I admit that I have several pet peeves. For the past few years one of them has been the phrase, “It’s Biblical”. For anyone unfamiliar with this phrase, it simply means that if you disagree with my doctrine, you have to take it up with the Bible and God rather than me. In an effort to be transparent, I must confess that I have been a perpetrator of this line a time or thirty.
The cornerstone for this phrase can be found in the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16, which says that all Scripture is God Breathed, seems to suggest that God is behind it all. So, if you don’t like these words you have to take it up with God. I feel I must make a disclaimer lest I be labeled a “super liberal” who doesn’t believe in the Bible or God. I do, in fact, believe in God. I believe that the Scriptures are inspired by God. I have a deep reverence for these sacred texts. But, I still hate that phrase.
If I am telling you what I believe, and what I believe is formed from Biblical Study, it seems that you don’t have a leg to stand on if you disagree with me. In fact, if you disagree with me I can accuse you of not believing the Bible as God’s Word. However, in doing so I would be missing one very significant factor. While the words of Scripture are “God Breathed”, my lens, through which I am reading these sacred words, is not so “infallible”.
The biggest problem with our lens is that most of us don’t realize that we have one. We fool ourselves into thinking that our reading of Scripture is completely objective and untainted by our own selves and circumstances. This is nothing short of total ignorance. Ignorance that, like I mentioned above, I am guilty of more often than not.
So, what role does our lens play? We are living in a Western society that has experienced things like the Civil Rights Movement. We look at slavery with utter disdain and amazement that people thought it was ok. It probably shocks many of us to learn that a large percentage of churches supported slavery during, and long after, the early years of the European settlement of North America. Many of the folks responsible for these atrocities read their Bible as much as we do today. Yet, they felt that Scripture supported slavery. This is something that nearly every church in the US would condemn today. So, what changed? Did the Scriptures change? Or are we reading the Scriptures with a lens partially formed by our post Civil Rights Movement culture? A lens drastically different from that which was worn by many church leaders during a time when slavery was widely culturally accepted.
So, should we stop reading the Bible? I don’t think so. I think we all just need to swallow a bit of our pride and truly look into what our lens might be formed by. I am a Child of God. That is true. However, I am also a German American white male. I am living in a major city working with folks very different from me. I work alongside many who I would consider contemplatives. I tend to lean toward the moderate/liberal side of political issues. This is all a part of my lens.
I believe that self awareness is crucial in this case. We can’t take our lens off. But, we can become more aware of it. We can start to see when our theology reflects it. This awareness will almost certainly help us to become better Bible readers. It might also help us to become better people. When engaging someone we disagree with, we might approach them with humility rather than stubborn pride. Rather than shouting, “It’s Biblical!” We might be willing to admit that our interpretation is not infallible. Who knows, we might even have a real conversation that bears fruit rather than a pointless debate that merely hardens the hearts on both sides.