After the weekend’s distractions of maple syrup and hiking, I’m ready to resume my look at sola scriptura and its implications on the authority of scripture. Here are the questions I’m using as my jumping point:
What kind of documents do we find in the Bible and how are we to understand them?
What kind of authority was the Bible meant to have?
>>Who determines what the Bible has to say?<<
What is the Bible’s role in the church today?
If there was ever a sticky question facing the church, this is it. While we can certainly see a consensus throughout church history on a number of key issues, is it possible that certain voices in the church have been silenced because a powerful majority used their interpretation of the Bible for their own advantage?
While this has been the case to a greater or lesser extent at different points throughout church history, I am happy to say that I think we are rounding the corner on this one. For the longest time the centers for Christian reflection were located in Europe and eventually America. The Eastern Orthodox church also carried a strong presence in Eastern Europe, Russia, and in parts of the Middle East. But for the longest time the continents of Africa, Asia and South America lacked their own theological schools. And even when they did eventually establish them, the flavor was distinctly Western. Recently there has been a growing indigenous character among theology schools in the world.
The problem with the dominance of the west is that one central story began to dominate Christianity. Unless your Christianity embodied Western values, it did not look very Christian. This virtual monopoly led missionaries to seek unwarranted cultural reforms that stripped many natives of their heritage and daily practices. They were not able to worship God in their own way, nor think about him in their own terms. Only until recently are we getting a more complete, global picture of what it means to be Christian.
In America as well there has been a dominance in theology schools by white, upper to middle class men. Who else can afford the tuition other than the middle class and the powers that be frown upon women in seminary, a problem that still remains in some circles to this day. Consequently the way we read the Bible is guided by our theological leaders and pastors, trained by the same theological leaders.
These pastors and theologians read the same books, swap the same articles, and listen to the same sermons, and before you know it, a status quo is erected that inadvertantly excludes minorities, women, the poor, and often the global church. I do not see this as a miserly conspiracy for the most part. These pastors and theologians are trying to read the Bible faithfully and live by its authority as they perceive it. It may not have even crossed their minds that they are ignoring some key voices who need to be heard.
For example, we own the IVP Women’s commentary. It’s a tremendous book by some wonderful theologians who all happen to be women. A male friend of mine from seminary spotted it on my shelf and scoffed at it, picked it up, and chuckled to himself. Why? Because some of us can’t imagine that women can teach men or contribute fruitfully to the church in terms of Biblical studies. Maybe women can teach at a women’s retreat, but write a commentary??? That trespasses a line that was set up by wealthy white western men. We follow the line, not even realizing where it came from or how unjust it really is.
If we are to really hold the Bible as authoritative, there is a need to see who actually is wielding that authority that we ascribe to the Bible. The Bible does not just speak, it must be interpreted through the church as it listens to the Spirit. If the church is only operating at partial capacity and ignores the diversity of voices, our authoritative Bible will become a tool for oppression and injustice.