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Reflections on Making Scripture More Accessible to Postmodern Readers

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I love the Bible, and I want those I serve to love it too. But sometimes I feel like a guy who's trying to introduce a male friend to a girl he knows-you know, doing a little matchmaking. And the introduction isn't going so well. It's not because the two are incompatible; it's because of the way I set them up.

I told the guy that this girl was gorgeous-and brilliant. I described her as friendly, outgoing, warm, accepting, personable, and charming. "She'd be perfect for you!" I gushed.

Then they met. I wasn't lying about all those good things, but she can be a bit shy at times. She doesn't go around just spilling out her heart. You have to know the right kinds of questions to ask; otherwise, she can seem aloof.

And although she is beautiful, she does dress oddly by American standards-being from a Middle Eastern country and all. Her smile is beautiful, and her personality is warm, but I never mentioned her accent.

Apparently he found her hard to understand, which made their first date awkward and uncomfortable. I think they still have a chance. Next time, however, I need to be more realistic.

That's what introducing the Bible is like in these changing times. As we move from the modern world into a postmodern one, introducing the Bible to people unfamiliar with it already can be rocky. Here are some reflections on what I've learned about this "matchmaking" endeavor.

The Problem with Compliments

We as the well-meaning friends of the Bible often do it unintended-but real-damage, just as I did in my botched "matchmaking" attempt. Modern Christians have paid the Bible three compliments that have negatively impacted our attempts to introduce it to postmodern readers.

First, we compare the Bible to things we value highly: encyclopedias ("easy answer" books), blueprints ("how to" instructions), and annotated codes (universal laws). Unfortunately, these comparisons often raise expectations that go unmet and turn people away.

Second, we promise people that the Bible will be easy to understand. Perhaps that's true in places. But according to Scripture itself, some parts are not easy. Peter wrote, "[Paul's] letters contain some things that are hard to understand" (2 Pet. 3:16). Instead of being honest about such difficulties, our sales pitch compares the Bible to other modern products: It's easy! It's fast! It's convenient! In the process, we unintentionally set people up for frustration.

Finally, as modern children of the Enlightenment, we naturally tend to represent the Bible as a repository of sacred propositions and abstractions. Our sermons "exegete" texts by sifting out the stories, poetry, biography, and other "chaff," so we can seize the "wheat" of doctrines, principles, and the like. Modern people love this approach. Meanwhile, postmodern people (who are more like those before the Enlightenment) find our principles and points about as interesting as a phone book.

These misrepresentations are not intentional. However, they do help us see why it's time for a fresh look at the Bible and the way we portray it.

Otherwise, many people will continue to reject the Scriptures unnecessarily. They'll think they're not interested in the Bible when, in fact, they're not interested in the modern Western straightjacket in which we have imprisoned it.

Postmodern Encounters of the Biblical Kind

So how do we help our postmodern friends encounter the Bible? Let me offer some brief suggestions.

Become students, seekers, and learners. Humble and curious people understand more than proud and lazy people. Intellectually flexible people discover more than rigid ones. Thus, we need to restrain our tendency to approach the Bible to confirm what we already know. Instead, we should approach it as children, as beginners, and invite others to join us in this ongoing process of discovery.

Admit that parts of the Bible perplex, bother, and confuse us. By fitting the Bible neatly into familiar categories, we've tried to make it "safe." I've discovered, however, that it's better to acknowledge when a passage bugs me than to pretend I know exactly what to do with it.

The fact is, certain parts of the Bible scandalize me, such as those maddening passages about women and children being slaughtered, terrorist-style. Instead of domesticating the texts that make me nervous, I'm learning to live with the tension. Maybe someday it will be resolved for me. Maybe not. That's OK. If we're willing to engage the Scriptures with honesty and humility, we may even learn to value dynamic tension.

For example, some biblical texts seem to present the Israelite monarchy as a bad thing; by choosing a human king, the people had conformed to their neighbors and rejected God as their king. Other passages praise kingship as a gift from God.

Instead of trying to explain away one perspective or the other, why not say that the Bible presents an ambivalent view of the Israelite monarchy? In some senses the monarchy seems to be a terrible mistake; in other ways, it's a gift from God. The Bible is full of such paradoxes.

Let go of our preoccupation with propositions (what we are supposed to think), and replace it with a focus on mission (what we are supposed to be and do). This more ancient (and postmodern) way of learning means that we won't expect to understand more of the Bible until we start doing what we already know. Such an approach to Scripture pushes us to ask, What are we supposed to be doing in these days? How do we fit in with God's creative and ongoing mission?

For example, if we read 1 Corinthians 11-14 simply looking for propositions about the role of women in the church, we'll find them. The case will be open and shut: We'll require women to be silent in church.

But if we ask, "What is God doing missionally in this passage?" the outcome is less clear. We might observe that Paul is seeking to live out the gospel in the particular framework of Corinthian culture (1 Cor. 9:19-23). He voluntarily relinquished his own freedom-and sometimes asked the same of those he instructed- "for the sake of the gospel" (v. 23).

Taking his missional strategy more seriously instead of simply mining for propositions, we might decide that requiring women to be silent in church would be exactly the wrong thing to do in a culture such as ours, a culture different in so many ways from Corinth.

Don't insist upon certainty and proof, but value dialogue and conversation, intrigue and search. The definitive Bible study or sermon in recent decades sought to yield clarity. Unfortunately, reality is often fuzzy and mysterious, not clear; full color, not black and white.

So how about a Bible study or sermon that is successful not because everyone agrees with your interpretation, but because they can't wait to get home and read and ponder and discuss it more, because they have become intrigued and mystified and enthralled, because (although they may not have captured the meaning) the text has captured their imagination and curiosity and won their heart?

Modern minds, following the lead of modern science, have often sought to banish mystery. But we can learn a lesson about mystery from those contemporary scientists who honestly admit that the depths of meaning in the cosmos still exceed their grasp.

Likewise, we shouldn't seek to remove mystery from the Bible; instead, we should learn to revere it. When we feel that we have penetrated the meaning of a particular passage, we need to go deeper, to press on until we realize we're peering into a depth we cannot fathom.

Focus on the big story instead of just analyzing the details. When we don't pay attention to the big story, we are likely to impose alien readings on the Bible. For example, an overly analytical approach might reduce the Bible to an elaborate answer to the question, "Does a person go to heaven after he dies?" If we think this question is the main focus of Scripture, we'll misunderstand major portions of it-such as the entire Old Testament.

In the Old Testament, people were far more concerned about being the people of God in this life, not the next. When they performed sacrifices, their motivation wasn't to go to heaven after they died. Instead, they were seeking purity as a community; they didn't want to be disqualified by God for participation in His unfolding covenant with them.

Do more with the Bible than just read and study it. There are so many other ways to interact with Scripture than just reading it. Have you ever devoted an entire Bible-study session to memorization? Or read a text in unison-not just once, but several times, so it can be savored-and then sat together in silence for 10 minutes to ponder what you heard?

Or you might explore how other Christian traditions have interacted with the Bible through the centuries. If you've never learned lectio divina, a premodern approach to Scripture cherished by the Benedictines, find someone who can teach it to you-or investigate a book or website that describes it (see "Introducing Lectio Divina" on pp. 14-15). Have you ever tried an Ignatian reading, which requires imaginatively entering a biblical story and looking at it from the inside? (See The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Image Books.)

Pay attention to marginalized readers and readings. The Bible was the book of the Jews and early Christians, people who were nearly always marginalized, oppressed, and in danger. Privileged, comfortable, and secure people may be destined to misunderstand the Bible because they cannot identify with its original characters, writers, and readers.

If you are in the privileged category, seek out people who are not. Listen to their readings of Scripture. Consider the differences between their point of view and your own, and expect new insight to spring from those differences. Value their perspective-which will likely be quite different from yours.

Look at the Bible as a question book and not just an answer book. Have you ever noticed how often Jesus answered questions with another question? What if God's answers to us are frequently questions? What if the Bible is intended not just to tell us what to think, but rather to teach us how to think? What if, by inspiring questions in us, the Bible actually "reads us," instead of us reading it? Remember what Hebrews says about the way Scripture penetrates deep within our hearts, "reading" our souls (Heb. 4:12-13)? The questions the Bible raises in our minds may be more important than the answers we find.

If you teach, teach differently. We who teach-whether in small groups or Sunday school, from the pulpit or one on one-have to explore new ways to communicate old truths in the postmodern world. Ironically, our style may become more like Jesus' and more like the Bible's, which is characterized by parable, story, conversation, proverb, poem, image, and surprise. All of these are a far cry from three points and an application.

This approach may actually rekindle others' fascination with this wild and wonderful book called the Bible. In the process, we may renew our own interest too.

That's what's happening to me. As I try to help my postmodern friends meet and romance this amazing collection of ancient books-covered as they are with human fingerprints, yet pulsating with God's Spirit-I find myself falling in love again and again. I hope you will too.

About the Author

BRIAN McLAREN is pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Maryland, and author of several books.

Artikel ini diambil dari:
Milis i-kan-untuk-CyberGki, 21 April 2002. Oleh Brian McLaren
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