All right – I’ve got just enough left in me to ask you a question:
How do you interpret the Bible?
This is an important question, and one that we Protestants tend to shy away from. We don’t like things like tradition and creeds. We are independent and individualistic. Sometimes this is a good thing. When it comes to interpreting Scripture, however, it is not.
The Church Fathers (men who lived in the two or three centuries following the death of the Apostles) felt that Scripture needed a “hedge” through which it could be properly interpreted. They saw the Bible as a mosaic; when looked at closely, you see only one color. When you pull back to see the whole piece, a portrait of a King is revealed, and this King is engaged in a unified story of redemption. Thus was developed the “Rule of Faith,” perhaps best articulated by Ireneaus:
…this faith: in one God, the Father Almighty, who made the heaven and the earth and the seas and all the things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who made known through the prophets the plan of salvation, and the coming, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily ascension into heaven of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and his future appearing from heaven in the glory of the Father to sum up all things and to raise anew all flesh of the whole human race…”
This is the starting point. Augustine (ask me my opinion about him sometime) further clarified the Rule in his belief that Scripture must be viewed through the lens of loving God and loving others. He thought that if you read something in the text which went against the law of love, your interpretation was faulty.
One Trinitarian God.
These are the things you must believe in order to properly understand Scripture. Modern critical approaches read against the text in order to destroy it. These ancient models seek to affirm the text and use it as a guide for daily living. While the Church Fathers focused far too much on allegory for my taste, in this they were correct. You cannot be a Christian and not believe the text. You cannot have faith in God and seek to destroy the Scripture.
We may, in our different denominations and traditions, come to different conclusions on points of theology, but we must do so from this common foundation. So, as we near April and the second half of Lent, I encourage you to examine how you read the Bible. Are you shaping its meaning, or allowing the meaning to shape you? Where do you begin?