Is Scripture, for you, a kind of Generous Space? How does this perspective differ from the view of Scripture you currently hold? How does it reinforce what you find life-giving about your own views?
Further conversation about Scripture continues to shape my thoughts: Christians find the entire canon useful–not necessarily because the human authors “got it right” in all cases, but because we see an utterly faithful God willing to risk being fully misunderstood.
God’s willingness to risk sparked another thought in me: Scripture itself is a model of what my friend Wendy Gritter might call a “Generous Space” conversation. Sometimes, issues resolve. Other times, they don’t. The issue is not so much that all the writers in the canon can be made to agree, but that (in its wisdom, or its foolishness) the People of God has been provoked into a continuous wrestling, an ongoing argument, with and about our God. (Remember, this is the God who takes risks and is willing to die for us, the one who is Christ-like.)
Take violence as a topic within Scripture. Christians of all sorts affirm there will be no violence after the final Adjustment of the world. (Most Christians call this the Final Judgment, but I wanted to bring out an important nuance that I think most of us miss.) But in the meantime, we debate about the place of violence in our lives as Christians. There are voices that seem to permit violence for specific reasons. There are others that teach Christian non-violence based on the life of Jesus. Are Christians with opposite convictions still Christians? Is one camp more obviously right?
Take the leadership of women in the Church. Two perspectives (at least) find support in different authors and strands of Scripture. I personally believe that the Church should favour the professional/ordained/commissioned ministry of women at all levels. I even believe that, in the Western context at least, it is deeply sinful for male pastors and scholars to oppose this inclusive stance, because there is good exegesis and clear fruit of the Spirit on our side. I will not change my position on this topic, but there is a small chance I am wrong. But are those who disagree with me still Christians? Don’t we still come to the same Table, trusting in the same Lord for forgiveness of sins?
It does seem clear that certain debates end, even within Scripture itself. Does God accept Gentiles into the people of God? Yes, though there are voices that clearly say no. Very well: does God accept Gentiles who have never been circumcised into the Community? To be honest, based on all the Scriptural evidence the answer should have been no. The thing that tilted the balance was the divine interference of the Holy Spirit: unwashed Gentiles spoke in tongues–as the circumcised had–even before baptism!
Conversations begin because reality as we understand it doesn’t quite answer the question that arises. The task is to discern how we respond to the new question. As anyone who knows me well can attest, I believe that LGBTQ+ believers pose questions to the Church that we might not have had to engage quite so openly before.
The point of Generous Space is not to endlessly delay consensus in the Body of Christ. In part, at least, it teaches us the patience we need to grapple with our risk-taking God while loving even those who disagree strongly with us. Just as with a Generous Space conversation, Scripture teaches us that God holds all things in God’s heart, and is reconciling all things in Christ. The ultimate outcome of the conversation is not in doubt: Love Wins.
If something like this is true of Scripture, maybe that’s why Wendy Gritter could say to me once, about how she presents Generous Space in her consulting work (as I remember it): “I’m just preaching the Gospel, but being a little sneaky about it.” Amen, my sister. Amen.
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?
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.