I grew up in a Methodist church in Malaysia and spent a lot of time at church. I grew up loving the Bible and attended regular Bible study as a youth. We did a lot of memorization of the Bible. I remember that one of the activities I enjoyed as a child and a youth was Bible “sword drill” competition. I knew the order of the 66 books of the Bible very well and was a “sword drill” champion!
When I felt the call to ordained ministry as I was finishing high school, I decided to go to seminary in Singapore and study theology. In the early years of my ministry in a local church, I led Bible Study classes and taught the Bible a lot. I have always loved the Bible.
After completing my graduate theological studies at Perkins School of Theology, I was encouraged to pursue Ph.D. studies. I had done well in many areas—systematic theology, pastoral care and counseling, and biblical studies—and could have gone into any of these areas. However, my love of the Bible compelled me to pursue a Ph.D. in Old Testament studies at Emory University.
I know that progressive United Methodists like me love the Bible. The Bible as one of the four components of the quadrilateral has an important role in our lives and faith. While we take seriously the roles that tradition, reason, and experience play in our faith journey, it is the Bible that we root our Christian faith. Yes, we will always keep scripture primary. Our Christian faith begins with the Bible and extends into tradition, reason and experience.
We take the Bible seriously and seek to find meaning for it in living out our lives of faith. However, taking the Bible seriously doesn’t mean that we read the Bible literally and take it word for word. We just can’t! Nobody does! Take, for example, Deuteronomy 22:23-29, a text that discusses circumstances involving rape. In relation to verses 28-29, Rachel Held Evans in her A Year of Biblical Womanhood notes, “If you were not already engaged when the rape occurred, you and your rapist were required to marry each other, without the possibility of divorce.” This is tantamount to marrying the woman raped to her rapist. Our modern sensibility will be offended by such a law prescribed in the deuteronomic law.
As Christians who love the Bible, taking seriously the Bible means that we recognize that the Bible was written by multiple writers who were products of their time and space. It means acknowledging that these biblical writers, as people of faith, were bounded by their context, their culture, their theology, their ideology. Recognizing the contextual nature of the texts requires that we enter into a conversation with the text critically. As readers of texts, there is also another context we must be mindful of, namely, our context as readers. As readers, we are culturally and socially located. It means that we cannot deny who we are as humans who bring our socially, culturally, and religiously constructed ideologies and theologies into the reading and engagement with the biblical texts. The gospel writers, likewise, presented Jesus as such a contextually located interpreter of the laws and prophets. It is in such an engagement, attentive to our own context and the ancient context of the writers, that the creation of meaning happens in the process of the reading. Such a critical engagement of the Bible is exciting. It makes the Bible come alive and meaning is created anew! In so doing, we become better students of the Bible and better disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Rev. Dr. Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan
Claremont School of Theology at Willamette University