…but if you can explain them away, that’s totally cool.
We are all human. And as such, true scholarly criticism of our own thinking strongly suggests the almost near impossibility of reading or learning something without unconsciously injecting something of our own thoughts, bias, or experience into it. So then at what point do we start to question our own reading of the Bible? In other words, how many theological backflips before we start to go, ‘Hold on here.’
In my lifetime, I have seen huge changes amongst even the most fundamental churches in how we explain Jesus’ teachings on divorce in Matthew 5, Paul’s teachings on women pastors and just women in general, and the Levitical office of priests according to how it pertains to our pastors today…just to name a few. In order to explain them in their current interpretations, a great deal of “exposition” is needed. It is completely dishonest and disingenuous to say that we believe the Bible in its entirety, but use the loophole of “exposition”, or the current trendy phrase “unpacking”, to in essence get rid of the passages we no longer like or that no longer coincide with culture.
It is true that many things in the Bible need deep study. The problem is when the conclusions from that “deep study” change so constantly, when we are always so fond of quoting our last year’s trend or interpretation as absolute infallible truth, and “praying for” the poor souls who dare to question the interpretation. And more often than not, just a few short months later, we’re championing a new interpretation as infallible truth, forgetting about all the people we stepped on or turned off from God by calling truth that which we now believe to be heresy.
It’s time that us general lay Christians learn the simple basics of scholarly criticism, and not only apply it to the Bible, but what may be infinitely more important, applying scholarly criticism to our own reading and our denominations’ reading, of the Bible. If the Lord does not change, as stated in Malachi 3, then what He is trying to tell us through the Bible is either right or wrong. Pretending that our theology is complete, constant, and unchanging, while using exposition and theological “backflips” to explain away the lack of completeness and constancy, is extremely disingenuous, and we are quite quick to point out those inconsistencies and hypocrisy in other religions. If God is truth, then that truth should be able to stand up to the most trying of critical methods of study. It shouldn’t need us to explain things away. We need to start being critical (in a scholarly sense) of our own interpretations, those who interpret it, and the way the Bible was compiled. This is not news to most theologians today and in history…but to us lay Christians, this may be new territory. For some reason, we’ve been taught not to question our faith. We say this is the most important being and the most important book to ever exist. And we so often act as if they’re anything but. Some even go so far as to say our criticism of the Bible and the church are evidence of us leaving the faith. On the contrary, I believe they are evidence that we are finally starting to take it seriously.
P.S. As alluded to in the post, I am using the word “criticism” in a literary sense, to mean “the analysis and judgment of the merits and faults”, as opposed to the more colloquial meaning of baselessly deriding something.