The bible is not a buffet
The bible was never meant to be used like some use a buffet: ooh, that looks nice, yes, and a bit from this dish too. Oh Charles, you don't want those two things together? Yes, I do actually dear. And I wouldn't mind a bit of desert from over there too. Oh, Charles, how could you mix those …
And while many may 'Amen' here, I suggest most of us in the evangelical tradition are guilty of doing just this. We have a canon within a canon, and constantly recourse to those texts we like, that tell us what we want to hear, and that our teachers constantly quote.
But what about the texts that make us uncomfortable? What about the texts that seem to question our theological models? We do want to be commited to the scriptures don't we?
'There are no difficult texts for me! What difficult texts does he mean anyway?', I hear someone shout defensively who doesn't actually read the bible and think! (Some of us tend to do something similar with Christian books. I remember being a fervent convert to John Piper's books and his take on the Sovereignty of God / free-will debate, but the problem was, because of the security I felt in this theology, I wouldn't have even thought of picking up a book by one of his opponents like Clark Pinnock – such approaches had been stamped as 'theologically dodgy', 'deceived', 'dangerous' – and all without having read them! Likewise a friend of mine gave one of the charismatic Jack Deere's book to his non-charismatic sister and she refused to even begin it. Why? What are we afraid of? P.S. I continue to enjoy much of Piper's material.)
Another will silently stop reading this before they get too challenged, like those of us who never read our personal Pinnock or Deere…
Yet another will read on with an infuriated sense of know-it-all-ness mixed with masochism – because although we may smile away difficult texts in the day, they are there in the night, tapping on the window, or calling our name, just as the lover aroused the sleeping beloved in the Song of Songs. When we read the bible, we know that those texts are there. But will we bother to get up, and attend to the knocking?
Well, if any are like me, then we simply trust our teachers have considered difficult texts, and that there is thus good reason not to let them bother us too much. They swatted all the flies for us. 'Consider yourselves dead to difficult contadicting-my-theology-and-messing-with-my-religious-bubble bible-texts', perhaps is an appropriate mantra (Rom 6). But that is the truth isn't it? We hide behind a wall of people we feel know better. They give us security, and we don't want dodgy books or difficult texts messing with our theology and religious practices.
But I've got to tell you, NO one has yet domesticated the bible into any one theological watertight structure. In truth, it was never a very good pussy cat. And perhaps that is one reason why some continue to hold on to various high doctrines of scripture like inerrancy – to sooth our consciences about attempting to cage a beast that refuses to be trapped.
And what is more, this 'wall of teachers' certainly doesn't know all the answers to the tough questions, and any who suppose they do haven't thought about matters thoroughly enough. There is no one Bible-Answer-Man. Well, if there is, I still have a few questions …
But back to the subject. If a bible wasn't meant to be used like a buffet, ripping proof-texts from this and that context and stuffing them all together to make certain this or that doctrine or argument, then how are we too use it? Is there any way of making sense of scripture as a whole? Is there good reason not to apply aspects of OT law other than by making anachronistic divisions between moral and purity laws? Is there a way to intelligently engage with the whole scriptural canon as canon and recover some sense that 'All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness' (2 Tim 3:16)? In the following blog I will be over-viewing and discussing Tom Wright's 'five-act' hermeneutic as a fresh way of using the scriptures theologically and practically, one that takes us beyond the dangerous 'proof-texting' of most in main-stream evangelicalism.
This is written in the conviction that we need not be afraid, that scripture can take its rightful role among us again (and not merely theoretically). And please note, I'm picking on the evangelicals because I am one! The bible is not a buffet, but it serves us with a real feast if we know how to read it!