Saturday, October 24, 2009

Reading And Believing In The Light Of History

When faithful people read the Bible, are they allowed to take into account the social and historical circumstances of the time (or times) it was written or edited when deciding which teachings still apply in our own time? The question of how literally we take the Bible has vast implications for the way people lead their lives and run their churches. For Christians, the roles and rights of women and gay and lesbian people are the two most pressing examples.

Theologians, Bible scholars, preachers, and even Presidents have been performing historical criticism since the 19th century, though it's still alien territory for many Christians and Jews. As is so often the case, younger people may be forcing the issue, according to a survey conducted by the Barna Group:
David Kinnaman, the Barna Group president who oversaw the research over multiple surveys between 2006 and 2009, said that Mosaics’ [readers aged 18-25] reliance on social networking and interpersonal relationships is an indication future generations will distance themselves further from the Bible if their societal interpretations are discounted.

“The central theme of young people’s approach to the Bible is skepticism,” Kinnaman said. “They question the Bible’s history as well as its relevance to their lives, leading many young people to reject the Bible as containing everything one needs to live a meaningful life. This mindset certainly has its challenges, but it also raises the possibility of using their skepticism as an entry point to teaching and exploring the content of the Bible in new ways.”

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