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jns182
Oct 7th 2008, 01:44 AM
How can one not live in one's own time? How can one not be a part of the culture that frames one's experience? It is almost impossible to transcend one's own particular place in the world and in time, for we are who we a,re and where we are. Culture is the world in which we find ourselves, and out of which we make meaning for ourselves. We, as Christians, have an inherited culture problem, however, for we are called to transcend this culture in which we live for one to which we belong by viture of our baptism and our faith, but which has not yet established itself among us. Jesus is understodd as the one who was to introduce the new age, a new and radically different culture from the one in which he lived and died, and his resurrection was the unambiguous sign that the new age had begun. All who followed him were citizens of that new culture. Paul tells us as much, when in Romans 12 he writes that we are not to be conformed to this world, but "be ye thransformed by the renewal of your mind." Paul invocates the superiority of things that are unseen over things that are seen, for "the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal."

Culturism is the notion, more often wunacknowledged than not, that we read scripture not only in the light of our own culture but as a means of defining and defending that very culture over and against which scripture by its very nature is meant to stand. In other words, scripture is invariable used to support the status quo, no matter what the status quo, and despite the revolutionary origins and implications of scripture itself. Under the rubrice of culturism, scripture, rather than a critique of culture or a vision of another way or day, is chiefly understood as the justification for what has been and what is, a divenely inspired apologist for whatever presently obtains.

In reading and interpreting the Bible, the great temptation is to use it as the moral sanction for our own culture. In making an idol of the culture we seduce the Bible into its service, and reduce the will and word of God to a mere artifact of things as we know them. This understanding of scripture as a force for the preservation of the existing culture is not foreign to the United States. It takes very little effort to find at nearly every instance of our national history scriptural justification for whatever it was we wished to do; from the Pilgrim's at Plymouth to the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, were both the reading of scripture and of history in overwhelming favor of the nationalist appetite for territory.

The most vivid instance of this is probably the appeal to scripture in support of America's racial policies; from slavery to segregation. These were both supported on Bibical moral grounds and were viewed as part of the divine plain. Many people have wondered how southern Christians, far more fervent in the faith and visible in their Christian civility than others, could reconcile the apparent contradiction between their ardent profession of faith and their vigorous support of slavery and segregation. One needs to understand that southern Christians, by and large, saw no such contradiction at all, for it was all in the Bible.

When we read the Bible we are looking at the result of a set of assumptions and ambitions which themselves are not necessarily made explicit or systematic, but which contribute to the construction of the Bible "as it is." In fact, what makes the Bible "run," or "tick," if you will, are these assumptions and expectations with which it is constructed. We do not know all that we need to know. We do not know all that "they" knew. We do know, however, that what we have is what they have left to us, and that translating that treasure from their time into ours and back again is an enterprise that calls for patience, endurance, diligence, skill, and perhaps above all, humility. Arrogance in reading these texts is perhaps an even greater sin than unbelief, and for that arrogance that crowds out the spirit of God, Christians will be held to a strict account at the final judgment. Since discerning what God, in the Bible, means for us to hear and to do is a matter of life and death, we must approach the interpretation of scripture as we do our own slavation, working it out in fear and trembling.

So the question needs to be asked, what is the "slavery" of our time?
How has culturism distored the true Bibical message in our time?
Why are so many people arrogant in reading the Bible?

Teke
Oct 8th 2008, 04:45 PM
Christians aren't suppose to be nationalists. We cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24, Luke 16:13). If we are slaves we have made ourselves slaves.

2 Cor. 11:16-21 is a good example for us. The Corinthians thought they were wise (v19) enough to evaluate church leaders. They had become enamored with false prophets who championed themselves, using the methods and values of the world, full of outward crafty talk 12:1 alludes to the false prophets use of "visions and revelations". Paul states, it's necessary, though not profitable for him to boast in comparison. He further says in 12:11 they've compelled him to be foolish in boasting, as they have been misled by the false ones "signs and wonders" because of their feeling inferior.

They discredited Paul seeing him as a weakling without credentials. The result, they were in "bondage" (v20), defrauded and even brutalized. Paul plays devil's advocate taking up the methods of these false apostles to show them as "fools" (v19), hoping the Corinthians will see through their charade.

Feeling inferior can lead to error and sin of pride.

How to spot such deceivers. They point to their own letters of recommendation (3:1); their Jewish, Greek and Christian credentials (3:5,6, 11:15,22,23); their resumes of success, backed up by the public acclaim of non Christians (1:12, 4:8-11, 6:4-10,10:7, 11:18); and their own claims to personal greatness (4:7, 5:12,10:12,17,18). Apparently some even compare their experiences of God to those of Moses (3:7-18).

kf4zmt
Oct 8th 2008, 06:51 PM
The quote below doesn't answer the question, but it is very relevant to this topic. It serves to make us realize how much our thinking is influenced in ways we don't even realize.


We do not start our Christian lives by working out our faith for ourselves; it is mediated to us by Christian tradition, in the form of sermons, books and established patterns of church life and fellowship. We read our Bibles in the light of what we have learned from these sources; we approach Scripture with minds already formed by the mass of accepted opinions and viewpoints with which we have come into contact, in both the Church and the world.
…It is easy to be unaware that it has happened; it is hard even to begin to realize how profoundly tradition in this sense has moulded us. But we are forbidden to become enslaved to human tradition, either secular or Christian, whether it be “catholic” tradition, or “critical” tradition, or “ecumenical” tradition. We may never assume the complete rightness of our own established ways of thought and practice and excuse ourselves the duty of testing and reforming them by Scriptures. (J. I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1958], pp. 69-70.)

Teke
Oct 8th 2008, 07:31 PM
We are to "try the spirits".

1Jo 4:1 ¶ Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

"We may never assume the complete rightness of our own established ways of thought and practice and excuse ourselves "

While I agree with this.

"the duty of testing and reforming them by Scriptures."

Is this not what all do of their own accord. Such can go many a different direction. False teachers claim as much. Scripture or not, the spirit must be tried.

Biastai
Oct 10th 2008, 12:56 PM
Excellent original post. I started to give this concept much thought starting a few years ago. The more and more I delved into the Bible, the more I realized that I had to do my best to read the Bible as a Palestinian of antiquity and not as a 21st century American. Of course its easier said than done.

I've found that the continued study of the scriptures supplemented with historical study helps. This type of study helps one to sample many cultures and to observe human/societal phenomena common to any time period. The transcending of the mind to which you alluded from Romans 12:2 does happen a bit with this study.

Paul was well-read and well-travelled and so was able to claim the benefits of this expanded mindset. Instead of understanding the Bible as one who is immersed within one "cultural bubble," one is more able to exit it in mind and understand better with a view of the many "cultural bubbles" from the outside. I confess I'm having a hard time explaining this, so I know this is probably leaving some scratching their heads.

As for examples, I don't have any on as large a scale as your examples. I can definitely say I've seen my share of the unwarranted moral sanctioning in my life. I've had people pull the "faith card" on me and have seen it happen to others. If someone were to try to coerce another into accepting a burden and that person is non-committal, the other would say something like "I'll just put you down for this. I'm sure your faith will lead you to do it." "God's work" is another expression used in this manner sometimes. I don't object to the expressions themselves. Its when they are used to lend strength to a request to contribute to someone's personal agenda.

Emanate
Oct 10th 2008, 01:31 PM
Excellent original post. I started to give this concept much thought starting a few years ago. The more and more I delved into the Bible, the more I realized that I had to do my best to read the Bible as a Palestinian of antiquity and not as a 21st century American. Of course its easier said than done.


Why would you want to read the bible as a Philistine of any age?

Scruffy Kid
Oct 10th 2008, 02:08 PM
I appreciate ens's being here on the board, and welcome ens! :hug:
Similarly I appreciate the presence of biastai, and offer my welcome! :hug:
It's nice to have each of you here :pp :pp :pp
and you make valuable contributions in your posts! Thanks!


A Caution

However, I have some caution about the approach that each has put out.

Roughly, it seems to me that one has to be careful that this kind of talking about the need to read carefully, and appreciate the importance of original context, does not turn into an implied or unstated argument that we can't really know what the Bible says, or that what it plainly states is not what it really means, and -- especially -- that the way the Scriptures have been understood by Christians through the ages is to be thrown out on the grounds that they were influenced by their cultures. (Such an argument usually takes some contemporary context -- challenging the theology or ethical insight of the past -- as if were not itself a cultural context that was subject to a lot of distortion, or as if the thought of some few in one generation -- our own -- outweighed the biblical insight of the Christian community through the ages.)


How have past generations understood the Bible?

When we read the Bible -- or read or seek to hear any other message -- we do so through our own eyes and ears. Those eyes and ears are, in part, formed by the culture about us. (But of course, they may have many sources, innate, chosen, from culture, random, and so on.) That does not mean, however, that we are incapable of receiving new input.

When I discuss matters with a friend or loved one, or an acquaintance, stranger, or enemy, I am, in some measure, capable of hearing or assimilating the positions and viewpoints of the one I dialogue with.

Even just reflecting by myself, I might come to startlingly new conclusions -- just as Bartolomew De Las Casas, a 16th century Bishop in Spanish America did. When Bishop Bartholomew read the Bible and thought about what the Scripture said, he decided that the Spanish treatment of the inhabitants of Mexico and other New World possessions was contrary to justice and to what the Bible taught. So he started to defend indigenes, indians (amerinds) against exploitation by the Spanish conquerors, and to warn the Spaniards that they would face God's wrath for how they were treating the indians. (By the way, the entire Dominican order in Spain backed Bishop Bartolomew up, and agreed to his policies and ideas.)

Here's another example, which was contributed by a blogger about his ancestors when they confronted slavery.
My great-great grandfather, a second generation American who was a shopkeeper in Philadelphia, organized and partially paid for a rifle company at the outset of the Civil War. Like a lot of these volunteer groups, they drilled for a while, elected their own officers, did some marching around with the Union Army, and then were sent home before they could do the Union any serious harm. G-G-Grandad was 40, with a wife and a bunch of small kids at home. He didn't need to do this. He went on to serve for years as [an elder in a church] in Philadelphia, and his daughter, my great grandmother, is the source of my family's [Christian heritage]. She married into a fiercely abolitionist family who moved from upstate New York to Illinois partly to get at the rich farmland, and partly to guarantee that Illinois would come into the Union a free state. Downstate cousins who farmed along the Illinois river seem to have kept an Underground Railway station: other cousins died at Gettysburg and Andersonville. There's nothing really special about this history: it's typical, not unusual. They did what they could for the sake of freedom. The blogger writes this in response to some in his church who seem to feel that by publicly doing symbolic repentance for slavery and the part "the church" played in it they establish their credentials for revising historic Christianity. The implicit idea being promoted by these folks, against which this blogger argues, is that they are right in revising the historic Christian faith, and the plain meaning of the Scriptures, on the (implied, not stated) ground that all our Christian past and ancestry is corrupt and unreliable because "the Bible was used to promote slavery and racism."

(So, of course, was the Constitution -- but that's not a reason for giving up defense of the 1st amendment rights to free exercise of religion or freedom of speech!)

Therefore, I feel rather cautious about the line of argument put out in the OP here, and about Biastai's comment on it.

Neither Las Casas nor the blogger's GG-Gfather arrived at their biblical critique of wrong practices in their own times by means of trying to get in the mindset of 1st century palestinians. They read the basic messages of the BIble which were clear in opposition to exploitation of the weak.


Rhetoric of Change

In particular, there is a kind of rhetoric around now which says we can throw out the moral strictures of Biblical teaching because some find them burdensome, and that this is quite OK, or laudable, because past generations, allegedly, radically misunderstood the Bible.

In support of this is the notion that things such as slavery "were supported on Biblical moral grounds" and that such wrong readings were the exclusive or dominant ones "at nearly every instance of our national history." As contrasted with this problematic "inherited culture", are the "the revolutionary origins and implications of scripture itself" as "Jesus is understood [in Scripture] as the one who was to introduce the new age, a new and radically different culture from the one in which he lived and died, and his resurrection was the unambiguous sign that the new age had begun."

Note, ens, that the examples and vocabulary you use are ambiguous or one-sided. There's no attention to strong religious and biblical commitment which was on the side of the oppressed -- for instance, the abolitionists. There's no questioning of whether things like slavery that -- in your phrase -- "were supported on Biblical moral grounds" were, in fact, motivated by mistaken biblical conviction, or whether phony pseudo-biblical arguments were ginned up to support evil social systems the support for which actually arose from economic interest and the like. The vocabulary of "revolutionary" and "radically different culture" is one which could indicate, generically, fundamental change ("radical", or "from the roots"; "revolutionary" in the sense of a big upheaval of the existing order) but which has, also, specific connotations historically associated with various "left" causes, and which could, therefore, be making an illegit and tacit case that those kinds of changes in morals or doctrine advocated by some now considered "liberal" or "progressive" were the kinds of changes that characterized Jesus's teachings or praxis. Anyone is free to try to mount such an argument, of course, but the use of hinged terms -- which in one context can just mean very novel and fundamentally changing, and in another connote specific points on the contemporary ideological and political spectrum -- is not a logical or proper way to make an argument of that kind. In fact, in contemporary terms, the moral doctrine presented in the NT was, in many respects, radically "conservative" (in one meaning of that multi-valent term): emphasizing chastity, respect for parents and elders, frugality, and so on. Of course I'm not trying to suggest that your purposes in writing were askew, or that your understanding of what you wrote was subject to the possible errors I'm trying to guard against: I'm just trying to set out the possible pitfalls so I and all of us can avoid them. Liikewise, I'm not trying to sketch or suggest some theory of what the implications are for christian thought and practice, in general or in our day: just pointing out that one has to be cautious about accepting characterizations such as "radical" or "revolutionary" without further inspection.


The Center of NT Teaching is God as Our Father,
And the Reconciliation of Humankind to God by Jesus
Through His death on the Cross for Our Sins

Of at least equally great concern, your characterization of NT teaching -- both in Jesus and in Paul -- seems to place ethical and perhaps social and political reform at the center of the message, and to leave out, entirely, the aspects of repentance and the salvation from our sins wrought by Christ's death for us on the cross. Jesus is understood as the one who was to introduce the new age, a new and radically different culture from the one in which he lived and died, and his resurrection was the unambiguous sign that the new age had begun. All who followed him were citizens of that new culture. Paul tells us as much, when in Romans 12 he writes that we are not to be conformed to this world, but "be ye transformed by the renewal of your mind." Paul invocates the superiority of things that are unseen over things that are seen, for "the things that are seen are temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal." [indent]The problem is not that the things you say cannot be understood in a way which accurately characterizes how Jesus was understood (they [I]might be so understood) but that a natural reading of what you said (just quoted) -- especially in the context of your post -- makes it sound as if "a new and radically different culture from the one in which he lived and died" was the center of Jesus' message. But it seems a much more straightforward reading to think that Jesus was primarily concerned with our relationship to the Father, with the central role that He Himself had in reconciling us to God (though His death on the cross), our repenting of our sins, and the forgiveness of sins which is secured by His death and resurrection.

Also (though this is a lesser matter), there are certain ways in which the early Christians lived, and were taught to live, as part of "a new and radically different culture" and other respects in which they were taught to "be subject to every human institution" (Romans 13, cf. I Peter 2, etc.)

In friendship,
Scruffy Kid

Biastai
Oct 10th 2008, 09:23 PM
Why would you want to read the bible as a Philistine of any age?

I was referring to the cultural background of the Palestinian seaboard of Biblical times. Israelites were part of it too. I'm using the term more to describe geography and culture than race. For example, some theological authors call Jews who remained in the promised land Palestinian Jews as opposed to Alexandrian Jews or other Jews of the Diaspora.

Emanate
Oct 10th 2008, 09:29 PM
I was referring to the cultural background of the Palestinian seaboard of Biblical times. Israelites were part of it too. I'm using the term more to describe geography and culture than race. For example, some theological authors call Jews who remained in the promised land Palestinian Jews as opposed to Alexandrian Jews or other Jews of the Diaspora.


I see your point, but in the first century the land was called Israel. It is interesting to do a study of the word Palestine. Roman Emperor Hadrian changed the name of Israel to "Palestine (a variation of Philistine)" in an attempt to destroy the name of Israel.

for further here is a good link: http://www.levitt.com/essays/palestine.html

Biastai
Oct 10th 2008, 09:39 PM
Why would you want to read the bible as a Philistine of any age?


I see your point, but in the first century the land was called Israel. It is interesting to do a study of the word Palestine. Roman Emperor Hadrian changed the name of Israel to "Palestine (a variation of Philistine)" in an attempt to destroy the name of Israel.

for further here is a good link: http://www.levitt.com/essays/palestine.html

Good read.

I haven't really thought of it that way. Especially now while I'm reading R.H. Pfeiffer's History of New Testament Times (he uses that designation freely), its a wording that is in my head a lot lately.

Thanks for pointing that out to me. I'll definitely keep it in mind seeing that the term may potentially offend.

apothanein kerdos
Oct 10th 2008, 10:29 PM
So the question needs to be asked, what is the "slavery" of our time?

The slavery of today is the slavery of all time. Have a look over to Africa and you'll see that slavery still exists and every time you bite into that Hershey's bar you're tasting the fruits of some slave's labor.

Or you can look to America and see how illegal immigrants are treated. Because they're illegal they can't report substandard wage or abhorrent working conditions.


How has culturism distored the true Bibical message in our time?

Liberation theology, black theology, manifest destiny, social Gospel...those are things that come to mind when I think of misinterpreting the Bible to fit our culture.


Why are so many people arrogant in reading the Bible?

What do you mean by arrogant? Someone who is confident in the interpretation isn't arrogant in it.

I guess a few questions for you, because I'm trying to figure out where you're going with this...well...I'm just going to list off some names and theories and tell me if you're familiar with any of them and what you think:

Historical Grammatical Method

Jacques Derrida

John Caputo

Peter Rollins

Francis Schaeffer

Wayne Grudem

Just trying to figure out who has influenced your thinking. It would help to understand better where you're coming from.

Teke
Oct 11th 2008, 12:16 AM
The most vivid instance of this is probably the appeal to scripture in support of America's racial policies; from slavery to segregation. These were both supported on Bibical moral grounds and were viewed as part of the divine plain. Many people have wondered how southern Christians, far more fervent in the faith and visible in their Christian civility than others, could reconcile the apparent contradiction between their ardent profession of faith and their vigorous support of slavery and segregation. One needs to understand that southern Christians, by and large, saw no such contradiction at all, for it was all in the Bible.


I'll take stab at answering this. Southerner's didn't see any difference. One's station in life and authority over them was and is seen as God's will. History from scripture doesn't contradict this view.

Many times when history is looked at in the south, it is only the "bad" side, that being slavery, of Africans in particular. What may be overlooked is that anyone could be a slave. The indentured servant (nice name for a slave that could buy their freedom), and the share cropper (slave of the land) were also slaves. No difference from the necessity of such. The good and bad go hand in hand.

Segregation came from ignorance and fear, as it still does anywhere in the world.