Just today I received an email from Paula (not really her name; I want to protect the guilty) with SONday Distributors. They had a special deal “for churches only” on “a great Bible.” For just ten dollars each (regular $40 value) we could get a shipment of ANSWER Bibles. That’s right—the ANSWER Bible. Their goal, she said, was “to plant a Bible (I presume she meant an ANSWER Bible) in 10,000 homes, organizations, and establishments in communities across America.” She wanted churches to make a commitment to give them away to “lost” people. Isn’t this typical of dualistic Christianity; it’s always the other who is “lost.” I’m the answer man or woman. I’ve got the truth, brother. Isn’t that what the Southern Baptist Convention is promoting right now with: Find it here! Find what? The ANSWERS, of course. We have the answers, glory be! That implies that we have the questions too. We have the questions and we have the answers. Amen!
Normally I click “delete” not giving this sort of thing a second glance, but for some reason I couldn’t resist the temptation to be a bit sarcastic. This was not one of my best days. So I emailed her back and said: “No thanks, Paula, I’ve heard enough ANSWERS in my day, but if you ever get a Bible that probes people to ask the hard QUESTIONS let me know.” Well, she emailed me back. She wasn’t happy with my response. If she happened to project any of her anger at me onto her husband or boyfriend, I bet he found himself in the doghouse (I can imagine the dazed look on his face; Lord knows, I’ve spent enough time there). She reprimanded me pretty good. And then she ended it with: I say this with the love of Jesus in me. (For some reason I get showered with the love of Jesus a lot). Well, having not been able to resist the temptation initially, I couldn’t resist the second time either; I had to respond. Of course, I did it with the love of Jesus in me.
Personally, I think if we are going to just pass out Bibles willy-nilly we should put a warning label on them: This could be hazardous to your health. What I have discovered is that people looking for answers in the Bible tend to find the answers they are looking for. (You may need to read that again). We all have a tendency to project the answers we want to find into the biblical text.
When we approach a biblical text we bring our biases with us; it’s unavoidable. The biblical authors and communities were no different than us; they too were children of their culture and their faith encounters with the divine were interpreted within the framework of their presuppositions, biases, and worldview.
There are many inspirational and transformative texts in the sacred Scriptures, but there are also not a few demeaning and oppressive texts, and often these can be found in the same biblical book (compare 1 Cor. 13 with 1 Cor. 14:34-35). I know that someone is likely to point out the text that says “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching . . . and training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Keep in mind, though, that the author who said that all Scripture is inspired and useful for training in righteousness is the same author who restricts women from teaching men and instructs women to learn in silence because it was the man who was created first and the woman who was deceived and became a transgressor (1 Tim. 2:11-14).
I can accept the idea that all Scripture is useful for training in righteousness if that means, at times, preaching against the text. The key question that I believe every disciple of Jesus must bring to the text is: Does the text bear witness to the gospel? Does the Scripture bear witness to the unconditional love of God and the universal call to justice embodied in the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Christ? We who proclaim this gospel are called to proclaim the gospel, not the text, and sometimes proclaiming the gospel means preaching against the text.
The Bible is not an answer book, but it can prompt us to ask the right questions, if we approach it honestly, openly, and humbly, grounded in the unconditional love and justice of Christ. The biblical authors, as well as all of us interpreters of the Bible, have biases; it’s part of the human condition. And while we cannot eliminate our biases, if we are honest enough to acknowledge that we have them, the Bible is more likely to become a tool for transformation than an instrument of oppression.