Being weird about the bible

Since this is a scrapbook of sorts, I don’t mind occasionally posting other’s posts/comments in their entirety. If I were to just keep them in my list of bookmarks or on Delicious, chances are I’d never actually see ’em again.

John Halton at the Boar’s Head Tavern posted this excellent insight into why so many Christians are so weird about the bible sometimes. In general this applies more to academic leaning or fundamentalist traditions, but could be any pocket of protestants.

I think the anxieties about “what does it really say?” stem partly from having narrowed the semantic range of the expression “the Word of God” to the point where it refers primarily, or even exclusively, to the printed word of the Bible. This means that the only way to “hear God speak” is through a correct interpretation of the Bible. And if you misinterpret the Bible, you won’t be hearing God speak.

That certainly used to be an anxiety of mine, and led to my despairing at times when hearing sermons that (it seemed to me) misinterpreted the text. God’s voice was being silenced by poor exegesis!

It seems to me that the cure for this is not to seek an authoritative, Magisterial interpretation of the Bible, but to widen our understanding of what “the Word of God” is. In particular, to remember that Jesus did not send his apostles out into the world to exegete the Bible, but to proclaim the forgiveness of sins in his name. To quote what I’ve previously described as the nearest thing I have to a life verse, Jesus’ own summary of what the Bible teaches:

“Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47)

The church’s proclamation of that message (in word and sacrament) is itself the Word of God to us. (It’s certainly what Luther had in mind when he said, of his own ministry, that “the Word did all”, as he simply sat and drank beer.) And as long as the church is clearly proclaiming that message, it’s not all that important if the preacher occasionally misconstrues a particular passage (though clearly it is better if preachers don’t do so – embracing the AND rather than the OR, and all that).