Dear friends,

Over the last three Sundays the Bible has talked about tough matters for present day Christians in Ottawa. Men and women in leadership, trans-gender issues, husbands and wives, slaves in a slave society. The problem for Canadian Christians is that some of what the Bible says is deeply counter-cultural. In fact, offensive to Canadian cultural values.

A very common way to handle this “problem” is to say that the Bible is wrong. Actually, I should re-state this. We usually say that this part of the Bible is merely cultural, reflecting the limited cultural knowledge and experience of that time and situation. Our time and situation is different, so we need to interpret the Bible in light of our experience and knowledge.

John Wesley famously said that the Bible always has more truth to teach us. He meant several good things by this, but he did not mean that we can dismiss parts of the Bible, when properly read, disagrees with culture. The Bible keeps teaching because as we keep reading we notice new connections between its parts. The Bible keeps teaching because the Holy Spirit will bring a previously unnoticed Bible text to bear on our life. The Bible keeps teaching us when our mind becomes less clouded – our mind becomes more conformed to God’s word – so we can receive more from the Word written.

But sometimes cultural and intellectual experience helps us to see new things in God’s word. We do not realize how our culture puts blinders on us as we read God’s word. We do not look carefully and deeply into the Word because we casually assume that a Bible word / sentence / idea corresponds to a cultural belief. So sometimes, intellectual and cultural challenges help us to understand the Bible more truly. The “challenge” forces us into a closer reading of the whole Bible to see what it does and does not say. But note. This is important. The cultural challenge forces us to a deeper consistent and holistic reading of the Bible.

When we say that we now have new knowledge and experience and the Biblical texts are culture bound, we are not reading the Bible with a holistic and deeper consistency. We are saying the Bible is wrong; that we do not need to listen / learn / wrestle with its truth. Once “experience” “shares” authority with the Bible, the Bible ceases to be an authority at all. We might not always use “experience” as a way to dismiss the Bible, but there is no longer a check on us using “experience” to dismiss inconvenient, counter-cultural texts. But for God’s grace, we have entered a hall of mirrors, not into the mind of God as revealed by His Word written.