Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Community Interpretation in Total Church

I was caught in the middle of the inerrancy wars in the Southern Baptist Convention in the early nineties. The war was winding down and the conservatives had pretty much won and most of the moderates went on to form other conventions. There was so much pettiness on both sides and unflattering behavior that it was hard to align heavily with either side. There was one mantra of the moderates that rubbed me the wrong way. It was on the issue of soul competency. It went along the lines that “there’s no one who will tell me how to read the Bible but Jesus.” Biblical interpretation became such an individual thing (as a response to some of the creedal-type statements coming from the conservative/fundamentalists). This attitude goes back to the days of the Reformation, the idea that every believer decides for him/herself what the Bible says. There’s no need for a pope to be our authority. Now, lost in this mantra is the idea of interpreting the Bible in community. Tim Chester, in his book Total Church, deals with this and reminds me of the need for community in reading (and living out) the Bible.

There are a number of dimensions to this understanding (that the text is only properly understood in community). First, most of the New Testament was written to gospel communities. This suggests that the best context in which to understand then is a gospel community. The Old Testament, too, was for the most part the product of a community identity, a community called to be a light to the nations. Bible interpretation is not just about me and my Bible. It is about God’s word to his people, a people with a responsibility towards the world…If you want to understand the role of the Law and its implications today you need to recognize that the Law was given in the context of the call to be a missionary community (154).

Now, I don’t want to say that the interpretation done in community is flawless, but it should not be discounted in the face of elevating the individual’s interpretation over any other.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you make a very valid point. We need to recognize that the Bible serves as the story of the people of God and not the persons of God. Unfortunately, our tendency is to focus on an individualized kind of faith that leaves us isolated, independent and overly sure of our own opinions.