Pete Enns has a marvelous interview with Walter Brueggemann on his Bible for Normal People podcast. So good I knew right away I wanted to share it with you.
It clearly reveals what I have come to love most about Brueggemann: his way of reading the Bible challenges both evangelicals and the mainline churches. Here, in my view, is a transcript of the money passage from the interview:
Brueggemann: Well, I think the mainline churches probably have been excessively captured by historical-critical study, and the effect of historical-critical study is to distance the Bible from us and to eliminate the hard questions that make faith scandalous. So my uphill battle in mainline churches has been to try to show the spectacular ways in which the Bible is contemporary, in which the Bible does not fit any of our reasonable categories, in which the Bible invites us to scandalous kinds of imagination and scandalous kinds of obedience.
I think that the counterpoint in more evangelical churches is that the Bible has been reduced to a package of truths without much dynamism, and that also makes the Bible equally uninteresting.
So I sort of have taken it upon myself to be working on both those fronts, because I get invited to a lot of evangelical settings as I do to a lot of mainline settings, and I think those are the twin temptations — either to reduce the Bible to a rational package or to reduce it to a doctrinal package, and I don’t think either one of them serves the Bible very well.
Enns: Well, do you think — that’s very helpful — do you think, Walter, that historical criticism might be an effective challenge, a positive challenge to evangelicalism in its reduction of the Bible to a doctrinal package?
Brueggemann: I think that’s exactly right. And I think historical criticism emerged two hundred years ago because of the kind of reductionist orthodoxy in Germany. So historical criticism is hugely important. The problem is that mainline churches tended to stop there instead of going on to become post-critical, to say, “Now I understand all these critical maneuvers that you have to make in the Bible — how do I move beyond that to take this as a script for faith?
So it’s a kind of a two-step deal, and I think that mainlines have made the first step but not the second, and my perception is that many more evangelical traditions have not made that first step into critical study.
In my opinion, that analysis is spot on.
In essence, what we are talking about here is the same debate, different arena, as we hear in the creation/evolution conflict. How can Christians read the Bible as God’s Word now that we have come to understand it as a book that developed and was put together in the course of a very human history by a very human community?
From my own experience in the evangelical world, their answer is to do what the creationists do in response to the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence. They ignore it and develop apologetics to defend pre-critical readings and interpretations, refusing to accept legitimate discoveries and reasonable conclusions, and failing to recognize the actual nature of the book that is before them. Worst of all, this is usually done for political reasons — to conserve familiar traditions and control the thinking of those within them.
On the other hand, those on the more progressive end of the spectrum get enamored with the thrill of rational discovery and end up spending all their time focusing on theories of the Bible’s historical background and development, and then ignoring the Bible as a living word that speaks to the church and world today, preferring to baptize their own progressive agenda as God’s will. And they can be just as politically motivated in advancing their causes and defending their ways.
I hope you’ll enjoy listening to someone who has honest and hard things to say to both sides.
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