It has been many years since the Bible was compiled. Many more years have gone by since any of its components were written. And many, many more years have passed since the events documented in the Bible transpired. You would think with all that time, we would have gotten a handle on interpretation by now. But it seems that as time has passed, things have only gotten messier in this regard. Any topic or specific passage can evoke countless views. To make it more simple I will regard to this plethora of views in two overarching groups: the fundamentalist and the progressive. Those that look to follow the texts verbatim, as done in biblical times, and those that factor in the passing of time and the evolution of human culture.
I will agree with fundamentalists on the belief that all lessons in the Bible have purpose, especially in establishing the full spectrum of Christian practice or lifestyle. It is determining how this knowledge is implemented and lived-out that my mindset starts to differ from the fundamentalist, and continues to find exception from there. For one, fundamentalism thrives on absolutes. It does nothing to account for discrepancies or shades of gray created in seemingly paradoxical scripture. The result is usually some scripture be quoted incessantly to make a point, while others excerpts are almost completely ignored.
I am a firm believer that the Bible needs to be regarded holistically, rather than in sound bites. It is full of wise and powerful lessons, not to mention comfort and inspiration. But I think one of the most important lessons the Bible has to teach us comes not from a certain book or chapter. But the composition of the Bible as a whole. Its equal treatment of varying viewpoints and themes encourages critical thinking and discernment. The contradictions, especially the vividly different themes between the old and new testament, show that Christians should be wary of absolutes and instead thrive in the gray areas between.
Further the messiah teaches us to live outside the harsh absolutes of the old testament. In his day, Jesus was in many ways a radical. He was often butting heads with the Pharisees for speaking against or acting outside of traditional Jewish law. Jesus, God among us, lived on earth and did not blindly accept and enforce the ways of the past. But instead thought of what could be, and worked bring God’s heavenly kingdom to this world.
Christians of all denominations are called to continue that work. That work does involve policing and maintaining notions of right and wrong. Again, where things get sticky is the ‘how’ bit. Fundamentalists often look to punish or shun those in the wrong. Progressives no doubt fall into this as well, but fundamentalists have more formal structures for these means. Instead, we need to draw people to right action by example and with compassion. This doesn’t mean watering down Christianity, or giving into modern times. If anything, it means we need to emulate Christ more. We need radical love. We need to be teachers. We need to act on faith and open our arms and hearts to those of us who stumble on the path or who are lost. It will not be easy, navigating the shadowy shades of gray. But with thoughtfulness, wisdom, and goodwill toward all human kind, we can get there.