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Culture, Not Books

It is cultural consensus–not books–that defines the thrust and focus of religions.

It is not the bible that defines the thrust and focus of Christianity, not the Qur’an that defines the thrust and focus of Islam, and not even the Torah that defines the thrust of Judaism, even when the proponents of these religions claim that they are.

If the vast majority of Muslims are not Jihadists and don’t follow the Qur’an to the letter, then Islam is not the Qur’an.

If the vast majority of Jews are not Zionists, then Judaism is not the Torah.

American Christianity–especially evangelical Christianity–is the prime example of this. The bible has throughout history been used to great effect to defend slavery and racism, to condemn miscegenation and women’s suffrage, not because the bible’s focus is on defending slavery and racism or condemning miscegenation and women’s suffrage, but because the consensus of Christian subculture at those times was one of white supremacy and patriarchy. The words in the Bible once used to condemn or defend these things are still there, unchanged, but the cultural consensus has evolved to embrace different views.

The bible is currently being used to defend war, hatred against Muslims, and discrimination against gays, not because the bible’s focus is on any of those things, but because the consensus of Christian subculture loves war, hates Muslims, and likes to discriminate against gays.

Jesus spoke volumes about welcoming the immigrant and the refugee, showing love to prisoners, widows, and orphans, even to the point of saying that those who do not do these things would be cursed into the everlasting fire (see Matthew 25:34-46).

In 2016, an estimated 80% of Christian evangelicals rejected these commands by voting for Donald Trump. If the bible were the focus and thrust of evangelical Christianity, pastors would be warning their parishioners of the coming eternal punishment for those who follow the path that Trump recommends. It’s written quite plainly, yet blithely ignored.

Jesus himself never made direct mention of homosexuality. Not once. He referred to the institution of marriage when asked for his opinions on divorce, and his answer somewhat implied that marriage was to be between a man and a woman.

I can grant that perhaps a person who wants to make the bible the entire focus of their religion must condemn homosexuality, but they also cannot ignore its message about social justice, even if (heaven forbid) it makes them appear somehow “liberal”.

Yes, I’ve said it. Being a Christian in the biblical sense and being a Trump supporter are 100% mutually exclusive. You cannot be both. According to the bible–to Jesus himself–people who carry out the Trump agenda are going to hell.

But, again, the bible in evangelical circles is not the fount of evangelical doctrine, nor is it in effect viewed as infallible, nor are all of its commands given equal weight. Instead, it is used opportunistically, as a tool to bolster and enforce the current cultural consensus of evangelicals. The parts that don’t fit with this agenda are downplayed, or contrived and convoluted justifications are made up on the spot in order to change their meaning to fit.

Just because you have ten-dollar words and a theology degree from Bob Jones University doesn’t mean you can change the very plain and simple meaning of plain and simple words to suit your agenda. This is not sola scriptura (scripture alone). This is solam haeresim (heresy alone).

Potters and Clay

If I am a potter who fashions a chamber pot, the question is not whether the pot has the right to question my designs, but whether I have the right to judge that pot for its foul aroma.

The Problem With Exegesis

Exegesis is the process of drawing out the meaning of scripture, and allowing the text itself to determine its interpretation, in contrast to eisegesis, which is the process of projecting one’s own interpretation and meanings onto the text. In this way, exegesis implies an objective approach, while eisegesis is inherently subjective. One who engages in exegesis is known as an exegete.

Biblicists give primacy to scripture as the inerrant and only authoritative source for God’s special revelation. While most biblicists have found clever ways to avoid admitting it, this approach absolutely requires the reader to grant the same inerrancy to the canon of scripture, which was laid down beginning in the post-apostolic, ante-Nicene period following Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection.

This is where the biblicists’ claim to be engaging in true exegesis begins to unravel. For, if the exegete approaches scripture with the presupposition that the canon is correct, he is beginning to project his own interpretation and meaning–or at least the interpretations of those who laid down the canon–onto the text. In the Calvinist tradition (I use the term Calvinist in the very narrowest sense here, as the term Reformed subsumes the opinions of not only John Calvin, but also Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli, and in today’s reformed churches, represents theological and especially Christological views of Puritan theologians such as John Owen and Jonathan Edwards, who are often in conflict with Calvinism proper), this is magnified tenfold, as the Calvinist will invariably hold to a view of theology proper–specifically in the nature of divine justice–where sovereignty necessitates determinism, resulting in a nihilist and heavily monergist soteriology. The Calvinist exegete not only will not, but cannot achieve a prima facie interpretation of any passage of scripture that would point to synergism, even if God whispered it directly in his ear. He would instead work diligently to amass complex and confusing (but often logically self-consistent) proofs as to why such a prima facie interpretation is, at best, naive,  likely invalid, and at worst, heretical.

The result of such a view is interpretative pluralism, wherein every self-proclaimed exegete is actually engaging in eisegesis, replete with egregious presupposition and pompous front-loading of scripture with his own contrived theology.

There is, therefore, no such thing as exegesis. At least not in human terms. We cannot lodge ourselves beneath any system of belief in order to prove it, because we are a part of that system, and only that system’s creator (in our case, God) can do so. Perhaps, then, this is where faith enters the picture, along with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If we have the humility to admit that our every reading of every text is eisegetical rather than exegetical, and trust to the Holy Spirit to give us discernment through the observable revelations of God’s creation, we can end the disunity and interpretative pluralism that has beset the church since its earliest days.

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