Why English majors make lousy fundamentalists

Why English majors make lousy fundamentalists March 3, 2014

I think that the reason many Christians can’t understand each other, particularly with regard to how we read the Bible, may end up boiling down to different personality types. I am an INFP, according to the Myers-Briggs system. I would tend to call it the personality type of a poet, or an English major, or perhaps a romantic. According to the Internet, people like me “do not like to deal with hard facts and logic” and we “don’t understand or believe in the validity of impersonal judgment.” I think that’s reasonably accurate. But the important thing to understand is that English majors don’t hate truth; what we hate is when people make truth look ugly and stupid (i.e. what an ESTJ probably calls “hard facts and logic”). So I thought I would list some instincts that English majors bring to reading the Bible that make the fundamentalists gnash their teeth at us.

1) Unsubtle communication is bad writing

The measure of how good a writer you are is the degree to which you are able to communicate with subtlety. If I know how a sentence is going to end before I’ve gotten there, then it’s a crappy, uncreative sentence. To be unsubtle and completely straightforward is to be a bad writer. An English major assumes that the way to get people to do things is not to give them pristine clear commands to follow, but to tell a story that moves their hearts and sways them to respond the way that you’re hoping they will. As an English major, I need for God to be an infinitely better poet than I am, which means that I’m going to be averse to any approach to interpreting the Bible that camps out at a sixth grade level of reading comprehension and assumes God to be straightforward and perfectly clear when he seems to do a far better job of inspiring people with a little subtlety.

2) Narrators are supposed to have agendas

Stories in which you can completely trust the narrator and/or the protagonist are uninteresting and unrealistic. In so many Joyce Carol Oates novels that I’ve read, the narrator has issues that slant how the story is told and thus become a part of the story themselves. So as an English major, when I read the gospel of Luke, I’m going to be tuned into the way that Luke has crafted his story of Jesus as a narrator. How is Luke’s agenda different than Matthew’s when he tells the same stories but puts different words into Jesus’ mouth? What can we speculate about the community that Luke is writing for that differs from the community Matthew is writing for? For fundamentalists, it’s a scandalous betrayal of the text to say that the gospel writers had any kind of agenda other than dispassionately dictating whatever the proverbial angel whispered in their ears for them to copy down. For an English major, that’s just dull writing.

3) It’s all about the metaphors

To an English major, what makes a piece of writing rich and poetic are the metaphors it employs. Metaphors are scary things to fundamentalists because they seem like a ploy to undermine the Bible’s authority. To make Genesis 1 literal isn’t just a problem for me because of its contradiction of modern science. It’s a problem because there are so many cool things that the firmament, the waters above, and waters below could stand for metaphorically if they don’t have to be literal scientific facts (take a look at what Augustine does with them in his books 11-13 of his Confessions). When the Bible is “nothing but the facts,” then it’s been robbed of a critically important layer of its beauty. The early church fathers had a very different interpretation of 2 Timothy 3:16 than we do today. When they read that “all scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching,” they took that to mean that every detail was pregnant with metaphorical content; nothing was mere historical backdrop. For example, Augustine interpreted the six jars of water that Jesus turned into wine in John 2:6 as the six ages of the world.

4) We make analogies

This overlaps somewhat with #3. When you’re an English major, you’re always making analogies between different books that you’ve read. For instance, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov is about the three brothers Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha, while Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina likewise includes three brothers Konstantin, Nicolai, and Sergius. So every time I read a story about three siblings, I always have these two great Russian novels in the back of my mind. In reading the Bible, I instinctively look for elements that might be analogies. In the New Testament, there are three major controversies that become important analogies for me in Biblical interpretation: Jesus’ Sabbath healing, the circumcision of the Gentiles, and eating ceremonially unclean foods. For fundamentalist Bible readers, these controversies are isolated incidents that have no bearing on how the church should handle analogous problems today. But an English major like me is going to draw an analogy between how these three issues were handled by Jesus and Paul and how the church should handle issues today including today’s controversy of all controversies, which I’m sure I don’t have to name.

5) We expect characters to be complicated

English majors have read lots of novels. What makes a novel elegant is how it develops its characters. Good literary characters are never purely good guys or bad guys. They are always complicated. So when I read the Bible and I see a character like Abraham, I see a complicated figure, not the model of perfect faithfulness, no matter what Paul and the author of Hebrews say about him. Abraham pimped out his wife twice to avoid getting killed. He refused to stand up to Sarah when she bullied Hagar and Ishmael. He was ready to murder his son Isaac, because a voice in his head that said it was God told him to do so. Because I’m an English major, I talk back to Abraham and every other character in the Bible, including Mr. Infallibility himself, the apostle Paul. When I read Paul’s letters, I hear his humanity come out. Sometimes I sympathize with him; sometimes I don’t. While I appreciate Paul’s zeal and his deeper vision, I’m not sure I would do everything he told me to do if I were alive then because he can really be an arrogant jerk sometimes. A fundamentalist doesn’t recognize Paul to have a character as such because Paul is simply a mouthpiece of God.

6) Poetry trumps grammar and history

The default fundamentalist way of interpreting the Bible is grammatical-historical. What matters to the fundamentalists is how the words in the Bible were used in the time-period when they were written. That’s the only meaning they are allowed to have. In contrast, an English major notices all the interesting poetic quirks about the words, which are allowed to influence their meanings. So for instance,the fact that the Greek word for church, ekklesia, is the word used in the Septuagint for Hebrew religious gatherings and the word used in pagan society for public political assemblies doesn’t make its meaning reducible to “religious gathering” for me. When I see ekklesia, I see a compound noun combining ek (out) and klesia (calling). So ekklesia to me will always be about God’s calling us out of the world and into a new reality instead of being merely a “religious gathering,” because I see the word with a poet’s eyes.

7) Every text has multiple voices

When you study novels in college, you’re trained that it’s a fallacious enterprise to try to determine the author’s single, unequivocal “intended meaning” for a text. What’s more interesting are all the rebellious dissenting voices within a text. I will never forget getting into a fierce debate in class over the Brothers Karamazov. There’s a character named Smerdyakov, the illegitimate son of Fyodor Karamazov, whom the narrator describes with pure contempt. It seems like the author Dostoevsky really wants for the reader to hate Smerdyakov, but he’s so nasty to him that the text rebels against its author and quivers with outrage at Smerdyakov’s treatment. I see the Old Testament quiver in a similar way when God strikes Uzzah dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant in 2 Samuel 6. Since God is a much more complicated, brilliant author than any of us could be, it’s hard for me to believe that God doesn’t anticipate the sympathy that readers will show for the declared “bad guys” in his text and that this sympathy isn’t part of his calculated purpose in telling the story the way he does. To respond to the Bible without a heart seems like a greater crime against God’s purpose than to protest whenever the Bible shows God doing something that doesn’t jibe with Jesus’ character. How do we know that God isn’t baiting us into protest? Does God really have to be as unsophisticated as his most simple-minded readers? I happen to think that he’s a real trickster just like Jesus is when he refuses to answer any question in a straightforward way.


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  • Rev David Huber

    Beautifully written! I agree wholeheartedly.

  • Jacob Lupfer

    This is great. Reminds me of a thought I had last fall before reading Brian McLaren’s 2011 book. I had never read one of his books before and had basically always poo-pooed emergence out of what I believed was a loyalty to my Mainline clergy friends. I didn’t want to support something that was going to hasten their irrelevance. Anyway, I’d heard McLaren’s name off and on for a decade and finally sat down to read one of his books. When he stated early on that he had little or no seminary training, I almost put the book down. “What is this guy going to say that I haven’t thought about before?” Heh, well let me tell you… I was blown away. I seem to recall him saying he was an English major in college or grad school. Rarely have I ever read such fresh or exciting interpretations of the Bible — even from elite theologians. So yeah. English majors.

    • Wayne Cook

      Jacob, my dear friend, come to the dark side. LOL I know at least one of your Mainline Clergy Friends who sees the importance of change and adaptation in the church and I find it in many places including emergence. I love McLaren’s work and take every opportunity I can to hear him speak.

      • Jacob Lupfer

        Wait a second… Are you *the* Wayne Cook that I know?

        • Wayne Cook

          Is there really another one who would be so point blank and bold. I hope you’re doing well.

          • Jacob Lupfer

            Very well sir. I’m writing a political science dissertation on religious elites in American politics. My bride and I have a 22-month-old daughter. Wondered where you landed after Trinity. Hope all is well. My best wishes to your family. -j-

    • MorganGuyton

      Yeah the English major is all about interpretation. That’s all that we do in class. So it’s fresh and exciting (but I suspect others would say that it’s not always accurate).

  • Wayne Cook

    While I was not an English Major, I find this fits me well. I was a Business Major who hated it, too many hard facts I suppose. I love the article and wonder how it can apply in the church to help us understand each other better.

    • MorganGuyton

      Yeah I think it’s just important to recognize that we’re wired differently and to keep that in mind when we’re communicating.

    • MorganGuyton

      Yeah I think it’s just important to recognize that we’re wired differently and to keep that in mind when we’re communicating.

  • Deborah Evans

    Well that really helped me understand the fundamentalist mindset quite a bit more, Morgan. I had never thought about it like that! I’ve had so many questions while reading the Bible. Through the years I’ve also noticed that I did not usually arrive at the same conclusion as the others in my bible study groups. Guess I should have been an English major. Lol. I have never understood how people could just sweep over difficult passages that seemed to contradict other passages or how they could just close their minds to science. Your explanation here has helped me realize the reason and has helped restore my love for my fundamentalist brethren. Thank you! I treasure your blogposts, Morgan!

    • MorganGuyton

      Good. I think it helps to recognize that we’re wired differently. In doing premarital counseling, one of the most helpful things I’ve used is the Myers-Briggs test. We should put it on our name-tags. If I know somebody is an ESTJ, I’m going to be able to anticipate what’s going to annoy them about my INFP tendencies.

  • John Meunier

    Maybe I’ve read more bad student writing than you have, but I can think of a lot of things worse than a sentence that allows me to predict its ending (your first point). Indeed, I would argue that good writing often is good precisely because the ends of the sentences seem to be the perfect outcome of the beginnings.

    I find I rather like the places where God is not subtle at all. For instance, last Sunday we read the Transfiguration where God says: “This is my son. The one I love. Listen to him!” The NIV puts the exclamation point in there. Short predictable sentences. Quite powerful to my mind.

    And, yes, I am an English major and an INFP.

    • MorganGuyton

      Who’s your favorite poet?

      • John Meunier

        No single favorite. List of some I’ve read and enjoy reading: Robert Bly, Pablo Neruda, Billy Collins, WB Yeats, Machado, I bunch of biblical writers whose names I don’t have. There are others who don’t come to mind at the moment.

        • MorganGuyton

          What I love about you John is that you always add nuance to my theories about the world. That’s very English major-y of you.

  • BrotherRog

    Outstanding article Morgan. Very thought provoking. One thing to remind folks about is that the words are all in capital letters and there aren’t any punctuation marks, or even chapters and verses, in the Hebrew or Greek manuscripts of the Bible. The Bibles we read in English – have a high degree of arbitrary going on.

    On a related note, google “16 Ways progressive Christians interpret the Bible”

    – Roger Wolsey
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogerwolsey/2014/01/16-ways-progressive-christians-interpret-the-bible/

    • MorganGuyton

      Thanks Roger. That was definitely one of my favorite posts of yours.

  • HappyCat

    Well done – this post gave me such a big smile. I’m not an English major, but I would’ve been if I finished college. I cackled reading this, seeing myself and my thoughts expressed so clearly. It made my day so much, I could hug you. 🙂

  • Brian Meyer

    Totally agree. Or read the bible like a carpenter, like a shepherd, like a jewish rabbi, like a lawyer, like an artist, like a pastor, like a rebel, or even like a committee. There is a flawed thinking where everyone is like us, interprets things like us, and that anything is different and needs to be defended against. Some are introverts, some extroverts, some create, some sing, some want to eat, some talk. I’m still trying to figure out why we need to defend god, shouldn’t we be defending the sick, the poor, the helpless instead? If some “immoral” group takes over, shouldn’t we let them, what better way to reach them than letting them take over? If the devil himself came to visit, should we not feed him, provide him shelter, and be kind to him? Yet all I see is those trying to defeat evil by fighting it, as they follow the prince of peace, yet think life is an action movie.

    • MorganGuyton

      “I’m still trying to figure out why we need to defend god, shouldn’t we be defending the sick, the poor, the helpless instead?” Amen to that!

      • Danielle

        The point isn’t to defend God because He can’t defend Himself. Of course He can defend Himself. The point of defending God and His Word is for the sake of helping people to understand God and be brought to salvation. It’s not to win an argument with someone either. Defending the sick, the poor and the helpless is good, but one’s spiritual heath, wealth, and strength is infinitely more important than their physical well-being. The most important thing to occur during this lifetime is for sinners to be reunited with God. All else comes after in importance.

        • MorganGuyton

          Right and I think that recognizing that people read the Bible differently helps those of us who are wired with right brains and poetic sensibilities not to say forget Christianity because we don’t read the Bible like the left brained analytical types.

        • srk47

          What did the Good Samaritan do when he came across a roadside victim? Did he preach to him that God loves him? Did he remind the poor guy that he was a sinner? Did he first find out if the bleeding man had “proper” religious beliefs and was therefore worthy of being “saved”? Hell, no! He did proper triage, eh? And then made sure he would be taken care of. A starving person does not need platitudes. He needs some bread. Any bread.

  • Johannes Richter

    Point 7 puts a whole new spin on Romans 1, doesn’t it?

    • MorganGuyton

      Hmm… maybe so. Of course I’m sure you recognize that what I’m doing here is descriptive, not prescriptive. The fact that we look for the rebel perspectives in the text has both its advantages and disadvantages.

  • Sarah

    Love love love love. Thank you for writing what I’ve been thinking, but so much more succinctly and beautifully than I could have done!

  • marklo

    Re Gen 1, God’s word isn’t intended to be your playground for your private interpretation of metaphors. If Gen 1 is metaphorical, the passages on the life of Christ, the cross & resurrection are prob metaphorical. Congrats, you’ve just deconstructed the Christian faith. We got to submit to authority of Scripture. Only then can we appreciate its beauty. Best, from an ISFJ.

    • MorganGuyton

      Actually Paul does use the cross and resurrection as metaphors in a lot of places. That’s the primary way that he uses them. When he says, “I have been crucified together with Christ,” how is that not a metaphor? To use something as a metaphor does not mean that you’re not “submitting” to the authority of scripture.

      • Michael Coon

        Jesus himself, if the Gospels are to be considered at all, taught strictly by midrash, or metaphor! They weren’t literal truths, but examples consider and to live by.

    • Eric Boersma

      If Gen 1 is metaphorical, the passages on the life of Christ, the cross & resurrection are prob metaphorical.

      Simply saying this doesn’t make it true. There are lots of similarities between Genesis 1 and the Gospels, but many dissimilarities that could make what you’ve stated untrue. Can you think of any?

    • summers-lad

      This reminds me of when a former Bishop of Durham got into hot water (metaphorically) for saying that the resurrection was “not just a conjuring trick with bones”. Although he did seem to have doubts about the historical resurrection, I think he was absolutely right in saying that the significance of it is not just the fact of Jesus having been raised, but that it is full of meaning for us. Metaphor contained in fact, I would say. Or as C S Lewis put it, a myth that really happened.

      • MorganGuyton

        I’m just glad that someone attacked me for saying there were metaphors in the Bible so nobody could play the straw man card on that one.

    • James Walker

      Where on earth do you get the idea that “Scripture” has any authority?

  • OffCenter Larry

    “Different THAN”? You meant “different from”. Some Major you are!

    • MorganGuyton

      Zing! You got me. That’s a grammar rule that I’m unfamiliar with. And yes I just used a dangling preposition to end my sentence with.

  • Julie

    Before I say this…I am an English major…so sue me. But a story is a story and a poem is a poem. They are not prescriptive and one assumes God, being God, could have managed a neat and comprehensive list of rules had he wanted to, with every detail in place, for every occasion in which any person might happen to find him/herself.

    I know we are all different “types” but that doesn’t mean a story isn’t a story, a complicated thing with a million angles, seen and interpreted by complicated beings with as many angles themselves. If it’s a story, then I don’t care how much you “like” uncomplicated “facts”, it will require interpretation and thought and context. Stories are complicated because life is complicated and it’s hard being a human because life is complicated, but that’s no excuse camper…buck up. We need to turn stories into a series of rules or a formula which results in a specific moral because life is dizzyingly and brilliantly difficult. I would prefer life to be somewhat less complicated myself. This longing has yet to reduce the universe to anything which bends to my understanding.

    For some very strange reason that reminds me of a quote by Eeyore ” We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s
    all there is to it,”

    But that doesn’t necessarily mean we shouldn’t.

    • MorganGuyton

      Preach!

  • Erin Smallwood Wathen

    This. Is. Fantastic. I can’t tell you how many of my sermons start with “pardon the English major moment, but…” Now I know why. Thanks!

  • Dawn

    “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3:16.

    Proverbs 30:5-6 “Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.”

    2 Peter 1:20-21 “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

    • MorganGuyton

      Yes, these verses are in the Bible. And I don’t think they discredit what I’m saying which is really not about making any kind of argument so much as noticing that people who are wired a certain way read the Bible a certain way.

  • Joe

    I feel as though some of these points are true for musicians as well; our training in interpreting instrumental (wordless) music preps us for less obvious/literal interpretations of Scripture

    • MorganGuyton

      Yes, because you have to try to get the feel and logic for the piece instead of just reading notes off a page.

  • William Russell

    To be forthright, I’m an historian of Christianity.
    Modern Fundamentalism, particularly of the Evangelical variety is only about 50 years old. It’s precepts had precedents in earlier generations of course, but it’s way of viewing the world is a very modern one.

    In a sense, it’s a very individualistic religion (sinner’s prayer must be said by each individual, very little care for others other than to get them to say the sinner’s prayer, and being generally hostile to denominationalism). They are also accepting although often begrudgingly of the post-modern breakdown of the meta-narrative. So in a rather convoluted way, they’ve tried to reconstruct a master narrative for all, as a very personal individualistic and experiential truth. In order to do this, they’ve had to construct a magically explanation of the Bible, from outside the Bible, while completely ignoring that this is all they have done.

    You can see it below. You take a couple of passages, completely ignore context, declare them absolute truth. and use those to declare the rest magically put together word for word, in English (that way we can ignore translation issues, genre, poetry, author, and all the other things that make reading and writing interesting and complex).

    The reality is the biggest error of the modern Fundamentalists is one of genre. Claim the Bible is its own special genre (Words of God), use that 2nd Timothy passage as a proof text to your claim, and bam, you’ve successfully created the heresy of the radical individualistic ultra conservative Evangelical. No need for any scholars, when any 3rd grader can read the text plainly. Also ignore that we have to teach every single person the exact correct way to interpret each text, less they fall victim to that darn magic again (this time the magic of Satan), that let’s us read it wrong. But this isn’t interpretation at all, it’s indoctrination being passed off as a superior way of reading. And worse, it’s claim to “plain text” as an interpretive methodology, makes it appear to the less sophisticated as if there is no interpretive methodology or better, and interpretive community that is guiding the evangelical to the “correct” reading of each text.

    • MorganGuyton

      Yup.

  • summers-lad

    “How do we know that God isn’t baiting us into protest?” Great question! I have long loved Exodus 32 as a powerful example of that. In it I see God and Moses swopping places: God is angry and wants to destroy the people, whereas Moses quotes God’s promises back to him so that “the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people” (v14). Sadly, once back down the mountain, Moses’ rage is unrestrained.
    But I had never thought of that applying to the verses you have quoted. I’ll reflect on that.

    • MorganGuyton

      Ah good example!

  • billy

    What a bunch of pretentious drivel.

    • MorganGuyton

      My favorite trolls are the articulate ones.

  • James Walker

    I’ve often thought while re-reading the Old Testament that there’s a back-story we’re missing of YHVH, the Divine Trickster. Just look at how frequently the patriarchs are rewarded for pulling the wool over someone’s eyes!

    • MorganGuyton

      Yeah the problem is when YHWH gets covered over by Theos.

  • Danielle

    The gospel is given in four versions, which portray Jesus in different ways, and to see Him from different perspectives. The Bible is full of different forms of writing. The fact that it all came from God as the source through the prophets doesn’t make the writing dull. It just shows that God is not limited in His writing, and that He communicates the myriads of messages creatively. God has His own agendas. His character is more than sufficiently dynamic without having to wonder about whether or not He should be trusted.

    • MorganGuyton

      You seem to be saying that as though I would disagree with it.

      • Danielle

        I just meant that God is the narrator more so than Luke or the other prophets. I think it’s problematic to say that Luke, or anyone else, was “putting words into Jesus’ mouth.” Although you may not have meant it that way. I apologize for any misunderstanding.

        How
        is Luke’s agenda different than Matthew’s when he tells the same
        stories but puts different words into Jesus’ mouth? – See more at:
        http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice/2014/03/03/why-english-majors-make-lousy-fundamentalists/#sthash.DZvXe22g.dpuf
        How
        is Luke’s agenda different than Matthew’s when he tells the same
        stories but puts different words into Jesus’ mouth? – See more at:
        http://www.patheos.com/blogs/mercynotsacrifice/2014/03/03/why-english-majors-make-lousy-fundamentalists/#sthash.DZvXe22g.dpufI apologize if I misunderstood what you were saying there. My point wasn’t to pick a fight.

        • Danielle

          Oops, that pasted weird.

          • MorganGuyton

            It’s all good. I think what I would say is that Luke and Matthew had a conscious agenda and the Holy Spirit used their agendas to accomplish God’s purpose. I think that’s not too different from what you’re saying. There are a lot of cases where Luke and Matthew have Jesus saying almost exactly the same thing (e.g. “Blessed are the poor” vs. “Blessed are the poor in spirit”). When we’re obsessed with saying “it has to be 100% historically accurate,” then we can tie ourselves in all kinds of knots. It doesn’t matter which was a direct quote from Jesus and which was a doctored quote; the Holy Spirit saw fit to use both. The most important affirmation to make is that God is the editor and this is what He gave us. I don’t have to make God into a deus ex machina who makes the sun stand still in the sky magically for three days in Joshua without the Earth leaving its planetary path and crashing into the sun. I can just say that even though that passage in Joshua is biologically implausible, God has some kind of purpose for sharing this story that is “God breathed and useful” and it’s my challenge to figure out how my love of neighbor and God can be increased by reading it.

  • chipmacgregor

    Love this. As a former English major who happens to be a Christian but is NOT an evangelical or fundamentalist, I found it brilliant. Thanks very much!

    • MorganGuyton

      Thanks. Glad you liked it. Heard a lot about you from Matthew Paul Turner. Good to connect!

  • Kenny Pierce

    Ditto to the “love this” sentiment. I’m an INFJ (about are rare as your type). Nuance and multiplicity of meaning is innate in how everything is manifested to me.

    I also majored in English and Music as an undergrad. I was always fascinated by texture and patterns. Joyce, Faulkner in particular, and the confessional poets in literature, Fauré, Debussy, Bartok and Duruflé in music.

    Hand me Job, the Gospel of John, and Revelation and I’m in a sort of Wonderland of pictures in my mind. Judges and Kings, not so much so.

    Again, a great post.

    • MorganGuyton

      Exactly. I’m all about the poetry in scripture.

  • Hans-Georg Lundahl
    • MorganGuyton

      Thanks for the engagement.

      • Hans-Georg Lundahl

        If this blog is powered by WordPress, you are quite free to comment under mine powered by blogspot.

        It is called OpenID.

  • Chris Logic

    This is a great post; I’ve already referenced it in multiple conversations! I especially liked point #7, and I have something to add to it.
    Have you ever noticed that Titus 1:12 has a version of the Liar’s paradox? It reads: “One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.'” According to logic this statement cannot be true, on pain of contradiction. However, the next line reads: “This saying is true.” (Titus 1:13). Ha!
    As a logic prof who loves paradoxes, this little Easter egg has brought me no small amount of amusement … and curiosity about why this clever contradiction is actually in the Bible!
    It’s possible that he’s telling a joke, but based upon the surrounding language (and Paul’s apparent personality) it does not appear that he is in a joking mood.
    Do you have any fun thoughts on this one?

    • MorganGuyton

      I think Paul’s just being a general curmudgeon there. But that’s awesome about the liar’s paradox. Had never noticed that.

  • Lianne Simon

    Morgan, at times you sound more like INFJ. One of the main distinctions between Judging and Perceiving is that ‘J’ likes to order the world around them, while ‘P’ adapts to the world around them. Both ‘J’ and ‘P’ view Scripture through the lens of their preconceptions. The difficulty is in letting Scripture and the Holy Spirit reshape our lens, our heart, and our mind.

    I’m surprised you didn’t deal more with fiction vs non-fiction, and how truth is conveyed in fiction. If you are a strong ‘N’ (rather than ‘S’), you’re more interested in what could be than in what is. That colors your lens as well. Does it make you more likely to see and appreciate analogies and metaphors? And less likely to appreciate the historical in the same passages?

    ‘F’ can predispose one to judging Scripture based on whether something feels right, rather than whether something is well understood. Thinking is as fallen as Feeling. Isn’t this why we pray for the Spirit’s enlightenment before reading the Bible?

    We Introverts may make decent writers, but the blogging, public speaking, and marketing that you need in order to build the readership you want, might be easier were you an Extrovert. The answer, I think is that drawing strength from being alone or drawing strength from being with other people isn’t the real issue. Our joy and our strength come only from our God and Savior.

    I’m also mindful that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and have much more variety than the sixteen Myers-Briggs categories.

    Kind regards,
    LS (INFP)

    • MorganGuyton

      I may be a narcissist who orders the world around myself, but I’m definitely a P because I suck at structure and planning. I’m all about poetry and not so big on historicity. If I had to pick between the three virtues of truth, beauty, and goodness, I would probably pick beauty.

      • Lianne Simon

        J’s suck at planning, they just get upset when things don’t follow their plans. I think I’d go with truth, but by that I mean חסד. 🙂

        • MorganGuyton

          Chesed is definitely my truth. I would be lost otherwise.

  • MammaBear

    I learned this from studying Soviet literature, not English, but I think it applies: Books written by committee and subject to repeated bouts of editorial approval for ideological purity tend to be difficult texts to read, much less understand.

    • MorganGuyton

      Yes indeed! Our ordination process is filled with documents like that.

  • Whatsupwiththat

    Try using the “I will interpet what is said however the Hell I want” method on your spouse and see where you end up. Many beautiful and brave applications of God’s Word but one interpretation.

  • Matt Bays

    this right here caused me to let out a large and fulfilling exhale. everything really is going to be okay.
    mattbayswriter.com

    • MorganGuyton

      Nice!

  • Thank you for this, Morgan. As a former English major, writer and ENFP, I really resonated with this.

  • Trevor Morgan

    This is excellent! As a physicist and software engineer I’m at the opposite end of the academic spectrum from you English majors, so I found this very insightful.

    I did love both Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamizov, though, although I hadn’t thought about the parallels between the two sets of three brothers until you mentioned it.

    • MorganGuyton

      Good. Glad it was helpful!

    • MorganGuyton

      Good stuff.

  • James

    Brilliant. And as an INFP university chaplain often struggling to see eye-to-eye with my fundamentalist students, I feel liberated and vindicated!

  • Skip Jackson

    You might have a slightly different take on Paul in light of Marcus Borg’s “Evolution of the Word,” which looks at the New Testament books in the order they were written. First, the radicalism of Paul’s writing comes out relative to the accommodations made by later (pseudo)-Pauline letters to cultural norms. Then, as Borg notes, it is important to remember that Paul was writing to particular communities to stay in touch with them and to deal with particular issues that had arisen during his absences, not to set absolute rules for all communities. And also, the gospels then are more readily seen as products that developed within communities (of “called out people”), with the narrator remembering stories about Jesus and retelling them in ways that would be relevant to the community’s particular context.

    • MorganGuyton

      I definitely think it’s important to remember that they’re letters that had specific applications.

  • Christian Vagabond

    Good post. For what it’s worth, the writers of each Gospel do have very specific narrative goals. Mark was written for commoner who might have a limited vocabulary ( he uses very few words to describe events and repeats terms frequently, when a better writer would have chosen synonyms).

    Matthew is written for educated Jews, with the spermicide goal of selling them on the idea that Jesus fulfills OT prophecy. Some also believe that Matthew tried to correct errors in Mark.

    Luke is written for the literate and wealthy class. That’s why Luke reads so much smoother than the other Gospels.

    John is written for Gentiles.

    • MorganGuyton

      Makes a lot of sense. I agree.

  • William

    Don’t take this as criticism, but merely a slightly dissenting voice:
    1. Sometimes we want ambiguity in a text because we need it. Straightforward sentences aren’t boring writing – sometimes they’re needed. Not everyone is a sophisticated reader. Some people need someone to tell them the truth in as simple a way as possible. There’s a reason certain boxes say “This end up” in large bold letters. There are times when God speaks vividly, and times when He allows us to make up our minds. But being fallen creatures, we do (more often than not, I’d argue) need a loud voice that gives the unvarnished truth, painful though it may be. We perceive ambiguity occasionally because simply accepting the text is too hard, and too painful.
    2. English majors also have a hard time with conflicting interpretations. Anyone who’s been in a classroom knows that there are those people on the side of the room who flock to one voice that says Henry V is a warmonger, and the other side that flocks to the guy who says Henry V is the ideal scholar/warrior. Each side feels their side is right, and because it’s literature, both can be. But if Shakespeare was suddenly alive and omnipotent, he might loudly disagree.
    3. All interpretations are valid, right? Provided there is something to ground them in? Much of this blog post reads in this way: “I’ve read a lot, probably a lot more than fundamentalists, so I’m more experienced at reading a text and understand God a lot better than they do.” But I’ve taught Bible study in a Baptist church for 10 years at the same time I read novels, (yeah, the big ones) and I can tell you that fundamentalists are not monolithicly a bunch of nearsighted, Bush-voting troglodytes. They also perceive subtlety and multiple levels of interpretations. But they desperately take the whole thing seriously because following Jesus is the most important thing in the world.
    4. Even the most exquisite, well-considered, entertaining, thoughtful literary theory in the world can be wrong if it reads the text it wants to be on the page instead of the one that’s actually printed there. That’s something fundamentalists and English majors have to remember – because it should keep us all humble.

    • MorganGuyton

      Absolutely. All of these are great points. And for what it’s worth, my point isn’t look at how sophisticated I am because I majored in English. It’s more this is why I get on your nerves, left-brained friend.

  • A Poet

    Brian: No idea what you’re saying. How do carpenters read? What do you mean by “immoral?” Dan calls for “subtle” language should not be confused with “unclear.”

  • TJ

    Morgan, I’d like to respond to this in more detail when I have more time but I have to ask what your definition of “fundamentalist” is. I ask because the view of scripture you are arguing against seems like a bad caricature, at best, of the view of scripture held by most of the conservative evangelical Christians I know. It is certainly very far from the understanding of scripture I studied at a conservative evangelical seminary.

    I’ll give more examples later, but here’s just one. You say “For
    fundamentalists, it’s a scandalous betrayal of the text to say that the
    gospel writers had any kind of agenda other than dispassionately
    dictating whatever the proverbial angel whispered in their ears for them
    to copy down.”

    But this is just false. It has long been recognized by evangelicals and fundamentalists that biblical writers had a purpose (aka agenda) for their writings which clearly shaped what they wrote. For example, while in seminary we discussed the fact that Matthew was written to a primarily
    Jewish audience while that Luke was written primarily to Greeks (Theopholis, to be specific) and that this
    clearly shaped how the two authors composed their Gospels. This is not remotely a scandal. It only becomes a scandal if you suggest they were writing truly contradictory things or false things. It’s also not remotely scandalous to recognize that the bible is filled with many genres, using many literary techniques and devices with a wide diversity of meaning. Again, this is pretty much bible 101 of any fundamentalist who actually has studied the scripture. The scandal comes in when people disagree over the genre of a particular passage (such as Genesis 1), but absolutely not because they dismiss the very idea.

    Maybe you have a different kind of fundamentalism in mind than I do. But I suspect you may be basing your idea of what “fundamentalists” believe on some very bad examples.

    • MorganGuyton

      The fundamentalist is absolutely a caricature, but it’s a viable caricature that moderate/progressive evangelicals have defined ourselves against all our lives. Do you know any conservative evangelical Christian who would positively self-identify as a fundamentalist? It’s a caricature but the caricature also exists in real life. See for example http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qo3o4nfiG7A.

  • Ryan

    You forgot about how critical theory and post-structuralism destroys everything that you once believed.

    • MorganGuyton

      Indeed!

  • Frankie Kemp

    I was alerted to this blog post after it was shared on another forum. There are so many things going on here that I do not know where to start . . . I am just going to do the best I can to tell the truth. In all your eloquence, you are missing the most beautiful message EVER. You are missing the entire point of the gospel. What are you doing here? Are you seeking to build up a congregation of people who will tell you how brilliant you are and pat themselves on the back because they are brilliant enough to recognize it? Please stop–just stop.

    Reading this post makes it more clear to me than ever that what matters most–what people really and truly need to hear (not want to hear) is Biblical truth. Definitely, we must speak the truth in love–but sugarcoating truth and justifying man’s infectious and deadly disease of seeking his own way is THE MOST UNLOVING act ever perpetuated on humanity–to do so under the cloak of
    religious authority because one has a degree in Biblical studies or pastors a congregation is grievous. Have you ever lingered over the book of Jeremiah, or do you count that as just a poet’s scribblings?

    God is not some fictional character in a novel, subject to the interpretation of a human author.
    True–our fallen natures keep us from fully seeing and understanding Him, but when we choose to leave out the parts of the Bible that don’t mesh with the version of Him, WE have invented in our own minds, we are forging our own “metaphorical” golden calves–which are actually images of our
    SELVES. That right there is what all sin boils down to: I want what I want. Surely God didn’t mean it would kill me . . .(I know what it is because I suffer from the same disease.) There is only one cure for a rebellious heart and mind. Jesus Christ. Without Him, we will all surely die. Period.

    God gave us amazingly brilliant minds–it is a shame that we use those minds to craft piles of garbage with lovely words that elevate man. Man cannot save himself. Ever. BUT–God made a way. God made a way! Jesus! The thing is . . . following Jesus means you call your own mind garbage and submit to God’s authority. Jesus said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to inherit the kingdom. I don’t think He was only talking about monetary wealth. He was talking about whatever it is that a man has that makes that man think he’s worth something. Unless and until a person realizes that they HAVE NOTHING without Christ and that everything else is garbage, that person will remain dead in his (or her) sins. Nothing more fundamental than that–and, if you are giving people anything but the gospel truth, all you are doing is giving them a cup of water to drink on their road to hell.

    People don’t want to hear that. They want someone to tell them how wonderful they are. The truth is–the only “wonderful” worth being can only come through Jesus. Then . . . well, then we are wonderful because He is. THAT is the message of the gospel. If everybody can find their own interpretations of that gospel, then you might as well say there is no TRUTH. Read it the way you want to read it . . . read it the way that makes you feel good about yourself . . . Problem is SELF never meet’s Gods standard. That is the bottom line. You don’t have to have an English degree to understand that the wages of sin is death.

    • MorganGuyton

      I think it’s a little bit of an overreaction to say that I’ve “missed the gospel” because I’m sharing some of the indiosyncrasies in how I respond to the Biblical text.

      “Have you ever lingered over the book of Jeremiah, or do you count that as just a poet’s scribblings?” That’s where it becomes obvious that you completely don’t get me. So if Jeremiah is poetry, it’s just scribblings that are uninspired by God? Jeremiah resonates very deeply with me. I made a song about it. I know what it is to have the hammer of God smashing your bones on the inside and for God to say you will tell these people what I command you or I will be a terror to you.

      Most of what you’ve written here is a patchwork of common evangelical truisms that I’ve already heard many times. I’m not interested in people telling me how wonderful I am. You don’t know anything about me. Every day of Lent this year, I walk on my knees from the back of my sanctuary to the altar reciting the Jesus prayer as a penitential practice since I want to know the beauty of His grace that comes when I truly have a broken and contrite heart over my sin. As far as how I read the Bible, I want to experience the fullness of God’s truth and not a clumsy caricature. There are too many sixth-grade level caricatures circulating around and they alienate people who want to go deeper. Please don’t be so presumptuous. You really don’t get where I’m coming from.

      • Frankie Kemp

        Perhaps I have been presumptuous, but isn’t that part of being human? We see and experience and make judgments about our circumstances, other people–even God. Hopefully, we are willing to get beyond our initial judgments and dig deeper for the truth. When we want to dig deeper with a text, we look for “text evidence.” You left me a lot of evidence to presume that you have a bitter distaste for “fundamentalism,” but you never really defined what your definition of fundamentalism is. When you use a language like “clumsy caricature” and “simple-minded” and “too many sixth-grade level caricatures circulating around, and they alienate people who want to go deeper,” you are also being presumptuous. Are you saying that people who believe that there is a fundamental truth in the whole of the Bible are incapable of seeing the deeper things of God? I would assert that not a one of us is capable of seeing more until we see the fundamental. Jesus, Himself, said that you can’t put new wine into old wineskins. There has to be regeneration–new birth–a radical repentance. What are we repenting from? The outward sins are only evidence of the diseased condition of our affections–and every last one of us suffers from the disease–and as long as we live in these bodies in this life we will be learning to put to death our own ways of thinking. Until people understand that they are dead in their sins without Christ, they will not accept that He is the only righteousness to be had–which is THE fundamental truth of all of scripture.

        Definitely, I believe, there can be multiple applications of scripture, as each and every one of us struggles to die to ourselves daily and follow Christ–BUT each individual application will not go against the fundamental truth.

        What grieved me about your blog post is that I do not see that fundamental truth in it. On the contrary, I see this post as an attempt to discredit fundamentalism and say that “your way” of responding to scripture is loftier and deeper at the same time. If I am honest, there is an underlying bitterness toward fundamentalism running throughout. Part of me wonders which “fundamentalists” wronged you throughout your lifetime–just being honest.

        What is my purpose in responding? Because I have experienced the truth of the grace of God continually working to change my divided affections, I love the simple truth of Jesus. I believe that because that grace has been given to me, I no longer live in the futility of my own mind (although I still camp out there, often)–and, I have the privilege of being a vessel of that same truth. I saw your post, Mr. Guyton, and I could not walk away from it without taking the opportunity to share the gospel as best I could in hopes that the ONE who really and truly does have the power to raise the dead to life would do as He sees fit with my limited language.

        Maybe if I’m REALLY honest, I will say, “Mr. Guyton, God has given you rich talents, and He has given you an audience and many sheep to shepherd. Please give them truth–please give them Jesus–please point them to Christ alone.” Maybe I should trust the Word of God to communicate. Jesus once asked Peter three times if Peter loved him. I am sure you know the reference . . . All three times Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep.” Sheep need the Bread of Life.

        • MorganGuyton

          “Perhaps I have been presumptuous, but isn’t that part of being human?” Absolutely. I do it all the time. I forgive you. Please also forgive me.

          “Are you saying that people who believe that there is a fundamental truth in the whole of the Bible are incapable of seeing the deeper things of God?” No. I would say that the problem is thinking that I *grasp* the fundamental truth of the Bible because then there’s no need to read it any longer.

          “Jesus once asked Peter three times if Peter loved him. I am sure you know the reference . . . All three times Jesus told Peter, ‘Feed my sheep.’ Sheep need the Bread of Life.” Amen. Please pray for my wisdom and sanctification in learning better how to feed my Lord’s sheep.

          • Frankie Kemp

            Definitely, you have my prayers, and I would ask the same of you.

            I believe it is possible to grasp the fundamental truth. Jesus: who He is and who I am because of who He is. Do we progress in that knowledge? Definitely! But . . . We cannot progress until we have our foundation laid on the Rock that is for many a stumbling stone but is, for those who would follow, THE cornerstone. If people don’t understand what they are being saved from, they won’t see their need for a Savior. (And the “saving” doesn’t end at conversion–but that is another discussion . . .)

            Do we need help in applying that fundamental Truth? Yes! That is the “mystery” of the gospel constantly working in our lives to conform our lives and minds into the image of Christ.

            For what my perceptions are worth, I perceive that your post comes from a heart that loves others.

          • MorganGuyton

            We’re using the same word differently (and your way probably makes more sense). When I said “grasp,” what I meant was “understand completely.” The way you’re talking about that “fundamental truth” shows that you understand it to be more sublime and mystical than just a simple “fact.” “Who Jesus is and who I am because of who he is” is not something I could put finite words to in a sentence or a paragraph or even a volume of encyclopedias. It’s true that the Bible is finite in its number of words but they have infinite depth. My investment as an “English major” is defending that infinite depth from people who want to say well it’s really just about X, Y, & Z, you know, I don’t see what the big deal is. Whoever thinks they can say the final word on Jesus and stop talking about him DOESN’T grasp his truth. So keep talking and thinking about him. Bless you.

  • Caddy Compson

    This is truly gorgeous, and as a (former) English major it rings so true for me. Thank you for sharing!

    • MorganGuyton

      Is your name really Caddy Compson because Caddy Compson is one of my favorite William Faulkner characters of all time?

      • Caddy Compson

        Haha, no! I wish! Just my disqus handle! I guess my English major-ness was showing when I had to select a handle.

        • MorganGuyton

          My grandpa was William Faulkner’s next-door neighbor in Oxford growing up. I’ve seen him in several characters. His name was Arthur but everyone called him Ott. If I remember, one of the novels actually has an Ott in it who’s a medical student. My grandpa went to school in the northeast and had a little bit of Quentin Compson’s personality. That scene with Quentin and Caddy is perhaps the most intense section of fictional writing I’ve ever read. I wrote a crazy Ulysses-like prose poem after I read it.

          • Caddy Compson

            WOW. That’s so cool to have that sort of connection to him! I’m a big fan, and I totally agree about the intensity of that particular scene. Faulkner did intensity well.

  • Alastair J Roberts

    I’ve written very detailed responses to this piece here and here.

  • Steve Jones

    With all due respect I think you just stereotyped fundamentalists. Who exactly are you referring to because I am a seminarian who is a fundamentalist, and I do not know anyone who hold to simply a grammatical/historical interpretation of the Bible. There are numerous facets of hermeneutics that some fundamentalists employ and others don’t. Most of us “fundamentalists” (which you act like it is a bad word), employ a grammatical/historical/literary/theological interpretation of the Bible. Some add more while others add less. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t agree that metaphor is used in the Bible, or any other literary feature for that matter. Biblical poetry is littered with metaphor as well as the major and minor prophets. My ENGL 405 class was all about artistry in the Bible and the use of metaphor, but not the way you describe it. To go off the deep end and make the text say something it doesn’t is just wrong. That metaphor has a function within the confines of context. Do you deny that context is authentic or is context meaningless in literature? From what I have read, it is the “what does it mean to me” approach to Scripture minus the obvious authorial intent that you seem to prefer. And sorry, that doesn’t make it dry. I find the Scriptures very appealing. It draws you in to the story. And while you blast Paul, the whole Bible isn’t didactic either. Even embedded in Paul’s epistolary literature is poetry. But his method is designed for discipleship, the one thing Jesus said for us to make in the Great Commission in Matt. 28:19-20 that is played out in the rest of the NT beginning in Acts and going through Revelation. “Go therefore and make disciples…”, unless you just want to say “well what this means to me is…” then make it say what you want it to say. I wonder if you even believe in the inspiration of Scripture or if you just believe what you want to and discard the rest as if it doesn’t exist. Do you? You never explained the interpretation of 2 Tim. 3:16. If it doesn’t mean what it says, then what does it mean and how do you know? And if that is true, then what did Jesus mean in John 3:16? Did he really mean people would perish if they didn’t believe in him or was he using metaphor to say something entirely different than what the text plainly states? And as far as characters go, we believe in both static and dynamic characters. I think that Jonathan, Saul’s son, is a dynamic, growing character. He wasn’t Mr. Perfect all the way through 1 Samuel. He had to grow. He rebelled against the king and started a revolution against Saul. That is not godly. So for you to stereotype “fundamentalists” and dub it as the next bad word is just plain ridiculous and sad. We believe a lot f what yu say, we just don’t go off the deep end and check out of reality.

    • MorganGuyton

      First of all, you have expressed yourself very respectfully and it’s a good witness. I’m glad that you have the guts to self-identify as a fundamentalist. I didn’t know there were any of you who actually existed; I just figured that you’ve always been the imaginary bogeymen of moderate ex-Southern Baptists like me that we sort of have to exorcise out of our minds like demons in order to have a positive, constructive relationship with God. What I shared here, even if my communication was an absolute failure, was an attempt to show a raw attitude towards the Bible that I find myself having with its mixture of flaws and strengths. It’s a confession. Because I like to spend hours and hours talking about poetry, I want things to be more complicated than they are sometimes in the Bible when the text is simply straightforward and there’s not any way to twist it into being more “poetic.”

      One place where I think that it is valid to seek “what does it mean to me” is in the sense that we should always be reading the Bible devotionally as disciples. Too often, I see conservative evangelicals building a wall of truth out of the Bible rather than a life of prayer. In my prayer life, I actually say less and less of my own words the more I read the Bible because God has given me specific lines from psalms that he sort of commands me to memorize and recite to him. Sometimes the meaning that he gives them in a particular moment of my life is not the grammatical-historical meaning. For example, I always say Psalm 25:7: “Remember me not according to the sins of my youth but according to your mercy and for the sake of your goodness.” When I read that, God told me that I could forget my bad habits and addictions that I thought I was compelled to continue in forever because it’s “just the way I am.” He said, no it’s not the way you are because I CAN RE-MEMBER YOU DIFFERENTLY. Someone else may come along and read it more straightforwardly, but if you’re bound into saying that every verse in the Bible has one right meaning, then you’ve cut yourself off from the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit to breathe that particular verse very explicitly into your life of discipleship. And if you aren’t bound into saying that every verse in the Bible has one right meaning, why do you call yourself a fundamentalist? 😉

      • Steve Jones

        I posted a response but it never actually posted so I will try to remember my reply. First off, thank you for your kind response. I also want to say that I agree with your belief about reading devotionally. Merrill Tenney has a chapter on it in his book Galatians: The Charter of Christian Liberty. However, it comes at the end of a series of steps that lead to that devotional/applicational/”what does it mean to me” method. It is not just in limbo for you to interpret a text however you feel you want to without regard to the plain sense of the passage. Let’s take Psalm 25:7 for example since you already put it to use. The verse is a prayer (which is a literary genre correct?) in which the psalmist is asking God not to remember him for his sins, rather, he wants God to be merciful to him as an expression of His goodness correct (grammatical interpretation)? Now I haven’t taken in context, nor have I taken in any relevant historical background. This verse is just sitting in isolation right now. Now suppose God answers in the positive. Then you may have a reason to believe your meaning of the text. But what if God answers in the negative? Now contextually speaking (also part of the grammatical method) verse 8 begins with the same psalmist declaring God IS good. That would suggest a positive answer right? But how do we know? Well that is where the theological/correlational part of interpretation applies. We know from other Scriptures (correlation) that God says if we call on Him, He will hear us. We know that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins (both passages are found in 1 John, which is boringly didactic, but profound!). We know that there are other Scriptures that address the fact that if the psalmist calls on God and petitions Him to extend His mercy to him not because of his goodness but because of God’s goodness, then God has promised to answer in the positive (the theological part of interpretation). So when it comes to a devotional reading of Scripture, I can do it with greater accuracy that this is really what the Bible says because of the way I interpreted the passage.

        Now let’s bring this together. You said, “God told me that I could forget my bad habits and addictions that I thought I was compelled to continue in forever because it’s “just the way I am.” However, that is not what the psalmist says or is getting at, though you are on the right track. Your meaning can be found in other places such as Gal. 3:13-14 which says, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” You also said, “He said, no it’s not the way you are because I CAN RE-MEMBER YOU DIFFERENTLY. : Again, this is a biblical principle that is found elsewhere, such as Romans 8:1 which states, ” Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Yet it is not a principle the psalmist is making either. The psalmist is pleading with God in His mercy to forget his sins. Now you were close to the correct interpretation, but you need to correct one pronoun. Instead of “God told me that I could forget my bad habits and addictions that I thought I was compelled to continue in forever because it’s “just the way I am.” It should really be, “God told me that HE could forget my bad habits and addictions that I thought I was compelled to continue in forever because it’s “just the way I am.” The psalmist never indicates that he could forget his own sins, but God could. Now, you want to talk about devotional? How great is it to know that if we ask God to forgive our sins, He will do just that? Not because we are special, but because He is a merciful and good God. And He can remember us differently! Now you can take it and apply it to many different situations, or states of being. It is devotional, theologically and contextually and grammatically accurate, and if applied, will change your life. And as a footnote: the second part “I CAN RE-MEMBER YOU DIFFERENTLY” part is dead on. That is why I think you miss the point about the way hermeneutics is applied to Scripture, yet part of your method involved some of these hermeneutics you contested. It is not just a science, it is a guide to help you not stray off and make an interpretation that could lead to heretical beliefs. That is why “What it means to me” doesn’t really matter. What God meant it to mean does.

        It also in no way cuts off the Sovereignty of the Spirit because He is the author of Scripture. Do you suppose He wants you to know just what he said to the first audience, or are we somehow better than they? I almost think that the way you do devotional is similar to postmodern hermeneutics, and it is real. See the book Biblical Interpretation: 5 Views. Why would God bypass grammar to say something he may have said elsewhere? Sovereign or not, God does put some limitations on Himself (His promises would mean nothing if He didn’t promise to fulfill His promises and changed the rules just because He is Sovereign. He has to remain just and holy too), and I think that a grammatical interpretation has to be one of them (You can try to prove me wrong. I am open but you got to show me). Someone else pointed out a few Scriptures that are indicative of one interpretation, and not what it means to me, but what God meant it for believers in the first through the twenty-first century and beyond.

        • MorganGuyton

          I just think the way that you’re talking is treating the Bible as a static book rather than a text that mediates a living person whose communication is not only past tense but present tense. How do I know that’s what God said to me? Not because I did a grammatical-historical assessment, but simply because He spoke. I can’t prove that to you; it’s a statement of faith. It’s not saying anything about my being “better” than the original audience; it’s simply making the un-radical claim that I have a personal relationship with a God who speaks directly to me through the word that He has given to all people. There’s nothing personal about the grammatical-historical reading of the Bible. It says the same thing to everybody which is exactly what the original author intended to say to the original audience. Nothing about “All scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching” tells me that Bible verses have to have that limited and univocal a meaning. They can speak dynamically. We see that in the way that people in the New Testament read the Old Testament. What in the world do Hagar and Ishmael have to do with the claim that Gentile Christians don’t need to follow all of Torah? What in the world does Moses’ veil in Exodus 34 have to do with the blindness of 1st century Jews to Jesus’ Lordship? The Holy Spirit spoke dynamically to Paul through these texts just as the same Spirit speaks dynamically to us through the Bible today. It’s true that no one is able to police between inspired and un-inspired readings of the Bible beyond readings which simply adhere to the grammatical-historical, but I don’t think this means that our relationship with the Bible must remain entirely impersonal.