Forty-seven years ago, when I was going to enroll at Central Michigan University for the first time I can remember several people from my Baptist church warn me that I should go to a bible college, get more grounded in faith before I went to a secular university and had my faith destroyed. At the time I remember thinking that if I could indeed get my faith destroyed then, my faith had no substance. Today, many of my Pentecostal friends still have a great distrust for developing the intellect. They jokingly refer to seminaries as cemeteries. The joke is of course that seminaries and seminarians are spiritually dead. Further, conservative theologians distrust and have no use for liberal theologians. There is absolutely no tolerance for individuals that dare to question and think outside the box.
Yet, Isaiah the prophet implores his readers and hearers to come and reason together. When you explore the Hebrew you find that Isaiah is saying that God calls on us to come and argue, discuss, reason. Further, it is to reason about something that seems unreasonable; “Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be white as snow, and though red like crimson they shall be as wool.” The writer of Proverbs states that “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Conservative evangelical Christianity has too much fear of reasoning and questioning. It is one of the things that is wrong with the church.
One of the results of not reasoning and intellectually examining the scripture is the multitude of conflicting interpretations. Further, when you add in the teaching of the Spirit… by that I mean the individual messages that people, especially Pentecostals get… the meaning of scripture passages become so individual that there is really no chance for corporate understanding and agreement.
Just as bad as that is the insistence that scripture passages are meant to be understood in our time and written to us in the twentieth century. If you do not understand them within their cultural context… that is… what they would mean to the original hearers and readers, then you lose an important part of the meaning. The problem is that people have been forcing the party line of interpretation on people for years. We have literally had to put up with interpretation that does not hold up to even mild scrutiny. It seems that the scripture is so clear on a point but when you look further into it you find out that it is not nearly so clear as it may seem. All of the bibles we have are translations. They are translated from Greek and Hebrew into English. There are things lost in the translation. The translators put their own biases in the translation it cannot be helped.
Another thing that must be considered in scripture interpretation is the transitional quality of the New Testament writings. One must understand the audience that is being addressed, what is the occasion of the letters, what kinds of things are being addressed? The gospels were written about things that were said and done before the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. They were for the most part said to Jews who were under the Torah. They are all transitional between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant and even the letters of Paul, and the other apostles, written to the Gentiles, are written in a transition period between covenants.
So, what am I advocating here? I am advocating that sincere Christ loving individuals take the time to reason together about scripture translation. It may take some hard work. It may be uncomfortable from time to time. People may have to let go of their preconceived ideas in favor of taking a second and even third look at what they believe and why. This could actually result in finding a Christianity that is more faithful to the teaching of Jesus and his apostles, and one that will impact the world around us for the kingdom of God and actually begin to bring it forth.