I remember when I was learning stage fighting, holding my gigantic sword for excruciatingly long times before I would start a wild lopping, chop that a three-year old could have parried. During our practices, the fencing club at Ohio State would watch us and laugh. I didn’t blame them. To a fencer, who fights tight and fast, stage fighting looks ridiculous. As Inara (Morena Baccarin) so beautifully elucidated on Firefly, “It takes less than a pound of pressure to cut skin.”
I’ve been feeling the same about theology lately. With all the controversy over the Chick-fil-a press flooding, there have been so many amateur theologians running around spouting their “great” understanding about the Bible and all of its mysteries.
Having now studied the Bible, teaching it, studying it some more, parsing Greek and Hebrew, I can’t say that I have it all figured out. But I’d like to think that I have at least a bigger picture than someone who is repeating the latest argument that some guy put on a picture on Facebook.
For some reason now, everyone now seems to be able to quote from Leviticus. There are all sorts of goodies in there, from slavery to personal hygiene to dietary laws. I can see why they pick on it. It’s like reading the beginning of Les Miserables and showing what a jerk Valjean is. I mean, this guy stole from a priest! What a hoser! Who writes this crap? But no one – I hope – closes Hugo’s massive book there and says, “The end.” They read onward and see how this even changes his life.
What can’t these Bible critics do the same with the Bible and read Leviticus in context?
Leviticus follows Exodus, the book in which God takes an million and a half people (est) who have grown up in Egyptian slavery and moves them to another country – no small undertaking. As a professor of mine once said, “It took God a day to get the Israelites out of Egypt, but it took 40 years to get Egypt out of the Israelites.” The captive Israelites were living contrary to the God’s established order and had picked up some nasty habits from their pantheistic brothers and sisters. Think of how hard it is to break a habit. The Israelites had lived in a culture that espoused religion and family values contrary to the ones God had created. It’s no wonder there needed to be so many rules. Israel had just entered the most intensive 12-step program ever.
Let’s run with that analogy – picture a 12-step program – “whatever” anonymous. These programs are intense when they first start because people are working at reversing their ingrained habits. After a while, the test of the success of the program is to see if the individual can live outside of the controlled environment. In the New Testament, the council of Jerusalem set aside the Levitical laws – including circumcision – with the exception of abstaining from sexual immorality, food sacrificed to idols, eating the meat of strangled animals, and drinking blood (Acts 15).
Yet this is still not sufficient for Christian living. Please read this thought in its entirety. All those laws had one goal – to teach the people to love God with everything they had, and to love their neighbor as themselves. This is the law that Christ fulfilled in the New Testament. Following all the laws and rules of the Bible does not make one a Christian, otherwise Christ would not have needed to come. Following Jesus, understanding the God that authored the Bible and seeing His story – His metanarrative about the creation, fall, redemption, and perfection of humankind is the only way to process the Bible, otherwise we fall back into blind legalism.
I don’t know how many – if any will read this. But I wanted to respond to all the jabs that are thrown in the mess that creation has become. If you want to quote from the Bible, please read it first. Explore it – ask questions of God while you do. I would encourage you to start in the Gospel of John and just see what happens.