Don’t get me wrong. Lots of good things came out of the reformation, the enlightenment, and the American restoration movement. The people that are/were a part of those things did their best to understand scripture and follow God using the resources that were available to them during their time and day. Still, as I pointed out yesterday, something went wrong. Discovering universal truth by applying reason to scripture didn’t result in uniform perspective, but in massive, bitter divisions. Why?
Here are three possiblities:
1. We all come into scripture “expecting” to find certain things. Those expectations are defined by our culture, our upbringing, and our life experiences. We tend to focus on the things in scripture that seem to respond to our expectations, ignoring or marginalizing everything else. What “happened” was that different people asked their own questions and therefore ended up with different answers.
2. (This is where I don’t sound much like a good evangelical, I know – but here goes anyway) Scripture may not have “answers” to all of our questions. As such, we need to ask “scriptural” questions if we want “scriptural” answers.
– For example, my question may be “What do I need to do if I want to be sure I will go to heaven after I die?” But scripture may be more concerned with a question like “How can I tap into the present reign of God?” If I go into scripture looking for answers to the first question, ignoring the second, I’m going to end up with a lot of strained interpretations that try to fit “square pegs” from the Bible into the “round holes” of my questions.
– Another example: My question may be “How can I be more fulfilled in my marriage?” But scripture may be answering the question “How can I imitate Jesus in the way I relate to my spouse?”
– A third example: My question may be “How can I receive material/financial blessings from God?” But scripture may be answering a question more like: “How can I avoid becoming greedy and self-centered because I have so much stuff?”
– A fourth example, which hits a little closer to home: My question may be “What form of worship is ‘acceptable’ to God?” But scripture may be unconcerned with dictating specific forms of worship. Instead, it may be answering a question more like: “How can all of life be worship?” and “How can we worship in ways that show respect for people who have different cultural backgrounds?”
3. God, his ways, his Kingdom, and the what scripture calls the “spiritual realm” are things that we can’t fully understand. Thus, rather than asking us to comprehend him, God asks us to trust him. If Jesus is truth, as John’s gospel suggests, then we must focus on, meditate on, and ever return to the person Jesus himself, rather than a cold, scientific examination of scripture, if we want to grasp truth.
To put it another way, you aren’t going to learn about the heart of God in the same way you can calculate the maximum load for a suspension bridge or conjugate a verb. If you assume that truths about God can be found that way, you’re going to end up “stretching things” to arrive at your conclusions. That will be perfectly obvious to the next guy who comes along to answer a similar question. But, if he assumes the “truth through reason applied to scripture” approach, he, too, will end up stretching things in a different way to make them “fit.”
Thats my partial explanation about why the “apply reason to scripture” approach resulted in so many different answers. But it still doesn’t explain why people became so mean spirited and defensive in the process (well, actually it does, but I haven’t been explicity about why). Maybe I’ll address that one in a couple of days. Right now, its time to get back to getting ready for what we will discuss tomorrow morning…