Being Biblical and Also Tolerant
Let’s start tonight with a disclaimer: this post will be about Biblical interpretation, so those who read my blog for comments about books or movies might want to skip it.
In my good friend Rachel Held Evans’ blog, she does Sunday Superlatives every week, and this one from Richard Beck of “Experimental Theology” interested me. He writes,
The problem at the heart of Protestantism is that the bible is unable to produce consensus. This isn’t a theological claim. This is an empirical fact.
Sola scriptura produces pluralism. The “bible alone” creates doctrinal diversity. Biblical literalism proliferates churches.
And five-hundred years of Protestantism is Exhibit A.
The only way to get a single, unified church, as the Catholics will tell you, isn’t the bible. What you need, rather, is a magisterium, a teaching authority that says, for everyone, “this is what the bible says.”
And that’s why there is one Catholic church and tens, thousands or tens-of-thousands of Protestant churches (depending upon how you count them).
Back to me: I grew up in the Roman Catholic church, so I know a thing or two about authority. I’m currently allied with the Episcopal Church, which doesn’t have a magisterium or a Pope (the Archbishop of Canterbury being more the guy who chairs the meeting than the guy who makes the rules or appoints cardinals — the Episcopal Church has no cardinals, though we do have bishops).
As I’ve said to people dozens (hundreds?) of times, many of them my students in literature classes, the written word doesn’t interpret itself. The long Jewish\rabbinical tradition of midrash illustrates the ongoing controversy about what this or that place in the Scripture might actually be saying and what it might mean. Same with poems, short stories, and plays.
On to the more-recent past. In a church I used to go to, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in High Springs, Florida, we experienced a schism in around 2004-2005 in regard to the New Hampshire church elevating Gene Robinson, a gay priest, to the position of bishop. I always thought that the situation was pretty much New Hampshire’s business, but my pastor thought that what they’d done violated “the clear meaning of Scripture.” When she said that, I laughed so hard to I nearly passed the sandwich I was eating through my nose — the goal of class clowns everywhere. My point is, Scripture’s meaning is anything but clear, and both is and has to be the subject of interpretation, argument, disagreement, dispute. That’s just the way it is, with literature, Scripture, any interpretation of the written or spoken word — including letters, emails, conversation, bumper stickers, billboards, and blogs (to name just a few).