Context!

Bruce Gerencser has a post up where he's talking about the way the Bible – specifically, the New Testament – treats women. Bruce doesn't have to use any tricks or ploys with this; all he has to do is let the scriptures speak for themselves. There are lots of scriptures about how a woman should be submissive, silent, and kept from positions of authority. And that's the New Testament. The Old Testament is far worse, more or less treating women like cattle.

But this, I think is the money quote in Bruce's essay:
Liberal and progressive Christians try to make all these verses go away by saying they are no longer applicable or that they must be interpreted in their historical context. Fine. Let’s do the same with Jesus. A case can be made for Jesus being no longer applicable and surely we must interpret the teachings of Christ in their historical context.
In fact, Christians are already doing exactly that. I've mentioned recently the Barna survey from 2008 which, among other things, asked Christians if they believed Jesus' command that divorce is only permissible when adultery is involved. It may have been commanded from Christ's lips, but the overwhelming majority of Christians said they don't believe it. One could, of course, re-interpret the scriptures to mean a general "unfaithfulness" to the vows rather than a sexual affair.


I spent my earliest years as a Christian in a fairly fundamentalist evangelical church. But before my apostasy, I had a good bout with liberal theology. The crux of liberal theology is basically this: if a scripture or theological concept makes you uncomfortable, just re-interpret it in a way that doesn't make you uncomfortable. (Rob Bell's book on Hell and judgment is a good example.)

The elephant in the room is that nobody has any objective criteria on how to properly interpret scripture. This means that liberal theologians are essentially just imposing their own needs, desires, and biases on the scripture so that it comports with their views on science and secular modernity. It's not a progression of theology, but an adaptation. And that's precisely what drove me away from liberal theology: I realized that I could, if I thought about it enough, conjure up various rationalizations that made uncomfortable scriptures a little less uncomfortable. But I had no objective way of knowing whether my rationalizations were actually true, and I ultimately realized I was simply making things up to ease my own cognitive dissonance.

Why spend so much energy trying to invent re-interpretations of scripture so that it's not so barbaric, misogynistic and primitive? The Bible is supposed to be the one book that the Creator and Lord of the Universe gave to humanity – why should it not be read plainly? Why should such interpretive gymnastics be required at all? The only out seems to be the old, "it's all context" canard, which basically makes any uncomfortable scriptures irrelevant. It's not just disingenuous, it's self-deceptive.

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