There are certain things that over time are harder and harder for me to ignore and have ended up becoming sources of frustration and even anger. One specifically relates to how the church and its pastors often use and interpret the scriptures. A recent article written by David Bentley Hart for Commonweal exposes this very problem. Hart brilliantly writes,
“Throughout the history of the church, Christians have keenly desired to believe that the New Testament affirms the kind of people we are, rather than—as is actually the case—the kind of people we are not, and really would not want to be.”
As I read this I couldn’t help but exclaim inwardly, “Yes!” “Yes!” “Yes!” This is because in the world of face to face and internet communication I have found that true scriptural exegesis isn’t really welcome so long as it does not validate a common sense understanding of the world. In fact, it’s a bit scary to witness the hoops and levels of outright denial that many will go through in order to maintain the status quo hermeneutic they hold. Not only that but how nasty and personal they get in the process of defending their point of view. Recently, I had to unfriend someone on Facebook because of their of incivility in regards to an article that I had posted about Christo-anarchism. I had been around the bend with this person before on other social media platforms regarding various topics such as the rich man in the Gospel of Mark and how the Markan Jesus stood against economic injustice. Much frustration had developed over time as he argued against Christo-anarchism from a dogmatic perspective that was informed by Luther’s Small Catechism. The problem, though, with this line of argumentation was that it did not take into account the deeper narrative frameworks of the scriptures and, in particular, the Gospels. He would simply not take up my arguments on scriptural terms. When he did use scripture it was in the vein of proof-texting which is just downright tiring and reminiscent of reading parts of Augustine’s writings. (As an aside, and interestingly enough, Augustine can be credited with theologically legitimating the Constantinian shift of the church in the 4th and 5th centuries.) Disconcertingly, this person has had no lack of supporters in the form of pastors and, unsurprisingly, professors with Ph.D’s. Yet, to be fair, I can also tell you of friendly encounters wherein the Scriptural witness was abandoned in order to defend the status quo of American militarism and an oversimplified view of Lutheran vocation “that affirms the kind of people we are.” Again, disconcertingly and eerily put forth by those with Ph.D’s, those with the “best minds” and those within the church hierarchy. This, at least for me, gives an added punch to the argument that location is everything when it comes to how one interprets a text.
Nonetheless, I especially resonated with Hart’s experiences regarding the criticisms he received for an article he had previously written for First Things . In this article he praised Laudato Si. Here’s what he notes about the said criticisms:
“The most representative statements of the contrary position were two earnest articles in the Public Interest by Samuel Gregg, neither of which addressed my actual arguments, but both of which correctly identified my hostility to libertarian apologetics. And on at least one point Gregg did have me dead to rights: I did indeed say that the New Testament, alarmingly enough, condemns great personal wealth not merely as a moral danger, but as an intrinsic evil. No, he rejoined with calm certainty, it is not wealth as such that the New Testament condemns, but only a spiritually unhealthy preoccupation with it (the idolatry of riches, wealth misused, wealth immorally gained); riches in and of themselves, he insisted, are neither good not bad. This seems an eminently reasonable argument, I suppose. Certainly we have all heard it before, almost as a truism.
Here, however, my more than two years laboring in the vineyards of the koine Greek had rendered me immune to the reasonable view of things. For, while Gregg had common sense on his side, I had the actual biblical texts on mine, and they are so unambiguous that it is almost comical that anyone can doubt their import.”
More often than not, after various conversations I have come to a similar conclusion as Hart. I’m sure in the eyes of others I came across as stubborn and resistant to common sense but the texts say what they say. I don’t presume to say that I’ve got it all figured nor am I willing to say that I am good at embodying it either. Nonetheless, it seems to become a burden of sorts that only gets heavier as I see the scriptures misused again and again by those who purportedly know best. Like King Saul who has been given a spirit to torment him I feel similarly crying out from within, “Can we at least be honest about this?” I know! I know! I am being sooo melodramatic! But in the words of the great Anthony Hamilton, “Do You Feel Me?” Thus, in closing I gift you with this wonderful song.