Coming Out of My Theological Closet

Basically, my view of how to interpret the Bible has changed. I have changed from a "literal" perspective of the Bible to a more "evolutionary" perspective.**

To put it in legal terms, I've moved from being a "strict constructionist" to a "loose constructionist." When I was 16, I read a book by called A Matter of Interpretation by Antonin Scalia. He, of course, argues for strict interpretation of legal texts, but the book contains several chapters by other legal scholars arguing for loose constructionism. At that time, I was strongly in favor of strict interpretation of both the Bible and the Constitution, as well as other legal texts. After reading it, I found the argument for loose constructionism to be more compelling, though I did not change my view for several years.

In seminary, I encountered other books that began to change me. One notable book is called Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis by William J. Webb. In it, he tries to "work out the hermeneutics involved in distinguishing that which is merely cultural in Scripture from that which is timeless." In essence, he argues that we cannot simply take a verse which Paul wrote to give advice to the Corinthians or Galatians and then directly transplant that verse to apply to our own situation. All parts of the Bible were written in a historical-cultural context and must always be interpreted with that context in mind. That does not mean that the Bible is not true; it just means it must be interpreted in context. As you can guess from the title, he deals specifically with the interpretational problems regarding slavery, women's issue and homosexuality.

His thoughts on slavery and women were impressive to me. Just 150 years ago, many Christians argued that slavery was endorsed by the Bible because Paul told slaves to sumbit to their masters. Now, almost no one makes such an argument, but people do continue to argue that women are to submit to their husbands or that women should not preach or teach because women are not meant by God to hold such authority. Webb argues that the Bible deals honestly and practically with the issues of its time, such as slavery. But he makes the crucial distinction that the Bible is not endorsing these oppressive systems but rather providing practical advice for dealing with these systems.

I believe that God wants freedom and equality for all people and that Bible testifies to this.

My thought are still a work in progress, so bear with me. I would say that they Bible is the starting place for my thinking and a constant source of guidance but it is not the ending place. I do think we have to interpret the Bible in harmony with modern science and with our experiences and our culture and with as many other people and perspectives as possible. Sitting alone in a room and reading to Bible is an important step, but we have to come out of that room and interact with the world around us to fully understand it's meaning.

I still have other issues left. I continue to struggle with the idea of hell and eternal punishment. The Roman Catholic view on the afterlife is more appealing to me than the Protestant one. I also struggle with the meaning and significance of other religions. I'd probably have to classify myself as a "liberal Christian" though I say that with fear and trembling. BTW, if you have a chance, go to the bookstore and find a copy of Best American Essays 2007 and read the essay "Onward, Christian Liberals" by Marilynne Robinson. Short and sweet defense of liberal Christianity.

A few other random thoughts: I believe that God does not change but our (the human race's) understanding of God continues to grow and evolve. I'm not sure why God has set up the world this way, but I do think we as human beings must be open to new knowledge and open to refining our understanding. Also I believe that God is not much impressed with the fine details of our theology but that God cares very much about how we treat other people. And I believe that God is good, even though I repelled by the enormity of suffering and evil in this world.

I think it's time for me to come out of the theological closet, so to speak. I often wish I didn't care so much about religion because it would make my life easier. There is nothing more painful than being accused of not taking the Bible seriously, when in fact I take it extremely seriously. If I didn't take it seriously, I wouldn't have banged my head against the wall for so many years trying to make sense of it.

**Yes, I do use the term "evolution" on purpose. In spite of being raised at a young earth creationist, I am now a theistic evolutionist. That is, I believe in God and I also accept the findings of modern science. Many steps brought me to this place. One worth mentioning here is the book Evolution and Christian Faith: Reflections of an Evolutional Biologist by Joan Roughgarten, a professor at Stanford University. She is a scientist, not a theologian, but her insights into the intersection between faith and evolutions are illuminating. It's short enough to read in an afternoon or a single day.

**This post is actually an excerpt from an email which I write to my dear cousin Steph!

2 comments:

  1. Stephanie GrassiaMarch 04, 2009 4:05 PM

    Such an excellent write-up.

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  2. "the Bible is not endorsing these oppressive systems but rather providing practical advice for dealing with these systems" (Well, said. An excellent description of the situation!)

    "God is not much impressed with the fine details of our theology but that God cares very much about how we treat other people." I concur

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