Monday, January 23, 2006

Why Scripture?

One of the watch words of Luther's Reformation was sola scriptura, or "by scripture alone." For Luther and for those inheritors of the Reformed tradition, scripture was to be understood as the "sole sufficient rule of conduct and belief for the Christian," as Peter Gomes puts it in The Good Book.
But what are we to make of the collection of texts we know as the Bible? After all, writing centuries before the advent of historical criticism, John Calvin himself wrote, "We know that the Evangelists were not very exact as to the order of dates or even in detailing minutely everything Christ said or did."
It is incumbent upon those of us who stand in the tradition of the Reformers to take the Bible seriously, but how do we do so in a cultural context that continuously uses scripture as a weapon in culture wars? Even more critically, how do we read a hopeful word when scripture itself has been a stumbling block to the hope of faith for so many modern readers? One of my favorite Old Testament scholars, Walter Brueggemann, offers a compelling point of departure in Hopeful Imagination. Commenting on the literature of the exile, he says, "we study the themes, metaphors, and dynamics which give new life to the tradition, which summon to faith in a fresh way, and which create hope for a community so deeply in crisis that it might have abandoned the entire enterprise of faith."
On the other hand, we might prefer to abandon the enterprise ourselves rather than accept the radical challenges the scripture poses. As Hall remarks in Why Christian? "It has been the happy fate of Protestantism, which insisted on the 'sole authority' of Scripture, to have to live with these writings, like it or not. Nothing has been more subversive of human 'religious' tendencies than this book, because the truth is ... that 'the Bible hates religion.'"
At which point, he quotes Amos: "I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings I will not accept them. ... Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
So, as you consider your own faith and the future of the church, what role does scripture play? How has it been a help? A hindrance? A comfort? A challenge? What is its authority for you?


Fac ut vivas said...

You might be interested in my post on my Blog from Saturday, January 21, titled "The World Shall not Outwit the First Epistle of John." I'm glad to know there is someone who still reads William Sloane Coffin.

Peace and grace.

Anonymous said...

From James... For me, this is one of the real tough issues in religion. I can't imagine believing that every word of the Bible is literally true -- people do, but I think that's naive. But if you start at that point, where do you end? How much is literally true -- most? Very little? And if you look at scripture as messages that we are intended to interpret, what's the right interpretation? It would be much easier if things were clear. But I go back to a comment I made last week -- everything for me comes down to faith. Each of us is own our own faith journey and I think scripture reveals itself to us individually as we study and ask questions. Our faith and our growing understanding of God are applied to the scripture we read and the result is a truth that is revealed to us. I don't know that everybody gets the same specific truths in the same way from scripture, but I think we're all intended to get the same larger truth: we are loved, given the gift of God's grace, and our response to that should be to love others.

Anonymous said...

James again -- I had another thought: Scripture to me is one of the cornerstones of religion, but not THE cornerstone. I also learn about and experience God through other people. They are touched by God's love and respond through action, and I am touched by their actions, and respond with action. God speaks through scripture. God speaks through people.

Marty said...

At his Bar Mitzvah, my son was challenged with a part of the bible that dealt with the Kosher Laws [ the person being Bar Mitzvahed is called to the Torah (5 books of the Old Testatment), for the first time, recognizing them as an adult, chants the portion,and then gives a speech about it]. The question he asked is that whether these laws (and the rest of the stories in the bible) instructing you how to be healthy or holy. He thought healthy. But maybe the two are the same... these are stories that help us live life 'healthier, fuller'... and I think we can learn from these stories ... What's the quote about those who don't study history are destined to re-live it ... I guess I consider the bible - a 'fictionalized' history book -- with real facts, made easier to understand by 'enhancement' ... and yes James, I totally agree how we learn via our interactions with others. Eyes and ears wide open.

Anonymous said...

From Bryan : Wow! I like this question. O.k. so let’s be honest. I haven’t been the most faithful church-goer…but I read scripture almost everyday. For me, scripture is my spiritual food. It kind of goes along with prayer; in combination they help me have a deeper connection with the Lord. Scripture helps me remember all the things I’m supposed to remember, all the things I’m supposed to be doing as a Christian…sometimes it reminds me of the things I haven’t done and then I feel convicted…which is a positive learning experience. I learn something new each time!

Reading the Bible has also made me very angry at times in that I grew up believing that all scripture came from God, as in God wrote the Bible. But now I believe that the authors were inspired by God and decided to write about Him and Christ. I say this because sometimes I feel like the authors put a little bit of their own two cents in, and I also believe that perhaps a little editing has occurred over the centuries. Let’s take Paul for example…he has made me so mad that I just have to shut the Bible and go away from it in that he gets on these tangents and on his super-high soap box. I also don’t like the contradictory and vague statements in Corinthians, which makes me angry!!! It basically says that if you accept Christ than you are saved, but if you are a drunkard, an idolator a homosexual…etc you are burning in the fire and brimstone of hell. Well we have all, at times in our life, idolized something….perhaps we even idolize money without even realizing it. Anyway, I know in my heart that these things are forgiven through the acceptance of Christ, but scripture can be so darn confusing sometimes and it makes me second guess my own faith…and I don’t like that discomfort.