I think possibly the most frustrating thing about current discussions within the church on various theological matters is the utter chutzpah that revisionists have when talking about how they “read” the Bible. Now, maybe I belong to an arcane era of education but when I was growing up reading was about comprehension – ie understanding the intended meaning that the author was communicating through the text.
And yet we are regularly hearing truly bizarre and “personal” “readings” from the theological liberals as they strive to justify their positions. The problem is, I suggest, that you end up having to conclude that they are either extremely ignorant (which I'm always loathe to do) or simply dishonest.
Take this example – on yesterday's Today Progamme on BBC Radio 4 there was a small segment on a recent proposal by the UK government that religious groups should be allowed to offer ceremonies for civil partnerships. In the discussion were Rod Thomas, chair of Reform (a conservative evangelical grouping on the Church of England) and Colin Coward, director of “Changing Attitude” (a group campaigning for, well, a change of the CofE's attitude on issues such as women bishops, homosexual activity etc.). Here's the discussion…
Did you spot it? For clarity, here's the quite ridiculous statement that Coward makes in response to one point by Thomas:
Rod Thomas: This is moving towards changing the understanding of what marriage is all about. They want Civil Partnerships to be seen as marriage. The Bible teaches us that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and from that union come children. That cannot happen in a same-sex relationship.
Colin Coward: I have never read the Bible in that way. God blesses intimate love. Gender does not matter.
“I have never read the Bible in that way”.
Ignorance or gross dishonesty? You wonder which one since if Coward opened up his Bible he'd see that on the 2nd page the Scriptures say the exact thing that he denies he has ever read…
Genesis 2:23 The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman', for she was taken out of man.” 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
And this is hardly a one-off aberration. Because if Coward flicked on some more pages in his well-read Bible he'd come across Jesus saying this:
Matthew 19:4 “Haven't you read,” [Jesus] replied, “that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,' 5 and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'?
To a bunch of pharisees who were determined to make their own religious point irrespective of the original intent of the Scriptures, Jesus says “haven't you read?”
Which, I suggest, makes the reply from Coward “I have never read the Bible in that way” all the more fascinating and damning and makes me want to ask, “who's reading the Bible correctly, Jesus or Colin Coward?”
I have just had the privilege of participating in
‘The bible in the life of the church project’ (http://www.anglicancommunion.org/ministry/theological/bible/about.cfm) and have heard the same comments from other theological students and ordained ministers. This project is set up to emphasise the perspectival elements of interpretation and aims to catalogue them rather than seek consensus. Notably the project has changed from looking at the fifth mark of mission (http://www.anglicancommunion.org/ministry/mission/fivemarks.cfm) to the fourth, focusing on transforming the unjust structures of society. Our task was to read a list of bible passages looking for ‘unjust gender structures and ‘unjust economic structures’, attempting to read the bible through these paradigms seem to me to reflect some of the prejudice and arrogance of our culture. My impression of the the task of reading the Bible is that comprehension is not all that simple when peoples jobs and careers are on the line. It is too convenient to be able to choose the lens we prefer to look through when reading scripture and ultimately leads to relativising any difficult passage of scripture.
I think you’re right. Whichever way you look at it, it does tend to come down to a lack of integrity.