I'm in the midst of working on the second chapter of my book, in which I am proposing what Scripture is and what it is not. Part of this process is deconstructing the problem with literalist readings of every passage, as well as the inconsistency of groups that propose literalist interpretation---those that believe women should not teach in church, for instance, but yet do not feel that they should still cover their hair, even though both verses appear in the same epistle. But as I work through the problem with rampant literalism, I confront the problem of the other extreme as well. Purely metaphorical interpretations miss the grounding of certain claims that Scripture seems imperative, such as St. Paul's repeated insistence that if Christ was not literally, historically, bodily resurrected from dead, our Faith doesn't mean anything.
(Notice, though, that the Apostle does not say you have to believe in a six day creation---which I do---or that you have to believe the book of Job happened as a historical event---which I also do. I bring this up to point out that what Christians sometimes call essential the early Christians did not. Christ's literal resurrection from the dead? Absolutely. All the Bible being word for word historical fact? No.)
In frustration, I texted a friend: I think the subtitle to this book should be "Or, stop saying stupid s--- about Scripture."
The reply was telling: About had enough of the priesthood of all believers myself.
It seems like every day I spend on the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, in religious circles in my daily life, there comes a moment where I want to throw up my hands and become Roman Catholic, to find the safety of systematised theology---in as much as the catechism offers---and be done with the mindless dribble that is put out in the name of God more often than not.
A Facebook status before an exam: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Regardless of whether you bothered to study beforehand or not.)
A tweet about the upcoming election: God says here in Scripture ________________, therefore, vote _______________. (Because God cares more about what happens in America than Uganda.)
A blog post about use of the word "religion" or "nakedness" or any other word study of any kind that uses either the NIV or The Message or, generally, presumes that English somehow communicates in full the nuance of Hebrew and Greek words. (Because expressions and idioms never have cultural or historical significance.)
The Reformation did several very good things, one of which was to put the Scripture into everyone's hands, or at least to support the idea of putting the Scripture into them. But it is possible that our easy access to the Text has made us lazy students of its words. We do not ask why something is phrased the way it is or where it comes from or is it possible that 1st century Palestine was facing seriously different concerns than America today. (For instance, try as they might, we have yet to have a President claim to be a god by virtue of the office, which is what Caesar was claiming on that coin Jesus held up and said render to Caesar what is his.)
Instead, like the commonness of sliced bread, our over-accessibility has made us treat the Word of God with a kind of casual ambiguity. We like it when it proves our point or makes us feel good, but we're not necessarily concerned when it comes to convicting us of our wrongs.
Moreover, we do to it what every literature class has always told us never to do: we strip it of context outright and believe that whatever presuppositions we bring to it are inherently true and therefore the Scripture shall bend naturally to our worldview.
True, not everyone can learn Hebrew or Greek. True, not everyone knows history. True, I would even argue that unique insight between a person and the Holy Spirit in private devotion happens all the time and is part of Scripture's amazing ability to shape our daily lives.
But when these personal experiences are translated into huge, sweeping statements about the way things are or the way things should be, perhaps pause is needed. Perhaps some time spent meditating on the historical and theological context is prudent. Perhaps, if the text is from the Old Testament, some Jewish perspective would be helpful---and would be to Mark Driscoll during this whole Esther nonsense.
At the end of the day, I love the priesthood of all believers, but I admit in this rambling rant this cold Scottish morning that at times it leaves me infuriated.
We have been given such a wondrous gift in Scripture. Why on earth do we treat it like this?