Talking With One Another

Column by Dr. Carl Krieg on 21 December 2023 0 Comments

The church must create places for dialog and it must do so before it is too late. This winter and next spring the various churches must organize discussions about who we are as the body politic and how we want to live.

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I have a friend who is Wisconsin Lutheran, and she is big on saying "the Bible says". What are some things to say to that besides that's your theology? Are there Bible scripture that support NOT telling people they need to be Christian?


Great question, Darlene!

And the quick and simple answer is this:

The Bible doesn’t say anything at all!

Because the people who wrote its books and letters had no idea that their words would be collected together into what we now call the Bible. Each of its many authors, or more likely each of the communities of people who composed its books, certainly had things to say. But it makes no sense to say that the Bible, as a whole, has a message, theme, punch-line, or clear doctrine. Among its books there are contradictory messages – and that should be no surprise, given the nature of the Bible as a collection of disparate writings produced over thousands of years.

Nor is there anything in the Bible that tells people they need to be Christian. To be sure, there are Christian scriptures in the Bible that exhort people to follow or believe in Christ. But what it meant to follow or believe in Christ in the biblical era is not the same as what it means to a lot of Christians today. The Christian religion as we know it did not exist in the era when the New Testament writings were produced. What we see in the New Testament is a loose movement of scattered communities struggling to develop a common theology and practice of the faith. If Christianity had been standardized already during the New Testament era, Paul’s letters to those churches would not have been written!

There’s a big difference between reading the books of the Bible from the viewpoints of the contexts within which they were written – and reading them from the viewpoints of the various Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant doctrinal systems that developed long afterward. If you read a New International Version of the Bible, with its insets explaining or illustrating the passages, you’re not reading the Bible in the historical contexts of its many authors. You’re reading a modern American evangelical Christian interpretation of the books of the Bible. Evangelicals have projected back into the text the meanings they ascribe to it. (And that’s why I read the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, without insets or interpretations, but with scholarly, non-doctrinal footnotes.)

Your Wisconsin Synod friend is wearing evangelical glasses when she reads the Bible. But those glasses are optional. Try on a different set! Put on the glasses of historical-critical exploration of scripture, and you’ll read a pretty different book of books. And you’ll be fascinated and inspired, as you peer through a window into the spirituality of the people who created the books that form the Bible.

~ Rev. Jim Burklo




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