Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Understanding the New Testament

During our last Jesus of Nazareth class session my professor handed me back a quote along with my graded homework. Most of the papers I turned in over the semester bordered on a Liberal Christian "let's-not-interpret-the-scriptures-literally" view and I think this quote is his subtle final response to my work over the semester.
"The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament." by Søren Kierkegaard.
Yes, I agree that the minute we understand (to grok!) the New Testament we will act accordingly although not because we feel we are obliged but because the Spirit of the New Testament moves us to act accordingly. It is not the obligation to follow the New Testament blindly to the letter but to incorporate the Spirit of the New Testament into our being. (I have yet to read any of Kierkegaard's work so forgive me if he touches on this topic.) We are caught in a lifelong struggle to incorporate what I believe to be the core of Christianity, unconditional love for your fellow man. Unconditional Love is, or at least should be, at the heart of Christianity and yet we (the church) have replaced that core with doctrine, beliefs, and theology about the man who is an earthly expression of Unconditional Love. My personal issue with the Bible is not that it is too constricting to follow (although the Old Testament Laws may be a bit difficult to follow to the letter) and might hinder my personal life, but that it should be read as a guide book to becoming Love Incarnate and not a rule book since it is a product of man. Being alone with the Spirit of the New Testament, or with scripture from any faith, is to admit that we need to transform ourselves from broken and fallible creatures to beings of Love.

Yet, I would go one step further and say it is dreadful to be alone with God! For to move into the presence of the Divine is more dreadful than embracing the structures, beliefs, thoughts, morals, and philosophies of man for it is our interaction and communion with the eternal that reveals to us the significance of living and loving every moment of our short lives. When we peak through the curtain that divides the mortal from the immortal we return with a fragment of love beaming from our faces. When we pray and commune with the Divine, help and walk justly with our fellow man, when we as a community come together we share our fragments of light and bask in its tremendous, eternal, and warm beauty. It is this light of love which humanity seeks in a dark and troubled world, and when we share it, God is found.


Al said...

I can see how your reading of this quote from Kierkegaard could be taken as an effort to refute your 'Liberal Christian "let's-not-interpret-the-scriptures-literally" view', but I think it can easily be pointed the other way (whether your prof sees it that way or not).

It's quite easy for me to see that the Bible promotes a lifestyle of love and justice much more than simply theology. So, I would be inclined to point "Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly." back at someone who emphasizes "doctrine, beliefs, and theology".

Since Wikipedia says: "scholars have interpreted Kierkegaard variously as, among others, an existentialist, neo-orthodoxist, postmodernist, humanist, and individualist.", don't assume that he wouldn't have been of a similar mind as yourself. (I haven't read him either.)

Eruesso said...

I see your point and agree completely, though my professor wasn't too fond that I have begun reading into more liberal minded books by Crossan and Borg which I believe was the reason he introduced me to the quote. Thanks again, Al, for the insightful comment and dialogue.

Don said...

IMO, doctrine, rules, regulations, and not least theology is of man. Unconditional love from us to our fellow travelers of this journey is from the heart where the Source resides. The presence of the Source in our hearts enables that love to flow to others.

Guess your prof feels obliged to "set you straight". If you don't mind me asking, what is the name of the school you are attending?

Eruesso said...

Middle Tennessee State University.

Al said...

I just ran into a link and quote from Brian McLaren where he quotes Richard Stearns and Lamar Vest (who are the President and CEO's of American Bible Society and World Vision). Here's the quote:
"Despite the fact that God's heart for the poor is mentioned in some 2,100 verses of Scripture, many of us simply miss it. In a recent survey of adults in America conducted by Harris Interactive, although 80 percent of adults claimed to be familiar with the Bible -- the best-selling book in history -- 46 percent think the Bible offers the most teachings on heaven, hell, adultery, pride or jealousy. In fact, there are more teachings on poverty than on any of those topics."

captron52 said...

Unconditional Love! The one thing we all need to learn to do is to share this unconditional love with all!

Eruesso said...

Al- wow! Thanks for the link. I'll have to check that out.
Ron- Unconditional love is my goal and my lifelong struggle. It sounds like an easy thing to do, but it's been difficult for me. Maybe I'm making it sound harder than it actually is?

Simon said...

The primary teaching of Jesus was to know yourself,for that is where you will find God.Thereafter all else becomes easy.

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