As I have made my way through N.T. Wright’s The Last Word and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, I have become keenly aware that I used to be fooling myself about scripture.
I used to think this: Well, other people say this and that about God, but I don’t listen to what other people say about scripture, I just read the Bible.
How naive. Nobody just reads the Bible. We all come into it with all sorts of expectations and presuppositions. Those expectations end up defining what we find.
The characters in Brown’s book see scripture as a collection of writings that were carefully selected by the counsel of Nicaea to quash a certain (and, in their view, more accurate) view of Jesus. They therefore approach all of scripture with the assumption that it betrays a bias against certain practices/beliefs. And its easy for me to criticize those characters because they have such obviously wrong presuppositions about what happened during the infancy of the Church.
But those of us who are good Churchgoin’ folk are equally guilty. Whether we know it or not, we also hold particular biases, views, and expectations relating to scripture, and all of them are influencing us. The most dangerous thing we can do is to pretend like they don’t exist and that we are just taking scripture for what it says.
And I’m not even sure that people are as unaware of those biases as they pretend. As Wright points out, most of the time, when people say they are just reading scripture, what they are really saying is that they think they have it all figured out (or that someone who taught them scripture in the “old days” had it figured out) and they don’t want to be bothered to reexamine any of their ideas.
These days, I’m coming to respect the voices of others who have devoted their lives to studying, meditating on, and living out the truths of scripture. I no longer see scripture as something that was delivered onto my doorstep for me to experience for the first time. To understand it, I must know something about the entire landscape of the Church’s experience with scripture – from Peter and Paul to modern and postmodern writers and thinkers. Having a map of that landscape helps all of us to identify our biases and presuppositions, and provides us with clues about where our journey may go from here.