Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Through the Bible: How Does the Bible Affect the Way You Think?

Models of thinking and its impact on how we read the Bible and World

As we come to the end of our reading of the Old Testament and as we prepare to begin the New Testament, I would like to pause and reflect on the Bible as a whole.  Especially I want to reflect on how the Bible affects our thinking.  And I am not just interested in our ability to regurgitate information.  Rather I want to ask: "How do you read the Bible?  How do you reason? And is there a relation between one and the other?"  I learned from a former mentor, Howard Snyder, that people tend to follow different styles or models of reasoning, which in turn affect the way we "read" the world and "read" scripture.  The influence between our thinking and reading (especially if we are serious readers) is not uni-directional.  I have developed his insights a bit differently, but his original contribution to my thinking remains strong. Few people are exact representatives of these models but hopefully one will recognize these traits as dominate in certain people, groups and even ourselves.  Hopefully they will help us recognize how these styles affect how we "read" the world and scripture so that we might more fully grow into the full stature of Christ, "in whom all things hold together" (Colossians 1:17).

Hierarchical - thinkers see all truth (including revelation) as divinely dictated from on high.  The key dynamic is submission to authority or power.  The one who has the power (and knowledge is a form of power) distributes it, usually according to a prescribed order of access.  To gain the knowledge one must first follow the order. Islam, some versions of Christianity, and theocracies in general, reason out of this model.   

Linear - thinkers see truth as progressively gained (or regressively lost) and that time is moving "forward" to some golden era or utopia.  The key dynamic is progress from one stage or era to the next. Secular ideologies of progress are linear ways of thinking.  In the United States, political conservatives and liberals tend to be linear in their thinking.  They just define "progress" differently - and usually oppositionally.

Cyclical - thinkers see truth and the world as an endless cycle of repetitions - what has been, is now and will be, world without end.  This way of seeing truth (and reading the world) is common in the East.  It is thin on hope.  It is not a redemptive vision of life; it offers no hope for change.  It is foreign to most westerners but is making a come back in the guise of Eastern religions and paganism.       

Ecological - thinkers see the truth and the world as embedded in a highly complex web of relations - both natural and supernatural.  Ecological thinking is both messy and provisional (at least initially) because we never see all that is going on.  We see as we are situated and thus partially - "as through a glass darkly."  We are more relative than wrong.  Ecological thinking lends itself to humility and faith and patient inquiry after God.  It also recognizes the validity of certain aspects of the other models of reasoning - at least in certain instances.  But over time this style of thinking generates wisdom for living in the world according to God's intentions for it.  Exemplars of this model of thinking that have instructed me are Lesslie Newbigin (Reformed missionary), Wendell Berry (farmer and poet), Abraham Heschel (Jewish Theologian), and Richard Bauckham and Ellen Davis (biblical scholars).  But the most formative influence in my learning to think "ecologically" is the Bible itself.  Howard Snyder gave me the language for describing how the Bible has shaped the way I think.

If I were to describe the history one finds in the Bible I would call it an "ecological account of God's pursuit of humanity."  Though humanity is the focus of God's pursuit, it is in the context of our embeddedness in creation, as part of creation, so that creation itself becomes an object of this pursuit (see Romans 8 for Paul's account of the scope of salvation).   After all, if the stewards of creation are being redeemed then what might this mean for creation itself?  Creation is our habitat and our habits are being transformed by grace.

The divine pursuit chronicled and meditated on in the Bible has the character of a romance, for God pursues us neither as judge, master nor even parent but as friend, lover and covenant partner for the world's healing.  One of the clearest expositions of the biblical philosophy of history - this inspired chronicle of God's pursuit of covenant partners - is found in Ezekiel chapter 16.  We turn to that chapter in our next post.

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