Friday, January 24, 2014

Hi, my name is Clint, and I'm the least bible-minded pastor in America

I was raised in Davenport, Iowa, ranked 44th. My spouse hails from Des Moines, ranked 53rd. I spent my formative years just a hop, skip, and a jump up from Cedar Rapids, ranked 96th!

So here's my confession, since Iowa's poor showing has outed me. I may very well be the least bible-minded pastor in America.

Respondents to a recent longitudinal Barna study were asked two seemingly simple questions: Did you read the bible in the last seven days? And do you strongly agree in the accuracy of the bible?


http://cities.barna.org/americas-most-bible-minded-cities-2014/
Confession: I find all results from the Barna group highly suspect. It constantly surprises me that big and reputable sources look to Barna so frequently for statistics. They're so clearly biased towards one specific Christian hermeneutic.

Clearly I am not putting the best construal on my neighbors actions. I'm sure all the people who work for Barna are fine people. So in my distrust of Barna, I am violating the 8th commandment (the positive side of which, said Luther, was to construe your neighbor's actions in the best possible light). Thus one way I am not bible-minded... I should find a way to construe Barna stats as trustworthy, but I am unwilling).

But let me go on. If somebody called our house on the phone and asked me these questions, I confess to you I would have hung up. I don't do telephone surveys. I don't know if this is rude. It is probably not bible-minded.

If on a whim I would have stuck with the interview, and we came to the question, Do you believe strongly in the accuracy of the bible? I would have answered, No.

Why, you ask? Because although I trust the bible, and actually do find much of it accurate, I can't say I highly agree with the construal of a question with such a leading tone to it.... it's that little word, "strongly."

So let me imagine for a moment, my friends who live in Providence, and San Francisco, and Cedar Rapids, and Boston. I know people in these places. They get this phone call. They're Christians, many of them. Some of them are even non-Christians who read the bible. But you ask them, Do you strongly agree in the accuracy of the bible? Immediately, hairs go up on the back of their neck. They smell something fishy. So of course they answer no.

Now ask me the question, Did you read the bible in the last week? I answer, Of course I did. I had to preach on it, after all, and prepare a lesson for bible study. And the bible showed up in all kinds of other works I have been reading, including this little book right here by my nightstand by Michael Welker on Christology. Yes, I read the bible.

But did I engage in some kind of daily bible devotional reading? Well, it depends on what you mean. I pray the daily office. The daily prayer offices include Scripture lessons. So yes, but it might not occur to me to count this kind of reading.

Additionally, as a Christian who doesn't need to add "bible-believing" as the adjectival prelude to descriptions of myself as Christian, I also don't need to stretch the truth a bit when surveyed on the phone. I wouldn't feel a ton of guilt if I hadn't read the bible this past week, so I would be fairly free to tell the truth. You have to imagine that folks in this survey who live in truly bible-minded cities might feel a bit more social pressure to answer affirmatively even if they skipped a week (or a month, or a year).

And, as a Lutheran-Catholicish kind of person, I imagine myself into a non-clergy role, sitting at my kitchen table anxiously waiting for someone from Barna to call me, and realize I might answer the question--you know, the one about reading the bible in the last seven days--in the negative, because I didn't realize hearing the bible in the liturgy, or praying it with others, or reading it as quotes in other contexts, might count. I figure only evangelicals read the bible every day as part of their quiet time in the morning. Then they journal it and take a photo of their bible with a cup of coffee and post it on Facebook.

Like this
I argue that the two questions Barna asked in their study display a latent anti-Catholic, anti-Orthodox bias. Or said positively, the survey as it is framed displays a preferential option for evangelicals.

Not that there's anything wrong with evangelicals. But let's not let the evangelicals think they are the only bible-minded ones.

Go to church in a Lutheran church some Sunday and set a timer. Measure how much of the service is taken up reading Scripture out loud. Then go to a "Bible" church, and set a timer to measure how much of the service is devoted to the public reading of Scripture. I guarantee the bible gets more air time in the Lutheran church.

Consider this alternative way to measure bible-mindedness. Go to these cities and measure how much time is devoted in public worship to the reading of Scripture in community. Call those cities bible-minded. Better yet, call those cities "predominately Catholic."

What if "bible-minded" is not about believing in the bible's accuracy, but actually conforming our communal life to the Scriptures. In this scenario, Barna would have to rank highest those cities that feed the poor, provide potable water for all, give clothes away, visit those in prison, provide shelter for refugees, and bury their dead well. Barna could measure city codes and decide which ones adhere most closely to the commitment to justice so clearly illustrated in Scripture.

Which cities have the most people who forgive each other, bear wrongs patiently, and comfort the sick?

The truth is, you can read the bible every single day and not be bible-minded at all.

The truth is, you can completely doubt the accuracy of the bible, and yet be bible-minded to such a degree that Christ is clearly alive in and through you.

Bible-mindedness is not a narrowly construed modernist evangelical noetic hermeneutic. Bible-mindedness is a way of life, a story, and often those who question the texts are also the ones who most faithfully live it.



15 comments:

  1. "Go to church in a Lutheran church some Sunday and set a timer. Measure how much of the service is taken up reading Scripture out loud. Then go to a 'Bible' church, and set a timer to measure how much of the service is devoted to the public reading of Scripture. I guarantee the bible gets more air time in the Lutheran church."

    Well said. I'll never forget a friend making this exact point after he'd left our large evangelical church in Idaho to join a small Lutheran church in the next town over (Pullman, WA).

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    1. The father of a friend of mine in college attempted once to assert his church's biblical literacy over against Lutherans on the basis of there being bibles in the pews, one for everyone. Because our pastors don't just whip out passages of scripture in their sermons and make everyone open to page thus and so of their pew bibles. You rarely see Lutherans reading the Bible in book form in worship like that, and that fooled him.

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  2. Loved it. Thanks, Clint.

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  3. The truth is, you can completely doubt the accuracy of the bible, and yet be bible-minded to such a degree that Christ is clearly alive in and through you.

    Yep. I will strive for that.

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  4. Great article.
    Once again, Alaska is not on their precious little map. I kinda suspect mot of our state would rank fairly low.

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  6. Spot on. I'm a life-long Lutheran who still claims that name because good old Martin himself didn't conform, he reformed ... and that's what the church cries out for again today. There are a lot of us "post-modern" Christians out here, who have shifted from a literal Biblical view to a relationship with God/Christ that frees us to love one another as Jesus taught.

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  7. So great, Clint - thanks! A thought: not only do we dedicate significant time to public reading of Scripture, much of our liturgy and many of our hymns either quote Scripture directly or draw their imagery from it. My confirmands were amazed at the latent Scripture they discovered when we went through a service and identified the different verses within the liturgical music and the hymns.

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  8. Have you attended an evangelical church that is committed to expository preaching? I think you would re-consider your broad-brush statement because there many. I agree that a considerable churches of varying denominations (and independent) have fallen into the pit of "style and show" instead of substance, but this is not the case for many. My church's pastor took 1.5 years to preach through Philippians, for instance.

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  9. Well said Clint. And you smoked out Barna well too.

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  10. "The truth is, you can read the bible every single day and not be bible-minded at all." So very true (and I really wish people would figure that one out)

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  11. NOW,...that America, is going the way it is, perhaps Mal. 4:1 is HAPPENING. if it is, and the HARVEST is around the corner, Matt. 13:39, PLEASE, do this. OPEN a Bible. Get a scribing tool, called a pen or a pencil. With your own hand writing, write down any bible verse. While U are @ it, recall how our system has letters and numbers on the SAME keypad. in other words, your words are MATHEMATICAL. Recall how Heb. 4:12 says,"The word of God is ALIVE." Gods Word shall not return to him void. Is. 55:10,11. So while you can, just do it. WAKE up your Spiritual Body, spoken of in 1 Cor. 15:44. Do all of this, while you can.

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  12. If a place or person is "bible-minded" (i.e. "progressive") without the bible, why bother with religion? Why run twice as fast (go to church, sing the songs, etc.) and end up in the same moral place?
    Suppose you don't believe in any religion-why should you do these "progressive" bible things? If you can prove that you should do these "progressive" bible things without religion, why bother with church?

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