Monday, March 23, 2009

Christians in Context

I think one of the most saddening and counterproductive things the church has done is study the Bible as a text book. This is not to say studying the Bible is a bad thing. Studying the Bible is something everyone who wants to know God should do. It is not studying for pure intelligence though, or it shouldn’t be. I hear a ton from well meaning Christians about how things were done back in the Bible, and if they didn’t do this then we don’t need to, if they had this then we should. The problem is not their heart or passion for their agendas in itself, it is the disregard for the world they are in, currently.

How many things we think of that are in the Bible that are used and abused in ways because people forget to apply them to their world, their environment, their life? Don’t get tattoos. Don’t wear hats in church. Don’t work on Sundays. Don’t have a job. The list can go on, but for the sake of not scratching out my eyes and screaming I will stop there. I was having a conversation with a friend Saturday morning about this very thing, the Bible out of context. We read the Bible with very bad habits. We think we can just read this book and apply it to our lives immediately. There are areas that we can, but because it was written way before we were even born or our culture was even existent, we should strive to interpret the Bible and its message for what it meant to the original intended audience. Once we figure out that, then we can apply it to our lives. The word that you will hear over and over again from any good teacher of the Bible is context. What is context? Context is simply the environment in which a factor exists. For me, my context is downtown Indianapolis, Starbucks on Mass, the mind of a 25 year old. Within that I have to consider all the factors that determined who I am today and what other influences mold me. This is context. It would be absolutely absurd to expect me to react the same way to a stimulus as a middle-eastern woman. We have different contexts.

So the conversation starts with great passion. The idea is that Americans are distracted by everything that we have jobs, cars, money, etc. and therefore should get rid of these things in order to truly follow and trust God. The idea is that God is big enough to not need these elements. That idea in a sterile state is completely true in principle; however, the problem is that we do not live in a vacuum. We are surrounded by factors that make up our context. To ignore our context is unhealthy. Although true, the idea of throwing away our context is dangerous. God placed me to be born in America. I was born into a culture that is driven by money, the ideals of success, entertainment, and self absorption. I cannot change that environment. I can only hope to react to these stimuli in a way that is not like the typical, in a way that is true in the principles presented in a different context. So it does me no good to quite my job, live on the streets, stop using money, and only talk about Jesus. This would not fit in our context and actually isolate me from the very world Jesus said I was sent in, but not of. I wrote a blog about this whole idea of being in the world but not of it a while back, check it out here. We should long for a different world, but seek to flip ours on its head. We can flip greed into generosity, success into faithfulness, for selfishness into selflessness. I think this flipping of empires is closer to Jesus message than trying to take yourself out of the context you have been placed in by God because you think He should be doing something bigger. He is always capable of much bigger than we could ever imagine, however, don’t think you know best, maybe God works in small ways in context that are actually huge, we just can’t see it. Context is important; we must seek to be Christians, followers of Jesus, within context. That sounds like a movement I can jive with.

1 comment:

  1. In a similar vein...

    As I was driving yesterday I was listening to a radio preacher talk about the need to study the Bible like it's a job, but the problem was that she wanted people to study until they came to the same conclusions she did... while she may have been correct in some of her thinking, she wasn't giving much room for people to make the experience their own - she wasn't considering context...

    Then during my quiet time this morning I reflected on the idea that we need to present Jesus' message and not our own... Jesus always presented His message in a way that spoke to His hearers' experience - He considered context...

    I like your point that we need to consider the effect our own experience has on our understanding of everything and that we can't force our perspective on everyone else... we need to follow the example of Christ and meet them where they are...

    Thanks for the reminder...

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