Monday, April 7, 2014

Right to Interpret

I read a couple good posts last week.  One was featured on Sojourners and it discussed the many "tribes" people fall into.  The second was posted at Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed site about "biblical Christianity."  Third there seems to be a rumble appearing online about a nebulous Christian power group that is able to control what is deemed acceptable and unacceptable.  Two examples come to mind; when Janet Mefford lost her job as a Christian radio DJ for pointing out Mark Driscoll's plagiarism in his latest book and recently when Rachel Held Evans claimed via twitter (according to an unnamed trustworthy source) that one of the reasons World Vision changed it's anti-gay hiring policy was because of a Christian Radio superpower that told its approved bands to break all ties with the organization.  I can't seem to find those posts at the moment, but I do remember reading them. Perhaps that proves her point.

The point of all this? There is lots of division and lots of power grabbing going on in our little "Christian" circles right now.  I agree with Michael Pahl's Jesus Creed post that what we are really fighting about is not Biblical interpretation but rather on practical application.  Most all Christians believe the Bible to be inspired and Jesus to be the resurrected Son of God.  What the division is over is what gets more emphasis in our practical application of our Christian walk; a Jesus focus with emphasis on personal discipleship and all of life renewal or a Bible focus with emphasis on personal salvation and morality.  Now if you combine this article with the tribes concept from Stephen Mattson you can see how easily some people also take these concepts and align themselves with the most popular speaker, author, pastor who supports a version of this. 

This is a dangerous place to be. We no longer identify ourselves not as Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, or the like we instead say we are "just Christians" like Chan, Piper, Bell, or Pope Francis.  Beyond these popular leaders there are claims of a nebulous "Christian industrial machine" out there somewhere dictating what will and will not receive publicity, active support, and is actively deciding what is and is not "Christian."  So much so it has the power to allow and even promote ghost writing plagiarism and force para-church organizations to change its policies. 

It is not about interpretation but rather who gets the right to do the interpreting.  Whose voice is allowed to be heard and what tribe do they fall into are the primary questions that seem to be asked these days.

I don't know what to make of all this. All I know is that there is a real issue at stake here.  I am not on a national platform so I don't have a say, but perhaps my Baptist nature can step in here and simply encourage local churches and pastors to decide instead of trying to figure it out from the top down. Perhaps Pahl's closing comments say it best:
Is there a way to stop this polarization? Should we even try? I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s inevitable. Perhaps it’s even a good thing. Perhaps all this seismic shifting and sifting will bring greater clarity for people on what it means to be a Christian—or at least what version of Christianity they are rejecting.Still, one can’t help but hear the prayer of Jesus echoing across the increasingly v divide: “May they become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me” (John 17:20-23).Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.

1 comment:

  1. Greetings:
    I was interested in reading your comments about interpretation. I have developed a fiction genre that approaches well known biblical stories from more eccentric angles with the purpose of opening up the possibilities for interpretation. I have been frustrated to discover how little of this is done. In my novel called, "Community of Promise: The Untold Story of Moses," I have retold the story in a way that can illuminate some of the truths included in it. (More info at Also, the novel received the silver medal in Religious Fiction from the Independent Publisher Book Awards.
    Among other things, the story considers the notion of the Promised Land as being more about quality of community than about geography and ownership.
    If you or any of your readers know of places where people might be interested in this approach, I would love to hear about it.
    Thanks for your blog and your attempts to help people keep their theological eyes open.
    Wayne Gustafson