Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Bible as Holy Ground

I started this blog back in March with a post about "the Bible as Holy Ground." I deleted that post sometime along the way -not because I had changed my mind about it -but because I wanted to develop the theme more fully later on. So, here I am getting back to the theme.

First, I wish I could find a copy of Karl Barth's essay: "The Strange New World of the Bible," which inspired me very much in college as I began to find the words to express what I had experienced in reading and interpreting and hearing the Bible. Barth's position was in contrast to the fundamentalist modernist (conservative) and the historical-critical modernist (liberal). The liberal and the conservative had reduced the Bible to a text that could be manipulated through historical-critical method or through so-called "literal interpretation" to represent any modern ideology (conservatives used their biblical interpretation to uphold slavery; liberals used their intepretation to sanction Hitler's regime). Following very much in the spirit of Barth's teaching (which began at the close of WWI), it seems to me that conservatives and liberals don't look at the Bible as "holy ground." I walk on to the ground of the Bible, not real sure of what might happen, because I think it is "holy ground" where I lose my footing and wait upon the voice of the living God. The fundamentalist thinks the voice of God has been deposited in the book and is contained in the book- as if you had all the "words God had ever spoken" on a CD and could just play them over and over again word for word (maybe it reduces anxiety to think you've got the Holy One in a book). The liberal, on the other hand, thinks that with the Bible, we have no more than people's "words about God," words that may have arisen from the origins of our religious faith as Jews and Christians and Muslims, but, nonetheless just "words of human beings bearing witness to their understanding of God and themselves." That is sort of an anxiety reducer too, because then you never entertain the possibility that something someone wrote in the Bible might just be "God's truth" and have a claim on you.

What I mean when I say the Bible is "holy ground" is that human words in scripture can be truly experienced as God's word to humans. But, not unless, you accept that these words are truly human words, spoken and written by human beings. And, not unless, you accept that these words could not have been spoken unless there was a divine Word that they were in contact with. The Bible is best thought of as a sacred and authoritative "witness" to the Living God and as that "holy ground" upon which God calls us to "remove the sandals" of our understanding and receive the beginning of wisdom from the divine. The conservative way and the liberal way are both too arrogant to approach the Bible properly. The conservative think the meaning is already deposited in the book, and that it is there for him to use as he will. The liberal thinks there is no given meaning at all in the book, and that the sacred writings are great material that can be used by the interpreter who provides the meaning. But, neither liberal nor conservative seems to be under the authority of the Scripture, but seems to be in authority over Scripture. In a frightening, idolatrous sense, the fundamentalist seems to think he or she "has got God in a book," to be used to further whatever projects the fundamentalist deeply loves. The fundamentalist seems to have substituted the Bible for God. What I really miss when I hear conservative sermons is the experience of a living God, the sense that God is acting and speaking now. That's basically what I miss in liberal sermons too. The liberal criticizes the fundamentalist's misuse of scripture and bibliolatry (making of the Bible an idol), but the liberal "brings down the Bible" and raises up his or her own ideology as well, but simply doesn't think he or she needs biblical support for it.

Both fundamentalist and liberal views of the Bible lack the two things truly necessary for a real engagement with the Bible: REVERENCE FOR THE LIVING GOD, and EXPECTATION THAT THE LIVING GOD MAKES USE OF THE SCRIPTURE TO REVEAL HIS LIVING WORD TO HUMAN BEINGS.

That means to believe that God speaks now, not just back in Bible Days! It also means that God spoke back in Bible Days, not just now.

It might be good if I would deal with a couple of passages directly and explain how these different views of the scripture really affect understanding of scripture. And, I'll do that sometime later. I do that at times on my Church Bible Blog as I am currently studying Romans. As I ran into the verses in Romans 1 where Paul talks about the immorality that comes of idolatry and refers to homosexual acts in the list of immoral conduct, I began to discuss how we were to take this reference in our day. Maybe I'll conclude that discussion by some analysis of how the liberal and conservative approaches to the Bible affect interpretation of this passage and how the "Bible as Holy Ground" way is different. I am sure that my interpretation tends one way or another depending upon the views I hold - but . . . interpretation of the Bible doesn't stop there. My feeling and initial understanding of a passage only starts the holy struggle for meaning, a meaning that surprises, that comes from beyond my meanings, but graciously allows me to participate in the process of understanding. On this 'holy ground' we eventually become silent until the truth that was not possible for us is given as a new possibility for us - what is not possible for humans is possible for God. In the end, the Word of God is that impossible possibility that brings life out of death, hope out of hopelessness, love out of hatred. When you read scripture and come to that experience, you have been on holy ground.

Well, that's enough for now.