Monday, May 11, 2009

The Bible

It seems like only yesterday that we were encouraging people to have quiet times and read their Bibles and pray everyday. I know that in some churches it was only yesterday. I know we tend to understand nowadays that not everyone is 'wired' for that sort of discipline. I know that certain (but not all) liberal thinkers challenge the centrality of the Bible to our faith and even whether it is God's word in any sense at all (other than that God speaks in all things!)
And I have come to realise over the last couple of weeks that people in the Methodist Church, in the Grahamstown area, do not generally read their Bibles. I would say that genuine Bible readers have always been in the minority. But a strong minority. No longer.
What is the source of our belief/ doctrine if it is not the Bible? I am afraid that it is platitudes handed down from preacher to preacher. It is what seems good to society and what is seen in soap operas and read in magazines. It is 'common wisdom'. And the hymn book. Thank you God, for the Methodist hymn book.


John van de Laar said...

Hi Jenny,

Just a thought - I think you've made a common sweeping generalisation that I believe to be a little unfair and actually inaccurate. It's this statement that worries me:

"I know that liberal thinkers challenge the centrality of the Bible to our faith and even whether it is God's word in any sense at all (other than that God speaks in all things!)"

While there may well be some liberal thinkers who fall into that description, I don't think you can paint all liberal thinkers with that brush. In my experience, liberals are people who take the Bible very, very seriously, which is often the very thing that has led them to their position - in seeking to be honest and authentic in their dealings with the Scriptures, many liberals have found that they have to face the difficulties, questions and scholarship that offer ways to hear God with integrity through the Bible.

While I am not sure that I would call myself a liberal as such - I prefer to think of myself as integrative, drawing from as many Christian traditions as I can, and integrating different strands into my thinking - I have found many liberal thinkers to be people of deep spirituality, deep respect for the Scriptures and its authority, and deeply committed to
the discipline of regular, devotional reading of the Scriptures.

Unfortunately, though, the stereotype you have expressed here continues to be the general view of liberal thinking - I wish I could find a way to change that....

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi John
Yes you are right. That came across as a generalisation that wasn't intended. Sorry for that.
I should have said 'certain liberal thinkers' or something to that effect. I didn't mean to imply that all liberal thinkers take such an extreme view. Although I do believe that there are some!
Sorry again and thanks for pointing it out!

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Changed the post too!

Unknown said...

Hi Jenny,
What troubles me more is the fact that some people take out of the Bible what suits them and then put their own interpretations on the balance. You eitherhave accpet it all but there is not halfway. Obviously one also has to place it in the context of the time and the people to whom the message was written and there many teachers fall short to expound the circumstances places and people. But me I love the Bible and it remain my favourite book. Blessings.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Nice to hear from you Herman! I came to know Jesus through the Bible, so it is pretty close to my heart too.

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

I like your (edited) post. It is through the Bible that we know God (the Trinity). It is through knowing God that we live by faith. Rather than by common sense, values, reason, platitudes, traditions, fears, aspirations, and so on.

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

One definition of liberalism is thinkers challenging the Bible, versus the Bible challenging thinkers. But liberalism is now considered to be part of the modernist mindset. In the circles I have moved in, it is regarded as passe. It's a non-topic. According to philosopher Kevin Hart: "They [liberal theologians] are all cued into the Enlightenment grand narrative". Liberalism represents "a belief in modernity". Postliberalism is now de rigeur, although that would also seem to be becoming rather tired.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Hi Thomas - South African Methodists don't easily fit into 'theological categories'! Here there are ministers driven by 'theology as reflection upon praxis' although mostly they wouldn't know it. In other words, they minister to hurting people of all sorts and then say - what do we learn about God from this? And their theology tends to become liberal. These people I respect. On the other hand, we are watching DVDs at college put together by American liberal theologians. These guys have high-flown ideas, are somewhat disdainful of the word of God, and you wonder if they have ever got their hands dirty in their lives. I am trying to be sympathetic to them!

John van de Laar said...

Ah, that last comment clarifies a lot of where your comment came from Jenny.

I guess the thing I forget is that I am deeply immersed in the thinking of South African "liberals" (although many of them would hesitate to adopt that label), and as you mention, their thinking has been formed by encountering God in the suffering people they minister to. In the light of this, it's easy to forget that in some more affluent parts of the world, "liberal" thinking can be just an adoption of a fashionable position in order to cater to a target market.

Or perhaps, even for these people there is some pain that has led them into their position, even if they don't express it as such?

Thanks for an interesting conversation (and for changing the post).


Steve Hayes said...

Perhaps a definition is needed: what constitutes a "liberal" for Methodists in South Africa?

It will be different for those of other Christian traditions.

In my tradition I am accounted a "liberal" for following the Gregorian calendar.

Jenny Hillebrand said...

Yes, Steve, I agree it differs. In many traditions I would be considered very liberal - if only because I am a woman in ministry. In a college discussion on Wednesday I came across as the most conservative of those willing to speak up.
Part of the joy and the anguish of the South African Methodist tradition is that it is not possible to say what constitutes liberal! Maybe I'll write a post on that later.
If the Methodist Church ever gets to the point of not treating me like a primary school child I would like to research and write something on this - including the multi-cultural elements. My masters thesis is getting there. I have a friend aiming for a DTh in a similar direction. I can see something . . .
But it is in God's hands at the moment!