Familiarity breeds contempt, the saying goes. A dubious adage if taken universally, it certainly captures an aspect of human experience. Perhaps more accurately, if less sagely, it could be said that familiarity transforms our relationship to things (and vice versa). For me, one of those transformative familiar things is a compilation of ancient texts, the Bible. Raised in the WASPy heartland of evangelicalism in Canada, the Bible has been part of my moral and imaginative vocabulary since I was a child. It has indelibly shaped the way I see the world. While I may no longer hold to the certainties ostensibly derived from it, and acknowledging its limitations, I am in fact quite grateful for the education evangelicalism gave me. Part of that gratitude stems from evangelicalism’s earnest attempt to maintain the sense in which a text from the past, the Bible, can speak to us in the here and now. Though it scarcely needs to be added that evangelicals are not alone in this. Just this week, on the bicentenary of her death, Jane Austen has been honoured with a place on the ten pound note in the UK. Several essays have been duly published in various newspapers and magazines that attest to the lasting influence her novels continue to wield. Continue reading ““TAKING THE BIBLE AS IT IS””
So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.
Perhaps you’re familiar with this episode. If you grew up like me—in white, Anglo, evangelical Protestant Christianity—it likely featured in the sermons you heard and Sunday school lessons you learned. I rather like the image of Jesus that the Gospel of John gives us here. But not for the reasons given in my Sunday school classes. There Jesus was depicted as disrupting the legalistic priests who, in the minds of my well-meaning teachers, clung to the letter of the law when they should have been agents of God’s grace. That reading of the New Testament has a long history, but it is now regarded by a wide range of scholars as deeply mistaken (not least because it reinforces anti-Semitic stereotypes). Continue reading ““A WHIP OUT OF CORDS””
This Holy Week past I read the Gospel of John on the assumption that there is something to be gained by doing so in the form we currently have it. That may seem rather obvious. It’s certainly not a novel approach. And it’s worth observing that it doesn’t negate other readings. Those remain possible, fruitful, relevant. In my case I had started reading the Gospel of John because it was part of the liturgical schedule at church. What I mean by reading John’s Gospel as we have it is reading it in its final editorial form, as it has taken its place in the Christian New Testament. Biblical scholars remind us that this Gospel was probably first written for a particular community at a particular moment in time. This must certainly be the case in a general way, i.e. for the early Christian community (as scholars Richard Bauckham and others suggest), or in a more specific way, i.e. for the Johannine community (as scholars John Ashton and others suggest). Still, the challenge of understanding what the Gospel of John says remains complex. Continue reading “HOLY WEEK: READING AND REMEMBERING”
In The Bible Made Impossible Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith makes an impassioned argument for a move beyond evangelical biblicism and theological liberalism. Biblicism is a package of beliefs and practices about the Bible which emphasize its “exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.” The main thrust of Smith’s book is directed towards this package and the fact that evangelical adherence to biblicism has done nothing to prevent or even address what he calls pervasive interpretive pluralism. In other words, biblicists may share their biblicism with one another, but they ignore the fact that they radically disagree about an enormously wide range of beliefs and practices central to the Christian religion. Continue reading “BEYOND BIBLICISM: READING CHRISTIAN SMITH”