There are some things that I’m crystal clear on.
This is not one of them.
I’ve been reviewing the issues I don’t quite have worked out. I’ve been doing this because I’m interested in seeking out others’ counsel, and also because I want to lower the tenor of debate in some miniscule little way. It seems like we tend to get dug in to our perpsectives, and we pretend that our way of viewing things is perfect, and it doesn’t really accomplish much productive. I think Jesus calls us to be open in our weakness and with our weakness… But I digress.
An area I don’t have worked out: when is the bible meant to be interpreted literally and when is it meant to be taken figuratively or symbolically.
This doesn’t bother me as much as it might because I’m confident I’m not alone. I haven’t yet found a very thorough account of criteria for consistently determining how to apply scriptural truth.
There are people who have begun this. They can point out guidelines which sometimes help. But there’s nobody that I’ve found with anything close to an exhaustive account.
And most of us have fairly large lists of things we think are literal and things we think are symbolic. But it seems to me that we can’t generally explain how we came to this list.
It appears that we do a lot of question-begging. It seems like maybe we start with a set of beliefs and pick and choose which ones to interpret symbolically and which ones to interpret literally. The progressives generally take more flack for this, but it seems to me that this is undeserved. I think the progressives and conservatives tend to have different verses that they focus on taking literally. But I’m unconvinced that one camp is more conistent than the other.
Are there gray areas between literal and symbolic interpretation? Madeline L’Engle wrote about icons. Icons, for her, are symbols which participate in the thing they are symbolizing. I can almost (but not quite) get my brain around her meaning. It seems like it might be fruitful to pursue this line of reasoning.
Might God have intended different interpretations for different eras? I most definitely think so. Micah Tillman’s blog (see blogroll at right) had some interesting thoughts and links on this topic that helped me clarify this issue.
When I first ran through the topics that I’m wrestling with God over (about 3 blogs back) I had focused more on the topic of divine inspiration. As I explore where my beliefs are, it seems like I’m not to concerned with this issue. I’m clear that the bible is God-breathed. There’s a few abstractly interesting questions about it, but the real direct focus of my concern is interpretation.
Looking foreward to responses,