A peculiar cycle of suppressed knowledge about the Bible has been in play now for at least a century. The typical Christian is given to understand that the Bible is “God’s Word,” and therefore “true,” consistent, and the ultimate authority for belief structures and behavior. Meanwhile, back at mainstream seminaries, class after class of future pastors/priests learns otherwise: the Bible was written by multiple humans over a span of about a thousand years. Like humankind itself, the Bible is rife with errors (both historical and scientific), political and personal agendas, and widely varying ideas about God and morality.
However, when these newly trained religious leaders emerge from the halls of academia and enter the congregation, how often do they share this knowledge? Do they teach their congregants the tools of biblical criticism? Do they explore the insights and implications that follow? Answer: rarely, if ever. Why not? The reasons are multiple; no doubt some will occur to you: The information is complex; it requires time and study to grasp; pastors are overworked already; people do not want to hear new information that might rattle their already-worked-out-belief-structures; higher-ups in the churches might frown on pastors who lead their parishioners to question 2000 years of church dogma.
So, typical pastors shut up that knowledge in a separate brain compartment, and teach their flocks the “same old-same old” stuff that they themselves learned in Sunday School . . .
. . . and the cycle of “Seminary Secrets” continues.
What’s the cost of this ignorance? Ordinary Christians are blocked from informed conclusions about the Bible, God, Jesus, and church teachings. The original messages of biblical authors are often obscured, so that key insights into the text are totally missed. Some might also argue that the Churches’ decisions about what parishioners should be taught, vs. what they “really don’t need to know,” are egregiously paternalistic.
Since Sept. 18, 2013, 23 members of Union have been meeting Wednesday nights to learn about the scholarly approach and to explore questions like:
Is the Bible “true”? If so, always? Sometimes? What kind of truth are we talking about here? Historical? Scientific? Metaphorical? Moral?
How did the Bible come to be? Who wrote the biblical texts? When? Where? Why?
When someone claims that “the Bible says such and such” how does one intelligently evaluate that claim? For example, “The Bible Says . . .”
- homosexuality is a sin.
- God created the world in six days (so evolution is wrong).
- Jesus only chose male disciples (so women shouldn’t be church leaders).
- people who don’t believe in Jesus are going to hell.
- What if some parts of the Bible contradict or conflict with other parts?
- What if I disagree with some things that the Bible says?
- What do we really know about Jesus and the religion he lived and taught? Are the gospels totally accurate and consistent in this regard?
Class Leader: Julie Harder. Julie holds a master’s degree in theology (concentration in New Testament) from Wartburg Theological Seminary, and is on the faculty of the Religious Studies division at St. Norbert College, where she teaches biblical studies.
Future plans: The current class will run through May, 2014. Depending on the level of interest, it may be repeated the following year.