A parishioner asked me, “My Presbyterian friends tell me that we Episcopalians don’t believe in the Bible. I told them that we do. She asked me how we interpret the Bible? I couldn’t answer her. How do we interpret the Bible?”
Here's my response:
I am glad your friend think it’s important, and I am glad you told her that the Bible is the very important to us. I like to think of the Bible as the map we use to guide us on our Christian journey. It charts the Way for us that was passed down to us by the generations that precede us. But we still have to walk the journey and we still have to be remember to trust the map rather than people who tell us to take short cuts along the journey.
How do we interpret Scripture?
Well, first of all, we do it together. In communion. We read Scripture together and interpret it as one body because we believe that we hear God’s Word to us through Scripture better when all of us are listening, reflecting, and contributing to our understanding. And we pay close attention to how others have interpreted the same parts of Scripture along the way, because we can learn just as much from those who went before us as we can from each other.
Second, we think of Scripture as God’s story, and we’re characters in that story. Or better yet, my mentors taught me to think of God’s story as like a five act play: Act 1 is creation, Act 2 is Israel, Act 3 is Jesus, Act 4 is The Church, and Act 5 is when God’s purposes are all fulfilled. We’re the Church, so we appear in Act 4. Our job is to make sure we live in such a way that what we do is consistent with the acts that came before ours and yet somehow points towards God’s grand finale - when all of creation is reconciled to God and we all live together as one body in peace and joy. We have to improvise a lot to make that happen. And so Scripture is like the script that tells us what our next line ought to be.
Third, tell your friend that we don’t think so much in terms of interpreting Scripture, but rather think in terms of bathing in it. Rather than focusing on trying to fine some single meaning like there’s magic if only we could find it, we simply try to immerse ourselves in it, digesting it, listening to it all the time. If you grow up bathing in Scripture, it becomes a part of you without your realizing it. It’s like you’ve internalized that map. You’ve internalized that script so that you instinctively know your next line. That’s why it’s so important that we do the Daily Office or something similar at home with our kids, and it’s why we ask everyone to set aside some time for private meditation on Scripture, and it’s why we read so much of it in worship on Sunday. It’s like singing a song that you’ve been singing for so long you don’t have to think about it, you don’t have to interpret it, because It’s become a part of you. You just sing it.
Tue, September 13, 2011
by Craig Uffman filed under