Recently my attention was drawn to an analogy posted by Peter Enns on his rethinking biblical christianity site. The analogy, entitled “theology makes so much more sense when little bunnies show you the way,” is an artistic progression showing two rabbits a box cover with a picture of a duck and a pile of puzzle pieces. One rabbit, dedicated to the box cover, insists the puzzle is about a duck even after the other rabbit assembles the pieces and demonstrates there is no duck to be seen.
The analogy seems intended to describe the folly of not accepting reality when it contradicts philosophy. It would apply well to dedication to flat earth, chance universe, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. However, the objective seems to be to raise the popular notion of the Evangelical Christian’s un-intellectual dedication to the Scriptures in spite of growing evidence that they are out of step with reality. If this is the case I take issue with the analogy.
First, the box cover is a poor comparison to the Judaeo/Christian Scriptures. In fact, it is a poor comparison to alleged Truth statements of any religious or philosophical worldview. They are not pictures. They are propositional statements. In the case of the Bible, it is a propositional narrative. If Dr. Enns intends to demean interpretations of Scripture the analogy falls completely. There is no interpretation involved in the box cover. It is a duck and it does not correspond with the final picture of the assembled puzzle. The whole box is repudiated, not the rabbit’s interpretation of it.
Second, the pile of puzzle pieces is a poor comparison to the real world. For one thing the real world has not been even slightly “put together” by the philosophies of either man or bunny. Discoveries that the earth is spherical and part of a large solar system, galaxy and cosmos is not even close to putting the puzzle together in a way which repudiates the Bible. The philosophical quest to put the puzzle of reality together into a UNIverse has been so frustrated that some now propose we must be in a MULTIverse. The Scriptures explain the puzzle. They do not tell us it can be put together. The pile is the reality. In fact, philosophy does not see itself assembling anything. It sees us examining the cosmic picture and figuring out what it is as it is. The Scriptures declare there are pieces missing, alien pieces have been introduced, and real pieces have been mutilated. In so doing they present a very authentic view of what things look like all around us.
Third, the rabbits are poor representatives of observers of life. They agree with our unspoken self-image as objective students of life. However, the problem is, we are each part of the pile of pieces. We have varying ideas of how we think it should be adjusted and how we fit into it. It is this factor which gives us the difficulty of “interpretations” of the Scriptures. The issue is not that we do not understand the biblical teaching that adultery. It is that we don’t like that teaching, especially in light of the fact that adultery has always been a popular option in the human agenda. The person who wants to call himself a Christian and who still wants to find “comfort” in the Scripture, knows nice people who are adulterers and great leaders who committed adultery without repentance. Here, where the Bible and “contemporary” culture intersect, he believes he may reinterpret the Scripture in ways which will let him pound non-compatible pieces of the puzzle together or rip them apart. The scissors’ of the fifty-one percent poll and the hammer of the five-to-four court decision have scrunched many wrong things into the realm of “legality;” but the resulting “picture” is a work of abstract confusion. No duck is emerging, but Scripture does not tell us one will.
Fourth, the analogy ignores the elephant in the room. A favorite representation for many years has been the story of blind men describing an elephant. One feels the leg and says an elephant is like a tree trunk; one feels the tail and describes the elephant as being like a rope; etc. The problem is that there is a real elephant in the room and he is not like any of the descriptions; but the real elephant will not be known unless there is an authentic Truth source who can explain the creature to the blind men. If such a person steps forward, then the blind men are confronted with the need to adjust their thinking to what has been revealed, not adjust the Truth source to their perceptions.
In the case of Dr. Enns’ bunnies, the elephant in the room is the existence of the need for someone who can see the heap and tell the bunnies what they are looking at. It needs to be someone who can help them understand the paradox of clearly designed pieces in chaos. The reality of the heap as it is (not as we think it should be) is what must be confronted. Since the box cover does not help us, and since the puzzle is, in fact, in bad condition, the question becomes: “Is the originator of the puzzle around and has he spoken?” The Scriptures claim to be the answer to both those questions. They do not call on us to reinterpret their statements to fit the pieces. Rather, they insist we bring ourselves in line with what they reveal as we live among the pieces. How do we guide one another through a fallen heap and how do we reach out to each other when the pieces sometimes fall on us?
The problem with us Evangelicals is not our dedication to the Scripture. Neither is it essentially a matter of our interpretation of the Scriptures. It is our view of ourselves. We fancy ourselves to be theologians and biblicists, but we quickly cease to be anthropologists. (We are not unlike the philosophical scientist who fancies himself a realist and empiricist, but has rejected becoming a theologian.) It is this issue which Jesus addressed in his remarkable statement, “The children of the world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.” Because the philosophical scientist embraces materialism and chance alone, he is left with his material world alone. This means he must dedicate himself to looking for materialistic ways to resolve his spooky sense that there are things wrong and we need to find solutions. In doing so he has a good grasp of what is going on anthropologically. On the other hand, the Evangelical Christian becomes so devoted to the Scriptures or a particular doctrine thereof that he imagines himself equipped to speak to issues in the material world without needing to do any field work to find out what’s going on. He ceases to be a student of real-time life. If I want to know what’s happening to kids on the street I go to secular sources. I do not agree with many of their solutions, but I get a graphic picture of a street kid’s life. Before I read an Evangelical’s discussion of kids in the alleys, I want to know if he has done his field work so he can tell me more than his preconceived perception of “why” youth are corrupt and how the right kind of program can change that.
To change the analogy, like a well-read auto mechanic, the Evangelical Christian is in danger of bringing his interpretations of the textbook to the ping in the motor instead of investigating the ping itself so as to become more aware of what the textbook actually tells him about pings. Jesus, with the woman at the well, is a classic example of understanding the ping and relating it to the Truth source. The bible and life interface. We cannot deal with either without the other. My interaction with a homeless person helps me realize there is more to any one individual’s life than one simple paradigm. Homelessness can happen for many reasons: injustice, selfishness, laziness, physical conditions, brain disorders, etc. The Bible guides me in making distinctions. I may have coffee with a person who tells me his sexual activity outside marriage is not an issue in our culture and so he sees no problem with it. I am not free to adjust Scripture on the matter. Nor can I really give him the comfort of God’s love while he is dedicated to that premise. However, I can be alert to biblically revealed signs that he may be experience a Spirit-driven turn in his thinking. Once he hungers for peace with God on God’s terms the Scripture gives him answers to questions which have become important to him.
While I will be as quick as anyone to recognize problems in Evangelical thinking, the passion to bash the Evangelical community is becoming wearisome. If it can be said that Evangelicals are out of touch, it can also be said that Evangelical-critics are not necessarily in touch. I find the critical neighborhood not unlike the neighborhood they criticize. With more questions than answers, they immerse themselves in a cacophony of authoritative sources against authoritative sources, and they offer little more to struggling souls than their astute judgments of the judgmental. There will always be people who misuse the Scripture in their efforts to speak to culture; and there will always be people who suggest “other interpretations” and, in so doing, throw all interpretations except the personally satisfying ones out the window.
The boy of fifteen who embraced Jesus Christ by faith fifty-three years ago, has not yet found himself in a position of trying to say God calls something a duck when it is not.
Have I changed some of the ramifications of what I believed in the early years? Certainly. The more I have interacted with people the more I have appreciated the Judaeo/Christian Scriptures as the written Word of God. In so doing I can also appreciate the Holy Spirit as the One who can energize my imagination to grasp the spirit behind the letter so I can draw from God’s Word things old and new (to me).
I have walked with people suffering from schizophrenia, I have listened to people dealing with depression, fornication and a host of other dark rooms of the soul. I have heard the hearts of teenagers at significant forks in the road, I have interacted as a friend with men who picked the wrong fork and are now looking for a second chance. I have investigated my own conflicts between “my kingdom come” and “Your Kingdom come” in my life. In none of these things and many more have I been compelled to readjust the clear teaching of Scripture. However, I have adjusted some of my attitudes to conform to the attitudes revealed in the whole narrative and not just a few select texts which appeal to my temperament.