Bob suggests we’ll always have false prophets, because we’ll always have people looking for religious interpretations that support their preconceived ideas and prejudices. I think we are bound to have more, because of the way modern media uses words.
We are leaving the age of the printing press when people saw books as “hard copy’ to be copy-written and treasured in their original versions. In those days the Bible was sacred “text” with authorized versions. We expected our clergy to be learned as they studied and sought the one and only true meaning for us. We respected the authority of the Bible and the authority of the clergy.
That is all gone with the new electronic media. I think it is one of the issues involved in my friend’s comment about how two good people can read the same Bible passage on homosexuality and get two very different interpretations. It is probably not accident that almost all of the leadership of those opposed to the ELCA sexuality study and calling for leaving the community are elderly authority figures, most of them already retired.
Today the electronic text is fluid, constantly being updated. Scholars deconstruct the original to seek many meanings. The question has become what do you get out of the text, not what is the author’s intent or some authority’s interpretation. Social networking has become simply telling a group of friends what you are doing, thinking, and feeling now and then reporting the same in maybe six hours. Everything is focused on how the text works for you, how you shape words.
So too people in our day read side by side many translations of the Bible. It is compared to and weighed against other sacred texts as readers pick and choose what works for them. The Bible is now an open book that is read in light of our situations rather than the ancient one.
That makes it very important to consider how God’s Word shapes people in these times. In some ways we have more similarities to the early Christians than to those since the printing press. All is more fluid and diverse. I think that means the Church should be emphasizing community not institution, stories not doctrines, and love not law.
If history is now regarded not as objective fact but the living memory of a people through sacred story, as everyone seems to know except elderly history teachers, then we should be gathering community to tell stories that teach love. We should be telling the story about God coming to save this world from her self- destructive ways. The Bible is primary story, stories about how God has come from the time of Abraham through the present to shape and change hearts and minds. We should be telling the Gospel as a story about Jesus living and dying for humanity rather than examining it as a doctrine. I think our role has become telling the story accurately and allowing people to respond. We are less and less called to tell people how they should interpret the story and especially how they should act in response. Quite frankly, those who have been doing this lately have shown themselves to be not qualified.
Christian life is best described as faith, hope, and love: a faith that trusts God’s story of salvation, a hope that accepts His promise to bring that salvation into our hearts now and to the whole world in the future, and a love that returns good for evil as a means to participate in that story.