Yesterday I took a road trip to Waco with one of my favorite people to hear Rachel Held Evans speak at Baylor University‘s chapel service. Let’s just say, I went expecting awesomeness and I was not disappointed. We didn’t just get to hear Rachel speak at chapel, we also got to head to “The Bobo” (The Bobo Spiritual Life Center) and participate in a brown bag lunch Q & R session. When I walked into the room I noticed there was an open seat next to RHE and well, I’m not gonna lie, I totally almost ran to sit in it. There were several things I took away from my day at Baylor.
1. Truett Seminary is emergent and egalitarian friendly! Who knew, right? Yesterday I met Ryan Richardson and his lovely wife Kristen. He is an Associate Chaplain and the Director of Worship at Baylor and she is an Associate Chaplain and Director for Formation and Baptist Student Ministries. He enthusiastically told me that Truett Seminary has been quite egalitarian for several years. Ryan is responsible for scheduling the chapel speakers and has brought in speakers like Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt and, of course, Rachel Held Evans (twice!).
2. While Rachel was talking she said something that caught my ear. The Bible is a conversation starter not a conversation ender. We often make the Bible something it never says it is. We call it a guide book, a blue print, a manual and a constitution, when in reality it is none of these. I like McLaren’s picture of the Bible as a library.
First, we must displace the habit of reading the Bible flatly. In a constitution, Article 5 has the same authority as Article 2. When the Bible is read this way, Jesus’ life and words are pressed down and flattened to the same level as those of Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Paul, and Jude. In this approach, the words of and about Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jesus, Paul, and Jude are all “inspired Scripture,” so they all have the same value and authority. This elevation of the Bible above Christ is remarkably common in conservative churches, where it would never be stated so baldly, but is nevertheless rampant. In this light, it’s interesting to analyze the use of the words “Bible” and “biblical” in names and discourse. Think of the subtle (but potentially significant) difference between a Bible church and a community of disciples of Christ, or a Bible college and a discipleship college, or a Bible teacher and a disciple-maker. Think of the difference between arguing that an idea or behavior is biblical (meaning one can use constitutional reading techniques to justify it) and claiming that it is Christ-like. One might argue (by avoiding everything we’re recommending here!) that it is biblical to commit genocide by quoting Deuteronomy 7, but one could never claim it is Christ-like.
When we view the Bible as a library, we are free to place more importance on the words of Jesus over the words of Paul or the words about genocide. Jesus is -and was – God made flesh. He is the perfect representation of all we are to strive to become. We are encouraged to have the mind of Christ, not the mind of Moses or even of Paul. Rachel talked about this again in her post yesterday about Christian Smith’s book, The Bible Made Impossible. Please forgive the quote within a quote but I thought it was a good insight.
In The Bible Made Impossible, Smith tackles the problem of “biblicism,” which he defines as “a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.”
Biblicism falls apart, Smith says, because of the “the problem of pervasive interpretive pluralism,” for “even among presumably well-intentioned readers—including many evangelical biblicists—the Bible, after their very best efforts to understand it, says and teaches very different things about most significant topics…It becomes beside the point to assert a text to be solely authoritative or inerrant, for instance, when, lo and behold, it gives rise to a host of many divergent teachings on important matters.”
3. Another point she made that I loved was that the Bible does not layout one path to biblical womanhood (or manhood for that manner). She pointed out that often today, the 50s ideal of June Cleaver is lifted up as the model of biblical womanhood. In reality, the world and time in which the Bible was written had never seen the likes of June Cleaver. In fact, you can search high and low in scripture and you will not find a single woman who fits that model. The Bible is full of woman and about the only thing that is for sure is that every one of them is unique and different and has her own gifts just like all of us. I don’t know about you, but I am so comforted that God doesn’t choose to give women just one blueprint of what biblical womanhood is all about, but instead provides many vastly different examples of what it means to be an Aishat Chayil! Woman of Valor!!
4. I was also struck by the story Rachel told about the ceremony she and her friend had honoring the women of the Bible who were victims of violence perpetrated in the name of God. She talked about how we need to remember them, how we need to honor them by telling their stories. It is easy to read over the difficult passages of the Bible and forget that these were real people with real lives who were made to suffer in the name of God. I don’t think these stories are included in our library we call the Bible because it is the way things were supposed to be. Rather, these stories serve as examples of what horrible things can be done in the name of God. I think these stories are warnings. God’s way of saying, this isn’t me, this isn’t what I want…stop it. “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” Ultimately, God sends his son because the message just doesn’t seem to be coming through. Jesus comes to love, to sacrifice, to ransom the captives and set at liberty those who are being oppressed. He comes to save not to condemn. He comes to forgive sin not to throw a stone.
There were many, many more things that I took away from my trip and hopefully I will get a chance to share more of them later. Suffice it to say that if Rachel is coming to somewhere close to you, I encourage you to take a little road trip to see her. Conversation over.