Tuesday, January 31, 2006

What I Bring To The Text When I Read The Bible

Each of use bring our own experince to the Bible when we read it. Here is some of my own story.

I have been reading and interpreting the Bible for years. I first started reading the Bible seriously the summer between my sixth and seventh grade year. Our family was going through some tough times. One night after my mother and I had had a tiff, I prayed that God would change me. Soon after I developed an ear infection and was confined to bed. I was in a lot of pain so I started to read the Living New Testament. As I read the words jumped out at me and felt as though they were especially for me. That season in my life started me on a path of Bible reading. As I approached the text as a young pre-teen, I had little direct guidance from others except that the Bible was true. Through the years, my approach and views of have changed, I hope matured for the better. The interpretive forces in my own life are not uncommon but are how God has sovereignly worked in my life. The goal of understanding the interpretive forces in my life is to understand myself so that I am accountable to the text, not the text bending to my own prejudices unaware.
I am a 42 year old male. I have been married to my wife Barbara since August 27, 1983. We have five daughters. The oldest two are in college. The youngest is a preteen. There is ten years between the oldest (20) and the youngest (10). As I approach the Scriptures and I see the promises to Abraham and his seed, I long to have my family embrace the faith that I desire to pass on to them. Not every one in my extended family is a believer, and the tension regarding my faith and their's makes family time tense. I feel an obligation to do my best to pass faith in Christ Jesus to my children, and then see, then in turn, faith passed on to their children also. I want them to embrace a warm and enduring faith in the Savior. As I read the text, I see God made us as individuals, but also as families. I bring that to the text. Someone who is single may wonder what I am thinking about when I read the Bible through these lenses.
My church background is eclectic. As a child, I went to an independent, fundamental, premillennial Baptist church which was a part of the Baptist Bible Fellowship. There I was taught the basics of the gospel message of trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, and strangely enough about the accuracy of the Genesis account of creation. In my preteen and teen years I went to a Cumberland Presbyterian church in rural Missouri. Many people in that church had a warm piety as they walked with the Lord. The Bible was embraced warmly. Later when I joined the military, we sought a good church in each new community where the Army sent us. We joined or attended the military chapel, Cumberland Presbyterian, Evangelical Free, Bible Church, Calvary Chapel, an independent Charismatic Church, Southern Baptist, and Presbyterian Church in America. The various church have made me want to steer clear of legalism, liberalism, and a gospel watered down by cultural relevance. It has also made me appreciate the need to build precept upon precept doctrinal teachings so as to advance in faith and understanding. For the most part I come to the Scriptures with a Calvinistic view of soteriology, covenantal theological view in regard with how God has dealt with man in various ages, a neo-Calvinistic view of Scripture and society, amillennial view regarding prophesy, and view the creation as having happened in six literal days. While I support the evangelical mind set of broad acceptance of all Bible believing Christians, I feel a great need for advancing beyond a basic doctrinal statement in regard to each Christian's personal growth. This means studying the Scriptures both with charity towards those who hold opposing views to my own, and with conviction as to the truths in God's Word.
For years my evangelical leanings were such a strong force that I held all doctrine at arms length except for the basics. Any controversial issue of doctrine I took the mediocre middle road, lacking commitment on one side or the other. In a sense I fell prey to the idea that not taking a stance on an issue was to rise above the debate, when in reality I was merely on the sidelines, not understanding the theological debates at all. I also felt that theological debates were inconsequential. Then the Lord took me on a journey that broke up my lack of rigor in my thought and lack of decision on my theological stance. I was deployed to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. On Sundays I would attend Chapel services on Eskan village. The Chaplain was leading a study during the Sunday School hour on Romans chapter two. He read the verse that says “You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” I had memorized this passage in the King James Version where it said “thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?” The chaplain's explanation of the passage was that Jews at the time robbed Gentile temples because they had disregard for Gentile religion. I felt his interpretation was not right. He asked me to read the text, which of course said “temples”, not sacrilege. I did not know how to come to a decision what the text actually meant. I wrote my pastor a letter asking about the right interpretation. I got back a letter saying that it was not a big issue. But in my mind there was a nagging question, if I could not understand a passage that I had memorized, how could I ever know the Bible? I prayed that the Lord would teach me the Bible. This began me on a road of trying to come to grips with how to interpret a passage of Scripture. (By the way, I do not believe I have arrived at knowing what each passage of Scripture means, but I am learning principles by which to interpret.) Recently I was reading Romans 2 in the Greek and I found out the Greek word translated “rob temples” is a verb. A more grammatically centric translation would be “Do you commit temple robbery?” This is not a major issue, but it got me searching a number of years ago.
People who have influenced my reading of the Scriptures has been Bill Holdridge who is the pastor at Calvary Chapel of the Monterey Peninsula and Bill Kampsen who was a fellow soldier who had attended some seminary. Bill Holdridge taught the Bible verse by verse. He gave me appreciation for teaching the Bible the same way that I read it. Bill Kampsen taught a weekly Bible study in his home. He approached the text with the attitude that it could be understood through sound interpretation principles. There are many things that I disagree with Bill Kampsen on regarding particular teachings in the Scriptures but he started me on a path to the historical-grammatical method of interpretation.
As a child, I was not exposed to different cultures, racial or ethnic backgrounds. There was very few Hispanics and very few African-Americans in my home town. In sixth grade there was one Hispanic boy in my class. Until I reached Junior High, I had never been in a class with an African-American. Even then it was very few. My exposure to various cultures was mostly through television and then I did not pick up on it since it was not something with which I had to interact. While I lived in a fairly homogeneous society, I was always an outsider. I lacked social awareness and did not make warm friendships. During my childhood years we moved every two to three years. When I went to college I met Muslims from the Middle East who had come to America to get a college education. They became my friends and I was excited to witness to them. The Scriptures taught Israel to be kind to the stranger within their gates. Since I had been a stranger, I could sympathize with those who were strangers in our country. Ultimately this led me to become fascinated with cultures, linguistics and languages. I took Koine Greek in college. I desired to engage in missions work. Needing to support my family, I joined the Army. With the Army I studied Arabic at the Defense Language Institute. Every opportunity I could I practiced speaking Arabic with people from the Middle East. I also studied Hebrew at a small seminary near Baltimore in the late 90s. While my proficiency at all of these languages has gaps and holes, it has influenced my reading of the English text. I sense Semitic structures quite naturally while I read the Old Testament. I recognize Semiticism in the New Testament. I enjoy translating the text for myself out of the original languages.
From a socio-economic point of view I am middle class, though I have had some years that were a struggle financially. Generally speaking I hold to the middle class value that people should play by the rules and in turn playing by the rules is to be rewarded by the social system. The idea that if you do the right things you should get the right results leads me to sometimes look to techniques rather than God for success. I have at times read modern management and leadership styles into the Bible. This kind of thinking has sometimes caused me to reading the Bible as a rule book rather than the story of God and His might deeds.
I am a white middle aged American family man who reads the Scripture through the lenses of my linguistic education, my Presbyterian theology, and my many short comings.
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