At last, like a bad boxing film series that just goes on and on, we’ve arrived at part 5. (Unlike some boxing films, however, there will be no part 6.)
5. The danger of freezing the Bible
I have no doubt Mark is passionate about the Bible and passionate about Jesus. Describing his own movement near the end of his speech, Mark says:
What tends to be driving this stream is a return to expositional Bible teaching that is theologically motivated and Jesus centered.. The sermons in a lot of these churches…tends to be at least an hour. The repentance of sin and trust in Jesus is continually heralded. The way they distinguish themselves from older Reformed theology is that they’re nice.
Not bad (especially the part about being nice!). But each of us must confront the possibility that sometimes what we are advocating or defending is not the Bible, but our view of the Bible.
For example, one of the reasons Mark criticized Rob Bell is because of Rob’s belief (inspired by William Webb’s book Slaves, Woman & Homosexuals) that we must look for the trajectory of scripture. This view, known as the redemptive movement hermeneutic, teaches that it’s not always enough to look at the words of a single passage of scripture. We need to look at the whole Bible and try to see where God is moving.
Mark claims this interpretive method represents “the pinnacle of academic arrogance” because he says it is based on the assumption “that we are more enlightened and that our culture is more enlightened than Paul or Jesus or Moses.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The idea behind the redemptive movement hermeneutic is that God’s plans for humanity often unfold over time—and that sometimes we can discern the trajectory of God’s plan by moving through the scriptures… by asking how they spoke to people way back when and how they speak to us today.
Take slavery. The Bible never prohibits owning another human being, yet virtually every Christian alive today understands slavery to be incompatible with God’s design.
We know it to be true because we recognize the seeds of this idea being planted in Genesis 1, where human beings are created in God’s image. We see glimpses of the trajectory of God’s plan in the Torah, where Israel is held to a comparatively higher standard in its treatment of slaves—even though the Bible still falls short of banning slavery outright.
When Paul shows up, he argues there is no distinction between slave and free, encourages slaves to seek their freedom (without disobeying their masters, however), and even pleads with a slave owner to welcome back his runaway slave as an equal in Christ.
But still… our rejection of slavery as a moral evil is not based on any direct command from scripture, but rather our understanding of the trajectory in which God is moving.
Mark disputes the notion of a trajectory in the Bible—particularly when it comes to the question of a woman’s role in the home and the church. (He actually misquotes scripture at one point, suggesting that the Bible says a man should be “the head of his household.”)
Mark claims the “same argument is being used for homosexuality and all kinds of other things,” even though the whole purpose of Webb’s book is to demonstrate how the redemptive movement hermeneutic takes you one direction on some issues (like slavery and gender equality) and a another direction on some other issues (namely, homosexuality).
The redemptive movement hermeneutic has inspired me to hold a bigger view of the Bible. A Bible-with-a-trajectory-to-it is a more dangerous book because it can make even more demands of me. I have to wrestle with it even more—asking not only, “What are the words saying?” but also, “Where is God moving?”
Contrary to what Mark says people like me believe, I don’t look to my own intellect or the surrounding culture for answers. They are to be found in the revelation of God in scripture and in the person and work of Jesus.
So there you have it. I respect Mark, but I see a few things differently than he does.
I want to be someone who’s not afraid to engage in the big conversation about faith and life and Jesus.
I want to be someone who embraces the best from many different Christian traditions—Reformed, emerging, evangelical, etc. (And that’s just to name some of the traditions we encounter in our Western, predominantly white culture. We shouldn’t stop there. We should explore what Christians in places like Africa and Asia are saying, too.)
I want to be someone who does not misquote or misrepresent those I disagree with. I want to accept and even celebrate the fact that people like Mark—though they have a very different understanding of the Bible—are every bit as devoted to Christ.
I want to be someone who embraces the whole Bible—even when it challenges me to go beyond my own preconceived notions.
Last (to quote Doug Pagitt) I want to be the kind of Christian who refuses to treat those with different perspectives as enemies. I want to be someone who believes that “since I am supposed love my enemy anyway, I might as well get a friend out of it.”