When the Right Reading of the Bible is Wrong

“To read the Bible in an authoritarian, unquestioning way is immoral.”   Derek Flood, Disarming Scripture.

Pretty strong language for somebody raised with the Bible says it and that settles it perspective on Biblical authority. Phyliss Tickle and others in the emergent church movement, or at least those tracking with it, say that the issue of authority – the what is it  and where is it- will be the central defining issue as the church goes through the giant garage sale they all say were are in. As Derek so rightly points out, simply saying,”The Bible Says,”  doesn’t carry the weight it use to and in his opinion, that phrase or use of the Bible in such strict authoritarian ways can do more damage than good or  be more immoral than moral.

At the recent Wild Goose Festival, I bumped into a person who was pretty much a non-attending nonpracticing church member, but he said something that caught my attention- at least from a practicing pastor of a Presbyterian church perspective. He said, “I was raised a Presbyterian, so I am used to questioning things and the faith.” If questioning things and the faith is somehow being Presbyterian, it makes me glad I am part of that tribe. It shouldn’t surprise us because the whole Reformation was based upon Luther, Calvin and company, questioning the authority and practices of the then Roman Catholic Church. So to read the Bible with what Derek calls a faithful questioning approach should make at least Presbyterians feel at home.  

So how do we read the Bible in a way that does not do more damage than good? How do we read the Bible in a way that leads us to do what we naturally would say is moral and not immoral?

Derek says that the Bible should be read in a way that leads us to love.  He looks on good Bible reading like the fruit of the spirit in the Christian life. The proper reading of the Bible should bear good fruit. We should evaluate “the observable effects in life as to whether they result in flourishing or harm, peace or devastation,” of a particular interpretation. These are pretty simple categories to evaluate the proper use of the Bible in the life of the person and the faith community. Some would see this as too subjective. But as any post modern person will tell you, pretty much everything is subjective. As a pastor, I have seen a lot of wrongs things, harmful things, destructive things said and done in the name of being right, even right in terms of what the Bible actually, exegetically says. Derek rightly reminds us that” Scripture’s central point is to point us to Christ, learning to love like he does, even as we are loved by him,” so that the “Bible is not an end in itself, but a vehicle intended to lead us to a life-giving encounter with the Spirit of God in Christ.”Which in turn should leads us to be vehicles intended to lead others to have a life-giving encounter with the Spirit of God in Christ, in us.

There’s that old saying, “that you and I are the only Bible some people will ever read.” How you and I read the Bible will impact the Bible others read in us. Whether it brings peace or devastation,flourishing or harm, is up to us.

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