Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Shifting Paradigms Doomed to Popularity

A big part of my spiritual journey in the past 10 years has been focused on the Bible and how to read it.  What steadfast rules are there for reading Scripture?  What underlying assumptions do I have that play into how I read it?

I long ago became convinced that it was important for me to figure out how to read the Bible the right way, but I am just recently coming to the real conviction that until we can collectively read the Bible from the same starting point, we are never going to have healthy conversations about how it is authoritative for our lives.

Many of you from the churches I have grown up in and now even teach in will quickly respond by asserting that Scripture is indeed inerrant, or that all Scripture is truly inspired by God.  While I agree with the statements, they are neither rules for how to read, not do they give any indication of how we should read Scripture to seek this divine truth.

The truth is that all of us--or at least all of us who read Scripture regularly--have a strategy.  We have an underlying belief about how it is to be read; we think we know how it works.  And it is precisely here that I have found the greatest problems.  It is my conviction that most people who read Scripture do not put forth a consistent paradigm--they do not read it with a consistent strategy.  Furthermore, it is my belief that the underlying strategies employed by many within the Protestant (I will speak to my own) movement are inadequately equipped to bring to light the meaning of every text within the New Testament.

We are left with shifting paradigms; paradigms that employ tools to interpret passages based on what is comfortable to me and my existing worldview.  We build upon a foundation that starts with what I expect from God, then employ tools to the varying texts of Scripture that will fit my current opinions.

I know many who will disagree at this notion, so I want to give you a few examples of how we "shift" our paradigm to fit what we believe/expect from God

  • We teach that the Bible is "easy to read" and made for "common people to understand."  We use this to teach the simple truth of salvation as we know it.  However, ask a faith-only believer to explain Acts 2:38 and they will quickly fumble about the possibility that the Greek means something other than "be baptized for the forgiveness of sins."
  • We spiritualize stories in the Bible so that they have significance for me (this is the "What giant do you face?" mentality), but quickly refuse anything but a literal interpretation of certain passages like Genesis 1.  Though we may affirm that David and Goliath was an actual event, we never focus on its historicity like that of the creation--we are more concerned with the stories practical application.
  • We argue that head covering are clearly a cultural issue in 1 Corinthians, pointing to cultural situations in Corinth to do so.  However, if someone were to suggest that male leadership was also cultural, and you will be told to just take the Bible at its word.
We do not read the Bible consistently.  I do not read the Bible consistently.  However, I think I am getting closer to doing so.  I am re-examing my old foundation and tearing parts up and replacing them.  Thus far, there are a few pieces in place, such as reading Scripture with a firm belief in a meta-narrative, belief that not every passage in Scripture is about me or intended for me (but that I can learn from each passage), and a belief that context is crucial (and much larger than just a few verses before and after).  However, I still have a long way to go.

My fear is that those shifting paradigms mentioned earlier are doomed to popularity.  My prayer is that we can become smarter readers of Scripture; that we can read it more consistently, more humbly.  It is my prayer that in so doing we can come to greater unity, greater love, and greater effectiveness as Christians.


  1. Love your last paragraph. Many of your points are connected to the reasons why I am coming to doubt Sola Scriptura.

    1. At this point, I don't think the main enemy is Sola Scriptura, but only how that mantle has been handled in the past 50-100 years. However, I think in the last 50 years, many churches have used that mantle to avoid intellectualism (fighting against critical scholars). The mantle Sola Scriptura was never intended to mean that Scripture could be understood without the use of outside sources, but that it, not the other sources, is the authoritative declaration of our faith.

    2. I think you would probably really enjoy reading N.T. Wright's work on Scripture.