We’re Christians. How did we learn our way to a tribal mindset?

The discussion below is only a 5.8-minute read for the average readers (130 words per minute). In today’s start of the week, I am posting a 761-word exposition on how most Bible-based way of learning primed readers into a tribal way of thinking. 🤓 I will posit, that in order to break Scriptural tribalism, we have to go back to the basic of reading comprehension, acquire critical thinking skills, and commit to a joint journey of learning.

Supposedly, Bible-based communities of varying denominations refer to the same Bible regardless of translations. But, the interpretations couldn’t be so different when it comes to a variety of specific issues. Here are a few examples of questions that could quickly become polarized issues among Christian communities. What does loving everyone everywhere mean? Who is our neighbor? Can women serve as spiritual leaders of men? What does the Bible say about gender roles? How do we reconcile our civic duties with the core message of the Bible? Is politics really bad? What about having Biblical conversations on LGBTQ and gun-related issues? How are we to handle and reconcile our local citizenship to that of being citizens of the world and the Kingdom of Heaven?

Frankly, I find uncorrupted Bible reading easy for our young learners and skeptics if they’re allowed the full range to really read the Bible as a literary book that it is. Most problems I see in the handling of Bible studies is that it has become a persuasion-centric discussion rather than an unbiased look of the text. There’s no room for respectful cynicism, agnostic criticism, and scholarly discussions.

Much of the circulated materials that the Bible-Based teachers and preachers choose to use in their teaching and preaching underscore the incontestable detail that even when it’s assumed that all of the Scriptures are God-breathed in the basic sense that its stories were inspired by devotional divinity, it’s beyond a reasonable doubt that its authorship is definitely human. The conveyed lessons often nullify extrinsic historical and ethnographic realities. Either intentional or otherwise, the audience is primed to see the Bible as de facto God.

The thing is, the Bible had been redacted and translated many times over. Corresponding to being a conquered and exiled nation, the ancients, in order to preserve their history, based the redactions in the Old Testament on what was thought as important materials to pass down to the next generation. The New Testament redactions were a result of intentional selection by criteria of which stories were to be considered to complete the Messianic narrative of redemption. Let this sink in for a moment.

Unfortunately, most tend to follow passage readings as an isolated or stand-alone ideology rather than a unified literary reading of a book studied in it’s final and finished form. The ensuing effect is personalized glossing if not a display of convoluted tribal dispositions. The mode of learning is unwittingly enabled to bring you to the book but never the book to you. And however clever you deny it, the fact remains that although you may have flipped to every page, you never really got to the whole book in its final and finished form.

It’s like forever being put on a task by a high school literary teacher to take notations of a highly popular and supposedly life-changing novel. It’s an endless annotation of details and subjective perception of a page. You see shadows and allusions to the heart of the entire story, but you never got to the point where you actually read and learned the whole book.

To truly engage the text of the Bible and to veer away from the trappings of doctrinal, religious and tribal disputes, I posit that Bible-related and Bible-based discussions and studies across the board should follow a joint pedagogical journey of learning. Truth be known, we can’t get to the applied practice if we can’t adapt to the commonsense part of learning the basics. In discussing potentially polarizing topics, it’s not possible to engage in an impassioned exchange of opposing viewpoints and then expect objective and logical conversation when the parties aren’t committed to abiding by basic learning common grounds. It’s only by a genuine joint journey of learning that we can break tribal predispositions and infighting and then connect our gifts of individual differences.

Here’s a clearcut short version of the central message of the Bible. The Gospel is always offensive to those with religious and tribal mindsets. And always, the text tells you what it means. You only hear it if you involve in your individual and collective journey the process of acquiring and applying essential skills to reading and learning.

And believe me, the process of getting to a joint pedagogical journey of learning with others requires a paradigm shift. The process may take some getting used to and sometimes it can get messy since everyone wants what they want when and how they want it. It’ll take a while, but with diligent follow-through and patient practice, it can be done.

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Why a literal reference to Hebrews 11:1 to unilaterally define faith only blurs your understanding of how faith works

An Exegesis: 1. Why a literal reference to Hebrews 11:1 to unilaterally define faith only blurs your understanding of how faith works. 2. What do Book of Hebrews and the Bible Really Say on Falling Away?

The bimonthly dinner potluck my family co-coordinates and attends for Bible studies and support group activities had a deep-level study of the Word during the scheduled August 30 get-together. There were a few digressions and impassioned but respectful variances in opinions which from my perspective, is not only highly indicative that interest is piqued and that the subject needs revisiting, it could very well also be a sign that we are growing as a learning community. That’s Good News!

It’s great that we’re having a robust conversation and that we’re being open about discussing subjective and influenced readings of the Scripture. And now as a family group, we get to dig into what the text actually tells us. That is amazing!

Bible studies are not a persuasion-centric gathering but rather, it’s an objective look of the text and a conversation about how we can be better in serving and loving each other and others.

Our last group study was focused on Matthew 12 and 13. In the interest of staying on point and respecting time, we cut short all digressed discussions. We put an implied earmark on them for future studies.

One contention brought out was that the definitive description of faith lies in the very verbatim text of Hebrews 11:1. Here then is my critical exposition of Hebrews 11:1 which includes an explanation why a literal and boxed used of this verse prevents not just a mindful understanding of the author’s narrative but it also veers us away from getting an insightful look at faith —or Faith As Defined and Embodied.

Think of a scene from your favorite film. That scene is connected not just to the plot but to the other components of the storyline. That scene is not the totality of the movie but a moving part of the narrative. It’s not intended to be treated as a disjointed, standalone unit of the film because if it is, then it should be its separate individual movie.

It’s the same with the Bible. No part of the Bible should be read or studied in isolation of the whole literary unit. Hebrews 11:1 is another example of a reading that shouldn’t be pulled in isolation or treated as strange from the unified literary study. When drawn separately, even when used as a faith affirmation quote, the passage becomes susceptible to being taken out of context.

I’ll state this very clearly. The text in Hebrews 11:1 is not to be read as a literal reality of willingly believing what’s not there. Instead, it should be acknowledged for its literary purpose which is a thesis statement of the chapter, “Now FAITH is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

The author of Hebrews is not prescribing a mystical belief. Nor is the author advising to trust without verifiable evidence. In short, faith is not believing you will one day win the lottery jackpot. It isn’t trusting that your marriage is divinely intended while your spouse beats the daylight out of you.

The Book of Hebrews is what we can refer to as a catalog of faith. Like the other 65 books in the Bible, it has to be read and studied as part of a unified literary work in its finished form. Please refer below to the photo of the four principles of foundational Bible reading and study.

In Hebrews, faith is rigorously described in chapter 11 as non-transactional. The author will support this claim by naming various examples of people in the Torah who exemplified the virtue. The author will conclude that even though none of them got to live out what was promised by God, they knew, believed, and trusted the providential divinity of God. The point is, they didn’t have to first see the results in order to live their faith. It’s not ”Show me the money” like it was in Jerry Maguire. The whole study of the chapter is that faith is premised on the character and being of God. The faith by which the forefathers displayed shared common characteristics of knowledge and insight (of who and what God is), belief (in his being), and trust (safety under his care).

Whilst the above teaches and preaches us about faith, Apostle John in 1 John 4:12 and 13 shows us a cognizant way faith is developed and lived, “No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us.”

The preceding exegesis also illuminates a basic point concerning another digression, falling away. I will say this again, no part of the Bible whether verse or a book should be studied apart from the entire narrative of all 66 books combined. First, let’s see what the Scriptures say in gist about the function of the Spirit in the world, specifically in reference to Salvation by Grace.

WHILE IN THE CONDITION OF SIN, THE FUNCTION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT IS TO CONVICT THE WORLD OF THE REALITY OF SIN, THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD AND THE INESCAPABLE JUDGMENT THAT FOLLOWS (John 14-16).

Hence, when a person answers the call of the Spirit, in effect by faith this person also accepts God’s transforming grace. Positionally, this individual moves into the family of God where the condition of sin is removed once and for all. I also need to be clear that this doesn’t mean that a person will no longer commit sins or that she or he is exempt from the vulnerability of sin. By the same token, once you are positionally moved into the family of God, you cannot be unsaved. Because if this is so, then you are saying that the process of Salvation has to be repeated. In short, you are also pointing to the belief that Christ has to be crucified again each time you are ”falling away.”

In fact, the book of Hebrews is a direct rebuke to anybody who professed faith yet their lives remain unchanged. If the foundational premise of Salvation and your personal relationship with God is that you have been transformed by grace through your faith, the natural overall progression is towards a maturing predisposition for greater goodness. Herod Antipas whom Jesus calls a fox (uncleaned animal) is an example of a person who claims faith but doesn’t really have anything to show for as evidence of a transformed life.

Inarguably, if one has truly received God’s transforming grace through faith, there’s an inevitable and marked paradigm shift in that person’s life that’s pointed towards a continuing process of loving everyone everywhere.

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The Basics of Bible Reading

I’m a woman of deep faith, not religious or doctrinal. I’m highly skeptical and a mindfully thinking person. Although notably unpopular in religious and faith-based sectors, I tend to question many things written in the Bible. The Bible is God-breathed. However, I see and refer to it as a tool to enhance my faith and not as God-incarnate or a divine book to worship or treat in utmost reverence.

The Bible is a redacted collection of specific stories, poems, and lyrics deemed critical by both the remnant exilic and conquered ancestors to pass on from generation to generation.

It is a collection of 66 books written by over 44 authors in three continents over a span of maybe two thousand years. All 66 books are to be read as a singular literary unit. The Bible is cohesively connected and unified by three literary essentials: 1. continuing narrative, 2. conflict and, the 3. central theme and conflict resolution.

As part of a continuing challenge to as objectively as possible get to the heart of all of its 66 books, I have to accept that while it is an essential source of historical records, the Bible is not comprehensive. Nor is the Bible written as a scientific tool to systematically describe the people and culture of ancient times.

And this is why I argue that in order to truly understand the Bible’s text, we must also study history, look at maps, and learn linguistics along with the many forms of literature by which the Bible go by. I have no intention of debating about individual or group beliefs on certain controversial topics. What I advocate for everyone to commit to is to go by the empirical way of studying the Bible (as a unified literary unit) —by engaging the text on its own terms rather than exploring personal or communal interpretations.

An In-Depth Look At How To Effectively Study The Bible—an avid learner’s take

Studying the Bible objectively entails digging into the history, geography, language, authorship, and the literary nature of it. Like I said before, to get to the fundamentals (understanding and applying the lessons and principles), we have to go by the basics first. For instance, you can’t go on preaching ”Love your neighbor” when the concept of love and neighbor are individualized and converted into doctrinal subsets. Before we can even arrive at the fundamental of love and neighbor, we have to get to the basics of reading the two in its right context.

In other words, it is both essential and urgent to teach the readers the basics of reading while also navigating through the complexity and simplicity of conveying Biblical life applications. The two go hand in hand. But first things first, cultivate the love and the discipline for reading.

I have included Prof Cynthia Chapman’s lectures on The World of Biblical Israel, as part of my continuing studies and in support of my Bible reading. You may purchase the lectures from the Great Courses or from Amazon Prime.

Here’s an excerpt to one of Professor Chapman’s lectures.

“The story of the Bible is not written as objective history. Rather, it is the recorded memory of a conquered and exiled people determined to remember their past and pass that memory down from generation to generation. By remembering their origins and their homeland, they asserted who they were meant to be and were striving to be again. When we turn to the Bible in order to understand life in ancient Israel, we need to consider each story from at least two vantage points: the period in which the story is set and the period during which the story was preserved.”

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

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