RECLAIMING SCRIPTURE


The scripture was written to and written for and written by ancient people of an ancient culture living in an ancient time. The scripture was written as a metaphorical and thoughtful and faithful record and narrative and explanation. The scripture is how they perceived the presence and influence and actions of God in their lives and history, individually and communally. Those ancient people and that ancient culture and that ancient time are gone, never to return. It is impossible for that ancient culture and that ancient time to be recreated and it is impossible for us to be that ancient people or to live as did that ancient people. In the same way that we are ignorant of our distant future; they had no knowledge, no idea, no vision, no dream, no fantasy that two millennia hence there would be an increasingly global and interconnected culture and economy of 7 billion people, world wars and holocausts encompassing and killing and making refugees of millions, staggering accomplishments in medicine and engineering and transportation and communication, and the development of sciences and mathematics and technologies that did not and could not exist in their time and that they could not have comprehended. Because we have had these experiences and live with these developments and because these experiences and developments cannot be erased or quarantined from our perceptual and analytical processes, we are not capable of developing an adequate or reasonable comprehension of ancient times, cultures and people. We cannot understand an ancient existence devoid of our experiences and developments and knowledge and assumptions and expectations and view of reality and we will never be able to understand an ancient existence because we can neither interact with it nor live in it. Their ancient time and existence are irreconcilably separate from our contemporary time and existence and irreconcilably different than our time and existence. What is “ancient” and what is “contemporary” are mutually incomprehensible. In terms of the original ancient audience and the original ancient purpose and the original ancient usage, the scripture is not ours. The scripture was not written to us, the scripture was not written for us, the scripture was not written about us. Because the scripture is not ours, we are neither bound by it nor obligated by it. We can faithfully use the scripture as a source of inspiration and wisdom, as a way of connecting to or mediating the sacred, and it can become a path to spiritual revelation and epiphany that can be instructive, nurturing and transforming.

Whatever understanding we have of that ancient time and ancient culture and ancient people is unavoidably imperfect, incomplete and inaccurate. Whatever understanding we have of any ancient people in any ancient culture in any ancient time is wrong in ways in which we will never be aware and in ways we will never be able to discern. Whatever understanding we have of the scripture, and no matter how comfortable or confident we are with that understanding, it will always be unavoidably imperfect, incomplete, inaccurate – it will always be a wrong understanding of the original intent, delivery, reception, social and theological understandings and implications, cultural incorporation and personal use of the scripture by the authors and original audience. The reason is three-fold: 1) we cannot have a conversation with them – the members of the original audience or the authors. 2) We cannot experience it or witness it in its original setting, transmission, reception, response and usage. 3) We cannot comprehend it because the way we use and interpret our physical senses – the way we see, hear, feel, smell and taste – and the way we use and interpret our basic knowledge and our basic expectations and our basic assumptions and our sense of normalcy have been so completely shaped and infused by our contemporary environment that it is impossible for us to construct a usable comprehension of an ancient environment. All we have for ancient evidence is the silent tombstones of archeological discoveries and an inadequate and incomplete and imperfect written record and our own unconfirmed and unconfirmable interpretations and conclusions. All that we are left with and all that we will ever have is our own immediate understanding which is inescapably influenced by and attached to our time and our culture and our experiences in our culture in our time and our assimilation of and our assimilation by our culture and time. The value and truth of the scripture is not in what it was. The value and truth of the scripture is in what it is – for us here and now.

The truth of the scripture goes beyond and is more than any attempt to limit the scripture to historical fact. The truth of the scripture goes beyond and is more than any attempt to limit the ancient languages of the scripture to an arbitrary single “literal” definition or to an arbitrary single “literal” translation. Either attempt would be unfaithful and disrespectful, even abusive, toward the scripture. The truth of the scripture is more than factuality, physicality, requirements and restrictions, legally acceptable objective evidence, peer-reviewed repeatable scientific experiments, statistical analysis or mathematical proofs. The foundational and eternal truth of the scripture always involves “the more” – that which is beyond life, beyond the universe, beyond physicality, beyond factuality, beyond objective evidence and beyond provable theorems. The foundational and eternal truth of the scripture always recognizes “the more” as a perceivable presence and a knowable consciousness that is grace-full and loving and relational and even dialogical. The universal foundational and eternal message of all ancient scripture is that it is possible to live in synchronous harmony with “the more” by living “The Way.”

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Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 4950 East Wabash Avenue, P.O. Box 3125, Terre Haute, IN 47803-0125 (812-877-9959). Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an open and affirming congregation where Doug has served as Elder and Treasurer and enjoys his continuing membership in the choir as the lowest voiced bass. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. In the summer of 2010, Doug became a contributor to [D]mergent. Of the 9 articles he has written, 5 are in the top 10 all-time most-viewed articles at [D]mergent. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons. Jason is a professional musician (oboe, flute, English horn, and piccolo) who is working on a Master’s degree and licensure in Special Education.

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The previous [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan
are listed here in order of publication:

……….RECLAIMING CHURCH
……….GOD IS…
……….RECLAIMING GOD
……….RECLAIMING MIRACLES
……….RECLAIMING NOT
……….RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS – an epistle
……….RECLAIMING FORGIVENESS – it’s personal
……….REFORMATION II
……….GOD IS – an update

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About Doug Sloan

Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 4950 East Wabash Avenue, P.O. Box 3125, Terre Haute, IN 47803-0125 (812-877-9959). Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an open and affirming congregation. Doug is an Elder, has served as Treasurer, enjoys his continuing membership in the choir as the lowest voiced bass and currently is serving as an At-Large member of the Regional Board of the Indiana Disciples of Christ. As a member of the O&A Elders group, he helped write a resolution to change the ordination policy of the Indiana Region. The resolution will be presented at the 2012 Indiana Regional Assembly. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. In the summer of 2010, Doug became a contributor to this blog: [D]mergent.org

9 thoughts on “RECLAIMING SCRIPTURE

  1. thanks, beautiful writing. i guess that answers mv question that vou don’t buv into the in or out rule requiring belief in jesus christ as a stand-in, which is a sweet but strange and unseemlv idea. i read reformation 2 and also thought nit was amazing writing and an extreme overhaul based on, well, Sympathv with all Things, aka good vibes.

    However, vou forgot that these pieces don’t deal with mv question of why the creator of the universe would be biased towards good, rather than more of an all-encompassing sympathy with both good and bad from a neutral standpoint. Not as cut and drv. That’s why, as a result of loving the universe for what it is, I don’t feel that the creator is necessarily as superduper as vou do. Do vou know what I mean?

    • Matthew 5:
          44  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 
          45  so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 

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  4. Hey Doug, hope I didn’t lose you over on NP’s site. Didn’t mean to be harsh if it came across that way.

    I’ve found your posts/articles intriguing, but a lot of the background theology doesn’t seem self-explanatory. I’d like to know how you’ve come to the conclusions that you have.

    Hope to hear from you soon, here, over there, or over email.

    -Christine

  5. Einstein’s God
    Krista Tippett
    from an interview with Janna Levin, pp. 147-170

    p. 161-162 (excerpts)
    TIPPETT: what Newton disovered wasn’t just important, it absolutely changed the way people thought about the world. … What are you working on that also starts to reshape the way you see the world around you and the way you move through it?

    LEVIN: I’m talking about extra dimensions, and that maybe the universe isn’t three-dimensional, but that maybe there are extra spatial dimensions. … the notion of multidimensional space changes the world in such a fundamental way. We cannot begin to comprehend the consequnces of living in a world after we know certain thing about it. We cannot imagine the mindset of somebody pre-Copernicus, who though that the Earth was the center of the universe, and that the Sun and all the celstial bodies orbited us.

    It’s really not that huge a discovery in retrospect. In retrospect, so we orbit around the Sun. We take this to be commonplace. And there are lots of planets in our solar system, and the Sun is just one star out of billion or hundreds of billions in our galaxy, and there are hundreds of billions of galaxies. We become little dust mites in the scheme of things. That shift is so colossal in terms of what it did, to our global culture, our worldview.

    We see ourselves differently, and then we see the whole world differently. An we begin to think about meaning…completely differently than we did before. I’d feel the same way if we discovered that the universee is finite or if we discovered that there are additional spatial dimentions. These things will impact us in ways that we can’t just draw simple cause-and-effect arrows to [what will happen and how will we respond after those discoveries.]

  6. It is the cumulative effect of all these discoveries that separates us from ancient people. Einstein gave us E=m*c-squared and showed us that Time must be treated as a dimension and that Time, Length, Width, and Depth can be bent, even folded. The speed of light is an absolute limit – hyperdrives are impossible – which makes interstellar travel nearly impossible, unless there are other spatial dimensions and we discover a way to traverse those other dimensions.

    Hubble proved an expanding universe and destroyed the long-held notion of a static universe. Mass communication in all its forms – Internet, television, radio, telephone, printing press. Thomas Edison and many others domesticated electricy. Newton defined gravity and pedestrial physics (disproving long-held Aristotlian ideas of motion) and co-founded calculus. Copernicus destroyed the long-held notion of an earth-centric universe. To the ancient people of the scripture, there was no knowledge of North and South America, there was no decimal numbers and no positional notation. In practically every way, the ancient people did not and could not view or understand the world as we do. These discoveries and inventions so shape our view and are so integrated into our perceptions and assumption that we cannot divorce or isolate ourselves from the effects of those discoveries and inventions. Consequently, it is more arrogance than scholarship to think we can understand the minds of ancient people. We can understand the technology of ancient architecture and artifacts. Even with ancient text, we cannot fully understand ancient culture and can understand only minimally the ancient mind. We would do better to view ancient people as an extinct alien species than as our ancestors. Whatever understanding we have of them is more curious than instructive.

  7. Pingback: RECLAIMING FAMILY | [D]mergent

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