The Culture Pitfall in Bible Reading Friday, Feb 16 2007 

In my last substantive entry, I wrote about how crowded my own life and mind are. The crowded mind I have makes it harder to grasp the implications of the Bible. In this entry I’m going to give a few examples of how our culture obscures the meaning of the Bible.

The first observation is pretty self evident, so I’ll use a silly example. In Luke 13, Jesus is told that Herod wants him dead. In his response, Jesus tells the Pharisees to “go tell that fox (Herod)….” I’m pretty sure that by calling Herod a “fox” that Jesus wasn’t expressing that Herod is a really fine looking woman. This is a silly example of how our own culture and slang use of language collide with what has to be a an ancient example of slang. The end result is that without further study, it’s hard to really understand what Jesus meant by calling Herod a “fox”. Over 2,000 years, things have changed. It is important that we read the Bible the best we can to attempt to bridge a gap of two millenia. We are kidding ourselves if we don’t recognize that our culture gives us an immediate bias in reading the Bible. Only through study and several attempts at reading are we going to be able to deal with our own modern bias.

 The second example I’ll give is in Matthew 16:18-19. In those two verses, Jesus says “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”. This provides an excellent example of how religious bias influences our reading of the Scripture. If the reader comes from a Roman Catholic background, the only reasonable interpretation to these two verses is that Peter was the first pope. If the reader comes from the typical Southern Baptist church, Peter as pope is preposterous. Instead, the “right” interpretation is that the church is built on Peter’s words that Jesus is “Son of the Living God”. I’ll never forget sitting in a Sunday School class on the day that these two interpretations were interchangably discussed for over a half hour with no clear consensus on what the “right” reading. I offer this example not to lobby for one reading over the other, but to illustrate that our culture, language and religion all impact the way we read and understand the Bible. It is probably a mistake on our part to read the Bible without at least recognizing what we are bringing to the printed page when we sit down to read.

For example, if we sit down knowing before we ever read that Jesus NEVER intended people to think of Peter as the first pope, then what else do we know for certain before we ever try to understand the message of the Bible? This example forces me to take stock of the things I already believe I know before I ever open the Bible. Perhaps the things I already have settled in my mind as fact is closing me off from something God wants me to see?

One last example that comes closer to home. When I was a teenager I remember being told that if I obeyed God, I would enjoy God’s protection over my life, like standing under an umbrella. However, how does this philosophical concept of a divine umbrella measure up against the entire story of Job? Job did everything right and still suffered horribly. In fact, the first chapters of Job seems to tell the reader that Job was picked out to suffer because he was so virtuous and faithful. The reader of Job is outraged on his behalf when Job’s religious friends come to him and speak to him out of their settled religious philosophy. Job must be suffering because of his own sin, because everyone knows that sin brings judgment from God.

Today’s entry reminds me of one of the great perils I face when I open the Bible. Too often, I think I know what the Bible means before I read the first word.

Take care and thanks for reading. 

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The Excitement of a Large Squirrel, Predicting the Weather Friday, Feb 2 2007 

I’m taking a short break this February 2nd to direct my few readers to one of my favorite films: Groundhog Day. I will not attempt to provide an exhaustive review here, but I will provide a few short thoughts on themes in the films that are valuable to the Christian’s life.

1. The film is first and foremost about transformation. Many have compared Phil Conners living the same day over and over and over to the process of a catepillar becoming the butterfly. It reminds me that God is not done with me. Adversity, relationships, spiritual habits and (perhaps most importantly) time are all being used to refine me into a friend of God.

2. The film is about giving up control. If left to myself, I would waste my life focused on trying to control people and circumstances that are, by design, beyond my control. In perhaps the most important moment in the film, an old man dies. In that moment, Phil Conners is more fully transformed. He accepts that even though he knows everything going on in Punxatawney, he is not controlling everything in Punxatawney. From where I’m standing, losing his thirst for control is the single most important step Phil makes in the film. He begins as a self centered jerk. He then becomes kind of a paternalistic jerk. When the old man dies, Phil becomes a guy committed to doing what good he can and begins living an extraordinary life. In many Christians, our unslakable thirst for control of others is what makes our witness toxic and offensive. The desire for control, even when our motives are good, is one of the things that sabotages our witness in front of other people. The film gives an example of this when Phil takes the old man to the hospital and talks to the ER nurse.

3.  The film is about real community. Phil begins the film being too good, too smart, too refined, too famous, and too everything else to be bothered with any of the people in Punxatawney. At the close of the film, Phil becomes an integral member of the community. Importantly, he doesn’t become the new big fish in Punxatawney. He becomes a part of what’s everyone’s life there. To some people he’s just the “nice young man from the motor club” and he seems fine with that status. In my own Christian life, it is too easy to not engage in my own local church unless I’m in charge of something. The film reminds me that I need other people as much or more than they need me.

 I love the film and wanted to share some things it teaches me. If you want some other reviews on Groundhog Day, you might want to look here, here, and here.