That’s a picture of the title page from the recently deposed pulpit Bible at Ringgold UMC in Ringgold, GA. Sure, an easy guess would be that it was replaced with an NRSV, but you’d be wrong. The pulpit Bible had become entirely unused and when recent events at our church drove one of our services into more “contemporary” territory and called another to a higher traditional standard our pastor found himself at 11 o’clock more likely to be standing at the lectern than the floor between the front rows and subsequently found this giant volume to be, well–in the way. So it retired to our administrator’s bookshelf where it has since only proved useful once–in a photo scavenger hunt calling for a picture of a KJV Bible. (I was the only one who knew where to procure such a photo).
We’ve become more or less comfortable using different translations of scripture in our conversation as disciples. We talk about how we love one translation or another expresses this or that passage. Yet when it comes to thinking about scripture, we still seem to jump up to bar the door.
I’ve encountered this phenomenon for years, even since I was in a youth group myself. I can remember joking in high school (though I believe it still) that the greatest advancements in popular theology and scriptural interpretation would be achieved not through person-to-person contact or higher learning, but rather through the few paragraphs that introduce each book in whatever translation of scripture is in popular use. If in 5 years all or most Bibles indicate that Job & Jonah weren’t actual historical figures, no one will have a problem with that. If in 50 years (probably more) the preface to Matthew includes a discourse on the Q-source and addresses but dismisses atonement theory, the collective church-going mind will agree. Because it’s right there in black and white.
But thinkers trouble us. I’ve found this true in my own experience to no small extent, probably most of all in this past year. Beginning in January I began working with Brian McLaren on a youth curriculum resource based on his newest release, Naked Spirituality: A Life With God In 12 Simple Words. Brian’s other books have provided notable controversy within the institutional church and as I worked with him through email & phone conversations, I kept encountering odd pockets of conflict and resistance. A bashing review of one of his books in a blog. A damning website. Even the thinly veiled criticism of a friend: “Oh, that Brian McLaren. I didn’t realize you were that grey, Kevin.” I remember telling Brian in a conversation earlier this summer, “Man, some people really hate you.”
But honestly, I hope to never be anything but grey in my approach to the spiritual discipleship of others.
I’ll tell you what our denomination thinks. I’ll even tell you what I think. But I’ll never try to tell you what you think. Within the denominational thinking of the UMC is a wonderful gift we refer to as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience. Scripture and tradition don’t need my help, provided that hermeneutic consideration is applied to the former and societal progress is observed in the latter. And I wouldn’t trespass into your ability to reason or pretend to entirely share your experience. As I understand it, my role as a youthworker is to encourage the development of a youth’s ability to process his or her own journey through reason and experience. (You’re free to disagree.) We provide the framework of Methodist tradition, lay it upon the foundation of scripture, and then we have at it.
We can learn so much more about our world and about ourselves if after we’ve committed to a life of discipleship we keep listening to the world around us–so often Christians are encouraged to shut down their thinking-parts in favor of declaring themselves right and going back out of the door to find new converts. Don’t. Even if you were provably 100% right, why
would someone listen to you when you’re refusing to listen to them?
Grey isn’t the enemy. Grey leaves the door open for conversation. Keep your shirt on. You might learn something.