Rick Warren's foreword for Should We Fire God?
So, to take a Post-Enlightenment, Post Scientific Revolution, generally deconstructionist/reconstructionist mindset to a first century Graeco-Roman Biography that had heavy narrative influences (first of all, that is a AWESOME sentence isn’t it?) you are at least likely to pose questions to the text that the text isn’t intending to cover. You might wind up looking for clues that aren’t there, and missing ones that are.
An example might be differences in the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Perhaps Matthew orders certain events of the last week of Jesus’ life like this — A, B, C, and then D. Luke actually lists them as C, B, A, and then D. Mark, the earliest gospel might say B, A, D and then C. That understandably raises concerns. All of us that are reading them today have been raised in a culture that would automatically call that error-ridden. First century Hebraic history wouldn’t necessarily. Here is why.
Each culture tells its history through the lens of what matters to that culture. For us, getting the pieces to say the same thing and lie in the same order is almost synonymous with something being true. Try dialing the years back a bit and convincing your 10th grade history teacher that you don’t have to remember the exact dates and put them in the exact order. I distinctly remember entire tests that were completely comprised of people, places and dates, my job was to match them all. If I couldn’t do it, my fail me. Precision. Exactitude. Correct ordering. Culturally these are core values (or at least the values of those who decide what needs to be taught and how.) That is our lens, so those are our questions. Change the lens, and you get different questions that matter, different priorities.
Two thousand years ago the exact ordering of the event was less of a concern. Now, that didn’t mean that the facts didn’t matter, they did. But the delivery of those facts was handled differently. The greater concern to a culture that was immersed in its connection with God, its chosenness, its relationship to the transcendent God of the universe was not always order. Many times the larger question and was what was God trying to say. The greater value was hearing his voice and responding to it. Not to belabor the point, but, accuracy mattered to them as well. It meant a great deal that they would know the history of their past with this God. So, even if ordering didn’t always matter as much, the accuracy of the events did.
They would perhaps look at us with just as much skepticism that we would return to them. They might wonder what is the point of having all the blocks of dates and names in precisely the right order if you miss the overall content of what God was trying to do?
My experience with almost everyone that I have discussed this in-depth with is that they find fault with the Gospels, not because they are wrong, but because they aren’t written the way would would write them had they happened today.
So, to answer the question… Yes I do take them literally. I believe that God guided the writers to communicate his message into their cultures. I believe the Holy Spirit had an intent that he wanted them to understand. And I believe that the Holy Spirit is guiding us to understand that intent as well.
I am greatly indebted to
1. Reading to retrieve. Some of us have been tuaght to read the Bible in such a way that we return to the times of the Bible in order to retrieve biblical ideas and practices for today. Some try to retrieve all of it, and others just some of it.
2. Reading through tradition. This process begins with someone reading the bible, confronting a current issue and making a decision about that issue. Then that belief becomes fossilized and those that disagree with that belief are not welcomed.
3. Reading with tradition. This perspective brings in the strongest components of the first two.
Yes, we want to understand what the bible says about everything we go through in our world. In Romans 12, Paul writes that we should not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. That renewal comes largely through the scriptures as a means of filtering our experience. And yes, we also want to understand how those who have come before us have worked out life with God. They have much to teach us and to ignore them out of hand is hubris.
“So, how do we avoid the difficulties of this approach?
We need to have profound respect for our past without giving it the final authority. I believe the final decision should always rest with the Scripture. Not so much respect that we fall into traditionalism, but enough to slow us down to ask how God has spoke to the church in the past.”
I didn’t grow up believing trusting the scriptures, but I do now. Thoughts? What am I missing?