Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Reading the Bible with the Damned

I just started reading Reading the Bible with the Damned by Bob Ekblad. I have found it especially refreshing. He reminds us of the reason we ‘read’ the Bible is, “to speak to the heart of today’s “tax collectors and sinners”. In some circles it has become fashionable to mistake the ‘mind transformation (Romans 12:1, 2)’ of redemption. Of course this debate between the social gospel and the decision based evangelism is incredibly myopic. Anyways Ekblad suggests that if the Bible is to be ‘read’ for the benefit of those who are in need of redemption it should be read with them. He suggests that instead of just reading (and by reading he seems to mean: interpreting, understanding, and prescribing) the Bible with ‘insiders’ (scholars, successful religious types) we should read the Bible with the outsiders, the strangers, and the damned. He suggests that when we do that we will get a new vision for what God wants us to see in Scripture. This is still different than suggesting that the ‘damned’ should define our theology. Instead, he gives some examples of a participatory approach to reading the Bible influenced by Carlos Mesters, Ernesto Cardenal Martinez, and Paulo Freire who developed and used lectura popular de la biblia. Ekblad suggests that having monologuing educators deposit information into people’s lives that is alien to them makes them dependant on the authorities and passive to critical evaluation of what they are reading. Instead lectura popular encourages that the voice of the people on the margins be given legitimacy in giving the scripture context.
Ekblad cites three problems that restrict the reading of scripture:
1. The problem of the Bible becoming too culturally familiar. He suggests that we absorb ideas about the Bible by virtue of the culture we live in. These cultural assumptions can often dictate how we interpret the Bible. This is not that that different than the idea I mentioned here.
2. The problem of seeing the Bible as a prescription for what we should do (how we should behave). This is unfortunately all too prevalent in almost every Christian stream. Whether its limiting the stuff we can do (drink and smoke or go with girls that do) or reduce the gospel to a set of tasks that we have to complete to merit redemption. We lose sight of the undeserving grace of God.
3. The problem of using Bible characters as heros. When we elevate Biblical characters to hero status we miss/avoid those things about them that were so much less than heroic and in the process put them precisely out of reach. (To be honest this one I’m not so clear on)
Of course, this opens up some pretty big questions in my mind. Like for instance: who do we turn to for authority on Scripture? How do we develop a theology that we can trust isn’t just self serving?
On the other hand…
Some of the most important places of learning and spiritual inspiration for me have been when I have ‘read’ the Bible with the marginalized. In my field youth are those people. And when I read the scriptures with them I am reminded that the Bible speaks youth-en-ese. I can see when I read it with them how hopefully and reassuringly the Bible talks about relationships. When for instance I read Exodus 21 to my senior highs it was awesome to hear them interact with what on the surface seemed like some outlandish laws that God was laying down. They got it. They said yeah we can see how God is trying to set up some boundaries for this new society that was forming out there in the desert. It speaks to them.
Well, I do think that Ekblad will have a few more interesting turns to throw at me. NEXT: Chapter 2.

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