Church memories

This was my church experience when I first moved to Canada in the 80s. Song leader conducting from behind the pulpit; hymns with piano and organ only; “Number 233 in your hymnals, number 233,” says the song leader as the organ and piano kick in. And at that time, this was probably my favourite hymn. I loved the cadence of it—the round and counter-melody in the chorus made it a bouncy and jovial song, fun for an eight or nine year old.

I posted that on Facebook yesterday. I’m not sure why that song came to mind then, but it brought to mind another memory from our early years in Caronport, at town with about 800 permanent residents at the time, but an influx of 1,500 or so high school and Bible college students during the school year.

This memory must be from quite early on—1986 or 1987, probably—because church was no longer in the “Old Chapel” (a building converted from whatever it was when the town was a military airbase in the 1930s) and we were still attending church in the new multi-thousand seat Hildebrand Chapel (in later years we drove to another nearby town for church).

This particular Sunday in my memory, I lingered after Sunday school with my friends and got to the service after it had started. My dad was standing at the top of the aisle waiting for me—right about here, actually:

Image from Parker Architects (parkerarchitects.ca)

He stood there in his baby blue blazer—I can’t remember if his slacks matched the blazer or if they were grey—hands in his pockets, looking around trying to find me. I was young and the auditorium was large and filled with people, so he was probably and understandably concerned.

What strikes me is that every time I think about this moment I feel a deep sadness. It’s not a sadness related to dad’s passing. Rather, it’s a feeling I’ve carried with me from that very moment, feelings I’ve never been able to explain fully. They have something to do with feeling like I had disappointed dad, or that he looked so concerned about my whereabouts that I was sad that I had been so cavalier and inconsiderate about not getting to the service on time.

I don’t know what dad was thinking or how he was feeling, but in retrospect it was probably annoyance or even anger at my tardiness. I’ve never asked him, not least because for him and probably anyone else this was an unremarkable moment. But for me it was significant in a way I’ve never been able to fully understand—significant enough for me to carry with me for thirty years.

This memory brings up those same feelings to this day.

On being a pastor and a friend

I think I’ve learned more about pastoring and friendship in the last week-and-a-half since announcing my resignation at this church than I had in the previous 8 years in ministry here. Much of my focus has been on my job description, the things I’m supposed to do and come up with—teaching, programming, new ideas, resourcing, administration, oversight, and so on. I spent a lot of time worrying about making things happen and whether or not I was meeting the not-always-fleshed-out expectations people had for my role. I’ve often wondered if I’m “making a difference” or “having an impact,” and not always knowing the answer, have kept striving for something unknown. It has led so some frustration and a lot of self-doubt and second-guessing.

You hear things when you are saying goodbye to people that you’re unlikely to hear until then. And it’s in the outpouring of love and care and emotion as we say goodbye that I’m seeing the pastoral calling with new eyes. What ultimately seems to matter and make a difference is that I am there and that I care. I get involved in ordinary life. What mattes is presence.

If I had learned this lesson sooner, it would have saved quite a bit of fretting. I would have cultivated relationships more than I have. I would have done things differently. On the other hand, it’s possible that I couldn’t have learned this lesson without some of the things I’ve struggled with over the years.

I’m sure I’ve known this stuff for a long time, and I’ve certainly heard it before, even repeatedly—not least from the writings of Eugene Peterson, that pastor of pastors—but I also know that most learning happens by experience. At any rate, I take this new perspective to my next call, where there will be new things to learn.

I’ve also begun pondering friendship. My personality has led me to believe that friendship is about time spent together and deep conversations, and that it’s cultivated by being together and talking regularly. I still believe that’s how friendships go really deep. And yet I’m also learning that I will be considered a friend even after intermittent, occasional conversations and connections. Perhaps I should shift my perspective there, too, and not let my insecurities get in my way. Maybe I need to start calling more people “friend” much sooner than I do.

On Moving

On Sunday I announced to my church that I have been called to be senior pastor of Minnedosa Evangelical Covenant Church in Manitoba and that I would be resigning my position at Malmo Mission Covenant Church. It was an emotional moment. I don’t think I’ve ever cried publicly before, but I sure did then. It’s hard to say goodbye and it’s even harder to see my children say goodbye to their friends.

And yet when I reflect on it, moving itself is not a big deal to me. I have moved so many times in my life that it’s mostly just normal procedure. I hate the packing and the cleaning, but the actual geographical shift is not such a big deal.

  • I was born in the Netherlands in December 1977, where we lived in a townhouse, which in my memory was a wonderful little place.
  • In 1985, when I was seven-and-a-half years old I moved from that townhouse in the Netherlands to small-town Saskatchewan, Canada.
  • In Caronport, a town with a permanent population of 800 people, we moved four times. I lived in our last house there for about 9 years.
  • August 1997, I moved to Regina, Saskatchewan to attend university. For three summers I would move all my stuff back home.
  • January 2002 Dixie and I moved to Prince Albert. We lived in Prince Albert for about seven years and during that time we moved three times.
  • August 2009 we moved to Otterburne, Manitoba to attend seminary.
  • July 2012 we moved to a field near Malmo Mission Covenant Church in Alberta.
  • November 2015 we moved to a house in the city of Wetaskiwin, Alberta.
  • In 2021 we will move to Minnedosa, Manitoba.

I sometimes envy those people who have permanent geographical roots. I know so many families, particularly farm families, that have several generations of history within a one mile radius. I know one gentleman in his seventies who has lived in the same house pretty much his whole life. I can’t imagine what that kind of permanence means. I’m sure there are both good and bad things about that, but, being (nearly) 43 years old now, I’ll never know what that’s like.

I consider Caronport my home town, but my parents moved away from there some fifteen years ago. So there’s not even that as an anchor.

But my kids…my youngest daughter has observed several times in our conversations about moving that here is the longest we’ve lived anywhere as a family, but this area (8 years) and this house (5 years). She had hoped she wouldn’t have to move again. Alas, it is not to be.

I wonder what effect all the moving I’ve done in my life has had on my personality and my emotions. For example, I’ve never really missed people a whole lot, not even my parents, and maybe that has been an unconscious mechanism to cope with moving. When I first moved out I lived only 45 minutes away from my parents, but I only went home every couple of months and didn’t talk to them on the phone much more. As my mom ages, I occasionally do wish I could see her more often, to just be able to drop in whenever I want to. As it is, she’s a 10-hour drive away, and we’re moving farther away from her now. When I stay home and my wife and children go away I sometimes miss them, but, strangely, when I go away and leave them at home, I don’t feel that so much.

No, moving is not a great hardship for me. What’s hard about moving is seeing how hard it is for everyone else, not least my youngest daughter.

Hot takes and social media blurbs don’t lead to understanding.

I think my new approach to many of the issues of our day is going to be to reserve judgment until I know more, and I encourage you, reader, to do the same.

We can’t take our cues from hot takes and scare words on social media. We don’t gain understanding that way. That is the way of reactivity. And we should be cautious about taking one person’s word for it on any subject, especially if they are already in our “camp” and even more especially if they aren’t qualified to comment.

Instead, read widely and deeply about the things the world is talking about—not necessarily to get on board, but to try to understand different perspectives, to think more critically about them (which is not the same as criticizing or rejecting them), and to develop some empathy for those with a different point of view than yours. If, for example, you don’t know what “cultural Marxism” or “critical race theory” is or you wonder about “social justice”, then don’t use those words as if you do know what they mean. And if the only place you’ve learned something about those things is on social media, then you still don’t know what those things are well enough to have an informed opinion or to comment on them.

I include myself in the category of not knowing enough. So, for example, I have bought an introductory book about critical race theory. I bought it not because I’m on board with the idea, but because I want to have a deeper understanding of it so that I can make an accurate assessment of it—one based on knowledge rather than fear and/or sound bites and/or misinformation. I need to approach this subject and any other with an open mind (I might learn something), humility (I might be wrong), and with a critical eye (are there gaps or problems in this argument?). I may accept it or reject it or something in between, but I can’t do that until I’ve sought to understand it below the surface of what we see bandied about online.

And above all, I need to remember that while technically these things are abstract ideas, it is human beings who hold these views and human beings who are affected by acceptance or rejection of these views. So love and gentleness need to be the key ingredient in my thinking about and engaging these ideas.

I’d like that to be my approach for any number of words and ideas that are being thrown around social media and the news these days. But I only have so much time and energy, so I will do what I can, and for the rest I will say, “I reserve judgment until I know more about it.” That might mean I’ll never know enough about something to have an informed opinion about it. And that’s okay, too. We don’t need to have an opinion about everything and we certainly don’t need to share an opinion on social media about everything.

On being ecumenical

Today on YouTube I stumbled across a conversation between Francis Chan, Hank Hanegraaff (radio’s “The Bible Answer Man”), and KP Yohannan (now Metropolitan Yohan). Chan is a fairly famous conservative evangelical pastor, Hanegraaff is a famous evangelical radio personality who converted to Easter Orthodoxy a number of years ago, and KP Yohannan is the founder of the mission organization Gospel for Asia and…well I’m not sure what to call him in terms of Christian affiliation. He’s a leader in a relatively new denomination, but I can’t figure out it if it’s evangelical, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, or something else. But I suppose it doesn’t really matter.

Their conversation got me thinking again about being ecumenical in outlook. By “ecumenical” I mean the belief that the Christian church includes Protestants, Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox—that all those branches of the church are brothers and sisters in Christ, we can work together across denominational lines, and that genuine faith is identified by confessing the risen Christ as Lord and, beyond that, that we all have the Creeds in common.

Not everyone thinks that way. I grew up in a home where Catholics weren’t considered true Christians and Pentecostals and other charismatics were also suspect. I have friends who still think that way about Catholics and Pentecostals. There is a narrow niche of Christianity, often related to the fundamentalism of the early 20th century, that in its extremes thinks the true faith and true doctrine and true understanding of scripture is found only in one denomination, or possibly even just one church or one preacher. These churches seem to have a habit of focussing on what’s wrong “out there” and naming heretical beliefs—which is to say, belief that is different from their own (which is technically not what heresy is)—and serious distrust of and unwillingness to work with others outside their fold. Often this kind of thinking seems to go along with a lot of disunity and what appears to be a significant lack of grace.

I gave that perspective up a long time ago. I believe I have many brothers and sisters across the denominational lines.

I can’t remember exactly what it was that led me down that road, but I can identify bits and pieces along the way. Learning the history of the church was a big one—many evangelicals have a very short and recent history of the church that doesn’t go back much further than 500 years, to their significant loss. The recognition that for certainly 1000 years, if not 1500 years, the church was fairly unified in its belief was helpful. Sure, there was division between east (Orthodox) and west (Roman Catholic) later on, but much was shared. The recognition that all three major branches of the church recognize and confess the ancient Creeds also helped. Developing an understanding of Catholic and Orthodox theology was another help, though I don’t know it well and even though I recognize there are some beliefs I don’t share with them—but these are Christians that confess Jesus as risen Lord!

The reality is that I can’t believe that God’s Spirit was absent from the church between the death of the last apostle and Martin Luther nailing his complaints to a church door some 1500 years later. If that was the case, we don’t have much hope for the last 500 years of the church either!

There is no pure church. I’m not sure there ever was one after the day of Pentecost. Paul’s letters in the New Testament make that clear! I may disagree profoundly on some things with my Catholic sisters and brothers, or for that matter my Pentecostal or Baptist sisters and brothers, but we together confess Christ and seek to follow him.

And so I continue to try to listen and learn from other Christian traditions and to have a bit of humility about correct doctrine. I’d like to think I’m fairly open minded, but sometimes it can be really difficult to allow others to disagree with something I’m passionate about. But it’s necessary. If this isn’t an oxymoron, I’m convinced that we need to have theological convictions and hold them loosely. Our grounding is in Christ, not a set of beliefs. Our hope is in Christ, not a theological perspective. Our salvation is in Christ, not a doctrinal statement.

Here’s a little sketch I drew of why I’m ecumenical. I don’t know if it will make sense to you, but it makes sense to me.

Loving God Looks Like Loving Your Neighbour

I’ve been pondering Jesus’ answer to the question of what the greatest commandment is (Matthew 22:35-40 and Mark 12:28-31). Here are a couple of thoughts relating to that:

Jesus says the greatest commandment is loving God “and the second is like it,” love your neighbour. The way things are phrased, it looks like the commands are ranked: to love God is number one and the command to love neighbour is number two. But I don’t think we can so easily separate or rank the two greatest commands, for a couple of reasons.

First, Jesus is asked which commandment (singular) of all the commandments is greatest. In his answer, Jesus actually gives two commands as the greatest command: love God and love your neighbour. In Matthew, Jesus says that all the law and prophets hang on both of these commandments; in Mark Jesus says, “There is no commandment greater than these.”

This suggests to me that the phrase “the second is (like it)” does not denote rank or hierarchy, or that it’s just about similarity. The two commands are intimately related, they belong together. Jesus seems to be relating them together as the greatest commandment, rather than ranking them individually, meaning something like “there are two (not one) greatest commands, and the second one is love your neighbour,” or the “greatest command is love God and with it love your neighbour.”

Second, Jesus elsewhere says, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.” In other words, when you love your neighbour, you love God.

Third, Paul seems to have understood the two commands in the way I suggest, because in Romans 13:9 and Galatians 5:14 he says that all the law and the prophets are summed up in one command: love your neighbour as yourself (without reference to loving God).

This all suggests to me that the command to love God and the command to love neighbour cannot be separated or ranked or placed in order of importance. If we love God, we will love our neighbour. In order to love God, we must love our neighbour. If we love our neighbour, we love God.

Something to consider as we ponder our priorities as followers of Jesus.

Information and understanding are not the same thing.

Another one I first posted to Facebook:

How to Read a Book was written in the 1940s and revised in the early 1970s. On the first page, it says this, which seems just as relevant today as it would have been then, and probably more so:

“…it may be seriously questioned whether the advent of modern communication media [television and radio…and today we would add social media and the internet] has much enhanced our understanding of the world in which we live.

“Perhaps we know more about the world than we used to, and in so far as knowledge is prerequisite to understanding, that is all to the good. But knowledge is not as much a prerequisite to understanding as is commonly supposed. We do not have to know everything about something in order to understand it; too many facts are often as much of an obstacle to understanding as too few. There is a sense in which we moderns are inundated with facts to the detriment of understanding.

“One of the reasons for this situation is that the very media we have mentioned are so designed as to make thinking seem unnecessary (though this is only an appearance). The packaging of intellectual positions and views is one of the most active enterprises of some of the best minds of our day. The viewer of television, the listener to radio, the reader of magazines, is presented with a whole complex of elements—all the way from ingenious rhetoric to carefully selected data and statistics—to make it easy for him to “make up his own mind” with the minimum of difficulty and effort. But the packaging is often done so effectively that the viewer, listener, or reader does not make up his own mind at all. Instead, he inserts a packaged opinion into his mind, somewhat like inserting a cassette into a cassette player. He then pushes a button and “plays back” the opinion whenever it seems appropriate to do so. He has performed acceptably without having had to think”.

~ from How to Read a Book: by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren

Let’s chill with the end times predictions

I wrote this for Facebook, but thought I’d leave it here for posterity.

Young children don’t often remember sermons, but just yesterday I was reminded of a sermon on Matthew 24 that Dr. Henry Budd, then president of Briercrest Bible College, preached in the  mid-to-late 1980s. I’m sure I wasn’t more than 9 or 10 years old, but that sermon has stuck with me all these years. 

I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household and community. In that context, there was lots of talk about the “end times” and the rapture and all the terrible things that would happen then, and it was much debated whether or not Christians would be snatched away from earth before or after all those terrible things happened. 

As a young boy I was terrified of the “end times” and everything associated with it. Any time references were made to signs of the times or Jesus’ imminent return, fear would well up in me. Later I even had nightmares about it.

What has stuck with me from that sermon over all these years is that, after reading the signs of the end times in Matthew 24 (“wars and rumours of wars”, nations rising against nations, “famines and earthquakes in various places”), Dr. Budd emphasized verse 8: “All these are the beginnings of birth pains.” And in verse 8 he emphasized that it was *the beginnings* of birth pains, meaning that the famines and wars were not a sign of the imminent end of all things, but simply an indication that history was moving along towards the return of Christ. 

I don’t remember if this was his point or not, but the idea that stuck with me was this: chill out about the end times in relation to world events. And a huge weight of terror was lifted off of me. 

Since then my theology has shifted away from fundamentalism and related end times theories, but I’ve carried his words with me. I’ve since then also learned some history and came to know that famines and wars and earthquakes and pandemics have occurred regularly and repeatedly since Jesus spoke these words nearly 2,000 years ago. I’ve come to know that many Christians throughout history have believed that the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in AD70 is when Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 were fulfilled. I’ve since discovered that the Bible is actually kind of sketchy on the specifics of “the end times” and that the point is not to make predictions based on world events, but perhaps—*at best*—that we should use world events as a reminder that Jesus did promise to return and that he would then make all things right and new, bringing healing, restoration, justice, and that in the meantime we’re invited to live as if that time of healing and justice has already come.

All this to say, in an echo of my memory of Dr. Budd’s point more than 30 years ago: let’s chill out about the end times predictions in relation to the pandemic and other world events. Christians await the return of Christ, yes. But haven’t enough wrong predictions been made throughout history based on some world event or catastrophe for us to learn our lesson about this? It’s not enough to say, “Maybe this time we’ll be right.” People will stop listening to what we have to say, if they haven’t already. It’s much more important for us to announce, “He is risen! Jesus is Lord!” in word and deed than it is for us to “Oooo!” and “Aaaah!” at every significant world event as if *this* time we actually know. 

Maybe I’m wrong. But I wouldn’t know that until after the fact anyway.

I’m in love with a fantasy.

“You’re in love with a fantasy.”

“I sometimes think I was born in the wrong decade.”

“The present is always going to seem unsatisfying because life itself is unsatisfying.”

(dialogue from the film Midnight in Paris)

Midnight in Paris may be Woody Allen’s last great movie, and it’s one of my favourite films of all time. I relate a lot to the main character, Gil Pender, played by Owen Wilson (who, as far as I’m concerned, is the perfect actor to play the Woody Allen part for younger characters). Gil is an aspiring novelist who thinks the best time and place is Paris in the 20s.

Here’s a clip of some dialogue between his fiancée (Inez) and two friends (Paul and Carol), after his fiancée starts to tell them about the novel Gil is writing. The lead character works in a nostalgia shop.

Here’s a thirty second clip:

Here’s the dialogue (from the Midnight in Paris script, slightly ad-libbed in the clip):

CAROL: What’s a nostalgia shop?

PAUL: Not one of those stores that sells Shirley Temple dolls and old radios? I never know who buys that stuff – who’d want it.

FIANCÉE (pointedly): People who live in the past. Who think their lives would have been happier if they lived in an earlier time.

PAUL: And just what era would you have preferred to live in. . . ?

FIANCÉE (teasing Gil): Paris in the twenties—in the rain, when the rain wasn’t acid rain.

PAUL: I see. And no global warming, no TV or suicide bombing, nuclear weapons, drug cartels.

CAROL: The usual menu of clichéd horror stories.

PAUL: Nostalgia is denial. Denial of the painful present.

FIANCÉE: He’s a romantic. Gil would be just fine living in a perpetual state of denial.

PAUL: The name for this fallacy is called, “Golden Age Thinking.” The erroneous notion that a different time period was better than the one one’s living in. It’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those who find coping with the present too difficult.

I’m not sure if I’m entirely a Golden Age Thinker, but I’ve certainly used Gil’s exact words in my own life: “I sometimes think I was born in the wrong decade.” I long for an elusive simpler time. Earlier in the film Gil’s fiancée tells him that he’s “in love with a fantasy.” And the film is about Gil figuring this out.

It’s a really fun film: it’s set in modern-day Paris, but, through mysterious circumstances, every night at midnight in a certain spot in the city, Gil gets picked up by a chauffeured vintage car, which takes him to hobnob with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter, Salvador Dali, and a host of other famous artists (most of whose names I don’t recognize) in 1920s Paris. [SPOILER ALERT!] There he falls in love with a beautiful young Parisienne of the time, whom he later discovers wishes she lived during La Belle Epoque—Paris in the 1890s—because her decade—Gil’s favourite—is boring.

Eventually Gil realizes that “The present is always going to seem unsatisfying because life itself is unsatisfying,” which is a lesson I’m still learning. I think I can’t quite accept the fact that the present—beautiful, difficult, depressing, hopeful as it is—is all I have, as odd as that may sound.

Which is why Gordon T. Smith stung with some of his words in his book Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity. In a chapter about vocational holiness (“Called to Do Good Work”), he writes,

We are called to be present to our circumstances, our world—to be agents of peace and justice in the world as it actually is rather than as we wish it were. This means we turn not only from pretense (wishing we were someone else or acting as though we are someone else) but also from wishful thinking and illusion regarding our circumstances.

This means that we do not live emotionally in a previous time. We have no patience with “the good old days.” They are long gone. We discern in light of what is actually the case today. This also means we do not engage in wishful thinking. In other words, we do not dwell on what we wish were true but on what is actually true.

We live in the world as it presents itself—no nostalgia, no pining for an earlier golden age. We are not waiting around for good fortune to suddenly and finally hit us. We stop investing emotional energy in the “what-if’s,” and we get on with it.

All of us are called to such a time as this. None of us are ahead of our times, and no one is born too late and able to complain that the opportunity passed us by. Rather, we are each invited to respond to the call of God for this day.

(Gordon T. Smith, Called to Be Saints, 104-105)

Eugene Peterson, addressing pastors in Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness, has much the same thing to say as Smith, but he says it much more succinctly: my work is “these people, at this time, under these conditions” (p. 131).

I have some maturing to do I guess. As we all do. But it’s not maturing I particularly want to do, even though it would make the difficulties of today that much more bearable. I think Gil’s realization that “the present is always going to seem unsatisfying because life itself is unsatisfying” is in many respects a very Christian perspective. We recognize that we live in a broken world, and all is not well, even as we hope that eventually it will be.

I’m reminded of something I quoted in a post almost twelve years ago:

Our creation story does not call us to roam through life in the pursuit of happiness. In fact, that is the very thing from which we are saved. Our story portrays the great journey of God into his limited and needy creation.

Biblical hope is found when Christians hear the gospel and take their place in the great processions of the body of Christ. The proclamation of that hope is that in communing with Christ we discover all the grace we need to live joyful but limited lives. For in communing with God we encounter the mystery of his presence with us.

(M. Craig Barnes, Yearning: Living Between How It Is & How It Ought To Be, p. 21)

Wishful thinking, the grass is greener, “Golden Age Thinking”. . . none of these things actually make things better. In fact, they probably make them worse.

Here is the moment of realization for Gil, which his Parisienne love (Adriana) does not understand, but is a lesson worth remembering. They’ve jumped from the 1920s to the 1890s, and Adriana wants to stay in the 1890s, Le Belle Epoque:

Because if you stay here and this becomes your present, sooner or later you’ll imagine another time was really the golden time. . . The present is always going to seem unsatisfying because life itself is unsatisfying.

. . .if I’m ever going to write anything worthwhile I’ve got to get rid of my illusions and that I’d be happier in the past is one of them.

(dialogue from the Midnight in Paris script, slightly ad-libbed in the clip)

Or, if I’m ever going to be a better pastor, or if I’m ever going to live a worthwhile life I’ve got to get rid of the illusion that I’d be happier in the past.

When novel readings aren’t.

I had a brief conversation a while ago with someone who thinks it’s more difficult to speak about the Bible in straightforward ways these days. It seems to no longer say what it says; if I say, “This passage means this,” there’s often someone who will say, “It looks like it says this, but what it actually means is this.” And I agree; it does seem to take more work to talk about the Bible these days.

While I imagine sometimes people do say “it doesn’t mean what it looks like it means” simply to try to find ways/excuses around passages they don’t like, and that’s not good, in many cases there are good reasons for the shift towards a different reading of the text. Some of them are pretty commonly known: questions of cultural differences, genre, dealing with an ancient text and related expectations, and so on. But there are other factors to consider as well.

1 – Sometimes seemingly new ways of reading scripture are actually correctives to relatively recent innovations in reading scripture. A “new” interpretation may actually reflect a more ancient understanding of a passage. What we’re used to or were brought up with may, quite naturally, seem like the normal understanding of the Bible, but may in fact be the new reading. Slightly different but related is the idea that previous generations and especially the ancient church—not to mention different branches of the church, like the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church—have read the Bible in very different ways than some modern ways of reading.

Example: dispensationalism and rapture theology (think Left Behind series), are relatively modern ideas (late 19th century). I don’t think the majority of prior generations of Christians would have read the Bible in this way, but today it seems to be the majority view of the conservative evangelical church in North America. And so correctives come along (e.g. N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope) which may seem new or novel, but actually reflect scripture and the history of the church’s interpretation more faithfully. How conservative evangelicals tend to read Genesis 1 is another example.

2 – New readings may also reflect the realization (or remembrance) that our experience and reason play a part in interpreting scripture. If the Bible says that rocks are soft, but I experience the hardness of a rock falling on my toe, then I have a conundrum. But the problem isn’t with my experience of the rock, nor is the problem actually with the Bible—the problem is in how I read and interpret the Bible, or perhaps what I understand the Bible to be. I may need to read it differently. Obviously the Bible doesn’t say rocks are soft! My point is simply that sometimes we impose things on the text that the text itself doesn’t allow or ask for, and so there are correctives made.

3 – New readings also reflect the realization that with some things that we call “biblical” we’ve tended to proof text. For example, Paul says in one passage that women should be silent in churches, and historically we’ve stopped there, end of story—the Bible says it, I believe it. But these days we may be more honest about the fact that Paul also talks about women prophesying in church and women apostles, for example. And so we’ve had to adjust our reading and interpretation of scripture to reflect the realities within scripture itself.

These three overlap as well. And I’m sure there are others. This is the reality of being honest about scripture and tradition. “New” readings aren’t always to be dismissed as “liberal” or “revisionist” readings. Sometimes they restore or reset our understanding to more ancient and biblical views (which, I suppose, is to say, the more “conservative” view).

I always find it refreshing when I see the Bible in a new way based on something the Bible itself says—when scripture has something to say about itself.