Monday, October 31, 2011

The Diatesseron for Evangelicals

Currently my wife and I do church at a local Christian and Missionary Alliance church. It's in many ways your typical American Evangelical church. I go back and forth on whether or not I think it's a healthy place for me; on the one hand the people who attend are really nice, they hold a high value on table fellowship and the role that food should play in a church and while I have issues with the ideological underpinnings of how they talk about justice they actually put a lot of their money where their mouth is by housing the local food bank and regularly encouraging parishioners to be sure to donate coats/canned goods/socks/blankets/etc. in a near never ending drive. While I think this amounts more to charity than justice, that is a topic for another post.
My rub with this church is often more of an issue of hermeneutics - that is how we interpret or understand what the Bible means - or ecclesiastical practices. This isn't necessarily always a bad thing though. In many ways it keeps me on my toes. The sermon, which I rarely agree with, often draws on texts that I tend to gloss over and or would be easier to interpret if I was say a little more Reformed than I tend to be, just to pick one example. As Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says "we are all selective fundamentalists who pick and choose a package of certitudes that will sustain a particular stance of faith in action in the world" (Redescribing Reality p.131). Brueggemann also points out that all of us do this with the Bible as well, we pick out the texts that we like and we come up with fancy (or not) ways of ignoring the parts of the Bible we don't like and instead spend our time waxing eloquently on the parts we do. It's a complex book, it's bound to happen.

(Finally He Gets Around to What Happened this Week)
On Sunday this week we were pointed one of the billion or so little inserts falling out of our program to one that talked about how we as a church were going to be going through the Gospels. "That's fantastic!" I thought and looked at the back of the sheet to find out how they had chosen to break up the readings. Which gospel will we go through first? Mark? That one really is my personal favorite and reading them chronologically as written would make a lot of sense. Maybe John? I'd grown to appreciate John a lot more after reading John's Gospel & the Renewal of the Church by Wes Howard-Brook which helped me see the conflict embedded in the text instead of a Jesus who is all puppies and sunshine and gets executed for being really really nice.

Nope. We are going through all of the gospels at once. This bothers me for a couple of reasons:
  1. 1) The Early Church rejected attempts at gospel harmonization. The Diatessaron, an early attempt at harmonizing the gospels written by the Apologist Tatian was really popular and yet it was thrown out as a heresy (heresy or not isn't my litmus test - We're all heretics to someone). In my mind the church father's (sorry ladies) had the foresight to see the unique things that each of the Gospels had to bring. Which brings me right to my second point
  2. We loose narrative functions and are unable to see unique properties of each book when we read them all at the same time. This is the same reason I don't like it when pastors pull verses from dozens of different sources throughout the Bible to make their points. It is important that we learn to read the author as if he weren't an idiot. This means, I think reading the Bible in bigger chunks (ever watched a movie in 5 min chunks? Think the narrative will stick with you as well as if you'd just watched it in one sitting? Think you'll catch all of the subtleties?) and assuming that the author of that particular text is actually saying something that can stand on it's own without needing to be buttressed from every angle.
  3. I see this as being especially a problem for non-liturgical churches because we often times don't see the text in one large piece but will break the parables (for instance) off from the context in which they are being told. Who Jesus is interacting with seems like an afterthought as if Luke is writing down a parable going "Crap! Well were should Jesus say this? Hmmm, well I haven't put him by the sea in a while and let's have him talking to beggars"

What about you? Am I overstating my case? Are there benefits that I'm missing (Perhaps we are more likely to notice the distinctions when we read them side by side - "How many angels were there at the tomb? One or two")?

Nice blog name, Jackass.

Congrats on finding my blog. I'm starting this for a few reasons:
1) I'd like write more and get my rear in gear in that dept.
2) As of this moment I've been unable to make a book group happen here in Olympia (at least one centered around books I actually want to read). Writing things down, like discussing them has always helped me form my ideas into something cohesive.
3) I've recently been asked to write a piece for a local free paper, since I had up to this point just written at I'd like to have a place to collect any and all my writtings as well as make a place for a few rants if I feel so inclined.
So, why the name Utterly Unqualified? It's a state I perpetually find myself in...and instead of having some stranger on the Internet point out "You have no idea what you are doing", I thought I'd get it out of the way.
I hope to make this blog moderately unreadable by basically by hitting topics that overall intrest a total of almost exactly 0% of the human race. Topics I will pontificate on may iinclude: Radical readings of the Bible, reflections on the state of the Church, Book and Film reviews/reflections, (mis)adventures in trying to live more sustainably, cooking (where you will most likely see me take credit via assosiation for the epicurian exploits of my amazing wife) and of course the manditory links post.