Rachel Held Evans

Sovereign Grace Ministries Leaders Accused of Sexual Abuse

A lawsuit against a Louisville-based denomination has added new allegations that ministers not only covered up the physical and sexual abuse of members but in some cases were abusers themselves.

The lawsuit accuses a co-founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries, who left in a bitter split with the current president in 1997, of physically abusing a female over a 25-year period.

Trigger warnings all over the piece.

The church I used to work for was at one time (and may still be) considering joining Sovereign Grace Ministries, and they had a lot of good things to say about the organization, so this is kind of scary.

Hopefully higher-ups in the denomination learn a quick lesson from the Catholic Church and don’t try any further cover-ups. It’s not looking good, though.

Via Rachel Held Evans.

♀ A Babel Fish For My Oppressing Ears


Note:If you visited the site early enough on Thursday you probably read a different version of this post with a different title and a different message. Shortly after I published that original post, a friend pointed out to me its inherently oppressive tone, and the resulting conversation persuaded me that it needed to be rewritten. If you read the original post and felt offended, hurt, or marginalized because of it, I am very sorry and apologize.

Last week several of my feminist friends and inspirations were batting around the “p” word online. No, not that “p” word. Or that one.

“Privilege”, okay? That’s the one I’m talking about.

First Suzannah Paul critiqued the privilege of the Emergent Church, then Krista Dalton questioned our collective ability to engage in reasoned debate without resorting to the “p” word. (Krista later linked to this article by Amaryah Shaye Armstrong about retiring “privilege” from our vocabulary entirely.) Rachel Held Evans, typically, wrote the response I thought was the best, about exercising grace toward people of privilege (in moderation).

Some of these thoughts resulted in mildly-heated debates in the halfway-behind-the-scenes of Twitter, but it all seemed to wind down into hugs and affirmations eventually. Watching it all (mostly) from the sidelines, I interpreted the fervor as a sign that everyone really does want the truth(s) about privilege and oppression in our culture to be foremost. Some, though, also worry about packaging the truth in the form most likely to be palatable to the privileged while others think the onus should be on the privileged to accept the truth without being coddled.

For the uninitiated, which I think—and hope—some of you are, “privilege” in the lexicon of the activist community means sort of what it sounds like it means. While in everday language “privilege” can refer to an earned status or ability—“a license to drive is a privilege” was one of the favorites when I was in high school—those engaged in the long war against kyriarchy mean it in the sense of an unearned advantage bestowed by an accident of birth or environment (race, gender, sexuality, ability, etc.) and rarely chosen or achieved (social or economic status, religion).

Whatever the word, though, the point is that some people have it harder than others through no fault of their own. Life in our culture is easier, for example, if you are white not black, straight not gay, or male not female. You might not agree with this statement, and arguing about it goes beyond the scope of this post. But since this is a feminist website, I’ll give three examples of how women in particular lack “privilege” in our society:

  1. They are more likely to be raped. No one, I think, contests this. The overwhelming majority of rape victims are women, and this means that every woman lives with a certain amount of fear and risk of sexual assault. Many try to shake off the effects of this fear, choosing to assume their own safety at all times. Others, understandably, decide to take certain precautions against rape, such as not walking alone in public at night or staying sober at parties where everyone else is intoxicated.[1] Regardless of how any individual woman responds to the near-constant low-level fear of rape, the point is that, by and large, men do not have to worry about it.
  2. Women (at least, cisgender women) have the biological equipment for growing new humans. If a woman wants to bring a new human into the world and form a family with it (and, potentially, other humans of her choosing), the cheapest and fastest way for her to do this is to grow it herself. This results in a certain amount of expense and inconvenience, including inconvenience to her employer, who may penalize her professionally in some way, labor laws notwithstanding. Also, the knowledge that women may choose to become pregnant and give birth leads many employers to—again, illegally—discriminate against women both in hiring and in remuneration.
  3. For a variety of reasons, women are under-represented in positions of power, such as government and management or executive positions in business. This means that decisions that directly and indirectly affect women and their welfare are more likely to be made by men than by women, potentially creating a vicious circle of intentional and unintentional oppression in both the public and private spheres.

Few people would probably dispute any or much of the above. “Privilege”, then—or in this specific case, “male privilege”—is the shorthand feminists use to sum up these and many other facts about the advantage men have over women. Not uncommonly, feminists and other types of equality-seekers will tell less enlightened people, “You need to check your privilege”, in response to a statement or action perceived to be discriminatory, bigoted, or oppressive. As confrontational as this sounds, the speaker usually intends to educate and elevate, not condemn; the statement is supposed to communicate not, “You are sexist/racist/ableist”, but “What you did/said was sexist/racist/ableist, and you should think about how your innate advantage led you to behave insensitively.”

Unfortunately, “Check your privilege” sounds more confrontational than it is, and, lacking the necessary context for interpreting it, non-insiders tend to just hear “You’re a bad person.” Knowing they are not “bad” people, they then feel free to dismiss the sentiment and the speaker. Activists tend to perceive this as willfully obtuse, because to them, privilege is neutral; only behavior is good or bad. But, in U.S. vernacular at least, “privilege” carries the baggage of the Revolutionary War, when (in our own mythos) ordinary, common folk threw off the tyranny of privileged aristocrats and founded a society based on equality. Telling someone they have privilege conjures vague images of undeserving fat cats and threatens to dispel the deep-seated American belief that everything we have or achieve results from our own merit and hard work. I sympathize with people who don’t like the word; it is fighting an uphill battle against deep-seated cultural values and a plain understanding of its definition orthogonally opposed to the meaning with which activists have imbued it.

Still, as a member of nearly every power group in our culture—male, white, comparatively weatlthy, cisgender, straight, educated—the wealth of meaning at the heart of the word “privilege” applies to me and many of the people I know. As someone who considers myself a feminist and an ally of women, I have to be willing to hear that word—and other potentially uncomfortable things—said about myself and my peers from time to time without getting angry or storming off the playing field. Bristle though I may (and do) when someone calls me privileged, I must insert a virtual Babel fish into my ears and realize the speaker is only trying to remind me that I have no idea what it feels like to be oppressed.

Photo credit: JD Hancock via Photo Pin cc.

  1. To be clear: I am not suggesting that women should have to take these precautions, only that many do.  ↩

"Night after night, I cried myself to sleep"

Rachel Held Evans opens her series on sexuality by reviewing Chapters 1–5 of Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, a memoir by Justin Lee, a gay Christian man.

“It was, I thought, the worst secret in the world,” writes Justin. “It was the deepest, darkest secret I could ever imagine having, one that I could never tell anyone, not even my parents or best friends. It was the secret I would take with me to my grave.”

I used to think, along with nearly every Christian I knew, that being gay was a choice. But the second you engage your imagination on that subject, you realize this idea is absolutely ridiculous, and most of all for people who claim to be Christians. Who would choose crippling guilt and anxiety? Who would choose to risk rejection by everyone they love? Who would choose what amounts, in conservative Christian circles, to a disability?

Even if you think gay sex is against God’s will, let’s have no more of this “it’s a choice” business. Being sexually active with someone of your own sex is a choice; being gay is not.

♀ Shut Up, Christians


On this, the first long post of 2013, I’ll get right to the point:

Christians need to stop talking.

We need to stop talking publicly, evangelistically, interpersonally—pretty much in any way at all. We need to stop volunteering our opinions on politics, social issues, matters of faith, and nearly everything else, particularly if those opinions are based on the Bible or Christian tradition.

Anyone who wants to have an opinion has to earn respect first; why should anyone listen to or care what you have to say unless they respect you for some reason? You can earn that respect in several ways: position, track record, or character. For example, you could be a well-educated biology professor. That’s Position; people will believe what you say (about biology). Or you may be a political analyst who has made a number of accurate predictions. Track record. People will listen when you make further predictions. Finally, you could be well-loved for your philanthropy. Character. Most people will care about what you have to say, maybe even on topics other than giving away money. (This, by the way, could indicate that being well-respected for your character bestows the highest level of influence.)

Christians (and I am here—as throughout—talking about American Christians) used to be respected because of our position as the dominant religion of our culture. While still dominant by the numbers, our mind share has steadily decreased over time, eroding the dominance of our worldview. We’ve lost our Position.

We’ve also lost our Track Record. No one (except for ourselves) thinks Christians are correct about most things on a regular basis. To be fair, no one thinks that about anyone; we live in a pluralistic society.

Most importantly, though, we’ve lost our Character. No one loves or respects us for the good things we do; in fact, we’ve legitimately earned much of the disrespect now aimed at us. As a group, we’ve become self-righteous, abusive, and power-hungry, and we regularly try to force others to live by our own moral code without offering any evidence of its value or efficacy. Small wonder that we’ve steadily lost cultural relevance.

Despite this loss of relevance and respect, though, we’ve made opinion-giving our business, defining ourselves by how much and how often we can be right in opposition to the wrongness of the mainstream. But rightness is not our business or calling—love is. Jesus never said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have the correct opinion about everything.”

What if we decided to stick to our calling for a while? We might be able to earn back some of the respect we’ve lost and do work of lasting value with all the energy and time we don’t spend telling everyone what we think about everything.

So I propose a collective silence of five years’ length.[1] That’s right: for five years, we the community of believers will not say anything. We’ll spend that time practicing a much truer kind of religion: helping literal and metaphorical orphans and widows and practicing institutional purity. My prediction is that we’d not only develop a taste for dispensing social justice but find that our approval ratings had soared by the end of the five years. We might even re-earn the reputation for good character that could give us back our platform.

Here are my rules for our self-imposed vow of silence:

  1. No volunteering opinions or advice on politics, social issues, or morality.
  2. If your job—your actual, for-pay way of putting a roof over your head—is dispensing advice on these subjects, you may continue to do so but may not:
    • Publicly identify as Christian unless asked directly.
    • Volunteer additional information about how your faith relates to the issue in question.
    • Use the Bible or Christian tradition or dogma as the basis for your opinions unless specifically asked to do so.
  3. Pastors are exempted from rule #2, but only in the context of speaking directly to their own congregations, either from the pulpit or one-on-one.
  4. If invited to give an opinion on anything, whether publicly or privately, you must:
    • Clarify that it is only your opinion.
    • Qualify any statement based on the Bible by acknowledging that non-Christians should not be expected to follow the Bible’s teachings.
    • Refrain from adding information beyond answers to questions directly asked of you.
  5. No evangelism/proselytizing.
    • If evangelism is your job, switch gears to silently doing good instead. Social justice is your new evangelism.
    • If asked specific questions about the faith, you may respond but may not:
      • Answer any question not directly asked or use questions as launching points for giving your opinion on other matters.
      • Present your answers as absolute truth; instead, say “The Bible says….” or “I believe….”
  6. No publications of any kind that reference Christianity explicitly or implicitly: books (even fiction), blogs, journalism (magazines, newspapers, etc.), movies, etc. If your job (again, your actual job) is writing, write something else that doesn’t require you to talk about your faith.
  7. Literature whose purpose is to teach theology or biblical interpretation specifically to Christians is exempted from rule #6, but Christian self-help or “spirituality” books are not. Mind your own spirituality instead.

I know it’s easy for me to propose this because I don’t make my living doing any of the above things, but trust me when I tell you that I’ve been thinking about this for almost a decade now, since long before I had any notion of trying to be a feminist writer. I am completely serious when I propose these measures, though. If everyone else will do this, I will.

By “everyone”, I really do mean almost everyone, because this will only work if we do it unanimously. I know it can’t be literally everyone, though, so let me tell you how I will know that we are really doing this. All of the following people and groups must be on board:

  • Focus on the Family
  • Family Research Council
  • Mark Driscoll
  • Donald Miller
  • Francis Chan
  • Rachel Held Evans
  • Joyce Meyer
  • Glenn Beck
  • All the Christian bloggers I follow

I know this list isn’t exhaustive or necessarily representative of all the various demographics of American Christianity, but it’s largely symbolic. I know that if all of the above joined in we’d have a greatly increased chance of making the whole venture work. But none of them represent institutionalized Christianity, so in addition, at least one of the following must also agree to my terms:

  • The Vatican
  • The Southern Baptist Convention
  • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
  • The Assemblies of God

I will also accept the disbanding of the National Organization for Marriage, if done for the purposes of this experiment.

Look, I know this won’t actually happen. The very inclusion of Glenn Beck almost guarantees that; if he was susceptible to any argument that his platform was damaging the cause of Jesus he’d have been off the air long ago. So why am I bringing it up? Two reasons:

  1. I wish it would happen.
  2. I want us to at least think before we speak.

Those of you who are actually reading this and do care what I have to say, think about this: Christians don’t deserve to have a voice in Western society any longer. If you want a more extensive rationale for this assertion, I’ll be happy to oblige you. Leave a comment or contact me. For the moment, though, let’s at least try to be humble about the loss of our platform and consider our words with care, questioning their necessity and efficacy and remaining open to the possibility that we could make our point much better with such actions as befit the Church.

  1. Trust me, I wish I could make it 10.  ↩

The Danger of Calling Behavior "Biblical"

For the rationale behind the experiment that resulted in Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood, look no further than her piece today for CNN’s “Belief Blog” on the inconsistency with which every Christian interprets and applies the Bible:

When we turn the Bible into an adjective and stick it in front of another loaded word, we tend to ignore or downplay the parts of the Bible that don’t quite fit our preferences and presuppositions. In an attempt to simplify, we force the Bible’s cacophony of voices into a single tone and turn a complicated, beautiful, and diverse holy text into a list of bullet points we can put in a manifesto or creed. More often than not, we end up more committed to what we want the Bible to say than what it actually says.

The Illusion of Clarity

Rachel Held Evans responds to a complementarian critique of A Year of Biblical Womanhood, firstly by clarifying her intention in writing the book:

I wanted to challenge the idea that the Bible contains a single message about something as complex, beautiful, and mysterious as womanhood. I wanted to unpack, piece by piece, what we mean when we talk about “biblical womanhood,” and I wanted to do it in a funny, disarming way that turned the laughter on myself as an imperfect interpreter rather than on the text itself. The goal was to hold up a mirror to our interpretive biases to show just how reductive and misleading the phrase “biblical womanhood” can be.

And secondly, but taking a more aggressive stance toward the supposed complementarian high ground of hermeneutical simplicity:

What frustrates me the most about complementarian conversations regarding “biblical womanhood” is not the fact that I disagree with a complementarian interpretation of the text but the fact that complementarians consistently insist that they are not, in fact, interpreting the text, but simply reading and applying its clear teachings, and that anyone who might disagree with their conclusions must simply hate the Bible and have no interest in faithfully living by it. But this idea of a simple, unbiased, and patently obvious hermeneutic is an illusion. It is appealed to, but never explained; cited, but never explored or unpacked.

Rachel Held Evans Is Hiding in Your Church

Here’s the thing that makes someone like Rachel important for the church today: she’s putting into words the very questions and issues that many women (and men) have been asking and thinking about for years but haven’t been able to discuss openly.

  • What does it look like to be a biblical woman?
  • How much should a Christian marriage imitate the stories found in the Bible?
  • When are the Bible’s teachings about women culturally limited?
  • Why do we apply certain parts of the Bible literally and not others?

These questions tie into some of the most heated debates in the church today. And even if these questions aren’t always being asked out in the open, they are simmering beneath the surface in just about every church.

Taking Back the Bible

Fun review of A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Most of my female friends, and most of the women I know through church, balk at the idea of Biblical Womanhood. Even the Christians. And for good reason. Scripture (like nearly anything with any power behind it) has been co-opted by those in power to stay in power. For most of the women in the circles I run, it is easier to give up on the Bible and be the kind of woman we know in our hearts we are meant to be. The problem with that tactic (and don’t get me wrong, I do/have done that as well) is it cedes a huge chunk of territory. It is in essence saying, “Okay, patriarchy, you are right about the Bible. I give up.”

♀ Rachel Held Evans v. Scholasticism

Image courtesy of the Biblical Womanhood Launch Team.

Image courtesy of the Biblical Womanhood Launch Team.

During my one year of seminary I had to do a group project on a theological system; my group ended up with Covenant Theology. The project required us to teach an entire class session on Covenant Theology at some point during the semester, so we had to know what we were talking about. When we split up the work, I took the history section, because I like history.

Covenant Theology, for those unfamiliar, explains God’s interactions with humanity by referring to three covenants he has made with his people: the covenant of works, the covenant of grace, and the covenant of redemption. While too multi-faceted and nuanced to discuss here, the important thing to understand is that Covenant Theology is a framework for interpreting the Bible. One of the expressions of that framework, Calvinism, claims over 75 million adherents worldwide.

Most people boil down Calvinism to its Five Points, known among Calvinists as “the doctrines of grace”. While somewhat reductive, they are not inaccurate and do provide a simple shorthand for the ideology. The Five Points are:

  1. Total Depravity: All people are inherently sinful and unable on their own to choose God.
  2. Unconditional Election: God has, from eternity past, chosen those to whom he planned to give salvation (“the elect”).
  3. Limited Atonement: The atoning sacrifice of Jesus’ death applies only to the elect.
  4. Irresistable Grace: God’s calls the elect to himself through the Holy Spirit regardless of their own resistance to his call.
  5. Perseverance of the Saints: The elect cannot thwart God’s calling by falling from grace.

If some of that sounds a little extreme, that’s partly because I left out all the nuance for lack of space. Unfortunately, it’s also because Calvinism is a little extreme, due mostly to the hermeneutic of its era of origin.

Calvinism (and Covenant Theology) developed during the Reformation, beginning as an argument over double predestination, the belief that God has pre-determined the eternal destiny not only of the elect but also of the non-elect. In other words, God has already decided (quite some time ago) whom he is going to save and whom he is going to condemn to hell. This belief derived from parts of the Bible such as Romans 9:14–18:

Are we saying, then, that God was unfair? Of course not! For God said to Moses,

“I will show mercy to anyone I choose, and I will show compassion to anyone I choose.”

So it is God who decides to show mercy. We can neither choose it nor work for it.

For the Scriptures say that God told Pharaoh, “I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying my power in you and to spread my fame throughout the earth.” So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen.

On the other hand, the Bible also contains repeated calls for people to repent and accept God’s offer of salvation:

Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. (Acts 3:19)

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” (Acts 16:31)

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. (Revelation 22:17)

If we are so fatally flawed that we are incapable of choosing God, why does God ask us to choose him? And if God has already determined who he will save and damn, why does he urge us to repent and be saved?

John Calvin responded to this dilemma with a theology that his followers eventually distilled into the above Five Points. (Calvin’s actual theological writings are much longer, more thorough, and more nuanced.) That theology ushered in modern Covenant Theology.

At this point you might be asking why all of this overly-analytical academic discussion was even necessary, since the important thing is that God does call people to himself, and they do come. The answer: scholasticism, the then-prevalent approach to interpreting the Bible, which focused on resolving apparent paradoxes in order to construct a watertight system of theology.

The idea that God might say two contradictory things could not be allowed to persist in under scholasticism, which therefore developed the habit of approaching the Bible itself as a systematic theology whose components needed to be analyzed and rationalized in order to attain cohesion. Unfortunately for all of us, this kind of hermeneutic has persisted into the present, eroded slightly along with our general capability for academic rigor of any kind.[1]

I just finished A Year of Biblical Womanhood, a new book by Rachel Held Evans chronicling the 12 months she spent studying the Bible’s statements to and about women, interpreting them all as literally applicable to our time, and attempting to follow them all according to this understanding. Along the way she interviews a sister wife in a polygamist family, attends a Quaker service, corresponds with an Orthodox Israeli Jewish woman, spends the first three days of her period living in a tent, prepares and hosts a Passover meal, calls her husband “Master” and praises him at the entrance to their town, and cultivates a gentle and quiet spirit by refraining from yelling at the TV during football games. I highly recommend the book, which is both instructive and entertaining.

While Evans was primarily searching for a biblical description of what it means to be a woman, this quest involved significant Bible study, and the question of competing hermeneutics is resultingly a strong secondary theme of the book. Not content with simply reading the Bible, Evans consulted every resource she could find to inform her interpretation:

I took my research way too seriously, combing through feminist, conservative, and liberal commentaries, and seeking out Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant perspectives on each issue. I spoke with modern-day women practicing ancient biblical mandates in their own lives—a polygamist, a pastor, a Quiverfull daughter, an Orthodox Jew, an Amish grandmother. I scoured the Bible, cover to cover, isolating and examining every verse I could find about mothers, daughters, widows, wives, concubines, queens, prophetesses, and prostitutes.

This research proved the most fascinating part of the book to me, information-driven Christian that I am. I discovered early in my adulthood that acquiring new facts about the Bible significantly alters my perception of its message and meaning and, correspondingly, the expression of my faith.

For example, early in Biblical Womanhood, Evans learns from an Orthodox Jewish woman named Ahava that the Hebrew expression in Genesis 2 translated in the King James Version as “help meet” is Ezer k’gnedo. Modern Jews translate these words as “the help that opposes”. Evans further discovers that Ezer (the “help” part of the phrase) most frequently occurs in the Old Testament with reference to “God as the helper of Israel”, more than suggesting that the complementarian concept of the woman’s role as subordinate helper to her husband must look outside Genesis 2 for its foundation.

Later, Evans tells the story of Huldah, the prophetess who validated the discovery of the Book of the Law during the reign of King Josiah of Judah. I’ve always been bad at keeping biblical timelines straight in my head, so I had never realized before that Huldah lived concurrently with the prophets Jeremiah, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk—all men. Far from being a last resort, Huldah was approached instead of four other male prophets so important they each authored books of the Bible. Yet I’ve never seen or heard her name mentioned by a pastor, professor, or writer except when reading aloud from 2 Kings 22. Although Evans does not say it explicitly, it’s hard not to feel that conservative Christians have unofficially erased Huldah from the Bible, along with the other nine female prophets it mentions.

While I probably could have figured out Huldah’s chronology with a short perusal of an Old Testament timeline on the internet, learning the background of 1 Timothy 2, in which Paul informs Timothy that he does not let women teach or have authority over men, requires more scholarship than most Christians have time for:

Of particular concern to Paul was a group of young widows who had infiltrated the church and developed a reputation for dressing promiscuously, sleeping around, gossiping, spreading unorthodox ideas, interrupting church services with questions, mooching off the church’s widow fund, and generally making common floozies of themselves (1 Timothy 5). Scholars believe these women may have been influenced by the popular Roman fertility cults of Artemis that encouraged women to flaunt their sexuality and freedom to a degree that scandalized even the Roman establishment, hardly known for its prudish morals.

Knowing this bit of historical information helps us understand Paul’s instruction that women should remain silent: concern for maintaining the Church’s reputation to outsiders and preventing paganism from contaminating the true Gospel:

“We are thus led to the conclusion that when Paul asks women to be silent… he is not talking about ordinary Christian women; rather, he has a specific group of women in mind,” wrote theologian Scot McKnight. “His concern is with some untrained, morally loose, young widows, who, because they are theologically unformed, are teaching unorthodox ideas.”

Oddly enough, as Evans points out, no one ever preaches on another verse in 1 Timothy 2: verse 8, in which Paul says, “In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy.” In addition to ignoring the exhortation to avoid anger and controversy among believers who worship together—probably the real point of this verse—nearly every Christian man disregards the instruction to lift up his hands when praying. Literal interpretation apparently does not extend quite that far.

Nor do you ever hear, at least in most evangelical or mainline churches, a biblical apology for polygamy, requiring women to cover their heads during church services (or possibly all the time), forcing virgins to marry their rapists, or fathers selling their daughters into slavery to escape poverty. As Evans says in her introduction:

Despite insistent claims that we don’t “pick and choose” what parts of the Bible we take seriously, using the word biblical prescriptively like this almost always involves selectivity.

Taking everything in the Bible at face value, as Western conservative Christians—still living in the shadow of scholasticism—claim to do, would result in the kind of bizarre lifestyle that Rachel Held Evans imposed upon herself for a year. No one actually interprets every part of the Bible as literally applicable to our culture and time, though; we tend to find in it the things we expect or want to find, conveniently validating the habits and values we already have.

But even to be totally consistent about interpreting the Bible “literally” would only camouflage the true flaw in our whole hermeneutic: that scholasticism, with its systematic, analytical, paradox-allergic approach to interpretation, has no business anywhere near the Bible. Our scriptures are a big, messy collection of many authors writing to varying audiences in diverse cultures at disparate points in history and in multiple genres. They are not a book of facts or list of rules written down in an orderly fashion by God so we would know exactly what he wanted us to do in every situation at every time. Jesus came (and will eventually return) for the very opposite purpose—to free us from the sort of relationship with God that survives through rigid structures and fear-based commandments. God is not interested in telling us what to do; he is interested in us, and by extension, what kind of people we are.

And fortunately, the Bible is much better at telling us what kind of people to be than it is at telling us what to do, being a story of stories about God and his interactions with us and those who preceded us. By telling us about himself, God is indirectly describing who he wants us to become. Sometimes he does this by sharing poetry; other times he tells us fantastical or shocking tales.

In both the Old and New Testaments, God often described to our spiritual ancestors exactly what he wanted them to do in their specific situations. When we interpret these parts of the Bible, slavish adherence to the exact instructions issued may well lead us in the wrong direction. Instead we ought to recognize that some, possibly many, parts of our scriptures contain more fundamental but less specific truths, and we must identify for ourselves how to best express those truths in our own lives.

I’ll finish with Evans’ quotation of philosopher Peter Rollins:

“By acknowledging that all our readings [of Scripture] are located in a cultural context and have certain prejudices, we understand that engaging with the Bible can never mean that we simply extract meaning from it, but also that we read meaning into it. In being faithful to the text we must move away from the naïve attempt to read it from some neutral, heavenly height and we must attempt to read it as one who has been born of God and thus born of love: for that is the prejudice of God. Here the ideal of scripture reading as a type of scientific objectivity is replaced by an approach that creatively interprets with love.”

  1. In thus reducing the history of both scholasticism and Covenant Theology, I have most certainly done something of a disservice, if not to those ideologies, at the very least to history. I encourage anyone curious about Church history to investigate further for themselves. Further, since my scholarship is a little rusty, I invite correction about any facts I may have mixed up.  ↩

Jesus Was Otherwise Engaged

Springboarding from the recent discovery of an ancient text referring to Jesus’ “wife”, John Ortberg proposes that we (including we in the Church) have still not caught up to Jesus with regard to his progressive stance toward women.

Via Rachel Held Evans.