Weary of Literalism

I am weary of being accused of manipulating the biblical witness or being a tool of the Devil.

"Love One Another" by Tim Graves
“Love One Another”, Photo by Tim Graves

The implication of literalism when applied to those of us who study the Bible using historical-critical and literary methods is that we are at best naive and at worst lack integrity.

I do not have the answer. I am not sure that there is one right answer. Just as self-identified literalists, I begin my biblical reading as a human being with my own assumptions and biases.

My weariness lies in what feels like accusations of having biases by those who pretend they do not. Yes, as a human being I read the Bible through my own experiences of God. We all do.

I assume, and assume is the correct word, that it is ancient literature inspired by God. It is a collection of various writings by ancient people seeking to understand, explain, or express their experience of the Divine. This assumption is based on prayerful and rational reasons.

Others, those who self-describe as literalists, assume the writings in the Bible constitute the “literal, inerrant word of God.” Just as I make a decision about what the canon is before I ever turn a page, the “literalists” do the same. Both decisions are extra-biblical, meaning we decide what the Bible is based upon our personal and cultural experiences.

Just as I have well-thought out, prayerfully considered reasons for my approach, literalists have reasons for their approach. While I do not agree with their approach, I do not question their faithful desire to be true to God’s intentions. We are both seeking to be faithful to the One we describe as God.

But here is where my weariness of literalism’s proponents comes in. I grow weary of the accusation of bias when my interpretation of the Bible is different from their interpretation. The accusation that I have bias comes with an implicit (and sometimes explicit claim) that they approach the text without bias.

This is simply not true nor is it possible.

The arrogance of “rightness” and having the one right approach feels like judgement to me. It closes off discussion despite our need for one another. It makes it harder for all of us to hear and act upon the Divine persuasions to love our neighbors as ourselves. (See Mark 12:28-31.)  It separates us from one another and severs the body of Christ.

If that is not a sin, I don’t know what is.

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Related Post

Characterizing the Truth, August 26, 2011

Choosing a Spirituality of Self, Worry, or Love

Choosing a Spirituality of Self, Worry, or Love
Love One Another by Tim Graves
Love One Another by Tim Graves

Many followers of Jesus, it would seem, do so for a selfish reason. They are Christians because they want salvation. They want to avoid eternal damnation to Hell. For many, this is the beginning and end of faith. This is a selfish faith.

For others the preoccupation with salvation extends to concern for people who do not “know Jesus” or “accept Jesus” into their heart. In their understanding of faith, compassion requires them to evangelize nonbelievers aggressively for their own well-being. They are genuinely worried about others. (Sadly, it doesn’t feel that way to folks being told there is only one way to avoid fiery pits.) This is a worried faith.

This is not my faith or god. The One who loves extravagantly does not stop loving me when I do not love back. That is not love.

This does not give us carte blanche to act in evil ways. Hardly. The god that I experience keeps at us pushing us, encouraging us, and enticing us to respond to godself and others lovingly. Once we accept the love of the One, by whatever name, we want to be better beings. This is a loving faith.

You see, when we perceive the magnanimous, relentless salvific love of God, we want to love back. We want to love in the same way. And, so, we choose to co-create a world (with God) in which all feel the love that binds creation and the divine together. We begin by loving.

Loving One, your love is palpable if we but open ourselves to you. Help us to be extensions of your love to all our earthly family. Amen.

Is Progressive Theology Elitist?

Is Progressive Theology Elitist?

Kevin Daugherty raises important questions for progressive Christians in “Is Progressive Theology Elitist?” Here is my initial response.

Yes, your worries are warranted. I have heard the argument before that the only path to God is through intellectualism. It was called seminary. Though I do not intend to give up my brain and my ability to reason through things, I am equally (more?) committed to the experience of God that is inexplicable.

In my previous career as an educator, intellectualism manifest in focusing on academics with children to the exclusion of their emotions, social skills, and physicality. The absurdity of this approach is that hungry children or sad children do not focus well on academics.

But God creates us as whole human beings with brains, bodies, emotions, and spirituality. The intellectualism thatunderpins much of progressive Christianity reflects a disdain for the Holy Spirit and the mystery. This approach is as neglectful of the whole Imago Dei as what you term “anti-intellectual” faith. We need to embrace our whole humanity: physical, cognitive, social-emotional, and spiritual. Too much of progressive and mainline Christianity has spent generations seeking to reason to God. In the process we have — as you imply — separated ourselves from the “least of these.”

Though some of my more conservative Christian kindred frustrate me at times, I know that I need them. We are one body. I also know that arguably Jesus and certainly Paul were more concerned about love and pragmatics than systematic theology. To the extent that our theology separates us from anyone, I tend to think it has failed.