Slacktivist: On reading scripture rightly…


In the midst of a series of posts on the thinking of Niebuhr, the Slacktivist points out an important criticism of much of modern evangelical thought…

“Niebuhr was, in other words, deeply orthodox on the subject of human nature and seriously heterodox on the subject of the divine. This latter heterodoxy explains why Niebuhr is out of favor with contemporary evangelical Christians.** Evangelicals ought to be more charitable to old Reinhold, however, since they tend to suffer from a mirror-image of his problem.

Evangelicals tend to be, in other words, deeply orthodox on the subject of the divine and seriously heterodox on the subject of human nature.

Consider evangelical hermeneutics and the epistemology that underlies them. Try to reconcile this objective certainty with the Christian belief that human beings are finite, fallible and fallen. It cannot be done. Evangelicals may nominally believe this is our state, but as soon as we pick up a Bible and being to read they believe we turn into clear-eyed, pure-hearted, omniscient readers.

Hence the evangelical obsession with declarations of the “inerrancy” or “infaliibility” of the text. I am in no position to say whether or not such declarations are true. None of us is. As errant, fallible humans we cannot judge whether or not a text is inerrant and infallible. But even if we take it on faith that the text is all that they say it is, we’re still no better off because we cannot supply this perfect text with perfect readers, or with a reading that is “inerrant” or “infallible.””

Do read the rest of the quote, especially if you’re not familiar with the classical understandings of human nature and original sin… It’s exactly this line of critique about our ability to correctly read scripture as individuals that I think is the key to the problems we have in understanding the teachings of scripture as applied to the questions of our present day.

Scripture is read and theology done in conversation with others. To reject that conversation is to claim to have found an inerrant teaching on one’s own. (Because even if the “one” is a group – unless it’s an inclusive group it’s not the community of all believers.)

Read the rest here: Human readers

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...