Scripture: Privilege or Responsibility?

Let us no longer give the Bible to all children when they enter the third grade or whenever their assumed rise to Christian maturity is marked, such as eighth-grade commencements. Let us rather tell them and their parents that they are possessed by habits far too corrupt for them to be encouraged to read the Bible on their own.

I remember a friend telling me about this quote a couple of years ago. Then I came across it again on Steve Bush’s blog. (Here’s his website.) Okay. Maybe the quote is extreme, but it makes you think about Scripture, North American Christian values and spiritual transformation.

“Most North American Christians assume that they have a right, if not an obligation, to read the Bible. I challenge that assumption. No task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America. Let us no longer give the Bible to all children when they enter the third grade or whenever their assumed rise to Christian maturity is marked, such as eighth-grade commencements. Let us rather tell them and their parents that they are possessed by habits far too corrupt for them to be encouraged to read the Bible on their own.

North American Christians are trained to believe that they are capable of reading the Bible without spiritual and moral transformation. They read the Bible not as Christians, not as a people set apart, but as democratic citizens who think their ‘common sense’ is sufficient for ‘understanding’ the Scripture. They feel no need to stand under the authority of a truthful community to be told how to read. Instead they assume that they have all the ‘religious experience’ necessary to know what the Bible is about. As a result the Bible inherently becomes the ideology for a politics quite different from the politics of the Church.”

~ Stanley Hauerwas, Unleashing the Scripture

3 thoughts on “Scripture: Privilege or Responsibility?

  1. Who then among us is “qualified” to “correctly” interpret for us; the stinking lowly, uneducated masses? What then is our criteria? Education? Character? Charisma? And how do those who interpret it for us, remain untainted by their own political agenda? Where are those who can “Rightly” divide truth uncorrupted by political agenda? Perhaps you best define what you are meaning to convey with the use of the word political.

  2. Hey Mark,

    Like I said in the post, Hauerwas’ quote is fairly extreme. But he brings up a good point. Many times North American Christians take Scripture to simply support their own ideologies rather than approaching Scripture as a confrontation between God’s Story and their own distorted stories. That’s why many times what we think is “biblical theology” is actually American politics and ideology supported by proof-texts. This becomes more apparent when one travels outside the U.S.

    I think that is what Hauerwas is meaning when he states, “As a result the Bible inherently becomes the ideology for a politics quite different from the politics of the Church.” The Church’s politics is supposed to be the implementation of Jesus’ work of making the kingdom of God available. Or as Paul states in Romans 14:17, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

    Unfortunately, Hauerwas often states his case in a shocking way. In that light he has done a better job of deconstruction than reconstruction (at least in this quote) and doesn’t offer alternatives. I think that’s what your comment is addressing.

    Ultimately, the proper interpretation and embodying of Scripture must occur within (I choose “within” rather than Hauerwas’ “under”) “the authority of a truthful community.” Obviously this community must be filled and led by the Spirit. Second, the group’s concept of God’s Story and the accompanying theology and praxis, must be formed by those who have gone before into proper spiritual transformation — people from both within the group and aided by some outside the group. Third, the group must be held together by a covenant to be a counterculture “resistance movement,” that exists to confront the ideologies and practices within our culture with the life of God’s kingdom.

    Whether, that’s Hauerwas’ intention or not, that’s how I view his statement about politics of our culture versus the politics of the Church (I would use “kingdom”).

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