Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Do Christians Cherry-Pick The Bible? Pt. 2

In his short article on this complicated topic, it seems Barna takes the position quoted at the end of the piece:

The Rev. Kent Ingram of First United Methodist Church, which is within a denomination undergoing its own internal squabbles over gays in the church, views the Bible to some degree as a Rorschach ink-blot test – what we see and choose to emphasize in it tells us more about ourselves than anything else.

“We read the Bible to defend our orthodoxy,” Ingram said.

This position is a kind of appeal to relativism: different people appeal to the same document to support different points of view; therefore, there really isn’t much else to say. Far from being an argument against the other pastors in the article who allegedly cherry-pick from Scripture, it is the ultimate justification for cherry-picking. Ingram’s apparent deconstructionist/reader-response version of interpreting Scripture might argue that cherry-picking is all there is. If the Bible doesn’t shape our orthodoxy, then our “orthodoxy,” or presuppositions about God and the spiritual life shape the Bible. If we then become those kinds of interpretive authorities, the only right thing to do is affirm what we agree with and deny what we don’t.

In the end, this view of reading any document doesn’t settle any questions. It avoids the substantive questions of what the original authors intended, what principles are being communicated, and how should I best understand this piece of literature, and replaces them with an appeal to the subject – an appeal to the reader’s preconceived feelings about things.

Every reader carries their culture, upbringing and their prejudices with them when they read anything. But the decision to turn those subjective realities into interpretive devices is ultimately self-destructive. A goal of good reading is to challenge those preconceptions and wrestle with the truth.

So while it is true that some do read the Bible to defend their orthodoxies, it is not true of most serious Christians. We read the Bible to find its orthodoxy.

But there is still so much more to say.

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