Yesterday, we had a discussion on faith, Scripture, and our role in living out and engaging the truth of God in honest ways. The following are notes and processing of such discussion.
Faith - pristis (Greek)
The Greek word translates to commitment more than any of the other synonyms we usually associate with "faith"; i.e. "believing, trust, doctrine". Words translated from Hebrew, Greek, and Latin can be lost in translation; they are found as lifeless, half-versions of themselves from their culturally, rich context; "Standard American English" simplifies.
How then can we prayerfully, thoughtfully, and with commitment, read Scripture? (Written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.) What are we looking for? What should we be wary of, or consider, when holding these varied stories--some troubling--into our walk as a follower of Christ?
Orthodoxy vs. Orthopraxis
Ortho (Right, True) - Doxy (Thinking, Belief)
Ortho (Right, True) - Praxis (Action, Living)
Ortho (right) doxy (belief) retains the importance of right belief, right doctrine, right dogma; whereas Ortho (right) praxis (action) retains the importance of right action.
Reading Scripture with both orthodoxy & orthopraxis attributes for many of the divides we see between Christian denominations today. Interpretation; varied presentation of importance; focus; doctrine; dogma.
All feel the importance of both right belief and right action, but in balancing the two, we find the expansion of two holy scriptures: a Bible of "right belief" versus a Bible of "right action". Is one side more important? Is it about a perfect balance of law and love?
What is the Bible?
The Bible is a recording of God's revelation (God's self-disclosure) to a human filter--a human individual, story, personality, struggle, experience. And no matter how clearly God reveals Godself--even to the human writers of our holy book--there is a difference of focus, importance, and documentation based on the writer (his/her background, their immediate culture and context, who they were writing to, what they were writing to achieve, what their unique human lens added to the perfection of God's revelation to them). Notice the Gospels.
Introduced, therefore, is a hermeneutics of suspicion.
[Hermeneutics: the branch of knowledge that deals with interpretation, especially of the Bible or literary texts.]
This way of interpreting and studying scripture has been employed for decades by the Black Church. Why? Because - there is a history of misuse.
As Frederick Douglass said, "It is from the pulpit that we have sermons on behalf of slavery"; sermons that suggested, and in fact confirmed with Scripture, that slaves (Blacks - Africans, African Americans, those subjected to the brutality of breeding farms) were in their rightful place.
I am not a scholar in any of these areas, but participating in a discussion with Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, the reality of this was brought to the forefront of our thinking, and our understanding, of Scripture's use in America today.
This hermeneutics of suspicion means that Scripture is not taken at face value.
Why? Slaveholders quoted what they wanted - keeping an entire people group both physically and spiritually enslaved. And though they tried to keep Bibles away, they could not; it was here, in this true Scripture, that those in bondage found more than self-deprecating verses and stories - they found the Exodus; they found the suffering Christ; they found their story, and not the story slaveholders sold them - eternal judgment and eternal status as "less than". The story they wanted to communicate was the one they told.
Humanity is never objective.
And yet, if we cannot take Scripture at face value--if a hermeneutics of suspicion is employed constantly by a certain context, culture, or individual--does this mean that Scripture is not holy, just, and the inspired word of God? Is there no transcendent truth?
"By no means!" But something changes; because it is now our moment - to wrestle, question, and engage; to realize how something was documented; that a patriarchal lens was the driving force; that a group decided which books were included or not included; that each story within the Bible was passed through generations of open ears and whispering lips before it was ever written on a page; that each human ear and voice slanted certain aspects in such a way that "historical" isn't always synonymous with "Scripture".
And that is okay.
We are not historians - we are humans, saved.
But again - if we are to employ a hermeneutics of suspicion on Scripture, in which an individual asks less of "what am I to believe?" but rather "how am I to live?", is it not true that a huge amount of individual subjectivity is also employed? What is our standard?
Here enters the risk of faith: we may not be right.
We are never righteous enough, holy enough, "right enough", to hold the Bible as a gun, or a fire, over the life of another. What is the place of communal accountability? How does the Church hold to any "standard" set of foundational truths? But have we have been bred to rely on law and forgotten a Savior's emphasis on the ending of law? Not to say we are loose and sinfully free, but that we are loved and prayerfully living.
And yes, there are transcendent truths; there is a core that (usually) bounces from story to story - throughout Old testament campfire whispers and New Testament passion shouts.
God's relentless pursuit of humanity. God's relentless love. God's relentless extension of "one more time". There is a "thread called grace" that extends through it all; is there not?
Give ample authority to stories which seem reveal God's core - are these chapters or verses more about the people and what was happening at that time; or are they about God? This hermeneutics of suspicion has been employed in terms of women ordination and the end of the justification of slavery. It is not necessarily new, but it feel dangerous, doesn't it?
Because if it takes my individual work to understand Scripture, then maybe my two-minute devotions or Sunday sermons should be taken deeper than someone else's words, voice, interpretation. Reading, listening, hearing different voices, opinions, and interpretations is informative and important. But, as our Program Director said:
"You must remain hard at your core, but soft at your edges."
Let ideas, words, thoughts, and commentaries enter in; consider them; let them sit and speak; but never compromise your core. It may be added to; it may be augmented; but never compromise your core; your soul.
What is at my core?
The Lord Jesus Christ came to save us. The God of the universe made us. The Lord Jesus Christ was sent by the God who made us, and mercifully saved us. I am sinful. I am redeemed. The God of the universe, through the Lord Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit, is working in me.
There is so much to be said; or rather, there is so much that can be said. But should I say it? I think not.
Because when it comes to your soul, your salvation, and your study of Scripture, there is only one thing to say:
It's not about me.