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Several Theological Perspectives in the Understanding of the Bible, Its Interpretation and Issues

The Heart of the Matter: Faith?

This paper is a critical reflection on several theological perspectives in the understanding of the bible, its interpretation, and issues arising from such interpretation e.g. faith, methodology, liberation from patriarchal systems, and the subjects at stake in the face of modern-day realities.

A critical question for many theology students is; what drives Christianity? The answer for the impasse as to which is the appropriate way of being Christian has created divisions in the church. The essential difference between conservative and emerging Christianity is in the view of the bible, faith, the Christian life, and God (Borg 3). There is an increasing trend unlike in the past for ordination of women as clergies which were not witnessed in the traditional church set up as well in other existing denominations. Homosexuality was unthinkable a few decades before were an as most emerging form of Christianity seems to have settled this. The traditional form of Christianity though continues to regard it as sin (Borg 4).

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Underneath this conflict is the foundation of the issue and a reflection of how Christians view the bible and its authority. The continuous challenging of some passages e.g. those that subordinate women and prohibit them from having authority over men is evidence of such divergent views being witnessed in emerging Christianity (Borg 4). The conflict depicts a paradigm shift in the entire view of Christianity.

Traditional Christianity emphasizes a literal factual interpretation of the bible, although the metaphorical manner in which the bible is written overrules merely understanding the bible from a literal view. Bible teachings are considered absolute in this form of Christianity and scripture should not be questioned (Borg 8). Christianity is more than literalistic, being judgmental and self attained righteousness. It involves discernment and a life transformation of an individual and not merely affiliations the traditional paradigm or the emerging paradigm (Borg 20)

Borg stresses the importance of faith in the life of a Christian, “Faith is at the heart of Christianity” (27). It entails believing and accepting without proof or evidence. A shift from the conventional belief about God and Christian reasoning is inevitable. As many Christians pursue a more fervent relationship with God, the concept of faith in the reality of the current social problems can be achieved by working with fellow community members to create a tangible difference in the world. Faith cannot be entirely secured through educational concepts but by focusing on the heart. Without faith, Knowledge alone cannot explain all that is held of the natural world. Faith means loving God and loving whatever God loves. It is a way of heart (Borg 41).

What about Women and Theology?

The inspiration of theological feminism is to end the restraint of women in the Christian community. Women are increasingly being recognized in the world for their contribution to the wellbeing of society unlike in the past. Indication of women’s inferiority to men is apparent in numerous documents e.g. Paul’s epistles (Clifford 30). Clifford explicitly outlines the account of feminist theology and tries to liberate men and women from patriarchy. Feminist theology uncovers the chauvinist prejudice that has characterized worship and explanations of the bible which persistently marginalizes women. (Clifford 38)

Ann Clifford elaborates on the essence of feminist reformists who look for unobtrusive changes within accessible denominational structures. Within evangelical settings, reformist feminists are conservatives devoted to the interpretation of the bible but at the same time opposed to prejudice in the handling of women in homes and other social settings (Clifford 33). These theologians use the bible to access the liberation for women in society by advocating for improved biblical interpretation. A close look at religious patriarchy reveals patterns of correlation in which men are viewed as the type of being a human being. Clifford chronologically explores the social contexts of feminist theology without deriding divisive issues but rather taking into consideration that all theology is founded on human experiences (30). It is essential to apply the much-analyzed suspicion about past Christian biblical interpretations in actual theology and religion.

Making the Connections among Liberation Theologies Around the World

Feminism is a broad system of belief entrenched in women’s experience of suppression and a pursuit of social justice for the human race.

Liberation theologians start from the societal perspectives of the oppressed. In this case, real-life experiences become intrinsic parts of theology (Thistlethwaite and Mary 1). They advocate for the underprivileged and the exploited in society which is a laudable thing. On the other hand, careful attention should be given to the subject to avoid being pompous and disrespecting those being advocated for. The deprived are not merely used as examples but rather as the voice of change (Thistlethwaite and Mary 2). This is because academic discussions on theological liberation in the absence of the actual voices of the victims of oppression are just efforts to relate to but very distant in the actual sense from the poor.

Liberation theologians have diverse backgrounds in terms of geographical, economic, and cultural settings each with a particular interest in the liberation movement e.g. black liberation theologians and gay and lesbian liberation theologians (Thistlethwaite and Mary 3). Liberation theologists share their approach though from diverse social-cultural contexts. Feminist theologists argue that patriarchal culture reduces women to objects of service assigned with inflexible roles while men operate from the free elite and academic context. Thus liberation theology is aimed at criticizing the unfair treatment of certain members of the community and advocates for their empowerment (Thistlethwaite and Mary 7).

In a broad sense, feminism theology is a part of liberation theology founded on the well-built indication of praxis. Different social-cultural contexts have helped in shaping liberation theology where different oppression forms e.g. sexism and classism from the hub. A generalization of women’s experience though is a source of criticism as well as the case where one can both be oppressed and oppressor at the same time. In addition, it is worth noting that theology cannot be summarized into praxis although suffering and other life experiences can be used to review reality. Whether women’s experiences could be construed as more reliable in the understanding of theology than men’s experiences is a matter of debate.

Experience, Knowledge, and Wisdom

David ford considerably examines the ideology behind religious thinking, by elaborating the interpretation of biblical texts in the present world. Understanding God is of great importance in theology.

God knows human beings and holds the plan for human beings to know him. This establishes a dependency and receptivity in the pursuit of the knowledge of God (Ford 156).

However this does not prohibit the dynamic inquiry into natural process, nevertheless, the control of the knowledge of God is purely by God himself. Theologically it involves reasoning through revelation and grace. Interest in knowing the truth about God and creation as a whole leads to a realization of God as the author of all transformation even through examining scriptures (Ford 168). We should evaluate our biases in the quest to know God. Feminist theologians and liberation theologians as well are not immune to scriptural distortions by reason of vested interests (Ford 169). An effort to draw conclusions from different theologians and connect critical opinions underlines the importance of prayer in theology (Ford 170).

The person we are is affected by our previous life experiences and other factors like age and health. Knowing should be particular about something taking into account self and language. Theology tries to establish truth, sense, and practice in relation to religions and in essence generate wisdom. Wisdom shapes life and helps appreciate diversity and truth (Ford 178). The present life is very diverse and characterized by social problems. Theologians should not ignore the past, the present, and every experience but rather they should keep on asking questions and search for possibilities with sensitivity to other people’s work so as to attain reasonable revelation and discernment.

Faith Seeking Understanding

One of the responsibilities of Christian theology is to elaborate on the Christian doctrine as well as a reflection of the observance of the Christian faith (Migliore1). Theology emanates from the human desire to unmask the truth about their God but not just a replication of traditions but an unrelenting search for truth. The desire for the knowledge of God creates the need for faith while faith too seeks knowledge and understanding (Migliore 2).

The point is not to achieve faith by reasoning but by finding joy in what they believe in (Migliore 2). Testing and questioning set theology apart from blind assent. The world order keeps on changing and demands constant answers. Migliore states that faith is about transformation “questionable is the theology whose theory is no longer linked to transforming praxis.” (8)

The solution of yesterday’s questions may not be adequate in addressing today’s puzzles and this sustains the steadfast pursuit of faith (Migliore 9). When faith restricts people from asking questions, it assumes harmful forms of superstition, extremism, and idolatry. Nonetheless one should be careful about abstract theology which is devoid of worship and service to the community. Some Christians rubbish the excesses of theology and I agree with them because of the frustration that insensitive theology may generate. Responsible theology constructively exercises faith in relation to new problems, experiences, and possibilities (Migliore 17). If theology is ignored, the community of faith will waver in a meaningless way. Theology should keep on asking questions about the truth and the real face of the gospel.

“Faith Theology and Belief,”

According to McBrien, Catholicism refers to the wide body of doctrines, theologies, and practices which make up the catholic faith (McBrien 2). It is a lifestyle and a community of people with a meticulous history. The history of the church can be traced to Jesus commissioning Peter to be the shepherd of the gospel in Jerusalem. Catholicism provides meaning to reality rooted in the powerful creative reality of God (McBrien 7).

The Catholic Church exists among many other churches, but what distinguishes it is the organization of doctrines, the religious followers, and liturgical life. According to the tradition of the church, genuine human progress and an unrelenting struggle for justice is an integral part of God’s plan for mankind (McBrien 10). An engagement in the revolution of the world is a form of connection with God‘s creative work. Catholicism asserts that our interaction with God is by way of the community of faith. However, the overemphasis on sacraments and communion is a risk to individual faith which is a recipe for authoritarianism and restraint of the autonomy of thinking and action (McBrien 13). Catholicism acknowledges the importance of history and the exercise of reason in the application of Christian faith as well as universality in the theological doctrines and traditions. Though in its history, it has faced its own share of challenges, it cannot be restricted in the broad sense to v given geographical part e.g. Asia or Europe. Catholicism is therefore driven by faith and reason and law inspired by the gospel (McBrien 17).

Theological Method: Scripture and Tradition

Christianity is authored in the bible and God. Some Christians have left the faith because of the bible where what seemed right before no longer makes sense. The present biblical literalism with an emphasis on historical facts e.g. whether God prearranged the subordination of women is an obstacle to several people who still cast doubt if the bible is the inerrant word of God. Borg views the bible as a human artifact, “the bible is not an absolute truth or God’s revealed truth but relatively and culturally conditioned” (Borg 45). This view doesn’t refute that the bible is God’s inspiration but rather it explains the inspiration differently. Thus it is written out of our spiritual ancestors’ human experiences as they were moved by God’s spirit. This concept gives the bible a position of human product with a divine status and function.

In the interpretation of the bible, it is worth noting the historical context it was written and the metaphorical or more than just literal meaning of its words (Borg 49). The truth of the bible is not established on historical realities but through the various stories of creation and the fall of man, figuratively they express the truth about God. Moreover stressing the importance of historical factuality can sidetrack the meaning and create unending debates (Borg 53).

The metaphorical approach in the exposition of the bible is evident in many Christian settings e.g. the Pentecostal movements where the birth of Jesus Christ and his work on earth still speak powerfully to us today about our circumstances. The bible also acts as a sacrament by bringing the sacred to the present in other words it brings God to us and forms a means by which the spirit of God presently speaks to us as persons on the specificity of our situations (Borg 58). Being Christian is not just about believing, but a relational transformation by faith into fellowship with God and living according to Christian tradition with the bible as the foundation (Borg 60).

“The Three Worlds of the Bible: An Orientation,”

The introduction to the bible by Hauer and Young follows a “literacy, historical and contemporary approach” (Hauer and William 1). The literal world approach relates the images questions and stories of the Bible as understood by those who read. The historical world approaches the interpretation of the bible from the events of and chronological environment in which the scriptures were written. This makes use of evidence within or outside the bible to establish the truth. The contemporary approach is based on the critique modern-day readers raise when they read the bible (Hauer and William 25).

The bible is literature and is not essentially subject to historical settings hence one should not be detained into history. The main challenge in contemporary theological settings is to avoid or be conscious of the preconceptions of natured by our experiences in the present world which force some people to travel into the historical context of the scripture to establish facts. The exercise of patience, self-criticism, and assiduousness will help us to make informed choices on the significance of the bible in the contemporary world (Hauer and William 32). However, there is a risk of overemphasizing one particular approach and ignoring the rest. The blending of the three approaches in the understanding of the bible can be a powerful tool. It remains a challenge in theology to cultivate a mature and considerate understanding of the bible (Hauer and William 33).

Feminism and Hermeneutics

There has been a continual change in interpretation of the bible influenced by the contemporary realities in society. This phenomenon demand fresh analysis of scriptures (Clifford 49). Human beings are faced with challenges and questions which require solutions. Ideological suspicion on theology has formed a basis on which feminine theologians have used to expose patriarchy concealed in Christianity. Feminist theologians argue from an intermediary position with the bible teachings and social experiences. It is paramount to finish the hermeneutical circle and audaciously take in the voices of the poor in theological Ideologies (Clifford 66).

To summarize, there are many issues at stake in theology that call for continuous inquisition and theological reflection. Relationships and theological methodologies need to be examined. There is a need for commitment in not just appraising unjust situations but also to courageously use theology to solve the problems which continue to face humanity.

References

Borg, Marcus. The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith. New York: Harper Collins, 2003.

Clifford, Anne M. Introducing Feminist Theology. Orbis Books, 2004.

Ford, David. Theology: A Very Short Introduction. Very short introductions, 9. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Print.

Hauer, Christian and William, Young. An Introduction to the Bible: A Journey into Three Worlds. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall, 2001. Print.

McBrien, Richard P. Catholicism: Study Edition. Minneapolis, Minn: Winston Press, 1981. Print.

Migliore, Daniel L. Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1991. Print.

Thistlethwaite, Susan B, and Mary P. Engel. Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside. Maryknoll, N.Y: Orbis Books, 1998. print.