Caution: Reading the Bible might make you more… Liberal??

Dare read the Text?

I COULD HAVE TOLD YOU THAT

As I read this article on Christianity Today, I couldn’t help but keep thinking: “this is no surprise to me at all… and yet, I imagine, it’s a BIG surprise to a great many people!”

As the article indicates, a survey done at Baylor University tried to track people’s frequency of Bible reading with how they agreed or disagreed with certain political and moral issues.

It turns out, the more people said they read the Bible per week:

- the less likely they would be in support of things like the Patriot Act
– the less likely they would be in favor of harsher criminal justice
– the more people see science not as an enemy but as an ally

None of this surprised me at all. For years I have been arguing against the charge that me and my beliefs are “unbiblical,” and that always confounded me. Were people making these accusations actually READING the Bible? The article suggests that the MOST conservative Christians in this study, who did NOT read their Bible very often, marked the MOST conservative answers politically and ethically. Again, not surprised.

Also, check out what the article and study suggest about richer people who don’t read their Bibles very much. I won’t put it here, you’ll have to read it yourself.

Lastly, this was perhaps my favorite line from the article:

The discussion becomes even more interesting when we consider who is most likely to read the Bible frequently. It’s evangelicals and biblical literalists, those who tend to be more conservative on these topics. In other words, those who read the Bible most often are more conservative, but the more they read the Bible, the more likely it is that their views will change, at least on these topics.

And this gives me hope. Hope that the more we can teach the Bible and encourage people to be students of the Word, the less they will cling to old conservative beliefs that are not grounded in Scripture but grounded in a certain economic-political structures handed to them by others.

Revelation. As in “disclosure,” not as in “weird apocalyptic book.”

I just started my Fall Quarter at Fuller Theological Seminary. This quarter I’m taking two classes, one of which is Systematic Theology. We had to write an essay on the topic of “revelation” and why it’s important to Christian Theology. Here were my thoughts…

"The heavens declare your Glory"

Revelation: General and Special

Historically, the theology of revelation has been divided in to two categories: general revelation and special revelation. General revelation points to the fact that some attributes of God are knowable and discernable through observation of the natural world, anthropology and history. Psalm 19:1 and Romans 1:20 are two primary moments where the Bible acknowledges the reality that God is revealed in some capacity through creation. By contrast, special revelation implies a secondary, more detailed and specific revelation of God’s-self to humanity, but only to specific people at certain times. It goes beyond what can be simply observed in nature and creation, to a more specific disclosure of God’s character, God’s intent for creation, and ultimately the recording of the event that was/is Jesus of Nazareth. It is a revelation with redemptive purposes.

Why is the idea of revelation important to Christian theology?

Revelation is important to Christian theology because we assume that the Creator has an interest in knowing us and in being known by us. More to the point, however, I think that some Christians differentiate between general and special revelation because ultimately our soteriology and eschatology require us to. Or, to say that differently, because some Christians presume that life after death leads to one of two potential outcomes, and because we believe certain requirements must be met in order to ensure a positive outcome, we are then forced to parse revelation in to two different realms: the type of revelation that all humanity is privy to (but that does not assist one in meeting said requirements), and the type of revelation that only a select few are privy to (and that ultimately allows one to meet said requirements).

If one starts with the assumption that the goal of life is “get to heaven when we die,” and if that same person subscribes to the typical Western/Protestant/Evangelical doctrine of “justification by faith” (whereby we are saved through a professing statement of faith in Jesus as our Savior), then clearly one would need to separate the moments in life that reveal God “generally,” from the specific information we are cognitively required to agree with as revealed to some of us “specially.” Robert Johnson, in Discerning the Spirit in Culture, points out that “special revelation’s focus on salvation has tended to define the conversation, delimiting its boundaries.” And I think he’s right. Christian theology has heavily leaned toward the redemptive over the creational and the propositional over the narrative, and in order to make sense of it we divide God’s self disclosure in to two categories: those that are only able to know a very limited amount of God through general revelation, and those that are lucky/fortunate/elected to know the full purposes of God through Christ Jesus.

Revelation is important to Christian theology, for it helps us try and wrap our arms around the Transcendent One’s decision to disclose who God is, what God is about, why we exist, what God wants for us and from us. As Christians we should wrestle with revelation and its inherent implications. What do we do about the majority of humanity throughout history who has not been privy to the information disclosed only through special revelation? And should that discussion move us toward engaging other theological disciplines in a new and different way?