a long form book response to Disarming Scripture by Derek Flood ch. 2

Derek Flood has written an excellent book explaining the issues I covered in my blog series this past autumn. My series is titled "Not everything Biblical is Christian." His book is titled Disarming Scripture. Cherry-picking liberals, violence-loving conservatives, and why we all need to learn to read the Bible like Jesus did. It is certainly a mouthful, but his examples are better than mine and deserve a thorough treatment here. Flood's book is ten chapters long and I hope to speak about each chapter in separate blog posts. I heartily recommend this book for the thinking Christian.

Chapter 2 is titled, "Reading the Bible like Jesus did." As Jesus overturns or rewrites Old Testament teachings in his Sermon on the Mount he pulls back and declares, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill." Matthew 5:17. But in the eyes of his religious opponents he was destroying the law. Flood points out the semantic range of the Greek word for "fulfill" includes completing something. Before Jesus, the law was incomplete, now, with the arrival of the Son of God, the law can be completed/perfected. (To evaluate this for yourself, please consider the Greek Tools of the NET Bible for Matt. 5.) Fulfilling the law for Jesus did not involve regurgitating it, but changing it and re-visioning it, approaching it from the minority hermeneutic of Old Testament.

Flood writes, "The priority of Jesus was not on defending a text, it was on defending people - in particular the victims of religious violence and abuse." p. 27 For example, over and over again Jesus challenges the majority interpretation by flaunting his miraculous acts on the Sabbath. An example of his re-visioning hermeneutic is when he asks "Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?" Luke 6:9 Yet these actions and teachings got him labels such as "blasphemer" and "law breaker." Why does Jesus make this hermeneutical move? He takes seriously the two greatest commands, to love God and our fellow humans.
Matthew 22:36-40 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’[Deut. 6:5] 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’[Lev. 19:18] 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” 
If these are the two primary commands of the law, then everything has to be re-visioned with them in perspective, since everything hangs or derives from these two commands. Flood writes, "This radical sense of prioritizing love over law could be said to be the baseline of Jesus' exegetical method." p. 30 The opponents of Jesus, however, do not prioritize radical love. Flood calls their posture to the scriptures as unquestioning obedience and Jesus' as faithful questioning.

I need to back away from the book at this point to notice this tension in my own life. I come from a fundamentalist background where unquestioning obedience to the Bible as tribally understood is the norm. As a youth I was a faithful questioner in small ways such as growing my hair long (contra 1 Cor. 11:14) and listening to heavy metal music (devil's music). I found some freedom, but with freedom comes insecurity. As I aged I retreated from faithful questioning to the security of simple answers to difficult questions of the Bible. Ultimately, as I continue on this pilgrimage of faith, I have moved back to the insecure land of freedom through faithful questioning. I think most Christians waver between these two. Flood notes in our American evangelical subculture today, unquestioning obedience leads us to defend genocidal warfare in the Bible or exclusion from fellowship of unclean people, much like the Pharisees. On the other hand, faithful questioning frees us to interrogate portions of Scripture that do not lead us to love.

What is the minority hermeneutic of the Bible? Flood uses a description from Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, who "describes the Hebrew Bible as consisting of what he calls testimony and counter-testimony." p. 35 Flood elucidates,
The Old Testament is a record of dispute. This dispute can be characterized as consisting of an ongoing debate between two key narratives: On the one side is the majority narrative of unquestioning obedience, and on the other is the protesting minority voice of faithful questioning. p. 36
Examples of faithful questioners include Abraham disputing with God over Sodom destruction, or Moses and Israel's destruction, Job and his friends, the prophets and Israel, the psalmists and God. Jesus goes further than all of them, "while embracing the prophet's priority of compassion over ritual, [Jesus] rejects their common tactic of blaming the victim, and instead acts to heal those who are sick, effectively undoing God's supposed 'judgment' on them."  p. 40 In John 9, when Jesus and the disciples encounter a blind man, the disciples ask whose sin caused the blindness. Jesus does not partake in that worldview. Instead, he loves the man and heals him to bring glory to God. Thus Jesus loves God by loving a fellow human. When James and John ask Jesus if they can call down fire from heaven on some inhospitable Samaritan villagers, they want to go all Old Testament on them like the great prophet Elijah, Jesus strongly corrects them and this path of judgment against his opposition, unlike Elijah.

Flood acknowledges, "To be sure, the narrative of compassion and questioning is a minority voice in the Old Testament. One might even rightly argue that unquestioning obedience represents the majority narrative in the Old Testament. The way of reading the Bible we see in Jesus and the prophets - characterized by faithful questioning - has always been a minority voice, both within Judaism and Christianity. p. 45-6.

As an adolescent in my fundamentalist church, my challenge of 1 Corinthians 11:13-16 was accepted, maybe because of my age, but long hair was also culturally acceptable in the 1970's. Yet, when one says they take the Bible seriously and literally as God's infallible word, how much latitude should I have been given?
13 Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him? 15 But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering. 16 But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.
My fellowship strongly preferred women's heads covered with doilies in church back then based on this chapter. Paul says my long hair was unnatural and the churches of God have no other custom. I'm grateful for the latitude and grace my church had for me in their application of their rules. But now I'm a middle aged man, in a different church that is evangelical with a fundamentalist/charismatic background. Now I stand for other things Paul calls unnatural, see my reading of Romans 1:27, full acceptance and inclusion of my gay brothers and sisters. When Rob Bell tells Oprah that the church will move on eventually from rejection of sexual minorities because of 2000 year old letters, he would not have outraged so many if he was referring to men with long hair. His online fundamentalist judges went nuts, claiming Bell was rejecting the Bible. I rather think he was reading it with the same love and generosity they would read 1 Cor .11. May we all read with love and respond to each other with love.


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