39: Using the Bible Well

In this episode John and Gregg discuss Luke 9:23, “taking up your cross” and “following Jesus.”  From this John wonders generally about how we should be using the Bible.  He gives the example of sermons where biblical passages are taken to mean exactly what they meant when they were written (and have essentially the same implications for us as they did for the original audience).  This seems to lack intellectual integrity.

For Gregg, such questions are a question of biblical hermeneutics.  For example, Gregg mentions a “divine discourse” theory of interpretation whereby God, in a certain very real sense, speaks through the Bible.  Yet this perspective embraces the literary characteristics of the text and is aware that these literary standards (for historiography, etc.) are different from what we hold to today (and so we cannot hold them to our 21st century standards).

So the gospels are “rhetorical documents” in the ancient sense of the word–documents meant to convince the reader of certain things.  In this case, the gospels aim to convince the reader that Jesus truly is Messiah and is the son of God.  John sees a stark contrast between this intention of the text (i.e., convincing of who Jesus is) and the orientation of books like Kyle Idleman’s Not a Fan (which seek to convince us of how to act and how much it should be “hurting” when you do it, and that if you don’t act this way then you may not be following God).

Gregg raises that “taking up the cross” occurs nearly identically in three places in the gospels, yet it also occurs in two other places with slightly different contexts.  Gregg argues that we need to understand this notion based on its origins in the Old Testament, as one of these other occurrences demonstrates.  Specifically, God’s people have turned their backs on God.  So returning to the context of the gospels the emphasis is clearly on the enormous reversal that Jesus is requiring in terms of the notion of family (which is belonging and identity) in 1st century Palestine.

John goes on to wonder if we can take a biblical passage can be taken out of context yet bring about good results.  Gregg responds that we need to be careful: we should understand the life in light of the Bible AND understand the Bible in light of life.  The issue for Gregg is that Christians typically insist that we understand life in light of the Bible (and not the reverse) and ignore the truth that the real world in a valid and necessary “informer.”

So Gregg likens the orientation of young earth creationists to that of theologian Rudolph Bultmann: both take certain understandings as “givens” (the first that the earth can only be X years old, the second that miracles are impossible) and foreclose on other possibilities.  So by making truth claims that are beyond their knowledge, each party is guilty of drawing conclusions that value ideology above truth.

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