Walter Brueggemann on Politics

A few weeks ago I linked an interview by Pete Enns with prominent Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann.  Today I want to come back to some comments Brueggemann made with respect to how we as Christians ought to engage with the political issues of the day.  Some money quotes:

So if you love neighbor, you have to ask, “Who is our neighbor?”  And obviously the Bible thinks immigrants are our neighbors, the Bible thinks that our neighbors are people who need some kind of healthcare, the Bible thinks that our neighbors are entitled to good schools and good houses, and so on, and so on…, and love of God means, critically, to critique the worship of idols.  We won’t have agreement on what the idols are, but I think American exceptionalism has become an idol.  So “Make America Great Again” is an idol, the way it’s being parsed.

…I think the place to begin is that the God of the Bible…has commanded us to love God and love neighbor, and we have to ask what now does it mean to love God and what now does it mean to love neighbor….  I think it’s easy to make a case that our society is increasingly treating the neighbor as a threat and not a neighbor, and is increasingly distorting God for the worship of idols.  I don’t think that’s a progressive or a liberal judgment, I think that’s an evangelical judgment, and I believe that’s the conversation we ought to be having.

Regarding the tendency to make an idol of political parties and the political process:

…I think we’ve got to get beneath the slogans and the mantras and talk about human reality on the ground.  So, for example, we shouldn’t be talking ideologically about immigrants, we should be talking about the breaking up of families, that these are real mothers and real fathers and real children and what do you think it feels like to break up a family.  I think we should be not talking ideologically about healthcare delivery, but what we should be talking about is why is it that a guy like I am can count on seeing a good doctor and I got good insurance and I’m not worried about anything, and what it would be like to have my old age ailments and have no coverage and not be able to see a doctor because I can’t afford a doctor.  That is, we’ve got to bring the discussion down to the level of human pain and human suffering and human reality, because what we’re dealing with are real people and not slogans.

A Few Posts About Inerrancy

Today we are going to talk about inerrancy, and more broadly, about the general evangelical way of handling the Bible.  If you’ve been hanging around here long enough, then you already know that the concept of biblical inerrancy is on my shit list.

Our first stop on today’s journey is at Pete Enns’ podcast The Bible For Normal People where he has an interview with noted biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann.  This will take you about 45 minutes but is well worth a listen.  Brueggemann routinely addresses both mainline and evangelical audiences, and has challenging words for both.  In his view, the great failing of the mainlines is that they have become completely infatuated with the historical-critical method of handling Scripture and have never attempted to move beyond that.  They are not asking the question “Okay, now that we have come to recognize the Bible as the product of a specific people at a specific time within a specific cultural context, how can we look through that to see it as a living Word that speaks to us today?”  Whereas the great failing of evangelicalism is its tendency to reduce the Bible to a package of truths and principles.  Whether you’re looking for a theology of atonement or a practical guide to managing your finances, it’s all right there, spelled out word-for-word on the pages of that book you hold in your hand.  Neither approach serves Scripture well or respects the actual nature of the book that is before us.

For our next stop we go to Slacktivist for a post entitled “Captain Kirk, the Green Woman, and the Bible“.  His starting point is Star Trek’s Captain Kirk and his persistent reputation as an intergalactic womanizer of the first order, which has no basis in fact or in the original series.  Yet this reputation persists, a phenomenon which he refers to as “Kirk Drift”, borrowing the terminology from an article which he links at the outset.  From there he goes on to explain how “Kirk Drift” colors our understanding and interpretation of the Bible, giving as a specific example the subject of hell, which he explores in greater detail in a follow-up post.  Though the Bible says precious little about hell other than that it is not exactly the kind of place you would want to take a girl on a first date, that has not stopped us from constructing elaborate theories about it and claiming those theories as incontrovertible truth drawn from a plain reading of Scripture.

Our next and final stop on today’s tour is at PostBarthian, entitled “Errors of Inerrancy #9:  Inerrancy turns the Bible into a Paper Pope“.  Quoting Karl Barth, who himself was not a fan of biblical inerrancy, the post argues that inerrancy flattens the distinction between the text of the Bible and a particular interpretation of said text, thereby asserting that not only is the Bible free from error, but such-and-such interpretation of the Bible is free from error as well, because the meaning of the Bible is so plain that one will inevitably arrive at the preferred interpretation.

The recurring theme here is that the typical evangelical handling of Scripture attempts to turn it into something it isn’t while disrespecting the nature of the book that is actually in front of us.  God has given us a collection of books which tell the story of His plan for redeeming humanity and remaking creation, putting right a world gone horribly wrong, the story of the people whom God chose specifically for this purpose, told in their own words, how that story came to its unexpected climax in Jesus and his death on the cross, and how we get to be part of the new community Jesus is building and its ongoing work of reconciling humanity and creation with God.  We have spent the entire Lenten season looking at N. T. Wright’s latest book, which draws out all these themes and more in unpacking how the events of Good Friday changed the world.  Yet this is not what we want, and so we insist upon the Bible as a repository of propositional truth containing everything from cosmic origins to the theology of atonement to seven steps for a successful love life, all with chapter and verse to back it up.  In so doing we dishonor the Bible by disrespecting the nature of the actual book in front of us.