by Barry Newton
It would be an unusual math class for a teacher to ask her twenty-something students what five plus seven meant to them.
If a high school science teacher were to focus his lesson plan around his students sharing their impressions of what covalent and ionic bonding might be, and then allow them to walk away with their own ideas, it would certainly be a strange chemistry class indeed.
But just how common is it to discover a Bible class where various individuals are sharing what the text means to them? Why the difference?
In our broad cultural currents, math and science, being built upon logic and empirical conclusions, have been generally understood as yielding what can be known to be true. Truth can exist. Whereas in the humanities a philosophic acid composed of naturalism and skepticism has eaten through truth creating doubt in various disciplines. This includes the field of communication, where skepticism denies our ability to understand what another intended to communicate.
Subsequently, sophisticated society offers little more than a polite smile of pity for divine inspiration, while maintaining severe doubts whether current readers could ever recover an ancient author’s intended message. The cultural result for the average person? Speak merely of your perspective. Do not be so arrogant as to claim to understand what the text means. In a world of competing but equally valid thoughts, aspire to maintain a tolerant harmony.
Forget the silly notion of pursuing objective truth in the realms of ethics, morality, human nature, the divine or even history.
Many years ago as I sat in a young adult Bible class, some disturbing thoughts ricocheted around my head:
“Because we are simply sharing moralizing ideas which we already hold to be true, we are merely reaffirming ourselves while also being socialized by those willing to be most vocal. It would make no difference if our text was Robin Hood, Mary Poppins or the Bible. The result would be the same. Reading God’s word in this manner hamstrings truth.”
For someone to analyze their Bible class in such a manner suggests that it is gravely lacking an authoritative message from God that confronts our own perspectives, values and behaviors. Wherever our Bible classes are reduced to sharing “what it means to me,” we need some unusual Bible classes. We need classes that teach us God’s word, not our own culturally limited grandiose ideas.
Wielding responsible tools of interpretation, the clear unmistakable message from God needs to replace temporally limited and culturally-conditioned perspectives.