Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Personality is no Excuse for Bad Bible


he article is titled Why English Majors Make Lousy Fundamentalists and is written by Morgan Guyton. Morgan is a Methodist preacher. He begins by saying that is personality type is INFP in the Myers-Briggs system and so doesn’t “like to deal with hard facts and logic” and doesn’t “understand or believe in the validity of impersonal judgment.” He also equates this with an English major. He then lists and comments on seven instincts of English majors when reading the Bible.

  1. Unsubtle communication is bad writing
  2. Narrators are supposed to have agenda
  3. It’s all about the metaphors
  4. We make analogies
  5. We expect characters to be complicated
  6. Poetry trumps grammar and history
  7. Every text has multiple voices

I’ll leave it to you to read his comments concerning each one. I think you will find that there is some truth to what he says. Large portions of the Bible are written as poetry. So, if we’re going to understand the Bible, we’re going to have to put our poetry hat on. And when you look at the gospels, we see the same story told from slightly different points of view. Metaphors are also important to our understanding of the Bible, or we’ll never have any hope of understanding the parables of Jesus. Analogies are important if we are going to use what we know from one part of the Bible to understand another part. As for characters being complicated, there can be no greater complication than a holy God who cannot look upon sin, who loves sinful man so much that he wants to have fellowship with him, whatever the cost. Is it significant that ekklesia is a compound word? I don’t think Jesus picked that word by accident. Can we say that the Bible has multiple voices? Take a look at the Book of Job. Of course the Bible has multiple voices.

But we also need to understand that the Bible has some cold hard facts. When you get over into the genealogies, for example, you can’t turn that into a metaphor. There is danger in trying to turn things into metaphors when God didn’t intend for them to be metaphors, just as there is danger in trying to take something that God intended to be a metaphor and forcing it to mean something that God didn’t intend. Part of the Bible is subtle, but some of it is as subtle as a Mack truck. Galatians 5:21 isn’t very subtle when it says, “they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

It is ironic that the writer justifies turning Genesis 1 into a metaphor by saying a literal interpretation is a “contradiction of modern science.” The best that science can do is look at the way things are now and speculate on a way in which those things could come to be. There are many scientists who believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis 1. If you want to know what happened during World War II, you would ask someone who lived through it, not someone who has only read about it. So, if you want to know how the world was created, don’t you think you should ask the person who created it? Besides which, the order of creation in the Bible and the order that evolutionary scientists suggest don’t match. If the Bible is the infallible Word of God, metaphor or not, the order of creation tells us that “modern scientists” have it wrong.

I’m not sure why the writer goes into a discussion of the word ekklesia under the heading “poetry trumps grammar and history,” but that’s what he chose to do. His claim is that it is more significant that ekklesia is a compound noun from ek (out) and klesia (calling), than it is that during the time of Jesus the word ekklesia referred to “an assembly.” But proper interpretation isn’t one or the other, but we’ve got to consider both. Take the words “horsefly” and “dragonfly.” A horsefly isn’t a horse that flies, but a fly that we often see on the back of horses. But a dragonfly isn’t a fly that we see on dragons, rather it is a fly that looks like a dragon. It takes more than just combining two words to understand what it means. So, an understanding of what people thought of when Jesus used the word is important. But there’s more to it than that. We also have to look that the context in which it is used. The vast majority of the times it is used in the Bible, the word ekklesia is referring a local assembly. Don’t take my word for that, go look. There are a few instances where it is used and the context doesn’t make it obvious that it is a local assembly, but nowhere is it used in such a way that using the word “assembly” to interpret it would not fit the context.

Our personalities may influence the things we notice when we read the Bible, but one’s personality isn’t a good reason for bad doctrine. Maybe you don’t enjoy reading “the facts” of the Bible as much as someone else, but that doesn’t make them any less true. And maybe someone doesn’t get as much out of the poetry as someone else, but that is no excuse for skipping it. God didn’t give us the Bible so we could pick and choose what we want to read. He gave us the whole thing. Just as the words are from God, the literary form of the books is from God. Let’s take the time to understand what God is saying, even if he says it in a way we don’t enjoy reading.