Desperately Seeking A Usable Past – Biblical Interpretation

hebrew Bible

In her blog entry, Biblical women and Lifetime’s The Red Tent, Julie O’Brien refers to people “who are desperately seeking a usable past.” My experience is that many Christians seeking a positive word from the Bible on Jesus, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender equality, violence, and other issues of peace and justice often fit such a description.  The good news is there is some good news.  There are some minority repors that often go unnoticed by patriarchal, domesticated Christians and institutions.  However, there is much not to like in the Bible (and the scriptures of other religions).  In the quest to desperately seek a usable past, people of faith must not be in denial or be delusional, or at worst, dishonest, about the historical and cultural conditionedness of their scripture. Fortunately, there is within the Bible evidence of scripture being a living tradition.  Every generation must decide what to stress, what to ignore, what to critique, and what to add or alter.  The canon may be closed in an official theology sense but not in an everyday, practical sense.

May God give us the wisdom to know what to keep and what to chunk.

How Good Is The Good Shepherd?

Wedgewood Church and First Christian Church in Charlotte, NC are hosting Picturing the Parables of Jesus, a traveling exhibit of Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA).  Wayne Forte’s two paintings considering the Lost Sheep are two of the more provocative works in the exhibit. Originally part of an exhibition in Forte’s homeland, the Philippines, these works offer a unique view of the depth of the Good Shepherd’s love. Among a field of sheep—animals that have a specific place within the sacrificial language of both Judaism and Christianity—Jesus seeks to rescue the “most lost sheep” in the guise of Adolph Hitler. The twin image finds the Good Shepherd rescuing what appears to be Imelda Marcos within a mass of Filipinos.

Forte, Aldoph

Forte, Marcos

 So how good exactly is the Good Shepherd? And, do Christians believe the Good Shepherd is really all that good?

The Repentance of the Rich


How often have we heard preachers preach about repentance?

It is interesting that in the large volume of repentance preaching that repentance of the rich is hardly, if ever mentioned, except by liberal clergy. This despite repentance of the rich being an important theme in biblical texts. (Louise Schottroff, The Parables of Jesus)

When is the last time you heard a sermon on the repentance of the rich directed to the rich in your congregation?

What actions might occur with the repentance of the rich in your congregation with respect to the individual rich people?  How might your church be transformed as a result of the repentance of the rich in your church and the repentance of the rich in your country?

What would repentance of the rich mean for the well-being of your nation and what impact would it have on its political system?

You Can’t Count On Jesus: Bankrupt Epistemologies

Jesus yellow brazil r

Liberal Christians like to hang onto Jesus.  Some even call themselves Jesusians.  Jesus is our lifesaver when we swim in problematic Biblical waters.  There may be awful depictions of God in the Bible, the church’s book, but at the end of the day we have Jesus to count on.  If some part of the Bible does not match up to the revelation of Jesus we can chunk that revelation.

Biblical scholars, however, remind us the search for the historical Jesus is not an easy one with a settled answer. We have four canonical gospels that present contrasting views of Jesus.  There are materials within the gospels that appear to be the re-interpretation of the Jesus tradition from a particular community/location/time.   The text is a living text, including the character of Jesus.

Marcella Althaus-Ried rains on our Jesusian parade even more.  She confronts us with our bankrupt epistemologies and challenges us to “construct a Christ who will go beyond the limitations of Jesus’ historical consciousness.” (From Feminist Theology to Indecent Theology, p. 92)  An example of Jesus’ limited historical conscious is the mite-giving widow in the temple.  “The problem is that, in fact, Christ did not stop the widow from sacrificing herself. Christ is presented in the narratives as compassionate, but it is not what we could call a revolutionary compassion, transforming women’s oppression by an awareness of the patriarchal epistemology of his time.” (p. 92)

Epistemologies, theologies, faith practices which are constructed based on the Bible or based on Jesus are bankrupt.  They are never enough. The truth of the matter is all sources for our theology and faith practice are problematic. All of them!

The faith to which we are called is a living faith.   It is faith, not certainty.  Not a faith without content, but not a faith with settled answers.  And for those of us who have tried both a settled faith and an unsettled faith, we know an unsettled faith is much harder.

May God give us communities, wisdom, endurance, and courage for such a journey.