Saturday, April 17, 2010

We're in Big Trouble!

Alice C. Linsley

In a course I’ve been teaching on Women of the Bible students were asked to list the purposes of the Bible. Here is a compilation of the list:

• To communicate God’s message
• To understand the Ten Commandments
• To better understand our lives
• To better understand the mystery of God
• To give us faith in Jesus Christ
• To help us to live a good life
• To prepare us to enter Heaven
• To prepare us for death
• To understand the world
• To get a handle on Reality
• To comfort us in times of sorrow
• To provide guidance
• To aid evangelism
• To inspire
• To help us repent of our sins
• To explain where humans and life on Earth came from/started
• To tell us about our ancestors
• To tell us about Jesus’ ancestors

Many of the answers can be grouped under the heading moral guidance, but if the Bible’s purpose is moral guidance we would expect this aspect to be as obvious and precise as the great ethical teachings of the Vedas, or Buddhist teaching or Confucius’ writings.

Other answers reflect the belief that the Bible is an evangelistic tool to be used to save souls by calling people to repentance. This is a good use of the Bible, but such answers identify one use of the Bible as the Bible’s purpose. Was the Bible written for Christian evangelism? I think not. In fact, evangelistic use the Bible without a clear sense of its purpose confuses people.

It was interesting that some of the answers pose the Bible as an epistemological resource. I agree that the Bible helps us to understand the world, and I believe that the Bible presents a true view of reality, but I do not regard this as the Bible’s purpose, per se.

Some of these answers reflect what the students recognize as their teacher’s anthropological interest in origins and the ancestors of Jesus Christ. These are good answers, but not what I consider the purpose of the Bible. This surprised my students! They were sure that they were giving me the answers I wanted to hear.

Based on extensive study, I believe that the purpose of the Bible is to record what those who wrote the Bible considered important. This purpose never makes the list because Americans don’t value what people of the ancient world considered important.  We are despisers of tradition and most consider ancient wisdom irrelevant. We believe that we are the most knowledgeable people, living in the most enlightened age, when in fact we are babblers who chase after entertainment rather than enlightenment.

If I am correct about this, we are in big trouble! For as Cicero said: To know nothing of what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child. The Apostle Paul says the same, urging believers to grow up through apprehension of the Holy Tradition concerning the Son of God. It matters that Abraham’s people lived in expectation of the appearing of the Son of God and that they knew God's purpose in His coming. It means that we have not invented Christianity. It means that, when our dogmatic quarrels take us off course, we can find the way by attending to this Holy Tradition.


Anonymous said...

Ms. Linsley,

Exactly. How do you communicate "wisdom of the ages" in a culture where the tradition is anti-tradition?

Alice C. Linsley said...

Exactly the question we should be asking!

Before we can effectively communicate Holy Tradition, we must know what it is. We must be prepared to show that our Faith originates with the promise made in Gen. 3:15 which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, about whom the Creeds speak truth. And we must be very humble in communicating the Tradition since we are speaking of something holy. We also must be selective about who we share it with, since we are not to cast pearls before swine.

Ross said...

Some, but not all Australians are despisers of tradition. I think we're mistrusting of authority, which partially stems from our country's origins as a penal settlement. Because of injustices perpetrated upon indigenous people, we're also made to feel that our past is something to be ashamed of, which is expressed in the way history is taught in our schools. This is to say nothing of most of the mainstream media, which tries to condition us to be "forward thinking" and "progressive." In short, I think despising tradition is endemic in Western culture.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Ross, I noted that when I was in Australia last year. Though there may be a more traditional outlook in Melbourne, which is where I stayed.

And Australia has the Red Ochre Men who represent a very ancient tradition indeed.