures.

Combining the story of the Bible with the story of our culture in such a way that our praxis becomes the product of wisdom. There is no easy way nor one way to accomplish this. There are aspects of the Bible in everything we do because we are a saturated culture, however, calling something like it's the authoritive BIBLICAL anything is just patently untrue and makes for bad marketing.


Tit for Tat said...

If not Biblical, then why even use the title "Christian"? It seems to me your looking for God as we all do, but then it seems you place a Limit on God by being follower Jesus. You sometimes strike me as a fence sitter, master Luke, come over to the dark side. ;)

Anonymous said...

"Combining the story of the Bible with the story of our culture in such a way that our praxis becomes the product of wisdom." (Luke)

I agree 100%. Biblical narrative and mindset must meet is in the 21st century context of where we live and commute. How that looks - will vary from place to place - country to country - continent to continent. But the teahcings need to be elaborated on for their use in our daily lives.

I am not a literalist (most of the time) since I see a lot of symbolism in the writings - and I rather enjoy that type of de-coding. I think some stuff is biblical - but how that looks and works is up for some debate/diversity.

I recently wrote a skit on a program for driving people that were drunk over the holidays - is this found in the bible? No. But is sound doctrine? Yes.

Yael said...

Actually, I think we all see in the Bible what we want to see in the Bible. How can we not? We can study and learn more about history, sociology, archaeology, languages, customs, but in the end what we learn often just helps us see more things that we wanted to see!

You're in seminary studying many of the same things I studied in seminary, yet I don't see Jesus anywhere, where as you talk about Jesus all the time. It is beyond my comprehension how anyone can study Torah and want anything to do with Jesus. So, mostly I have to smile, we're all kind of amusing at times.

But, I do find the same annoyance as you in labeling certain things as 'Biblical'. I still remember my distaste with whoever it was some years back promoting, "Raising Kids God's Way". Sure and God gave kids all different personalities just so they could all be molded into the same thing? Right, glad that works for some. Me, I prefer raising my kids Yael's way even as they raise me!

The dark side is a good place. My tradition teaches God is just as much darkness as light since God contains all. God hides in darkness. Personally, I think it's a good thing to be able to see God beyond what we think God should be. Anyway my experience is, all the cool people are on the dark side, at least some of the time and most of the ones who claim to be totally on the light side people I don't like being around.

Anonymous said...

I agree with a lot of what you say here, Luke. In a similar vein, I get tired of everybody labeling everything from their car to their business advertisement with a little fish which is somehow supposed to convey that they are about everything good an pure while the non-fishers are about everything bad. What a crock of crap and what better way to say to the world, "We are exclusive." Hell, if I was a drug dealer I might be able to get a few good Christians convinced that my drugs are a good thing if I put a little fishy on the bag. This may be more of a parallel topic to your "biblical" label so sorry for going off course.

I also agree with Yael on this. We often see in the bible what we want to see in it. We often decide for ourselves what we are going to do or think and then look for God's approval. We use the bible as some sort of genie in a bottle much of the time. And then we club people with it who don't see it the same. I was in a situation lately where someone in authority told me that "that was between me and God" as he was trying to convince me of a certain action I should take that was favorable to him. What a bigger crock of crap.

When I was deep in my fundy hell hole, my wife and I took the "Growing Kids God's Way" course and bought it hard. Since, I have seen tons of crap that claims to be doing it the way God wants it to be done ranging from sending my kids to Christian school to the way to invest to what kind of car to drive. Really people. What kind of guilt trip are we trying to beat each other down with. Christ certainly didn't do it that way.

And finally. I love the dark. It feels like a cloak of security. I love short days and cloudy days and rainy days and snow and ice. I just finished watching "Batman Begins" and I love the dark side of Batman. I don't know what all that says about me, but it must mean that Yael likes me.

Sorry to rant. But this really strikes a bit of a nerve. I'm tired of the fish crap. Maybe I need to design a logo that is a fish with crap on it.

Yael said...

I saw a car with a shark eating the fish and another with a hook through the mouth of the fish...I laughed of course.

Of course I like you, Doug. I'm even designing a little logo that you can wear and put on your car so that people will know you have my seal of approval. All the fish people will be so envious. I am much, much more exclusive even than their god.

Luke said...

"then why even use the title "Christian"?" -T4T

cause Jesus for me is a paradigm breaker. i don't view Christianity in terms of doctrine and theological rigidity. i follow Jesus because any preconcieved notions i may have go right out the window. for me, Jesus doesn't limit God and that's why i call myself a Christian.

"yet I don't see Jesus anywhere, where as you talk about Jesus all the time." -Yael

don't see Jesus in the OT? i agree with you on that! the TaNaK doesn't point forward to Jesus, it's Jesus that points back to the TaNaK. or Jesus in your everyday life? i could see that, but for me it all goes back to Jesus, but not in the usual way.

Anyone that stands and says that the status isn't quo. anyone who does what is right because it's right, going against the "way it's always been done" to me is Christ-like. Gandhi, MLK Jr, John Lennon, Dalia Lama, Thicht Naht Han, Rabbi Heschel and Rabbi Hillel, Rumi and Hafiz, Nichiren and Pema Chodron, and many others and those "Cosmic-Christs" that upset our preconcieved notions and brings it back to faith, hope and love.

this is more inclusive than exclusive, at least in theory. i have this blog to be called out if it doesn't happen in word or practice. thank you all for being a part of the process, i couldn't do it without y'all.

but the idea lying behind both of your comments is completely 110% true... to be a true "Follower of God" then one must get beyond Christ, beyond the words printed on the page, and LIVE it. SVS mentions this in his last paragraph "in the bible, no, sound doctrine, yes!" this is what we're trying to do... right?

Chris said...

I wonder if my neighbor Lukey would love this particular group of artistic misfits:

These guys really push things to the edge, and come up with some remarkable critic on structures and concepts we take for granted as being TRUE.

Luke said...

thank you Mr Eden! i am enjoying reading about this new group! thanks for the send.

Anglican Boy said...

"Our experience is not on a higher plain than the scriptures but it is our beginning and ending."

Okay, now I understand. This post helped a little. Esp. your comment "the TaNaK doesn't point forward to Jesus, it's Jesus that points back to the TaNaK. or Jesus in your everyday life? i could see that, but for me it all goes back to Jesus, but not in the usual way." and maybe this is what Chris was refering to in his comment. I am going to have to sit with this awhile.