Monday, November 9, 2009

Joe Hockey and the interpretation of Scripture

It's not often you get politicians commenting on Biblical hermeneutics, the art of interpreting scripture. The Hon. Joe Hockey, the shadow treasurer, while making general cultural comments, said this (according to the Age) about the way "evangelical" Christians interpret the Bible:

"number of fast-growing evangelical Christian churches in Australia take a literalist approach to the scriptures. While most leaders of the older churches … have moved away from such a position … there is still an alienating literalism that pervades many faiths … One of the reasons why Christian faith has declined in the Western world is because of the reliance placed on a literal reading of the testaments by church leaders.''

While I disagree with his reason for the decline in attendance, he's described in general terms how I interpret the Bible and how orthodox Christianity has and currently interprets the Bible. As it is, according to context. In fact this is how we interpret almost anything, on face value according to context. It's hard to do so with a tiny scrap of paper from the footpath but it gets easier with say blog posts.

(Murray has also commented on this news.)


Andrew Bowles said...

I'm not sure how to interpret this particular blog post. Perhaps to mean that God loves and welcomes everyone?

Whatever the merit of his opinions on 'literalism', he appears to contradict himself pretty severely in this statement. Fast-growing churches take a literalist approach, then it is because of literalism that Christian faith is declining? One of these things is not like the other one...

Luke said...

(It could be that being in opposition has addled his brain.)

Maybe interpreting this blog is like parsing politicians!

Emily said...

Did you see Tony Abbott on Q&A a few weeks ago? He is a pretty well known for having 'faith' and often gets a criticised for it.

What disturbed me was his comment on the Bible. I can't quite it verbatem so you might wanna check it my source, but it went something like this...I don't really like the Old Testament too much [although the first few books are good], I'm a fan of the New Testament.

I've heard this line before but it's just frustrating coming from the 'chrisian politician' pin-up. Makes himself look uneducated on the subject

David said...

I don't like some bits of the Bible, either. The genealogy lists are boring. Many of the tales are ordinary. And the Bible doesn't provide the same intellectual satisfaction compared to writing software or solving a complex logical puzzle.

There's too much filler material in the Bible.

God could have done a far better job.

Luke said...

Hi Emily,

Welcome, I thought Abbott would have been more encouraging in his comments.

Hi David,

I agree that sometimes the Bible can seem boring. Different things grab different people at different times. The human authors of Scripture are like us; a bundle of oddities, interests, passions and even dull moments.

(I watched the Daniel Dennett footage by the way, and was wondering what made you recommend it?)

David said...

Instead of repeating the same story 2 or 3 times (and sometimes with conflicting details), perhaps God could have used the Bible space for other revelatory means.

Some diagrams to suplement the text would be useful. He could have put a diagram of the periodic table of elements in; perhaps some mathematical equations describing the correct version of String Theory.

Also, it would have been useful if God outlined clearly the exact procedure for "getting saved". How about having a systematic theology in point form followed by a precisely worded expansion of those points.

What would be better, if God could get on the net and just keep us all updated with regular Twitter notes on what He's doing today. A FaceBook page that showed His list of friends would clarify once and for all who's in and who's out.

So, how about it, God?

David said...

In relation to the Dan Dennett footage, I especially liked his
"Canons of good spin" :-

"It is not a bare-faced lie.

"You have to be able to say it with a straight face.

"It has to relieve skepticism without arousing curiosity.

"It should seem profound."

His introduction of the term "deepity" fits in very nicely with theology.

How accurate do you think his characterisation of the "chasm" between laity and ordained clergy, and his outline of the shock that some people entering theological college encounter?

Luke said...

Hello again,

I wasn't sure what Dennett was trying to achieve through his study of unbelieving clergy. I wasn't sure how examples of unbelieving ministers proved Christianity to be false. Dennett said the clergy were like a "secret brotherhood" who unlike the laity had discovered that textual criticism proved the bible to be made up. Textual criticism is no big secret, maybe in America it is, but here in Melbourne you could go to a theological library and look at a copy of the UBS Greek New Testament yourself which shows all the manuscripts that exist and how they are assembled. I haven't found this to be a problem at Ridley.

Theology is simply a construction of ideas, true if they come from the bible and false if someone simply makes them up. I believe this because I believe God exists and communicates with the world. If you didn't believe God exists then you'd have a different construction of ideas.

David, you should read the debate between Christopher Hitches and Douglas Wilson; Is Christianity Good for the world? I'll leave a copy at the Ridley bookshop for you, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on it.

David said...

Thanks for the offer of the book, Luke.

Can you confirm if it is the same as the following which I have just downloaded from the following site:

Luke said...

Google Chrome is misbehaving at the moment, but the title is the same so I presume its the same. I didn't know it was free on the net.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on it.

David said...

"Is Christianity Good for the Word?"

After reading this debate, I can see that moral philosophy is not one of Hitchen's strong points. Wilson took full advantage of this. Wilson's discussion of absolute morals and the "is-ought" problem was consequently met with a poor response from Hitchens. Wilson made many statements that didn't logically connect. For example, how does Hitchen's apparent miserly approach to forgiveness destroy the concept of evil? Nor did Wilson logically connect the atonement story with the "forgiveness of sins".

Wilson's sermonising had the effect of making Christianity sound as if it could be good for the world, but he failed to provide evidence that it actually works in practice (one only has to look at Christian practice of the last 2000 years to see that their is a problem with implementing its theology - and thus there is not much to suggest that its implementation would be good for the world, more the reverse).

In summary, Wilson's case is based on theological assertions and Christian fantasy; Hitchen's case is poorly argued.