Unknown to many post-Reformation Christians, early centuries of Christianity—through authoritative teachers like Origen, Cyril of Alexandria, Augustine, and Gregory the Great—encouraged as many as seven “senses” of Scripture. The
- eschatological (the trajectory of history and growth), and
- “primordial” or archetypal (commonly agreed-upon symbolism)
levels of a text were often given serious weight among scholars. These levels were gradually picked up by the ordinary Christian through Sunday preaching (as is still true today) and presumed to be normative by those who heard them.
These different senses of Scripture were sometimes compared to our human senses of hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling, and touching, which are five distinct ways of knowing the same thing, but in very different “languages.” After both the Reformation and the Enlightenment, Western Europeans reduced our ways of knowing to one for all practical purposes—the supposedly rational/literal/historical. We have largely compacted and limited the Bible to this single sense for several centuries now, in both its Catholic and Protestant forms. Our bandwidth of spiritual access to the Bible was consequently severely narrowed, it seems to me—and as many would say—to the least spiritually helpful level. That something supposedly literally happened in one exact way, in one moment of time, does not, of itself, transfer the experience to now, me, or us. I believe that such transference is the transformative function of any spiritual text.
The narrow, rational/literal/historical approach largely creates an antiquarian society that prefers to look backward instead of forward. In my experience, it creates transactional religion much more than transformational spirituality. It idealizes individual conformity and group belonging over love, service, or actual change of heart.
Literalism was discredited from the beginning of the New Testament through the inclusion of four Gospel accounts of the same Jesus event, which differ in many ways. Which is the “inerrant” one?
The earlier centuries of Christianity were much closer to the trans-rational world of Jesus and his storytelling style of teaching (which does not lend itself to dogmatic or systematic theology). The Gospel says, “He would never speak to them except in parables” (Matthew 13:34). The indirect, metaphorical, symbolic language of a story or parable seems to be Jesus’ preferred way of teaching spiritual realities.
Almost all of Jesus’ parables begin with the same phrase: “The Reign of God is like. . . .” Jesus fully knows he is speaking in metaphor, simile, story, and symbol. But in recent centuries, many Christians have not granted him that freedom, and thus we miss or avoid many of his major messages. We are much the poorer for it.
.. a savvy political strategist who ruled through a combination of fear, folksy humor and a laserlike focus on protecting the idea of an inerrant Bible.
.. he was fired from his job as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for allegedly lying about and mishandling complaints of student rape.
.. Until a few weeks ago, he had been an icon in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, credited with keeping the movement from sliding into liberalism, in part by codifying traditional gender roles for men and women that included a ban on women in the pulpit.
.. The consolidation of conservative power between the late 1970s and early ’90s, known by its Southern Baptist supporters as “the Conservative Resurgence” and its critics as the “Conservative Takeover,
.. Son of a major Convention power broker in Texas, long the most powerful state in the movement
.. Patterson was a prolific preacher before he was 20.
.. He was the equivalent of a “Baptist crown prince,”
.. The takeover, which lasted over a decade, was no-holds-barred, with Patterson keeping files on ideological opponents and cultivating spies in seminaries
.. Patterson had been “likened to the Rev. Jim Jones and Joe McCarthy” by his critics
.. “He’s been reviled as a power-mad fundamentalist on a witch hunt for heretics.”
.. the effort was focused on protecting inerrancy
.. But it was also informed deeply by the rising American feminist movement and increased debate about abortion.
.. Until the 1980s, Southern Baptist women were still being ordained
.. Polls into the 1970s also showed the vast majority of Southern Baptist pastors supported some access to abortion.
.. Patterson and his wife, Dorothy, were like the king and queen of what the movement came to call “biblical manhood and womanhood.” Dorothy Patterson, who was highly educated, wrote books about femininity and the proper Christian woman.
.. “He loves and delights my soul, He protects and possesses my body, He teaches and edifies my spirit, He praises and challenges my mind. . . . He is friend and counselor, husband and lover, pastor and teacher, inspiration and ideal,” she wrote of her husband in the 1976 book “The Sensuous Woman Reborn.”
.. By the mid-1990s the seminaries and state conventions were largely purged of moderates and liberals.
Many women who were studying to be pastors or who taught classes that included male students were forced out or left.
.. he had a quality whose power Americans in 2018 can recognize: He was an elite who was able to come across like a common man. His supporters describe him as a “teddy bear” and a practical jokester.
.. “That resonated with those small church pastors and evangelists who felt the academics were looking down on them,” Finn said “He was very sensitive to the charge that conservatives were dummies.”
.. recorded comments surfaced of Patterson saying he counseled abused women to remain with their husbands and making remarks seen as objectifying a teenage girl and criticizing the physical appearance of female seminary students.
.. Trustee Board Chairman Kevin Ueckert, in a June 1 statement, alleged that a Southwestern female student reported to Patterson that she had been raped, and police were called.
.. Patterson emailed campus security — Ueckert said trustees saw that email — and “discussed meeting with the student alone so that he could ‘break her down.’ ”
.. In the weeks since these cases surfaced, many other women have described less dramatic experiences
.. Patterson told her he would treat it as a “he said-she said” until he spoke to the professor — who denied everything. That was the end of the process
.. Younger Southern Baptist leaders saw him as an embarrassment with his cowboy gear, big-game trophies and what they perceived as anachronistic comments.
.. They winced at his 2008 testimony in the case of a female theology professor he fired (for being female), in which he said the Bible indicates societies ruled by women are “wicked.” Or the way he brought the 1950s to the 2000s in his seminaries with female employees being told not to wear pants.
.. Unlike Patterson’s generation, younger leaders don’t hesitate to speak out strongly against abuse and overt sexism. But what does that mean for their views of the place of women in society and in the church?
.. said Patterson’s fall is clearly orchestrated by progressives in the denomination who want to challenge the conservative status quo. The timing just before the annual meeting is suspicious, he said.
.. “To me it’s quite obvious,” he said. “This is about the Bible being inerrant. Then if you can argue that the Bible has errors, then it opens doors up for all sorts of things that have been nontraditional.”
a recent gathering at the museum featuring speakers who intend to “transform nations” by “igniting a holy reformation in every sphere of society,”
.. “We wholeheartedly believe the Museum of the Bible represents an ‘Ark of the Covenant’ for our nation, bearing witness to his goodness,”
.. A typical museum might invite visitors to explore the multiple meanings of the Bible and the complex history of its reception in different cultures over time. But this museum is not the place for that kind of inquiry; you’re here to celebrate.
.. The museum is a safe space for Christian nationalists, and that is the key to understanding its political mission.
.. Its subtler task is to embed a certain set of assumptions in the landscape of the capital.
.. Mr. Drollinger believes that social welfare programs “have no basis in Scripture,” that Christians in government have an obligation to hire only Christians and that women should not be allowed to teach grown men.
.. He lays out his thinking in a 2013 book, “Rebuilding America: The Biblical Blueprint.”
.. The “institution of the state” is “an avenger of wrath,” he explains, and its “God-given responsibility” is “to moralize a fallen world through the use of force.”
.. participants in his groups, however, aren’t just anybody. They include Mike Pompeo, the director of the C.I.A.; Attorney General Jeff Sessions; Vice President Mike Pence; Betsy DeVos
.. the message that national unity can be achieved only through a religious “awakening” and allegiance to conservative Christianity.
.. to inspire confidence in the absolute authority and reliability of the Bible.”
.. When Steve Green, the museum’s founder and the president of the Hobby Lobby crafts chain, formed the museum’s parent organization in 2010, he informed the I.R.S.
.. the location of this museum was an act of symbolic and practical genius. If you’re going to build a Christian nation, this is where you start.