Sunday, November 15, 2009


Sunday Reflection: The Duality of Ministers

In writing my book, I had the wonderful help of many ministers and theologians at institutions outside of Baylor (and several at Baylor, whom I am not discussing here). I always made clear to them (as I did in the book itself) that I am neither a minister or a theologian, and that I have no formal religious training. Still, they were kind and helpful at every turn.

I came away with several observations, almost all of them positive about those whose vocation is faith. One thing I saw, however, was neither good or bad; I just see it as curious.

Most of the ministers and theologians I met are not literalists regarding the Bible-- that is, they did not think that every word of the Bible is inerrant and written by God. For example, several were critical of my use of John 8, because that passage has disputed authenticity-- most scholars think it was added to the Bible in or after the 4th century. In my discussions, these men and women were quite discerning in their analysis of the biblical texts, and I certainly acknowledge the superiority of their knowledge in this area relative to my own.

Still, when these same people would preach or write for a general audience, their sermons or articles invariably seemed to take the view of inerrancy and literalism. That is, they would read or quote a passage, and then discuss it as a historical fact. Rarely, if ever, did they acknowledge their own doubts or complexities about authenticity or interpretation. Again, as an example, if they talked to a general audience or congregation about John 8, they would address the substance of it, leaving aside the debate over its authenticity and inclusion in the canon.

The duality became clear to me-- they were questioners when talking to those they saw as peers, and functional literalists when they were in the pulpit. I certainly understand the need to take an audience into account, and I think this accounts for much of this reality. In fact, I would probably do the same as a preacher. Still... if this is true, are we hearing that person's truest thoughts? Should we?

The authenticity of a text as scripture within the context of a sermon meant to stir thought or action within the audience is tangential to its content. The same is not true of a text under analysis as a text.
Read a little short story by Miguel de Unamuno called "Saint Emmanuel the Good, Martyr" which places your question in a larger context. Enjoy the story. Next week we can talk about it.
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