Mapping our Bible reading

Gil Dueck

“Where, culturally, do we read the Bible in 2019?”

Gil Dueck, academic dean at Columbia Bible College, started the 2019 MB Equip Study Conference by asking this question in his session entitled “Reading the Bible with our phones (off).”

His question begs for a longer discussion and he proceeded to start it.

He suggested that modern-day Christians are as much products of the society in which they live as our Reformation predecessors, but unlike the Western world of the 16th century, which had a presupposed belief in the existence of God, most today have quite the opposite.

“It was not difficult to believe in God [back then], because everyone else did, [but] it’s been obvious for a while that we’re over it,” said Dueck.

Using the work of Canadian Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor, Dueck sketched a cultural map that he suggested every serious reader of the Bible should understand. From Taylor’s 2007 work, A Secular Age, Dueck unpacked the boundaries of this map, starting with the “immanent frame,” a metaphor that unveils the manner in which people in a given society construct their own reality by leaving out elements with which they are disenchanted (like a cruel and uncompassionate god), leaving only the elements that they find appealing or rational.

The other end of the map boundary is Taylor’s “Nova Effect,” a term he uses “to describe how secularism has produced this explosion of options for creating meaning in the immanent frame…because we can no longer look upward; we must look inward.”

A practical understanding of Taylor’s map is that individuals can (and do) create their own desirable view of reality. Since this mindset permeates all of culture, it offers even the devout Christian the temptation to interpret the Bible using a self-determined rose-coloured lens.

Dueck then mentioned two “pins” on the map. The first being an identity pin, representing how society will define their own identity based on parameters they determine.

However, he revealed a contradiction within this practice. On one hand, people strive to portray themselves only in a positive light, such as with selfies or social media profile creation. On the other hand, they allow others to tell them who they are and what they represent based on the parameters of race, gender, social status, religious preference, etc.

The second pin Dueck defined as secularized distraction, where the advances of social media, the Internet, and the reliance on mobile technology have greatly diminished people’s capacity to focus on anything for very long. “Our capacity for focusing is now measured in seconds or minutes instead of hours,” Dueck said. He called this “concentration drift.”

Both pins, then, erode the modern Christian’s ability to exegete the Bible effectively or accurately. The combined effect of a skewed understanding of identity and a lack of ability to focus on texts like the Bible make sound interpretation a near insurmountable task.

Dueck ended the discussion by offering some hope, imploring attenders to avoid the traps of distraction and identity creation. Offering a healthier understanding of identity, he closed with a passage from James 1:19, which starts “Dear brothers and sisters…be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

May we find ourselves reading in this spirit.

Scott Cyre
is the coordinator of the young adults ministry at College Drive Community Church, Lethbridge, Alta.

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