Love is the Right Interpretation

Fred Clark has a great post up in which he talks about the necessity of love for biblical interpretation. Below, I’ll unpack a little of what I’ve been thinking about since taking in his thoughts.

First, read Fred’s post, part of which I’ve copied and posted below:

Without love, without being influenced by love, no human can ever “study the Bible and change their mind.”

If that strikes you as a radical hermeneutical claim, you’re right. But it’s also exactly what the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13. That’s not just something pretty to be read at weddings or an ethical plea for everybody to be more nice. Paul is talking about epistemology — he says that without love we are incapable of knowing. Incapable of knowing God, knowing others, knowing ourselves, knowing anything. Without love, Paul says, what we think we understand or know amounts to “nothing.”

Scripture is abundantly clear that people who know God are people who love. So if you know someone who loves like Jesus, you can be sure that they “get it.” I don’t mean that they agree with you on how to interpret every hard verse of the Bible. They may get a number of issues wrong. But then, being right and avoiding being wrong is not the point of our lives. We were created to be loved by God and walk in communion with Him. If someone is doing that, then you can be sure they’re on the right track, even if their answers to creedal questions need some work*.

For me, this means two things:

First, I need to constantly be reminded that the goal of my Bible study is not to eventually think about and believe the right things. It’s not to be the smartest guy at Bible study or to win arguments with skeptics (particularly the obnoxious ones, against whom gaining a victory is so tempting). The point of the Christian life is to be like Christ. We do that by living by the Greatest Commandment.

Second, this means I can’t write off anyone who loves because they disagree with me. We may not read the Bible in the exact same way, but if they’re loving, then they’ve got the point of Scripture correctly. Love is our interpretation, if you will, and I can practice love in my life by not being so sure of myself and listening more carefully to others. (In the same way, I’d hope that someone wouldn’t completely tune me out because I affirm the theory of evolution, same-sex relationships, and the necessity of women pastors in the church.)

What do you think of the idea that love must be our starting point in interpreting the Bible? Do you agree? Why or not why?

* This does not mean that you get to believe anything you want and there won’t be consequences.

A Brief Reflection for Easter

On Good Friday, we remembered how deep the depravity of man runs, that we could put to death someone who used his power and influence to heal the sick, rescue captives from demons, free people from poisonous religion, and announce that the kingdom of God was available for any and all who want it.

We put that Man to death.

He did nothing wrong. He did everything right. We couldn’t stand for it and wanted Him gone.

At the Resurrection, God whispered back, “Not so fast.”

This morning, we worship a God who surrendered Himself to death and returned from the grave to save what He loves–all of us.

What God Didn’t Require of Jesus (and Won’t Require of You)

Tonight is Maundy Thursday and tomorrow is Good Friday. There are always a good number of us who might confess the creeds but aren’t sure how well we agree with them. And then there’s always someone who suspects that Jesus may actually be serious and not just a figment of people’s imagination, but they’re not ready to make the leap to whatever it means to have “faith in Jesus.”

I say all this because if Jesus has shown us anything, it’s that you don’t need to have everything lined up and figured out in order to be with him. Jesus didn’t go to the cross with his chest puffed out, talking trash to his enemies. He went weeping. He begged God for another way. He even knew that angels would save him from his enemies, if he asked them to. Jesus was a wreck in the moments before his arrest and execution.

He was the Son of God who was obeying the will of his Father for the sake of the world–and he was falling apart and didn’t have it together at all.
Pay attention to that, because Jesus’ actions and words in Gethsemane teach us something crucial: you don’t have to have everything figured out and together in order to start following Christ. You don’t have to have every question answered. Maybe you feel like you do, but if that’s the case, then you should know that you may be requiring a greater degree of theological certainty than even God Himself requires.
You don’t have to have your doctrinal ducks perfectly lined up in a row before you can actually trust God.

You don’t have to like everything in the Bible before you start to trust the Jesus it talks about. (A bit of advice: following Jesus for years doesn’t guarantee you’re ever going to be fully comfortable with the Bible.)

If Jesus didn’t need to have everything together to do what God wanted him to do, then why would our Lord require anything different from you? Why would He place upon you a burden greater than the one shouldered by Jesus?
Don’t feel like you need to make yourself ready to follow Jesus. Don’t try to clean yourself up. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to understand absolutely everything right now before you learn to trust Him.
If Jesus didn’t have to have it all together, then neither do you.
So take off your shoes, you doubters. You’re standing on holy ground.

Seeds of Grace

“… where sin increased, grace increased all the more …” (Romans 5:20)

For those of us who are struggling with the same evil deeds over and over, let’s not lose heart.

God has already planed the areas in which we sin with the seeds of grace. Someday, those areas are going to bear witness to what Jesus has done for us and what was once a cause for repentance will instead lead to praise.

Because where sin exists, grace always abounds.

A Quick Thought about Fred Phelps’ Passing

Fred Phelps, the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church hate group, died after making life miserable for countless people.

I don’t know where he stood in relation to Jesus or where he now stands in relation to heaven and hell.

I do, however, think it was probably a terrible thing for him to finally face God only to discover that He loves all the people you spent a lifetime hating.

May God have mercy.

The Most Overlooked Lesson of the Gospels

There’s no one in the Christian world who doesn’t love describing their critics/enemies as Pharisees–implying, of course, that they themselves are the Jesus-es of whatever righteous crusade they’re on. It’s a weakness in all of us, myself included, but I think that we tend to miss a pretty important lesson in the gospels themselves:

The people who always thought they had the biblical worldview were always wrong about God.

I don’t think the Pharisees started out wanting to put their traditions above God. Does anyone? They strike me as people who wanted to obey God’s law because they knew, from Scripture, that that’s what it meant to be a follower of God. And when you’re surrounded by pagans on all sides and are ruled over by people who don’t worship your God, that devotion becomes all the more crucial to maintaining who you are.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because modern evangelicals carry the same weight on their shoulders (although they tend to ignore the fact that they’re the most powerful religious group in the most powerful country in the world). Everyone is convinced that they’re always on God’s side and it’s always someone else who’s at fault.

But doesn’t Jesus warn us against this attitude time and time again?

Isn’t this the very thing we need to take note of in every instance in which Jesus has a fight with the religious leaders of his day?

The Lord’s opponents weren’t pagan. They were trying to maintain a biblical worldview and live in accordance with the Scriptures. That’s what made it so hard for them to see their error, because the more you’re convinced that you’ve got everything right in your interpretation and praxis, the less room you’re going to have for repentance.

There were a lot of reasons the Pharisees missed the point of their own Scriptures, but I think for now, we should take stock of ourselves instead of judging them too harshly.

When it comes to dealing with Jesus, the people who are most convinced they’re on God’s side are often the ones who are most incapable of seeing the danger they’re really in.