One of my favorite books to read is The Giver by Lois Lowry. Not to get all reader-response or anything but I love it because it means something specifically to me and reminds me of my role as a pastor/theologian. Let me explain:
I always love the chance to show how relevant the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard is to modern day Christians.
When I was in college I started learning an incredible amount about the Bible and how we are supposed to be interpreting the Bible. I learned about commentaries and context, Greek and Hebrew (the languages the Bible was originally written in). And because of all my learning I started looking down on people who didn’t have the same knowledge and I started making it my life goal to make sure everyone knew that they needed the knowledge that I had. Somehow I had bought into the idea that knowing more about the Bible makes you a better Christian.
When I started graduate school a few years ago I realized that such is not the case. The poor peasant Christian in Thailand who only owns one torn out piece of Scripture, say Matthew 22 (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul, and with all your mind. And the second is like it – Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments”) but actually lives this verse everyday, has come closer to the heart of what Christianity is all about than I was after all of my training.
“In other words, it is not the obscure passages in Scripture that bind you but the ones you understand. With these you are to comply at once. If you understood only one passage in all of Scripture, well, then you must do that first of all…God’s Word is given in order that you shall act according to it, not that you gain expertise in interpreting it…Being alone with God’s Word is a dangerous matter. Of course, you can always find ways to defend yourself against it: Take the Bible, lock your door – but then get out ten dictionaries and twenty-five commentaries. Then you can read it just as calmly and coolly as you read newspaper advertising.
With this arsenal you can really begin to wonder, “Are there not several valid interpretations? So you calmly conclude, “I myself am not absolutely sure about the meaning of this passage. I need more time to form an opinion.” Good Lord! What a tragic misuse of scholarship that it makes it so easy for people to deceive themselves!
Can’t we be honest for once! We have become such experts at cunningly shoving one layer after another, one interpretation after another, between the Word and our lives…and we then allow this preoccupation to swell to such profundity that we never come to look at ourselves in the mirror…
It is only all too easy to understand the requirements contained in God’s Word (“Give all your good to the poor” etc.) The most ignorant, poor creature cannot honestly deny being able to understand God’s requirements. But it is tough on the flesh to will to understand it and to then act accordingly.
Herein lies the problem. It is not a question of interpretation, but action.”
From For Self-Examination & Judge For Yourself, 26-35
As our Schleiermacher Reading Group at WTS is currently reading through Barth’s Church Dogmatics section on Scripture, I have found myself having tremendous sympathies with his views on Scripture. Now, this is pretty scary and uncharted territory for me since I have it ingrained in me to consider Barth a hermeneutical and Christological heretic even though he opposed the theological liberals of his time (who I was also taught to consider heretical).
“The demand that the Bible should be read and understood and expounded historically is, therefore, obviously justified and can never be taken too seriously. The Bible itself posits this demand: even where it appeals expressly to divine commissionings and promptings, in its actual compostion it is eerywhere a human word, and this human word is obviously intended to be taken seriously and read and understood and expounded as such. To do anything else would be to miss the reality of the Bible and therefore the Bible itself as the witness of revelation. The demand for a “historical” understnading of the Bible necessarily means, in content, that we have to take it for what it undoubtedly is and is meant to be: the human speech uttered by specific men at speciic times in a specific situation, in a specific language and with a specific intention. It emans that the understanding of it has honestly and unreservedly been on which is guided by all these considerations…To the extent that it [the concrete humanity of Scripture] is ignored, it has not been read at all.“