Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How (Not?) To Read And Teach The Bible – Luke 10:38-42

A few weeks ago we had some dear friends as weekend guests. The husband, who leads an adult Sunday school class, brought the book the class is currently using. The author of the book is Max Lucado, certainly a well-respected writer.

Now I hesitated before using Mr. Lucado’s name because I’m about to use him as an example on how not to read and teach the Bible. I use his name and the passage in the book I’ll describe with all sincere respect. In fact I’m using his name because I do respect him, though I admit to having read little of his work. I also know that if one were to examine my own body of preaching and writing that one could find similar examples in my own life. I think it’s worth using his name in the sense that “if it can happen to him then it can happen to me.”

This analysis also allows me to broach a question I’ve been pondering for months since a young pastor made the statement to me, “Well, we’re supposed to preach the principles of the Bible.” I think this will be one of those multi-part posts because I think his statement, in its context, is false and I want to explore that – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The chapter in Lucado’s book is focused on the above passage in Luke, the well-known pericope of Mary and Martha in which Martha is playing the hostess by serving guests while Mary is hearing the word of Jesus. As my friend was sharing with us the contents of Lucado’s chapter, which I have not read, the importance of Marthas serving was given equal weight with the importance of Mary’s hearing the word of Jesus. In other words, lest there be any Marthas in the audience let’s make sure we acknowledge them, affirm them, and underscore that a world without Marthas would be a poor world indeed.

I said to my friend, his wife, and Vickie, “But the passage does not teach that. The passage does not teach that Martha was doing something important. That is not the point of the passage. If Jesus had wanted to make that point He would have done it. If Luke had wanted to record that point he would have recorded it. That point is not in that passage. That passage makes most of us uncomfortable and we are trying to assuage our feelings and to explain away what Jesus said.”

I didn’t mention that Jesus chides Martha in the passage; but chide He certainly does. Nor did I point out that Jesus says, “But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

The question is whether we, you, I, or Max Lucado, has warrant to teach this passage in any other way than it is presented? The warning is that most, if not all, of us are tempted to do so with any number of passages in any number of situations. If I seek to ameliorate or mitigate the force, the edge, the unpleasantness of a passage – then have I been a faithful steward of the passage? Have I forced the passage to submit to me or have I submitted to the passage?

Can I speak of a “high view of Scripture” if I force Scripture to submit to me? I may say that I have a high view of Scripture, but do I truly have a high view of Scripture if I force passages into my image of them, if I use them for my own ends? What does it matter if I say that I believe that all Scripture is inspired by God if I use Scripture to my own ends and mold it into my own image?

Are we not engaged in a perpetual apology for Jesus Christ? Do we not do our best to take the edge off His words, actions and life so as not to offend anyone, including ourselves?

Protestants give lip-service to there being no mediator between God and man except Jesus Christ; for every time we water down Scripture, every time we mitigate the word of Scripture, every time we take the edge off Jesus, we place ourselves as mediators between God and man, and between man and Scripture.

Haven’t we all done what Max Lucado did with this passage? I know I have with numerous passages; can you really say you haven’t? I’ll probably do it again, much as I don’t want to. Expediency will drive me to it, laziness will excuse it, I’ll have some utilitarian excuse – I only hope I’ll recognize it the next time before it’s too late to stop it.

To be continued…

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