My wife and I visited her family on Christmas Eve and headed to a church service north of Toronto. This church belongs to a family of churches that have a particular interpretation of scripture (theirs!) and most other interpretations are less-than. At any rate, there was singing and story time for the kids. Then towards the end the pastor got up to speak about the birth and story of Jesus. He stood in front of a crowded room and after reading about the birth of Jesus in the gospel of Luke he proclaimed (in a rather overbearing manner) that this story “demands a response.” According to the pastor there were only two possible responses, you either a) love and follow Jesus or b) hate Jesus (this is no exaggeration, he literally said you either love or hate Jesus). Something about this approach to the scriptures seemed overly simplistic. It just didn’t strike me as a faithful reading of the narrative we have in Luke.
My Old Testament prof likes to compare the reading of scripture to dancing. If you are waltzing there is a leader and a follower and the leader is the person who decides where the dance will go. They make the first move. The follower, well, they just follow the lead. When it comes to reading scripture we ought to dance with the text as followers. The text needs to take the lead and we follow it where it goes. To hijack the text and twist it to make it say what we want it to say is to assume the lead. Now I think our inclination is to want to lead and so we must always be conscious of this and always seeking to simply follow the text in order to remain faithful to it.
Back to Christmas Eve. When we read the story of Christ’s birth in Luke does the story indeed “demand a response” (do we get this idea from the text)? Are there really only two possible responses, love or hatred (again, does the text tell us this)? If that’s the case (although I’m not sure it is) what would these two responses look like? Well, according to the pastor “loving” Jesus meant to accept a certain belief system (his) and to act in a particular manner (according to how he interprets the scriptures). Anything other than this was hatred.
As I sat in my seat and listened to him speak I couldn’t help but think he was leading the dance. I’m not convinced that his interpretation of the story was faithful to the story as Luke himself presented it. I wonder how many not-yet-Christians were sitting there listening and what their impression was? What sort of picture of God does this kind of interpretation paint?