I have two items for my blog post on this morning's church service that I attended.
The pastor told us the story of Gilbert West and George Littleton.
These two men were thinkers during the eighteenth century, and they
undertook a project to refute Christianity. Their plan was that West
would disprove that Jesus rose from the dead, whereas Littleton would
take on the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (who became Paul). But things
did not turn out that way, the pastor narrated, for West and Littleton
became Christians as a result of their study. If you take Jesus
seriously, the pastor told us, you may end up following him!
I would like to read what West and Littleton came up with, and, in this age of the Internet, I actually can! Here and here are links to West's writing on Jesus' resurrection, and here
is Littleton's piece on Paul's conversion. I may read these pieces and
blog about them sometime this week. Of course, I'll have to get used
to the eighteenth century practice of using "f" for "s"!
As my pastor told us about West and Littleton, I thought about a movie that I recently watched, Blue Like Jazz (see here and here). The movie is about a young Baptist named Don, who enrolls for a semester at the ultra-liberal Reed College.
There, Don meets Penny, who herself is a Christian. Penny is
politically liberal, and she became a Christian when she took a Bible as
literature class and found that she liked Jesus. This is
understandable to me, since Jesus in the Gospels has the same concern
for the poor and the suffering that she had. Moreover, she may have
found that Christianity had insights that could nourish her soul. After
coming back from India, Penny quoted Mother Theresa's statement that
the spiritual poverty of the West is greater than the material poverty
in India. Penny said that she felt more spiritually attuned when she
was in India, away from the distractions of her life. I thought that
the movie was silly in areas----I think of that student who dressed up
like the pope and threw Don's books into a fire----but it had some
2. The pastor talked
about a circle. The circle is the circle of faith, the place where we
experience God's love and grace. The pastor said that reading about the
circle or hearing about it is not the same as being inside of it.
stood out to me, for I often think that I read about the circle or hear
about it, without actually being inside of it. I thought back to
something a conservative Christian once said to me: that he began to
understand the Bible after he asked Jesus into his heart. I found his
remark to be insulting, patronizing, and condescending. For one, what
made him think that I had never asked Jesus into my heart? Just because
I did not see things the way he did, that didn't mean that I had never
asked Jesus into my heart. Second, what makes him think that he truly
understands the Bible, as opposed to reading his own evangelical
theology into it? I'm not saying that he doesn't understand the Bible,
but I don't think that his evangelicalism is what enables him to
understand it. He understands the Bible when he practices sound,
scholarly exegesis, not when he reads his evangelical views into it, or
rips it out of its context in his attempt to relate it to his life.
said, it does seem to me that the Bible is more "alive" to a number of
evangelicals than it is for me. I struggle to relate the Bible to my
own life, and even to be inspired by it. I've been reading the Books of
Kings, for example, and I wonder why I should care if such-and-such a
king set up high places, or took them down, or didn't take them down. I
have a hard time seeing that as a profound measure of a king's
righteousness, as important as that may be to the Deuteronomist. But
should I become an evangelical? There is a part of me that feels that
this would be me shutting my mind off----of me adhering to doctrines
that I don't think are true. There are times when evangelicals' "God
showed me from Scripture" interpretations make sense to me, and there
are times when they seem to me to be loose, grossly inaccurate readings
of the text. While I do look for spirituality when I read the Bible, I
cannot go back to interpreting the Bible through the lens of a rigid
conservative evangelical grid, which I consider to be eisegesis rather than exegesis. Life is too messy to be forced into some neat ideology.