Back in January at the Music and Worship Leaders’ Retreat at Laurelville, Brian McLaren shared a wise and cautionary statement with the participants:
What we focus on [in scripture] determines what we miss.
I think that the natural tendency of someone hearing that statement (especially if that someone is me) is to say, “Ah-ha! You see – you are looking at the Bible in a different way, so you don’t understand my point.” And that, of course, would immediately underscore Brian’s warning to be aware of your own blindness. In fact, if I remember correctly, this same warning was given a long time ago with a slightly different phrasing:
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
I’ve been trying to live with this warning. It’s not that I have concerns with what I’m focusing on, but I do realize that sometimes my thinking drifts away from what might be defined as “orthodoxy”. And since Anabaptists are big on understanding scripture within community, I should at least be honest with my differences and open my thoughts to critique.
In that light, this is how I find my focus directed these days:
I understand God’s word in the light of God’s Word – In other words, I interpret scripture through the primary lens of the ministry of Jesus. How did Jesus live? How can I emulate that?
What are our lenses? – I mentioned the lens of Christ’s ministry, but I think that there are others – our cultural perspective, the writer’s context, and so on.
New Testament vs. Old Testament – I focus on the New Testament. I think that I understand the Old Testament in a more contextual, as opposed to authoritative, sense. (I keep turning that over in my brain, but I’m influenced by the instructions to the new Gentile believers that Paul talks about in Galatians. They weren’t asked to submit to the requirements of the old covenant. They were simply asked to act with compassion toward the needs in the community.)
Scripture as narration vs. dictation – Is the Bible a set of words transmitted from God to paper, or is it the unfolding story of God’s people and their understanding of God? I lean toward the latter.
Grace vs. holiness – Or, what do we do with gray areas of life? Are we so afraid of getting our hands dirty that we isolate ourselves from the world? Jesus hung out with everyone. As Martin Luther said, “Sin boldly.” Allow grace to be amazing.
A God of peace – I’m thinking quite a bit about a God who isn’t violent. And in turn, I’m thinking about a non-violent atonement vs. the popular penal substitutionary theory.
Well – that’s at least an initial list of how my focus may differ from that of other Christians. Have at it, folks. Am I a heretic yet?