They lost me for a lot of little reasons. They lost me because they focused on teaching knowledge, but not love. They lost me because they taught me everything I’d ever need to know, but failed to mention that I’d never be allowed to use it or to teach it. They lost me because they taught me too much about methods and never showed me how to live out the meaning of Jesus’ lessons. They lost me because they turned Jesus into a mascot as the preached the Gospel of Paul. They lost me because they would break the Bible up to put it together however it suited them to get their moral across.
Such is what I saw last night, from a sermon delivered by Billy Graham no less. He was preaching on Lot’s wife. He mentioned that she looked back because she didn’t trust God even though she had seen his power. He talked about how God said not to marry the Canaanites. (God wouldn’t say this for another few hundred years, it’s not in the Lot story.) He told the young people that they’re in for a world of trouble if they marry the wrong person. He then went back to Lot’s wife, listing other reasons for unfaithfulness. Out of order, out of context, and out of line was this particular reasoning. That’s what I heard growing up. There was misinterpretation, disregard for the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic as well as nothing about culture or historical events. All that mattered was the moral that the pastor preached.
The last sermon I heard as a Southern Baptist was in the summer, shortly before the big picnic. The pastor was talking about the dangers of mixing one’s beliefs with other teachings as it causes impurity. It was then that I realized that my beliefs had always had an element of impurity as my Christianity was the result of teachings from two denominations. Finally my eyes were opened to the cracks that had always existed but I couldn’t see. I realized how often the pastor referred to events out of order, referred to things in the bible centuries before or after the fact, how they ignored various sections of the text, all in an attempt to reach that clear, concise moral. Things like “Don’t drink alcohol.” (Ignore the miracle of the wedding at Cana and Paul instructing Timothy to drink wine.) and “Don’t dance.” (Ignore King David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant and any time people danced for joy.) The constant proof-texting seemed at odds with the careful instruction I had from the very start. It seemed almost hypocritical to to be literalists and inerrantists and infallibists and yet disregard context and culture in an effort to mine a moral to the story.
They would also ignore all sorts of inconvenient passages – ones that aren’t exactly family friendly or contradict any established teachings. They tend to rotate sermons examples about people on the people that best fit their teachings and ignore everyone else. Using a search engine, these were the number of results that appeared when I searched for “sermons about NAME”: King David – About 1,240,000 results; King Solomon – About 569,000 results; Jesus – About 34,500,000 results; Paul – About 24,400,000 results; John – About 33,600,000 results, Esther – About 812,000 results, Ruth – About 885,000 results; Deborah – About 432,000 results, Tabitha – About 107,000 results, Lydia – About 385,000 results, Phoebe – About 236,000 results, and Junia – About 32,700 results. For being people who were really into the good book, it seemed like they weren’t that much into it. It seemed as if they had no respect for the parts that didn’t agree with what they believed to be true. Aren’t the rest of them in the Bible for some reason, if not to be a good example than a good example of bad one?
Whatever they wouldn’t teach me, I was determined to explore on my own. That’s how I met so many of the ladies of the New Testament. That’s how I came to realize that they had a tendency to gloss over Moses’ hotheadedness unless it was a crucial part of the sermon and it could not be avoided. I read from two translations, the New International Version and the Message. I began to see how human the Bible was. How much emotion contributed to the events. How much honor played a role in what happened. Just where culture collided with Christianity in the early church.
This new dimension is what keeps me excited. I recently learned that while the Early church was still getting settled in and before the destruction of the temple, a Queen by the name of Boudica rallied her armies to deliver a punishing defeat to the Romans on what we know now as English soil. The Romans didn’t let her live long enough to celebrate it – their swift response ended her life and her uprising against them. Does that have anything to do directly with the Bible? Probably not, but it’s fascinating all the same. And that brings me to where I am now, learning more about history and culture and connecting the dots with then and now.
To me, the Bible has always been a puzzle, but for once – I’m playing with all of the pieces. I hope to put them together in the right order, in the right context, and in the right way to get a good look at the big picture by considering cultural and historical elements. Only then will I find what has been lost for so very long – the whole story.