Home » Book Reviews » Question #2: “How Should the Bible Be Understood?” (McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity”)

Question #2: “How Should the Bible Be Understood?” (McLaren’s “A New Kind of Christianity”)


In this series of posts we are taking the questions Brian McLaren addresses in “A New Kind of Christianity” one by one.  The method will be to ask the question, look at how McLaren believes Western Christianity answers the question, how McLaren answers the question himself and lastly how I would answer the question.  In this post, we will address the 2nd question McLaren mentions in the book.

The Question:  How should the Bible be understood?  McLaren calls this the “authority question”.

Western Christianity’s Answer:  McLaren thinks Western Christians read the Bible primarily as a constitution.  During a sermon or debate, a Western Christian tends to sound very much like a lawyer does in a courtroom.  A lawyer cites prior case-law, precedents, etc that may be found in court transcripts in order to prove his or her case.  Similarly, when in the midst of a discussion, Western Christians cite book, chapter and verse of the bible in order to prove whatever point they are trying to make.

Brian McLaren’s Answer:  McLaren proposes that “we read the Bible as an inspired library”.  He goes on to say that we need to pay attention to the context and genre of what is being written.  We should not read poems, parables, letters, proverbs, histories and prophecies the same way.  Each genre requires a different type of reading.  McLaren uses Job as a test case.  Because of context, we can’t read each of the speeches in the book of Job as equally truthful.  We can’t pull a verse out of one of Job’s friends’ speeches because within the context of the story, what they are saying is not true.

Chris’ Answer:  This is the question that I agree with Brian McLaren the most on.  While he does take it a bit far in some of his examples, I agree with the point he is trying to make.  When we read a proverb, we have to remember that it is a proverb, not a promise.  A promise from God will happen.  Period.  A proverb, however, is just a statement of how things generally work.  It’s important to keep our genres clear if we are to interpret the Bible accurately.

Not only do we need to keep genres clear, we need to keep contexts clear.  Because of this, we should not practice “verse snatching”–taking a single verse to mean something apart from its context.  For instance, we often quote the verse from Matthew 18 that says “Where two or more are gathered…I am there among them” in relation to prayer.  There’s only one problem–Matthew 18 is not talking about prayer.  It is about conflict management among fellow Christians.  The verse isn’t about prayer–it’s an assurance that in times of trial where it seems one Christian has let another down, God is there in the midst of the hard circumstances, helping to mend the situation.  This verse is a pretty clear example of how “verse snatching” can rob us of the original meaning of the verse, even if the “added meaning” is true also.

Stay tuned for McLaren’s third question: “Is God Violent?”  It’s a biggie in today’s world!  Stay tuned!

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