Entering the Circle

I have two items for my blog post on this morning’s church service that I attended.

1.  The pastor told us the story of Gilbert West and George Littleton.  These two men were thinkers during the eighteenth century, and they undertook a project to refute Christianity.  Their plan was that West would disprove that Jesus rose from the dead, whereas Littleton would take on the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (who became Paul).  But things did not turn out that way, the pastor narrated, for West and Littleton became Christians as a result of their study.  If you take Jesus seriously, the pastor told us, you may end up following him!

I would like to read what West and Littleton came up with, and, in this age of the Internet, I actually can!  Here and here are links to West’s writing on Jesus’ resurrection, and here is Littleton’s piece on Paul’s conversion.  I may read these pieces and blog about them sometime this week.  Of course, I’ll have to get used to the eighteenth century practice of using “f” for “s”!

As my pastor told us about West and Littleton, I thought about a movie that I recently watched, Blue Like Jazz (see here and here).  The movie is about a young Baptist named Don, who enrolls for a semester at the ultra-liberal Reed College.  There, Don meets Penny, who herself is a Christian.  Penny is politically liberal, and she became a Christian when she took a Bible as literature class and found that she liked Jesus.  This is understandable to me, since Jesus in the Gospels has the same concern for the poor and the suffering that she had.  Moreover, she may have found that Christianity had insights that could nourish her soul.  After coming back from India, Penny quoted Mother Theresa’s statement that the spiritual poverty of the West is greater than the material poverty in India.  Penny said that she felt more spiritually attuned when she was in India, away from the distractions of her life.  I thought that the movie was silly in areas—-I think of that student who dressed up like the pope and threw Don’s books into a fire—-but it had some profound themes.

2.  The pastor talked about a circle.  The circle is the circle of faith, the place where we experience God’s love and grace.  The pastor said that reading about the circle or hearing about it is not the same as being inside of it.

This stood out to me, for I often think that I read about the circle or hear about it, without actually being inside of it.  I thought back to something a conservative Christian once said to me: that he began to understand the Bible after he asked Jesus into his heart.  I found his remark to be insulting, patronizing, and condescending.  For one, what made him think that I had never asked Jesus into my heart?  Just because I did not see things the way he did, that didn’t mean that I had never asked Jesus into my heart.  Second, what makes him think that he truly understands the Bible, as opposed to reading his own evangelical theology into it?  I’m not saying that he doesn’t understand the Bible, but I don’t think that his evangelicalism is what enables him to understand it.  He understands the Bible when he practices sound, scholarly exegesis, not when he reads his evangelical views into it, or rips it out of its context in his attempt to relate it to his life.

That said, it does seem to me that the Bible is more “alive” to a number of evangelicals than it is for me.  I struggle to relate the Bible to my own life, and even to be inspired by it.  I’ve been reading the Books of Kings, for example, and I wonder why I should care if such-and-such a king set up high places, or took them down, or didn’t take them down.  I have a hard time seeing that as a profound measure of a king’s righteousness, as important as that may be to the Deuteronomist.  But should I become an evangelical?  There is a part of me that feels that this would be me shutting my mind off—-of me adhering to doctrines that I don’t think are true.  There are times when evangelicals’ “God showed me from Scripture” interpretations make sense to me, and there are times when they seem to me to be loose, grossly inaccurate readings of the text.  While I do look for spirituality when I read the Bible, I cannot go back to interpreting the Bible through the lens of a rigid conservative evangelical grid, which I consider to be eisegesis rather than exegesis.  Life is too messy to be forced into some neat ideology.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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