On being a picky reader: Of Scripture

Two recent conversations–one over pizza, the other with Generous Space Toronto–got me thinking again about how I view Scripture.

I am convinced that Christians must have a Christ-centred reading of the scriptural texts. Even more important, I am realising, is the conviction that we have a Christ-like God. The “problem” with the latter conviction is that there are whole swathes of Scripture that do not match the character of a Christ-like God: divine genocide texts and other “texts of terror” are well-known examples. In my opinion, these passages represent a sub-par view of God, tied more to the experience and expectations of the time than the revelation of God’s Word-in-Flesh, Jesus the Messiah. Nevertheless, I believe these texts are important; unless we want to be flat readers–ignoring culture, context, and genre in favour of a literalistic reading–we need to find a way of acknowledging the canon. Christians often use the concept of progressive revelation in order to do this.

Nevertheless, if we “ignore” certain texts in order to maintain that God’s character is identical with that of Christ, doesn’t that mean we pick and choose among strands of the Biblical text, and even among texts within those strands?

Yes.

Is this a problem?

My mother often thought I was a picky eater–and perhaps I am. I just strongly dislike certain things, and there doesn’t seem to be total consistency about why, even if there are good reasons (at least to me) for my refusal to eat or drink a small list of things. Invoking a Christ-like God is a much more consistent way of describing why I am a picky reader.

If I met my inner teenager on the street today, he would probably call me a heretic for being a picky reader. “You’re a liberal,” he would say, drawing out the word to three syllables, “because liberals pick-and-choose. I, on the other hand, am a Christian [or sometimes he might say “Evangelical,”] and we don’t. All of Scripture is equally the word of God.”

On a good day, like today, I would simply smile at him warmly. I would say, “I invite you to consider that you also pick and choose. Everybody does. The question for the big money is: ‘Why do you choose as you do?'” And then, affectionately, I would leave him to stew awhile.

I am a picky reader. If you also follow Jesus, dear Reader: so are you. The big money question is why we choose to read as we do. I hope the core of our answers, even if they result in differing theologies and ways of reading, sounds something like this:

I am a picky reader because I want to give the real and living Jesus the love and honour due him.

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