Disarming Scripture: Reader Questions, part2

Saturday, January 03, 2015

This time well take a look at the question,

"If Jesus is the key to identifying what moral vision to embrace in the Old Testament, why not simply read the New Testament and discard the Old?"

Let's begin with the idea of a "canon within the canon." Pretty much all of us do this. For those from an Evangelical background like myself, there are certain parts of our Bibles that are covered in multicolored highlighters and underlines, and other parts that have none. Mainliners are the same. Phillip Jenkins notes that the liturgy readings in Mainline churches systematically have left out violent parts from the Scriptural readings. So the fact is,  we all, in one way or another, "vote with our feet" and end up for all practical purposes having a very different canon within the canon, based on what we feed ourselves on, what we spend time with.

I think that is probably healthy. What I stress in Disarming Scripture is that need to honestly face those violent parts that so many of us ignore. We need to do that because they have been, and continue to be, used to justify harm in God's name. They illustrate how religion can be used as a vehicle for evil. They thus shine a light on us, and how this is a human temptation we all must be aware of.

That does not mean however that we should read passages that promote hurt (like the genocide narratives) as part of our devotions. Here I'm reminded of Paul's words in Philippians,

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

I can certainly also understand that people would want to focus on New Testament, rather than on the Old. After all, the New Testament is not multi-vocal in the way the Old Testament is. So doesn't the New Testament provide what we were looking for? Isn't it our source for the right answers from God?

The problem is when this is done from the perspective of unquestioning obedience, history demonstrates that it has led Christians to endorse the institution of slavery based on an unquestioning reading of the New Testament.

That is, if we read New Testament, hoping that we now have all the right answers, which we can follow unquestioningly, we are placing ourselves on path towards violence and hurt. Not because the New Testament promotes things that are wrong, but because we missread it. 

Here's the bottom line: The issue is not ultimately between a bad Testament and a good New Testament. On a much deeper level the real issue is that even when we read something good, if we read it unquestioningly and without understanding, this inevitably leads to harm. We therefore need to learn to read everything like Jesus did, with the approach of faithful questioning motivated by compassion.

This is true even for the words of Jesus.  An unquestioning reading of the words of Jesus has led some Christians to perpetuate cycles of domestic abuse, in a tragic attempt to be faithful to the way of self-sacrificing love. 

The answer therefore is not to find a perfect text that we can read unquestioningly, but to learn how to faithfully question ourselves, our culture, our religion, and our sacred texts.

This is what Jesus models for us, and as his disciples it is simply not enough to thoughtlessly copy his answers, like a poor student copying answers to a test without understanding them. We need to understand what motivated Jesus to ask the questions he did; we need to learn how to think morally, critically, and creatively as Jesus did.

The simple fact is, obedience absent of reflection or understanding inevitably leads to abuse. We therefore cannot unquestioningly follow the New Testament or even Jesus. Rather, if we really want to follow Jesus we need to learn to adopt his method of faithful questioning motivated by love and compassion.  Jesus does not want us to blindly obey him (making us into a sort of Jesus-Pharisees), Rather, he wants us to really get what he is saying and learn to question injustice and work towards compassion as he does.

As moral agents, we must not unquestioningly accept whatever the Bible says (including the New Testament). Nor should we accept without question whatever our culture says is right (whether from the left or the right). Rather, we must learn how to step into the dispute — both within the pages of the Bible, and in the public square — and make our case for what is good. This is exactly what we find Jesus doing in his time. For those of us who call ourselves his followers, we need to learn how to do the same in ours.

Next time I'll address a question that get's at the very nature of how we understand Scripture,

What is Scripture? What is that which is referred to as "God's word" (though I now understand that Jesus is the total expression of God, not the Bible)? Why did the OT writers record the things they did as if it were commanded by God's very spoken word if they were in fact wrong and what they were doing was something which could only have been inspired by a voice or force of darkness? 
Go to question #3

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At 6:38 AM, Blogger SteveO said...

Wow! This is both liberating and scary! But with a deep and abiding understanding of God's goodness and love, with a deep and abiding love for Jesus the Teacher, I know I'll be fine. It's time to grow up, I look forward to this journey.

I read "Healing the Gospel," "Disarming Scripture" is next.

Derek, thank you so much for these blog posts.

At 3:09 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

Amen SteveO! That's exactly right. We've all spend far too long bound by fear. That just leads no where. It shrivels the soul.

It is indeed scary to step out of that, but where we are stepping into is a deeper understanding of God's love, and as you say that really is liberating! This is where the abundant life is.

At 8:09 AM, Blogger Susan said...

You don't understand who the Pharisees were or what they. wanted to accomplish.Their depiction in the New Testament is completely inaccurate.

The Pharisees did read the Bible with with questioning faith and compassion. For example, they believed that it was permissible to violate the to save a life or if some one's health would be endangered, but you never know that from reading the New Testament.

At 8:11 AM, Blogger Susan said...

I meant to say violate the Sabbath.

At 9:10 PM, Blogger Rene Lafaut said...

Derek your insights have brought a lot of light to me in the way I view the OT and NT. The way Jesus reads the OT as well as how Paul does. Today I felt another level of freedom reached when it comes to being able to love more deeply. I realized that I still had a revenge mentality: "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" because I saw people who were doing wrong as deserving punishment and those doing right as deserving favor. This is wrong because we all deserve separation from God which is death from our sins! I was committed to revenge not grace. Without realizing it...thinking it was the flesh. I wanted to reward good doers with friendship and punishment on people who irritated me. What a hypocrite! My sins aren't better than anyone else's. The "eye or eye..." Command was meant to limit revenge but Jesus came to perfect the OT. Jesus idea of revenge is giving people what they want. I prayed to Jesus asking Him to renew my mind with faith in Him to do away with this eye for an eye...mentality which I used to see as justice because it was in the OT....but Jesus' way is better it is restorative! We all are sinners and deserve what we reap from what we have sown...nothing more nothing less! Thank God for grace!

At 11:48 AM, Anonymous Derek said...


Thanks for your comment. My response became rather long so I made it into a blog post. Take a look: http://www.therebelgod.com/2015/01/the-worlds-best-pharisee.html

At 11:51 AM, Anonymous Derek said...

That's a beautiful story Rene. Fits well with your name which as I'm sure you know means "born again"

At 1:31 PM, Blogger Rene Lafaut said...

Thanks Derek...one other thing I need to say is that the bent to want to take revenge within me also was a root to me being very judgmental (not the only root; many more besides that God has revealed to me over many years that I repented from)! Today I had completion in jettisoning the revenge department when I reviewed my past memories and prayed to the Holy Spirit to remove any commitments, or hooks towards, or leftover codes that pushed me towards the revenge mentality. Now I feel peace and also like a gigantic weight has been jettisoned...along with joy returning. PTL!!!
Yes my name means renewal or born again...very glad about that!

At 4:45 PM, Anonymous Derek said...

I think we all struggle with feelings of revenge. The wisdom and maturity part is when we can recognize that this is a weakness, rather than a virtue.

Personally, it has helped me a lot to understand this not as something evil (the flesh) but rather as a good need (for protection, safety) that I am pursuing in a counter productive way. So it's a matter of maturity that I can grow towards, rather than something I need to beat myself up about or feel shame for. Realizing that has helped me a lot. It lets me be kind to myself, even when I fail, but also to keep growing and maturing.

At 5:25 PM, Blogger Rene Lafaut said...

Yes I see your points; very good. But I know we can have strongholds within that push, and pull us in the wrong direction something awful (even though we don't like it), and they help to ruin many relationships...or prevent them from blossoming or healing. I did not know I was committed to the, "eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth" mentality until yesterday. I just knew that my anger was intensely black...and that I fell into judging others way too easily... it wasn't what others would call normal concupiscence...! One can liken it to an addict...alcoholic...etc...they have strongholds that others don't have...and that was the way with me. Yesterday I was drawn to reading the Sermon on the Mount and I came across the "eye for and eye..." that Jesus mentioned. And I remembered what you said about Jesus and Paul how they weren't fundamentalists and how they read OT Scriptures not always agreeing with it. Then on the Bus I notice that I was getting annoyed with a passenger taking his time getting off the bus...and I was enraged at how slow and uncaring he was not caring for other people's time...then it hit me: I believed that a person either deserves grace if he or she is good; or deserves judgment if he or she does bad things... and that was when I saw the stronghold of revenge for what it was within me. I also noticed/remembered that Jesus didn't agree with the "eye for an eye..." command either which says that He is grace driven; not anger/revenge driven...and that came from reading your Blog and also your book Healing the Gospel...besides listening to podcasts you are in. I know this lesson/insight isn't the end... humble people are always learning...so I expect to learn every day. Perhaps there are more strongholds to uncover...but when the time comes...I am committed to listening to the Spirit in others (believers and unbelievers)...because that way I won't get too proud about the revelations God gives me if they came directly from Him all the time.
I like your post on Pharisees too...very good stuff! Thanks bro!

At 2:10 PM, Blogger Rene Lafaut said...

Derek I am reading your latest book...and this below is what it triggered...together with what you said above and where I am at in my personal journey:
Survival and Justice are core values God puts in all of us at conception. They are good, healthy, and needed. But they can grow into selfishness and revenge when we believe lies about others and ourselves. This is what I mean when I say evil lives off of the good in us; sort of like rust on a car, or a sickness spiritually. Survival and Justice don't start out as selfishness, animal, or evil and they are meant to serve good purposes: showing us that God wants us alive, and that we are designed to love and not to take revenge but to feel each other's pain and help to restore broken lives. But when we believe lies about our values of Survival and Justice they become warped and get at odds with our relational and social sides which are geared towards warmth, kindness, friendship, community, and solidarity with all people. Warped Survival and Justice also leads to intolerance, judging, and "my way or the highway" commitments, thinking, and acting: which are totally opposed to how God designed us as relational beings.
I remember many years back looking at the cross of Jesus and thinking that the crucified Jesus' flesh represented our selfishness that needed to be crucified. Only problem is that Jesus' flesh is not selfish. Jesus is both perfect God and perfect man. No sin can be found in Him.
So what is the flesh that Paul alludes to in Scripture that fallen humanity is plagued with? The flesh is our attitudes of sinful independence from God. The flesh's foundations are the lies we believe about our identities, how we see others, and God. These lies warp our understanding of Survival and Justice into selfishness and judging, and revenge.
The only way to reverse this growth is to change what we believe and how we think about what we believe. Analyzing what one believes all by one's self won't bring real and lasting change...we need Healing light to expose and restore things for what they are: Jesus is that Light. He does this in the context of relationships (with Him and humanity)...with us tuning into hearing His voice and following the directions He is leading us in.
The flesh can't submit to God. The idea that it can be crucified and bring life is a fallacy. The only way that the flesh dies (our sinful independence) is by becoming dependent on God through trust and grace. Focusing only on the flesh-dynamic gives it power. Focusing on God's voice and believing in His healthcare, promises, and listening to Him while walking with Him will enable Him to heal us gradually...by renewing our minds from dead codes and dead attitudes! This doesn't happen magically...but through trial and error, two steps forward; one back...etc.; or like waves coming in land as the tide rises...and it starts with the patience we already have and builds on that. It isn't a sprint, but a marathon. No one has arrived! The patience we have is a gift from God; all the natural loves are gifts deposited into us by God. Where they live is sacred ground and are preparations and fore taste of the relationship God offers us.


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