27 June 2006

On Hermeneutic

A fundamental question among the church right now: how do we interpret the Bible? How do we approach the Bible?

Interestingly enough, this very question was examined at the shift between the Medieval world and the Modern one. In the Medieval era, truth was passed on by God through clergy, kings, and nobles. If you studied science, you did not experiment, you read the authoritative text on science (i.e. Aristotle). Suddenly, authority was doubted. The clergy was doubted in the midst of the Protestant reformation. The kings and nobles were doubted when the rising Parliament and Ministers began to run the nations and the rising bourgeois class, through individual enterprise, ran commerce. Led by Descartes, philosophers began to consider the question of how do you know something to be true? They were rethinking the knowledge authoritatively passed on in textbooks (especially since some of this knowledge was being disproved and displaced by new science through experiments). Amongst this, even the text of the Bible was doubted as being authoritative. Thus, enter Galileo in attempting to shape a new way of thinking by affirming that the Bible is true in the things God meant it to be true, but not always scientifically – i.e. they were beginning to understand that the sun no longer “rose” or “set.” This caused controversy in the church because they began to fear that the bible would be doubted, that it would no longer be the standard for knowing God and knowing truth. Even Luther, with his claim of “Sola Scriptura” approached the Bible in a different (and scandalous at the time) manner. Each person could individually approach the Bible (the evidence) and understand it for themselves. They did not need the priests to authoritatively interpret it for them. Danger, danger! thought the priests, how do we protect the flock from heresies and from wrong interpretations? N.T. Wright points out that the Latin translation read, “Do penance and believe in me.” During Luther’s time, this took on a different load as people viewed their salvation as paying penance and as doing specific actions that the church deemed necessary for salvation. Luther went back to the original writings and researched the original understanding to unveil the meaning of “Repent and believe on me.” This transformed the understood meaning to be a personal relationship with God. Now, by the same token, many are going back to the original understanding to find out what we are missing. How has our culture informed our understandings? N.T. Wright continued to point out that Josephus used this same phrase to call on someone to leave their allegiance to fight and live with him, a political nuance that we have been missing. It is a personal relationship, but it is also a political allegiance. Mind you, I am not arguing that we need to add a requirement for salvation, but what in our life are we missing by not participating in Christ's victory over death and evil, by not demonstrating this as we live in God's kingdom, by neglecting the Christus Victor model of the early church?

Proverbially enough, history is repeating itself. In these shifting cultures, Christians are approaching the Bible in a different way, and other Christians, fearing that the Bible will no longer be seen as authoritative, react. Sound familiar? Here’s the question: will we create irreconcilable differences when men and women are being branded as heretics (not because of their belief about Christ but because of their approach to the Bible), when each side, hurt and attacked, retreats to their own churches and bulwarks their fortress?
Missiologically, we are told to go to the ends of the earth, to every nation, to every people group (and I might interpret, to every culture) to share Christ’s love and truth. I want to recognize that not every so-called “retreat” is away from hurt but towards a mission of love. Paul went to the Gentiles. But can we be reconciled so as to support and love each other despite (because of?) our differences?

According to the stories, Luther did not originally desire to disband from the Catholic Church but sought to address some of its weaknesses. Will we leave and form our own Christendom or will we look to be united with our brothers and sisters in Christ, showing a supernatural love that portrays Christ’s love and truth to the world? Will we end with our own American/French Revolution?


Margo Carmichael said...

Good questions, Heather. And as the church "emerges" in the 21st Century, seeking to be relevant to the newest culture, are we turning into the Laodicean church of Revelation 3, enjoying our "riches" when we're really poor, wretched, miserable, blind?... What happened to the "everything I taught you to do" in the Great Commission? What happened to Matthew 10? I wonder.

learn chinese said...

seeking to be relevant to the newest culture,