I get mail.
I do, although like you a lot of what comes into my email inbox is junk mail, people trying to sell me stuff or, worse, trying to scam me out of my credit card and social security numbers. Or, if I click where they tell me to click,” loading spyware onto my computer or turning my computer into a slave machine in some vast plot worthy of a Marvel movie. But sometimes what comes is a response to what I have written. A recent such response raised questions about my posts in what I’ve titled, “The Quest for ‘A Foundation-Laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality’” in response to a Christian Reformed study committee report by the same name. Since the questions my correspondent raised in his response may be questions others may be asking, I thought, after asking permission to quote him, to respond his letter in this more public way.
The letter, long and thoughtful, raised two kinds of questions. The first have to do with the interpretation of the Bible, whether the Bible has a plot and related questions. My correspondent writes, “. . . In the spirit of full disclosure, when I first read your post on ‘Does the Bible Have a Plot,’ I was a little taken aback.” He goes on to say:
For me [the idea of an underlying biblical plot line] simply implies that there is movement from something that was to something that will be. It reminds me that there is a trajectory and a telos to human history – and indeed to each of our lives. Biblical Christianity provides a “frame encompassing frame” that allows me to locate the many experiences of my lives within a much broader narrative context. When I read the Bible I find myself being invited to live into an ongoing story of God’s activity of creating, sustaining, and redeeming the world. And every good story needs a plot, doesn’t it?
In the next post, I will address again in somewhat more detail the complicated question of whether the Bible can be said to have a plot.
In the second set of questions, my correspondent asked me what I would say about the issues the study committee is trying to answer. It’s all well and good, he implies, to challenge the way the study committee goes about using the Bible to formulate “a foundation-laying” theology of human sexuality,” but what should the church say about such matters? What does the Bible say? He writes: “. . . Just what kind of coherent theology should [italics original] we expect to glean from a faithful reading of Scripture? If not a sexual ethic, then what?”
This second set of questions has in part to do with another suggestion I made about the Bible in my earlier posts, the suggestion that the Bible is fundamentally conversational, containing in its pages conversations about a great many things in which the conversation partners do not always agree. We assume when reading the Bible that it’s like modern books which are or, at least, are supposed to be consistent from beginning to end. Where the Bible seems inconsistent, we have been taught strategies to smooth out the inconsistencies. Thus, if Genesis 1:2 says that God did not create the darkness but only the light and if Isaiah 45:7 says, no, God created both darkness and light, then we think it our responsibility as exegetes to find some way to explain how both passages in some underlying way actually agree, that they in fact say the same thing. My suggestion, following a long tradition of Jewish interpretation of the Bible, is to embrace the differences and not to harmonize them. In this way we are invited into the dialogue, often discovering that we need both points of view. But, if this is the case, as it seems to be, then how can we say anything positive at all about what the Bible says to us, not only about whether the divine embraces both light and darkness or only light, but what the Bible teaches us, for example, about human sexuality and how that teaching applies to the many issues in contemporary culture? In what will likely take me two more posts or more, I will revisit the idea of the Bible as conversation—something I regard as very important if we are to read the Bible well—and I will more straightforwardly than I have before offer thoughts about what the church can and should say about human sexuality.
Thanks again for your attention to these posts, and let know what you think.