Beyond A Shallow Reading of the Bible: Part Two

Thankfully, most of us have gone through a schooling system that allegedly teaches “critical thinking.” For the record, by critical thinking, I do not mean a kind of indiscriminate scepticism by which we approach everything with cynical distrust. Rather, I mean that most people are quite adept at reducing information down to its most basic assumptions, and (1) identify whether those assumptions are “reasonable,” and whether consequent arguments stemming from these assumptions make logical sense.

But a by-product of applying critical thought is that we begin to view everything axiomatically – everything is understood in terms of pithy statements that might explain reality on a general level, but achieves little when brought down to our individual lives. I think this same pattern is at work in the way that Christians read their Bibles, and to our detriment. We are not very good at asking and answering the question, “How then should I live?” But we must remember that exegesis is only the first step of the hermeneutic cycle. Reading the Word of God means exceedingly little if it does not change the way that we live.

Now of course, the Bible does not speak explicitly on a number of moral issues. Sometimes this is because there is a measure of interpretive ambiguity in passages, but usually it’s because modernity brings with it new sets of ethical problems. By way of example, we shall embark upon a short history lesson. The Church (and in particular, the Protestant Church) has invariably lagged for about fifty years behind the moral revolution that we find ourselves swept up in today. A little over fifty years ago, the Church was seen as a moral authority; by contrast, nowadays Christian values are seen as outdated, degenerate and immoral. How did it come to be? Well, we must acknowledge that although the sexual revolution of the 1970s was triggered by a number of things, one of the particularly salient features was the development of contraceptive technologies.

When I mention that Roman Catholics don’t use contraception, I am normally greeted by raised eyebrows, slightly ajar mouths, and generally, surprise. When I mention that in 1968, Pope John Paul VI released an encyclical Humanae Vitae that essentially forbade Catholic couples from using contraception, the usual response is that such instruction is antiquated and even oppressive. When I tell people that I’m actually in agreement with that position, they normally (and wrongly) assume that I’m dangerously revisiting my Catholic roots.

Pls Bene Wut
The face of my Protestant friends when I tell them I’m in agreement with the Catholic position.

And yet, in this instance, I am convinced that it is the evangelical church, not the Roman Catholics, who have stepped outside the historical Christian mainstream. At least theologically-ethically speaking, the Catholic Church found its rationale in the classical Christian tradition and the moral argument that Christians ought to be open to the gift of children in each and every occasion of sexual intercourse. The Catholic Church understood that once the vital link between sex and children was severed, sex would become redefined as an activity that did not have any bearing on the gift of children. The net result: commodification of both God’s good gift of sex, and the worth of human life in childbirth. The ramifications of this are clear today. By contrast, evangelicals have largely been unable to produce a coherent response, or worse, have conceded to an apparently larger and better ethic of personal autonomy.

Situations such as these have prompted some to suggest that the Bible is fallible, or that it’s morally deficient, or that the Scriptures are not in fact inspired. To a small extent, these conclusions have the outward appearance of merit, not because they are truthful claims per se, but because those who are expected to take up the counter-claims have done so in a disappointing and subpar way. Perhaps more pointedly, it is no coincidence that the decline of Christianity in the West follows the Church’s claims (or lack thereof) to moral authority in the public square. We have effectively relinquished the moral high ground.

So now with the history lesson out of the way, how do we go about developing a biblical position on essentially every ethical facet of life? This is the question that we now presently embark to answer together.

Firstly, I think it’s helpful to understand that all biblical principles fall into one of three ethical categories, which I will address in turn:

  1. Explicit, decisive commands;
  2. Commands developed from broader biblical principles;
  3. Paradigms drawn from facts of the world.

Of course, there are those who might immediately object saying, “Who can interpret the Bible correctly? And further to this, who decides what is and what isn’t the right interpretation?” To which I say a number of things:

Firstly, even though there may legitimate areas for disagreement about the meaning of the Bible, it is nevertheless possible to understand the core interpretive values behind a text. Secondly, and further to the aforementioned point, there is almost unanimous consensus regarding the main tenets of the Christian faith, as well as the proper methods for interpretation. Thirdly, the question is a red herring. The issue is not whether we are able to infallibly interpret the Bible, but that we are able to derive ethical principles that can be substantiated from a responsible use of the Bible. If there is disagreement, then we should be looking to publish arguments in opposition to what is proffered, and in this kind of health (and properly, critical) dialogue, greater clarity is afforded on issues that desperately need conversation.

Good Conversation
There are far too many Sheldon Cooper’s in this world (though might I say, in terms of that peculiar mixture of sass and genius, this might not be a bad thing).

Nonetheless, on some issues I think the overall teaching of the Bible is clear. Even those with an ounce of common sense will know for instance, that according to the Bible, murder is morally wrong (Exodus 20:13), adultery is morally wrong (v. 14), stealing is morally wrong (v. 15), and bearing “false witness against your neighbour” is morally wrong. These kinds of matters make up the first group of commands that are explicit, decisive, and unambiguous.

There is a second set of biblical ethics that can be drawn from broader principles, and it is here especially that strong hermeneutical foundations are important. It is on issues such as these that biblical ethics generally diverge into multiple streams of thought, and history reminds us that the world’s greatest evils usually come from good, but misdirected intentions. To this end, there’s this brilliant quote from the late Rabbi Wolfe Kelman: “I pretty much have my yetzer hara [evil inclinations] under control; it’s my yetzer hatov [good inclinations] that always gets me into trouble.” Good hermeneutical practice serves a prophylactic purpose against Christian moral deficiency.

Let me paint with broad brushstrokes for instance, the doctrine of creation. God created the world and humankind, and declared it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31); picturesque certainly, but not quite perfect. Sure, we weren’t plagued by disease, infirmity, or death (cf. Romans 5:12; Ecclesiastes 7:29), Certainly the Garden of Eden was idyllic because mankind was with God, but nevertheless God sets His created people to develop the world and make it useful, “to work and to keep it” (Genesis 2:15). But so the narrative goes, Adam and Eve sin, God places a curse on the entire natural world, and nature is no longer what it was created to be, but is “fallen” (cf. Genesis 3:18). Understood correctly, this broad principle of “fallenness” in the Christian worldview has enormous implications for how people ought to view and live in the created world.

One of the implications of this is that what we think of as “natural” today is not always good, and it can be morally right – even pleasing to God – to “tamper” with nature because sometimes (though not always) “tampering” with fallen nature can have better ethical and moral outcomes than not tampering with nature. In fact, such activity can be in keeping with our God-given task of subduing the earth and having dominion over it (Genesis 1:28). Of course, people can make mistakes in their attempts to fulfil this divine mandate, and there can be harmful – even catastrophic – results. But evaluating whether these attempts are “helpful” or “harmful” – and therefore “moral” or “immoral” – is another matter of assessing the resulting outcomes. By way of outline, breeding varieties of crops that are resistant to disease and pests, and produce better yields for people is morally good; developing technologies like mosquito nets and insect repellants to keep “natural” mosquitoes from biting us and spreading certain vector-borne diseases is morally good; and God Himself precursors the many measures of welfare, both moral and physical, that man’s sin make necessary when he provides for their immediate needs, “garments of skin and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21).

Another implication that tempers the previous view is that God did not completely destroy the earth, nor did He make it entirely evil and harmful. It is in this respect that Paul could say things like, “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the Word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-5), and later goes on to say that God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). Although God declared that Adam and Eve’s existence on the earth would be painful and frustrating at times (“thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you”), in the same breath He also promises that we “shall eat the plants of the field” and “bring forth children.” Ergo, the divine mandate to “subdue” the earth and to “have dominion” over it is very much alive, well, and perennial (cf. Genesis 9:3; Psalm 8:4-8). But with this command, the biblical witness is to do so in a way that is not wasteful, destructive, or morally incongruous e.g. Proverbs 12:10, “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast,” and the implication of Matthew 22:39b, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” implies a responsibility to think of the needs of others and therefore, future generations. This is what it means to draw an ethical framework from broad biblical principles, but as I mentioned in last week’s article, such an ethic can’t be derived without a relatively broad understanding of the Word of God.

Lastly, there is the ethic of appealing to facts of what is good and what is bad, which, for the record, should inform a worldview of biblical ethics least of all the three categories. Let’s take the example of economics, which hopefully will not result in your death by boredom.

Wu tR u tLkin Bout
The Bible and economics?

Let me begin by saying that, for the sake of transparency, I stand politically on the side of classical liberalism, which has very strong intellectual traditions in capitalist thought. And I reiterate, I come to such positions because I believe that the principles outlined can be substantiated by a responsible use of the Bible.

Let me begin by saying that the Bible regularly assumes and reinforces a system in which property belongs to individuals, neither to government nor to society as a whole. This is implied for instance in the Eighth Commandment, “You shall not steal,” (Exodus 20:15) which assumes that human beings will own property that belongs to them individually and not to other people. Such a principle is buttressed by the final commandment of Exodus 20:17, “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house … your neighbour’s wife … his male servant … his female servant … his ox … his donkey … or anything that is your neighbour’s.” The Bible also contains many laws concerning the punishments for stealing, as well as commensurate restitution for damages incurred against another person’s property (e.g. Exodus 21:28-36; 22:1-15; Deuteronomy 22:1-4; 23:24-25), and also makes specific mention that property boundaries ought to be respected and protected: “You shall not move your neighbour’s landmark, which the men of old have set, in the inheritance that you will hold in the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess” (Deuteronomy 19:14; cf. Proverbs 22:28; 23:10).

In fact, private property jurisprudence in the West cannot be understood without acknowledging the Christian worldviews of great philosophers like John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, or Adam Smith who, in particular, had incredibly lucid theological influences in his works on classical liberalism. Now, why do I mention private property? Namely because from this principle flow two enormous implications that are not really mentioned explicitly in the Bible: human liberty, and economic prosperity.

On the topic of human liberty, when people lose control over their private property, liberty to be free to choose how to obey God or disobey Him in our roles as stewards of what He has entrusted to us is forfeited. In our stewardship of our own possessions, we have opportunities to imitate God’s wisdom, His creativity, His love for other people, His justice and fairness, His mercy, His knowledge, and many other attributes. Private ownership provides us the opportunity to really test what is in our hearts and gives us opportunities to give thanks to God for what He has provided to us (Colossians 3:15; 1 Timothy 6:17). I am not convinced that there is as great an opportunity to do the aforementioned with food stamps and welfare cheques.

In terms of economic prosperity, we can acknowledge that economic growth is, in itself, a moral good and part of what God intended in putting humankind on His world. Developing and producing more and better goods from the earth cannot be simply dismissed as a result of sin, or greed, or wrongful “materialism” (though it can become these things), but it is an essential part of how he created us to function. Moreover, material abundance has characteristically been viewed as a blessing from God to those who trust and obey Him (e.g. Deuteronomy 8:7-10; cf. 11:10-17; 28:1-14; Matthew 5:5; 6:25-33), and in some places the prophets foretell a time of even greater productivity (cf. Isaiah 35:1-2; Joel 3:18). Material wealth is good because it grants us greater opportunity to help those who are comparatively disadvantaged to us (cf. Galatians 2:10; 1 John 3:17), and we should be encouraging productivity because it enables people to support themselves and so obey New Testament commandments (e.g. 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12).

I reiterate that all views I offer here are simply my labours of trying to understand what is best for the world as I see directed to the best of my ability to apply biblical principles. But like I have shared with you, I am certain that such positions can be substantiated from a responsible use of the Bible. I do not presumptuously make claims that I have all the answers, and perhaps not even the right ones, but I am trying to shed some clarity on issues that desperately need to be made sense of from a biblical perspective.

 

Well, to conclude, let me repeat the basic skeleton of content covered:

Exegesis is the first step of hermeneutics, and simply means to develop good interpretations about the Bible.

Reading is an intellectual activity, and therefore, so is exegesis. It requires patience, mental endurance, and strong intentions.

For good exegesis to take place, there are a couple of things that are important:

  1. Ask questions;
  2. Find a reliable text;
  3. Understand propositions;
  4. Relate propositions to one another;
  5. Appreciate the beauty of the Bible;
  6. Ask: “How then should I live?”

Interpretation of the Bible will have significant implications on the world in which we live, for better or for worse. The worst thing that we can do however, is to be silent, and forego application of biblical principles to issues altogether.

There are broadly three categories for biblical ethics:

  1. Explicit, decisive ethics;
  2. Ethics developed from broader principles;
  3. Ethics developed from appeals to facts of the world.

Who can interpret the Bible correctly?

  1. It is not impossible to understand the Bible correctly.
  2. There is strong consensus regarding the main teachings of the Christian faith, and methods for proper interpretation;
  3. This question is why we need dialogue to begin with. It would be irresponsible for us to discount the argument altogether.

Explicit, decisive commands are unambiguous, and failing to practice these ethical standards would stand contrary to the Christian faith.

Biblical ethics drawn from broader principles are the most important category for good hermeneutic practice. Usually however, there is consensus on ethical problems such as these, but deviant ethics can have serious consequences.

Lastly, we can develop ethics based upon facts of the world, but these should not be binding paradigms upon Christians, and we should always be open to debate. Nevertheless, it would be morally irresponsible for us to not have a position altogether.

Beyond A Shallow Reading of the Bible: Part One

For most of us, exegesis seems too lofty a term for us to seriously consider, and it certainly sounds far removed from the lives of ordinary Christians. This isn’t helped by the fact that we constantly supplant unnecessarily long words when short words will do (I for one am terribly guilty of this).

Put simply however, good exegesis means to read well, and to read well means to interpret well. So then, if good exegesis is good interpretation, then exegesis of the Bible is really only the first step to what is the science of interpretation: hermeneutics. This is why Mortimer Adler’s excellent book on interpretation (or hermeneutics) is aptly titled, How To Read a Book, and this little tome is well worth investment regardless of your disciplinary sphere, and especially for the purposes of biblical interpretation.

How to Read a Book - Mortimer Adler
Wow, j00cy.

But let me state rather flatly what seems to be the problem for the majority of people: most people most of the time want to read the Bible better; but most people most of the time just simply aren’t reading. Now this is particularly a problem when it comes to reading the Bible if only for the following reason: biblical interpretation is something like a spider’s web of meaning in which the threads of each and every verse are interwoven with one another, and often developed together. Any attempt then, to tease out a single feature is practically impossible, and usually compromises the strength of the interpretive web altogether. The basic point that I am trying to illustrate is that you cannot expect to be an expert in biblical exegesis with a limited knowledge of the Bible – this is casuistry at its finest. Albert Einstein may have said, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand,” but it is equally true that proper understanding is an illusory objective apart from the hard yards of acquiring and retaining information. So, we must read.

Now whether you like it or not, good reading is an intensely intellectual activity, and by transitivity of equality, so too is exegesis. I mean, most of us can read, say, a newspaper article, or a block of narrative, or John Smith and Jane Doe embroiled in a vicious argument over Facebook, slamming away with all battle-hardened vigour on their keyboards. Sadly however, disciplined and deliberate reading has become an almost distant memory, overthrown by the likes of fidget spinners, Netflix, and InstaSnapBook. But these are the basic requirements of good exegesis (and therefore, the bare minimum I will expect of my readers): patience, mental endurance, and deliberate intent.

Determined Reading Kitty
If this cat has the determination to read to wipe out humankind, you my friend, must have equal determination to redeem humankind.

 

“But oh,” you say, “I’m not cut out to study the Bible in that kind of depth. I can’t commit myself to that level of cognition.” Shame on you.

Very well, but let me mention this: God didn’t just condescend to us when He took on human form; He equally condescended in the inspiration of the Scriptures. The cross certainly wasn’t glamorous or attractive (even though we Western evangelicals tend to characterise Jesus as a chiselled, well-proportioned man; see below), and neither is grammar, syntax, clauses and phrases. But that’s how God chose to communicate Himself to us. In Jesus Christ we affirm the second person of God; in the Bible we acknowledge the Word of God. To glory in the human nature of God the Son, but to disdain the linguistic nature of Holy Scripture reserves a special place, I think, somewhere between the ludicrous and the irreverence.

19668305_340801339689073_135328602_n
According to Korean Gospel tradition, when the crowd mocked Jesus to “come down from the cross” (Matthew 27:40), they did it while chuckling weakly and staring at his shredded biceps.

Now that that conviction has settled upon your hearts, let’s address the fundamental steps for good exegesis to take place. From the outset, I will say that I will not speak largely on the topic of theology, the reason for which is that because the Bible is essentially a theological text, all exegesis will make theological claims. But here are some basic principles:

  1. Ask questions. I include this first not because it is the initiating step to a long list of sequences per se, but to indicate its primacy in reading well. There certainly are very few ‘silly’ questions when it comes to the Bible, but this is not to say that all questions are equal. Most people unconsciously ask “what,” “when,” and “where?” but very few ask meaningful questions of “how,” and – perhaps more particularly to exegesis – “why?” Asking questions deliberately and frequently is crucial to good exegesis because the whole aim of reading the Bible is not to know, but to understand.

    Stupid Questions
    You may, though sparingly.
  2. Find a reliable text. The Old and New Testaments were written in biblical Hebrew and Greek respectively, and so it figures that the most reliable texts are those transcripts recorded in the original languages. In this respect, if you’re trying to communicate the Bible on a high level, your starting point would be to learn these languages, though even having a single year’s worth of language study is inadequate (and potentially dangerous).

    Most people however, do not have the capacity (both in terms of time and aptitude) to devote to these pursuits, but this doesn’t disqualify them from reading the Bible properly. I won’t engage in a debate over Bible translations, but I will tell you which ones I use for what purposes and why.

    ESV: I use the English Standard Version for general reading.  This is a good, moderate translation that balances grammatical integrity with readability and so, in a sense, you kind of (but not always) get the best of both worlds.

    NRSV/NASB: The New Revised Standard Version and the New American Standard Bible are not your most loving friends, but they are your most objective friends. These Bibles make no apologies when they give you a hard time, but once you begin to understand where they’re coming from (American, and they are suckers for the original languages), you’ll appreciate their efforts to preserve the original grammar. For “serious” study, this is where I would point you, but realistically, there is little reason why you would ever opt these translations over the ESV.

    (N)KJV: The King James Version gets characterised a lot as the grumpy old man of Bible translations. And sure, he is hated by some, and worshipped by others; but love him or hate him, he is acknowledged by all. Whatever your opinion of the KJV, this translation probably does this best in capturing the essence of biblical poetry (and it reads beautifully). I use the KJV when I’m doing any serious study of poetry in the Bible.
  3. Understanding propositions.
    Words in and of themselves don’t communicate a lot. For instance, “Jesus” makes little sense on its own, and can be used quite indiscriminately. The “Jesus” portrayed in the Gospel of Matthew is not the same characterisation as the “Jesus” portrayed in the Gospel of Mark, or of Luke, or of John, and certainly quite different to the “Jesus” in the Book of Revelation. In fact, “Jesus” alone might not even be in reference to the Christian Bible – “Jesus” might actually be “Jesus Malverde” – a folk saint in Mexico that conveniently happened to be the first reference that popped up when I Googled “Mexican Jesus.”

    The point is, words convey substance only when they are used in relation to one another: either by qualifying that word (e.g. “Jesus is love” or “Jesus Christ”), or attributing agency to that word (e.g. “Jesus sent” or “Jesus was sent”). Of course, these rudimentary phrases and clauses themselves have rather ambiguous interpretative values, which is why we need to think in terms of propositions: the basic meaning of a sentence.

    Take for instance, the statement: “Jesus is good.”
    This statement can have a variety of interpretations: (a) it could be a comment on the morality of Jesus; or (b) it could be a comment on the ability of Jesus (e.g. “Jesus is good [at golf].”); or (c) it could be a comment on the advantage of Jesus (e.g. “Jesus is good [for me].”); or a comment on the quality of Jesus (e.g. “Jesus is good[ness embodied].”). Of course, these propositions (that is, meanings) do not have the same interpretive values (and in fact, at least one of them probably isn’t true), but I think I have illustrated my point sufficiently: clauses and phrases generally do not carry concrete propositions in and of themselves.
    NB: “how” and “why” are great questions to ask in these instances.
  4. Relating Propositions to One Another.
    So once you understand the syntax of a statement, you might find that the meaning is still not yet altogether clear. This is because the meaning of a statement is usually supplemented (and sometimes even supplanted) by surrounding statements.

    Take for instance, 1 Thessalonians 5:6:
    “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”

    Taken as an isolated sentence, this is a pretty concrete imperative. But thankfully (hopefully) we all have sense enough to realise that such statements are coloured and qualified by accompanying propositions. This is a good example of why identifying pericopes (sections of a text, particularly that of the Bible; and for any book for that matter), are crucial to interpretation. Let’s look at the fuller pericope of 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6:

    1Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. 2For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”

    Or let’s look at Philippians 2:12:
    “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling …”

    Taken in isolation, this propositional statement would be understood to the general effect of: “I need to figure out where I stand in terms of my faith.” But our understanding of this statement needs to be tempered with the following verse, “… for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” It is clear that in relating these propositional statements together that there is a clear sense in which the passage should be understood as: “As a Christian there are certain practices of my faith that I am obligated to do, because God is working in me for (probably) the goodwill of other human beings and for his pleasure.” A whole theological principle hinges upon the (correct) interpretation of this verse.

    Likewise, John 3:16:
    “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

    Most people have probably misunderstood this passage because they think either (a) don’t read Greek (this is a great reason why you should learn), or (b) they think it is unspiritual to respect literary principles in the Bible. Inasmuch as God’s love is certainly of the highest degree, “so” (Gk. “οὕτως”) is in reference to the manner (that is, in what way) God loved the world. This is qualified in the preceding verses of 14 and 15, and is grammatically coherent because οὕτως is always used to refer to something previously mentioned.

    “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life … For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

    Relating propositions to one another is significant then, not only because:
    (a) it helps us to realise the meaning of any single statement in light of surrounding statements; but also,
    (b) it allows us to identify relationships between propositions; and
    (c) taken even further, we can understand the purposes of the author (though in limited ways for certain texts); and
    (d) recognise the logical progression of an argument (though this only becomes readily apparent as you read and understand the full scope of a text).
  5. Finally, appreciate the beauty of the Bible.
    I use the word ‘beauty’ deliberately because I think there is an important sense in which Christians are not struck by the beauty of the Bible; that is, the combination of qualities (theological, moral, ethical, aesthetic, literary, historical) that makes reading the Bible pleasing. There is a part of me that feels mortally wounded every time I hear someone set the Bible down after a few minutes with an exasperated sigh, “I can’t do this anymore”; or when someone mentions in passing with an air of nonchalance, “Oh, I haven’t read my Bible this past week.”Now – believe me – reading the Bible is hard work. It requires the full effect of both our cognitive enzymes and the Holy Spirit for us to engage with the Word of God on a meaningful level. But I am also of the opinion that if you approach Scripture with a high view, and that you recognise from the outset that if this truly is God’s Word, then you should be able to perceive (at the very least) reflections of godly beauteousness that other texts may take up as a cheap imitation, but certainly never matched. Approach the Bible with the level of esteem it’s due, and you will not set it down without effect. Practically, this usually means teasing out the finer details of a passage (usually these details are encased in the syntax of a statement, inner-biblical allusions i.e. parallel language of one passage to another, or careful use of particular words). We will go into some really great examples of this at work in a later article.

So, perhaps the question to be addressed here is not so much to do with interpreting the Bible per se, but rather with stirring our affections to want to interpret the Bible more widely and deeply; to make the time to read the Word of God with deliberate intention. And I think (and this may just be pure speculation) the problem that appears to be plaguing Christians of our demographic is not even with reading the Bible and making intellectual assent our goal, but it is with the practice of the Bible that appears to be the great stumbling block.

In the next article, we shall look at the hermeneutic cycle in operation holistically, and hopefully lay down some ethical paradigms for biblical interpretation.

The Problem of Thin Gruel

As I write this opening sentence, I immediately imagine the many puzzled looks that will probably rise to the surface. Pupils will dilate slightly, eyebrows will rise by a short (but significant) half-inch, and perhaps the beginnings of a bemused smile will begin to creep towards the corners of the mouth. Or perhaps the next time we meet, you’ll clap a hand on my shoulder, smile warmly and laugh, “Hey, so what’s up with that new website that you started?” I’ll give you some knock-off one-liner that I’m now repeating for the umpteenth time, or perhaps I’ll crack a joke about how my URL is reflective of my pomp and snobbery (“Really? benedictkang.com? Don’t you think a ‘dot com dot au’ might have been a bit more appropriate?”). Whatever the case, let me answer some of the many questions I’m bound to receive preemptively.

It is not for a lack of things to do that I have decided to take up writing regularly (again). I am a man disinclined to just about anything until necessity calls – to put it simply, I fill gaps where I see them. In this respect, there appears to be an ever-looming gap (at least in the circles that I walk) in a solid and coherent Christian ethic, and young Christians in particular, seem ill-equipped to deal with the many toils and travails of living as a Christian in a fallen world. The essential purpose behind The Reformation of Manners is to redress this problem and to provide a grid wherein Christians possess a sense in which theology and ethic connect; where principle meets practice, and we know what it means to glorify God – yes, even beyond the boundaries of prayer, reading our Bibles, and attending service regularly (for the record, I wholeheartedly endorse these things). But beyond these areas of Christian practice, there appears to be an overwhelming volume of silence. To name just a few:

– What should Christians do with the money that they earn?
– How do I know that the vocation I’m pursuing is glorifying to God?

– Should Christians think and act politically? If so, how?

c2ef44b1-e139-448e-b8ae-ecf4e86617c4_rw_600
This is what many Christians look like spiritually, except that they’re not asking for more.

The kind of Gospel ethic that narrows the scope of Christian practice to a few areas of Christian discipline is, I think, thin gruel at best. It is of sufficient nutritional value to simply get by, but not substantial enough for Christians to build up the necessary spiritual fortitude required to actively participate in the redemption of God’s world. The vision of the Bible is simply enormous, and the God of the Bible just as great, and the ramifications of God’s Word have far-reaching consequences for you and for me. Despite this, many Christians (young adults, as one particular demographic) approach their work, studies, and Christian community with a sense of lethargy, triviality, inconsequence, or a combination of the aforementioned.

It is my hope that as The Reformation of Manners becomes a platform for meaningful conversation on theology and ethics, that you and I would share in the same enthusiasm for God’s Word, and move towards being better ambassadors for Jesus in each of our spheres of influence (2 Corinthians 5.20).

Enough thin gruel, friends – and onward and upward to steak and potatoes!

I will try to put out written content every Monday, Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. I am always looking for contributors and guest writers to supplement my ideas with theirs. You can get in touch with me, just say hello, or subscribe to The Reformation of Manners here.