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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Theology Homework

One of the things on my agenda to work on this weekend was the production of a thesis for my Systematics class. The thesis is stage one of the writing for the course, assigned over the quarter in 4 pieces that build on one another, thusly:

I. Thesis statement, identifying a theological center (Revelation, Trinity, Grace, or some such) for discourse, and a "sign of the times" to be examined through the lens of that locus. This is turned in with a preliminary bibliography.
II. A paper (5-7 pages) developing aforementioned center, analyzing and developing the area of theology identified in part 1.
III. Expand the previous paper by another 5-7 pages, integrating a look at the "sign of the times" through the theology developed in part 2.
IV. Write a sermon, referencing appropriate biblical texts, addressing what is developed in part 3.

Bible geek that I am, I knew I wanted to do something around the area of hermeneutics: the area of theology that deals with biblical interpretation. It took me a while to figure out where to start on this; but an extended iChat with the peerless AKMA, patient instructor and work-study supervisor extrordinaire, gave me a tenuous start (have I told you lately that I love my boss?).

So, I want to talk about the nature of biblical interpretation: what it means to say that scripture is "inspired by God," over and against the extremes of
A. right-wing fundamentalist biblicism ("Every word of the Bible must be accepted as literally true"); or
B. left-wing liberal theology ("the Bible is full of unenlightened, patriarchial attitudes that should be discarded in the modern era").

Both extremes seem to want to read selectively; but if I believe that the Bible is "Inspired by God," then I must
B. admit the importance of careful reading and study of entire canon, albeit with a more nuanced, balanced approach; and
A. learn from and live by the preponderance of scripture, and not simply selected "proof texts," which are sometimes not even biblical in origin (i.e., "the Lord helps those who help themselves.")

(Ok, I know I'm simplifying here, and that it's more complicated than that. But please, be patient. This is a summary blog, a work in progress, and not the fleshed out paper.)

For a "sign of the times," I think I want to look at the "family values" movement in our society-- a postmodern, often post-Christian society. How it is affected by ill-informed proof-texting or selective theology? Consider, for example, the recent fuss in Georgia surrounding a stone monument of the 10 Commandments in front of the courthouse. Compare the reasoning of the judge, and the comments of defenders and detractors, and the way the incident was portrayed in the media. A lot of oratory from perspectives of fundamentalism and "Christian Americanism"-- what some term the civil religion-- but not much reasoned theology.

So, what do you think? Feel free to speak up; but be gentle, please.


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