In the third installment of factors leading to seminary, it seems good to talk about the denominations along the road and the gifts that each one gave me for the journey.
But as I started writing this entry, I realized it was waaaaaay too long. So I’ve divided it into two parts. The second half will come soon…
Another reason I eventually chose to attend seminary can be traced back to the Documentary Hypothesis. I didn’t know back then that that is what it is called. But the popular work of Richard Elliott Friedman changed my world in 2001.
I had only been back in church for about a year and was a member of a congregation that highly valued Bible study and daily Bible reading as a form of personal devotion. I was reading whatever I could get my hands on. I picked up a copy of Who Wrote the Bible? and, as it turned out, I got more than I had bargained for.
Generally when we discuss constructive theological issues, its important to establish the authorities recognized by the participants, be it Revelation, Tradition, Scripture, Reason, or Shared Experience.
In many discussions, both scripture and traditional interpretation of scripture head up the list. Once those authorities are recognized, theological arguments often fall victim to cherry picking of select verses to back up a point.
Recently while looking over a Quaker response to the Lima text (aka Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, a publication of the World Council of Churches) from the London Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, I found a great paragraph in their discussion of that sort of biblical proof-texting:
As I reflect on two semesters of study of the Hebrew Bible I think about the ways in which the Old Testament has contributed to our culture at large. Countless biblical allusions are embedded in our speech: Adam and Eve, my brother’s keeper, manna from heaven, the scapegoat, and feet of clay. The stories of the Old Testament have provided inspiration for beautiful works of art. Words from the Psalms have provided solace and comfort in times of trouble. The Prophets of old with their attention to the helpless and the oppressed have called us to act on behalf of those who are marginalized in our own day. These are some of the most basic ways in which we are affected by the legacy we have received.
During a lecture this past year, Anna Carter Florence of Columbia Theological Seminary told a story about the gay students at her school. Tired of being assaulted with the same handful of Bible verses over and over to "prove" that homosexuality is wrong, they were seeking out their own texts to defend themselves and their positions. In the war of words Scripture had become ammunition and the debate was nothing but a firefight of accusation and defense. I was struck by Anna’s remark:
Proof-texting is a form of violence: it is violence against one another and it is violence against the text…
Fueled by the philosophies of the Enlightenment, modernist approaches to biblical interpretation have optimistically presupposed an objective, scientific detachment as both possible and desirable when interpreting the biblical narrative. However, beginning with the development of postmodern thought in the second half of the twentieth century, scholars have begun to question whether it is possible to achieve such a goal (Newsom 502). As a conscious understanding of our own cognitive framework and its role in our perception of reality has emerged, scholars have begun to understand two things. First, the authors of the biblical texts shaped their stories according to a set of assumptions about the nature of reality. Second, readers filter the biblical narrative through a subjective lens that is shaped by their own assumptions about reality.