I shared some thoughts from an email exchange with a young pastor on the west coast (Open to Interpretation), and he sent me a short response to post. So here it is, Josh’s response:
Hey, I’m Josh, I’m single, I’m twenty-eight, I have an M.Div. from Illif, and I now serve a nondenominational church in Washington State. There are about 250 of us any given week at the church, mostly people under forty, mostly single, a lot of low-income people. We don’t have our own building but meet in the community playhouse, except when there are shows, then we meet in a community center. We would meet outside at this great nearby park if it didn’t rain so much.
I started writing Doroteos/Dan after a few times he talked about how important scholarly Bible study is and how we need to read it in the Greek, and learn what the authors really meant — the same stuff I was fed in seminary. But what I learned there I think is valid and true: it doesn’t matter if Mary was a virgin or not — Jesus is still Jesus. Knowing which of Paul’s letters Paul actually wrote will not feed one single starving person. Memorizing scripture verses and naming all the books of the Bible won’t save our world from our greed, corruption, or insanity. The Bible is a tool, not the reason we believe.
I just want to say three things my own way that I base my teaching and preaching on. Some of what Doroteos/Dan said and some of the comments make me think I am not being clearly understood.
First, the Bible is important. But for what it says today, not what it meant 2,000 years ago. Today’s people need to engage it in today’s language. So what if Peterson doesn’t do a good job translating the actual text of the Bible? It’s readable, it’s inspiring, and it captures the gist of what the Bible is trying to say. Isn’t that basically what a good sermon tries to do? I only use The Message and I don’t notice anybodies eyeballs melting or their heads exploding. What I do notice are people listening and trying to figure out what the Bible has to do with their lives. Which of the four resurrection stories is the “true” story? Don’t know, don’t care, doesn’t matter. We don’t have time to waste debating it. I haven’t cracked a commentary since I graduated Illif, and I don’t see any reason to. There are so many great stories and instructions throughout the Bible, that I can preach every week til I die and I won’t get to them all. And even if we didn’t use the Bible, there are so many life lessons from our faith that we can get by. I am not against the Bible, I just don’t think it is as crucial that we analyze it the way we do.
Next, I am a Christian (but not a Biblian). I worship Jesus Christ, not the book about him. I do believe in the physical resurrection but do not claim to understand how a human afterlife will work. I do believe in conversion experiences, more than a lot of people I know who are Bible scholars. I do believe sin is a problem, but not one that can be fixed by sitting in pews on a Sunday morning. I believe that a church is a gathering of Christians who figure out together what God wants them to do, and then they do it. I think Christianity is less about what you think and more about how you live. My dad was a pastor and a closet alcoholic. He was especially strict about living a righteous life then drank himself comatose every night. I learned a lot from that — your life is your witness, not your words.
Last, I hate labels and the whole “post-modern” thing is stupid. I don’t know if I am modern, post-modern, or post partum. What I believe is that I am as God created me to be in relationship with God through God’s Spirit. This offers a filter through which I live my entire life. Regardless of what musicians or artists or authors mean, I interpret things through my own spiritual filter, and what something means to me is what is most important. And everybody does exactly the same thing, though most people don’t think it through. The same Bible that I read telling me to be a peacemaker tells someone else to pick up a rifle and kill Middle Easterners. The same Bible that tells me that if I’m not feeding the hungry and not housing the homeless I’m not a Christian is telling some yo-yo in Texas that good Christians are rich Christians. And followers go where they hear what they want to hear. If that’s post-modern, fine, but I just think it’s human.
I believe each individual is an entire faith. People are like snowflakes, no two alike. I have yet to meet any other human being that believes everything I do exactly the way I do. It is not my role as pastor to impose my beliefs on people who come to my church. Ninety-nine percent of the people that come to our church will never be Bible scholars and they really don’t need my narrow interpretation for them to live good Christian lives.
For too many people the Bible is an excuse not to be Christian. If we sit around a table every week for a year talking about who Jesus really was, we don’t have to actually try to be like Jesus. If we fill our Sunday schools with big groups talking about Christianity, then we won’t be bothered having to be Christian. Studying the Bible and having small group discussion is the best, easiest, most painless way to avoid following Jesus. We have had hundreds of years of scholarly study, and it hasn’t really made much of a difference. Wasting time reading the Bible in the original Greek doesn’t seem to me to be taking us where we need to go.
I appreciate all the well-meaning comments, but a lot of them jump to some pretty huge unfair conclusions. I love God, I love Jesus, I am a Christian, and I wouldn’t be a pastor if I didn’t love people. It’s just for me, none of these relationships are defined by a book.
Josh isn’t giving his last name or email because “I’m kind of done with this now? I need to spend my time on other things.”