A New Kind of Christian: Hot Words about Biblical Interpretation

Chapter 6 is written about Dan, a doubting pastor, and Neo, an Episcopalian, taking a hike. This is appropriate since hiking is a great opportunity for Christian reflection and building friendships with church mates. I’m happy that EpiC and the Hiking Guild team up to make hiking part of our lives in this community.

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Jon Fedele

Here’s my favorite paragraph in the chapter: “‘Sure [the Bible] has answers, but …Think of a math book, Dan. Is it valuable because it has the answers in the back? No, it’s valuable because… by struggling [through] it, you become a wiser person, a person capable of solving problems and building bridges and balancing your checkbook and targeting the trajectory of a rocket to Mars. … Of course, the Bible is even more than a book of wisdom and wisdom development. [It helps create] a community that is a catalyst for God’s work in our world.’”

How true that is! I certainly struggled to get through the entire Bible, even more than I struggle to get through a calculus text book, in fact, and that’s saying something. Our lives can involve struggle on our journeys of faith, struggles to be steward over all that God gives us, and we can fail through things done and left undone. But Scripture, Reason, and Tradition are the three pillars upon which our common heritage rests, and reading scripture was not something I felt I could afford to leave undone.

A New Kind of Christian has, thus far, suggested that the lives of contemporary American Christians are now in an era beyond the modern, “a postmodern world,” as set out in Chapter 2. I wondered what was meant by this, as the protagonist Dan wondered also on his hike with Neo in Chapter 6. I found their discussion helpful. Among other things, the type of new kind of Christian he is talking about – although Neo makes it clear that he is talking about a new kind, not the new kind or a better kind – is one that does not feel the need to put ideas into “pigeon holes.”

For example, we might think that Episcopalians have sermons of about ten minutes while certain other denominations’ go on for forty-five, or more, and I have some views on this. Now, I am sure that plenty of valuable things could be said in a long sermon, but I’m very glad to be a member of a denomination where the value of brevity is well understood. However, I was delighted to hear from Lee Cunningham two Sundays ago and Chris Hoke of Tierra Nueva some months ago, and their longer sermons delivered us something which we could not have gotten otherwise – these longer sermons are among the most valuable we hear; however, I’m still happy that long sermons are the exception instead of the rule. Mind you, I would never wish to dissuade someone from preaching their sermon because it was too long, but I still take pride in being part of a tradition which values brevity. As you might see, my view on the issue is complicated. What school does it then fall under; what pigeon-hole could it fit into? The correct answer is, “Who cares!”

Thus, we have found the beef of one of the book’s main arguments. In place of the book’s term “post-modern,” I understand it to mean “intellectually mature.” This practically mirrors a discussion we had at EpiC in the day after Lee’s sermon. Generalities are useful as a learning device, but if we are bound to them, it is intellectually sloppy. The more we read, the more we understand; the more facts we have at our purview to call to mind, the less we will need labels to describe our views. In order to become intellectually mature, however, we have to read, read, and read some more. The Bible’s a good place to start and continue from.

As Episcopalians, a diversity of opinion practically runs in our community’s DNA. We don’t need to form such rigid teams and labels, because, in truth, we’re all on one team: Team Jesus!

Nevertheless, and in accord with “postmodern world” that this book proclaims, I don’t think the character Neo would have us throw out all labels and generalities lock, stock, and barrel. I think that Mr. Rumsfeld spoke truthfully when he said “All generalizations are false, including this one.”

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