Monday, September 24, 2018

Don't Split The Difference

I belong to an evangelical church.  Two streams have combined to make evangelicals so numerous these days. The fundamentalists fade away, and their children come to us. Secondly, we inherit people from the mainstream churches who believe that the faith is being discarded for modern fashionable ideas.

The two groups use the Bible in different ways. To greatly oversimplify, the fundamentalists tend to atomise the scriptures, letting each verse stand alone, like a saying or a poster. Even the exaggeration of that is not unknown: any verse could be lifted up and plunked down in a different book without impairing its meaning. Lists of "Proof Texts," or "God's Promises" are created - well-intentioned comfort for the faithful, but often butchering context. It is not an accident, BTW, that this method of reading scripture arose at the same time as a belief in magic and spell-books. There is something of Bible-as-spell-book about it, though they are the group that most condemns any whiff of what they call magic.

Most mainstream denominations have long histories of attempting to change culture in favored directions. The Catholics were criticised for their "City of God" theology, but the Calvinists did much the same, first in Switzerland and then in Boston. It is a European distinctive, this desire for constant tinkering and improvement to make society better.  Other places in the world tend to accept society and government as it is, save only whether their tribe might improve its position. Those places now imitate our drive for improvement - some imitate it very well - but it has not been ever thus. My own thought is that this different view of the world comes from the understanding that the world has a beginning, a stretch of human time, and then an end. This is a Biblical idea, though the northern peoples had it as well, though they were more focused on the end than the beginning.  Everyone else had and has, circular time, or seasonal time. The focus on "social gospel" and the efforts of what we call Social Justice Warriors do not spring out of nothing in the church. It's what Europeans do - it's a cultural distinctive. We don't always do it well or do it right, but that's our focus.

This shows in the use of the Bible of those coming out of the mainstream churches. Stories and verses are studied for themes and lessons, but always with an eye to "how are we going to make all this work better," as contrasted with simply giving to individuals in need.

I am always pleased when churches or studies don't attempt to resolve these different, even conflicting approaches to scripture by striking a balance.  There is no balancing, they are both at least partly wrong right down to the root. Taking the Scripture on its own terms is different from both.

1 comment:

james said...

One shows one's greatness not by being at an extremity but by being simultaneously at two extremities and filling all the space between. —Blaise Pascal.