Previously on this blog, Mark Harris has emphasized our need to embrace the delightful array of creation texts in both the Old and New Testaments. I agree, Mark. We Christians are more comfortable with multiple gospel accounts than we are with multiple creation accounts.
We are impoverished in what we read in Scripture, and we are impoverished in how we read Scripture.
I am growing in my appreciation for a diversity of ears to hear Scripture and a diversity of cultures to interpret God's call on our lives. Like many Christians, I am guilty of becoming comfortable in a faith community that is relatively homogeneous culturally and socioeconomically. Every time I join an unfamiliar group of Christians, I begin to realize some of the ways other Christians interact with God, the Bible, and each other. The Gospel of Luke, for example, sounds differently to our brothers and sisters who are poor than it does to richer Christians. Elderly Christians read Ecclesiastes with greater perspective than do teenagers. Three years in a Korean American church taught my wife and me about prayer, respecting elders, and listening before speaking. Experiences like this alert me to ways I misread the Bible with western eyes and am so far removed from the cultures that birthed the Bible. While I grapple with what I don't understand of the past, I am encouraged by N.T. Wright's assertion that Scripture may actually mean new things in new contexts, as summarized in Jim Stump's review of Wright's Surprised by Scripture.
Three ways we can enrich our perspective on the Bible include:
reading books (and blogs) like those above that challenge our conceptions of Scripture,
going places where we will gain new perspectives (traveling to another country, visiting an African American church, hearing women scholars’ approach to the Bible, listening to worship songs in Spanish or Swahili, or attending the Urbana Missions Conference), and
making friends with people who are different from us and genuinely listening to them.
Enlarging our view of Scripture and God is not something we accomplish all at once, even though there may be moments of special insight. We need to keep reading books and blogs that are new to us; we need to keep going places that expand our vision, and we need to keep making friends (and keep being friends) with people who don’t look like us or think like us. Are we so proud to think that we white Christians do not need African Christians, Middle Eastern Christians, Asian Christians, and South American Christians? That we do not need to listen to women and the poor? We must remember that we are all the body of Christ as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12:
17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable…
Are we guilty of dispensing with the indispensable? What price will we pay?
Similarly, my friends and I often grieve at how the Christian church is fragmented into so many different denominations (is this like having the eyes separate from the hands and feet?). As sad as this is, perhaps it is also a bit of a blessing, since a diversity of churches may more effectively reach varied cultural and social groups. Indeed, this reminds me of the way that biological diversity allows for different species to occupy various ecological niches. If we thought that we wanted every church to be like our own and every Christian to think like us, is that like wanting all animals to be koalas and all plants to be tulips? If all creation praises God as in Psalm 98, surely we (and God!) want more than koalas and tulips doing the praising!