Seriously? But, Not Literally


I was talking to someone close to me this morning and found out she believes in complementarianism (is that actually a word?). I also found out that while my attitude is “live and let live” with people I don’t know, it is much less so when it comes to people I care about. I do not care for either of these developments. It’s interesting this came up the day after I read Morgan Guyton’s post “Privilege and Biblical Interpretation” on his blog “Mercy, Not Sacrifice”. It’s interesting because biblical interpretation is the key to this and many other ways of thinking that are at odds with emergence and progressive Christianity.

In “What Am I Talking About”, I said a progressive Christian “takes the Bible seriously but not literally”. You may be wondering how it’s possible to take something seriously without taking it literally. The best way I can explain it is fairy tales. Before your head explodes because I just compared the Bible to fairy tales, calm down. Our understanding of fairy tales is vastly different from that of the original audience. Fairy tales originated before the advent of the printed word and were part of a tradition that passed knowledge from one generation to the next through stories, songs, ballads and chants. In fact, because the books of the Bible weren’t written down immediately, the stories and knowledge in them survived through this oral tradition.

Okay, so fairy tales have a little something in common with the Bible . What the heck does this have to do with taking it seriously but not literally. Here’s how: when the ancient storytellers told fairy tales, the point wasn’t that people were turned into frogs or pigs built houses. There was a deeper message conveyed, usually a  moral one. The Bible works the same way. Focusing on the literal aspects of a story can cause you to lose the impact of that story.

Taking the Bible seriously means to study it, to dig into it, to seek that deeper meaning. Context is key to finding it. If we understand the historical context that prompted Paul to say “wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord” was vastly different than ours, it might change the way we view this passage. Something else that will make a huge difference in what you take from scripture is to read the verse just before the one quoted and the one after. Doing so here, we find Paul saying “submit to each other out of respect for Christ” before and “A husband is the head of his wife like Christ is head of the church, that is, the savior of the body”. Okay, so the second one doesn’t do much for the egalitarian case, but understanding the historical context can help with that.

Look, I know this is whole “seriously” thing is harder than the “literally” thing. I get that it requires time that you don’t think you have. But, does it really? I mean, how much time do you spend farting around on Facebook? Or looking up recipes on Pinterest? Or watching ESPN? Is all that really necessary? And, if the problem is that you’re not sure where to find this stuff, search engines are an amazing tool. Just type in a portion of the passage you’re struggling with and pages upon pages of information will right there at your fingertips. Yes, it’s hard and it takes up time. But, it’s worth it, I promise.