culture

Moral Relativism – Part 3

Michael Spencer and Scot McKnight have written important blogs on children who walk away from God. Spencer’s essay began, “A friend stopped in to ask me some questions about her 6th grade son’s sudden announcement that he no longer believed in God or Jesus.” Mariam (comment #4 at Jesus Creed) suggests, “…we have to let them explore and think things out for themselves, hoping that the foundation that we laid will be one which they will come back to when they have finished exploring.”  In Part 2 of this study, we looked at the fact that every moral system really is morally relative based on culture. Neo-Neocon has helped define moral relativism as “the idea that there is no absolute good and evil, but that all customs and practices of mankind must be evaluated in terms of their function in the society where they are found.” While such statement are unnerving to some Christians, the Bible really is a cultural book.

Perhaps the best way that we can help students is to help them understand how to interpret the Bible contextually and find ways to show how it is still relevant for our lives. An increasingly trite analogy that I grew up with was the idea that the Bible was a “drivers manual” or a “textbook for how to live.” The Bible really is not such a book. The bible is a book written to Jews of Israel, to Jews in Exile, to Jewish-Christians and Gentile-Christians in the first and second centuries, and compiled by early church theologians by the fourth and fifth centuries. If we understand the book was not written to us, we will take more seriously the contextual elements of the Bible.

Let us take an example for understanding. If we read “the enemy is like a prowling lion” in 1 Peter, we assume that this means the devil is out to get us by tempting us. There is, however, a larger metaphor of exile/suffering in 1 Peter. The lions in the first century were an instrument of death for Christian martyrs in the first century. Notice that in 1 Peter 5 is says “resist him [the lion/devil], and stand firm in the faith.” In other words, Peter is addressing the issue of apostasy and falling away from Christ. If one is faced with the tribunal and death approaches slowly, the Christian in 1 Peter is told to stand firm in the faith (die for the faith). We have surely come to a trite analogy, then, if we talk about temptation. This passage is about dying for the faith and standing strong in the midst of persecution.

If this is the theological trajectory of a passage, then we can teach this contextually to our students, but we must be able to translate such a message to the modern day. How do we stand firm in the faith in the modern day? What challenges or persecutions are taking place in America? How can we suffer for the sake of Christ? These are all questions that arise from a contextual reading of the passage.  Everything takes place in a context, and that context must be clearly interpreted as we attempt to understand morality and all other issues in regards to the Bible.

To help our students, as McKnight and Spencer are trying to do, I must simply know my bible well enough to teach all of these contextual elements.  We need to understand the world they lived in to the best of our ability through primary and secondary sources.  There is no substitute for this.

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