I set out to kind of review The Jesus Driven Life, by Michael Hardin, and share insights that would work as a spoiler-free intro to the book. In it, Michael is not telling us what to believe or how to interpret the text “properly”, but he’s showing us how Jesus read his literature, society, and mission opposed to how we have read them. Pretty sure in 50 years this will be one of those strands of literature that helped ignite and reshape Christendom. If you’re going to read it, go easy, though. Chew well and let it digest, you don’t want to be like me and flip out once you get your theology blown to smithereens.
Let me begin by going straight to the point: when it comes to the bible, it’s never about what a text says, but about what we make it say. To put it bluntly, the bible has never said anything, we have been the ones making it say all we say it says. Fortunately, the sciences and philosophies of linguistics have evolved enough to show us that there are limits to language: words relate to words which relate to other words (and so on) which label and describe our experience of things (I recommend Wittgenstein here), and these form the threshold of our understanding of the world. We’re all bound by language – specially religious language. We Christians are stuck with meanings and formulations that have come down to us which dictate what has to be believed by certain words, and we have to own that, we just do. So as 21st century Christians, it is our duty to peal back the layers of exegetical lenses and try our best to read our texts as Jesus read his.
Also, as Christians, we are in a favorable place in history from which we can enjoy the benefits of literary and scientific discoveries to refine the language we use to talk about the divine. Frankly, none of us can afford being cemented in a particular set of understandings about the biblical texts anymore. As Bauman said, we live in an ever changing world (liquid), where not only societal moods come and go fast, but also what we mean by the very word reality – just think that science is dealing with the possibility of there being more dimensions in time (something like we see in Nolan’s Interstellar or Men in Black 3 even), while PhDs in Theology are still writing volumes on predestination and free-will.
If one thing stood out from Michael’s teachings, is that the theology we do, we do it for today. So we learn from the Jewish interpreters of Torah, from the Greek Apologists, from the Church Fathers, from the Reformers, from modern sciences and so on, and we retain that which helps us read God the way Jesus read God, we throw out what doesn’t, and we move on. Because after all, that is what the guys who wrote our New Testament did, they read and interpreted any and every text in light of who Jesus was. Take for example Paul, who seems to have followed a specific line of argumentation from the Book of Wisdom, an apocrypha for protestants, in his “inspired” letter to the Romans. Or Jude, who quotes the book of Enoch as being “inspired” scripture. Paul also quotes Greek poetry to speak of God’s very nature. The writer of John brings into his theology the concept of Logos from Greek philosophy (pagan stuff, y’know?) Are all those alien texts and concepts speaking the-whole-truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth truth in their original contexts or do they only become inspired when penned by biblical authors? If they’re inspired, shouldn’t we believe them? If they’re not, why are they there? But let’s not get carried away, the point here is this: the first followers of Jesus read and interpreted texts we don’t consider inspired, they did it and moved on, leaving behind that which didn’t live up to the God of Jesus, so shouldn’t we do the same when reading our own bible?
Personally speaking, I see Abelard’s Sic et Non and Aquinas’ Summa as monuments to our inability to systematize and harmonize theology or scripture. That doesn’t mean we can’t make sense of them or read them coherently, though. But the idea of a perfect bible and a perfect exegesis from a perfect supernatural guide is no longer sustainable if we are to be taken seriously. The modern heresy of inerrancy (which I myself held for many years) shackles us to the sacrificial principle (read TJDL for more on that) and the God of War exegesis that Jesus doesn’t allow us to make. If we look at the way Jesus read his sacred texts, we’ll be surprised.
First, neither Jesus nor the early Christians read the Torah and the NT letters from the perspective we take of the not-persecuted-law-abiding citizen. The early church was persecuted by Rome for sedition and anarchy and by the religious authorities for blasphemy. During quite some time, they were the hated minority. I know it is hard for us to approach scripture and read it through the eyes of the persecuted and ostracized minority when we’re reading it on our iphone at Starbucks, but doing it is a must if we want to read it like Jesus read it (Zahnd has a wonderful article where he shows us how changing perspective changes exegesis drastically. Read it full here ‘click’, but only after you finish this one. Focus!) And second, Jesus read his sacred texts selectively. In Luke, while at the synagogue, Jesus picks up the scroll of Isaiah and reads a portion of it leaving out the part of the vengeance and violence of God. Then scrolls it back up and tells everyone that reading had just being fulfilled. What? What about the rest? He misquoted the thing! Would it be a case of Jesus misquoting the words of God or finally quoting them with the right spirit? I don’t know. What I do know is that Jesus left violence out of his reading of scripture, I’m leaving it, too.
I believe that is where our reading of scripture starts, and through this
[…] hard work [we can begin] relating the good news of the gospel to all of our various contexts, in whatever country we find ourselves and therefore amidst whatever empire rules over us. (The Jesus Driven Life, but I won’t tell you the page. Go and find it for yourself)