When people say weird stuff about God or how He interacts with His people, and claim to be using The Bible to support those claims, you have to wonder what interpretive methods they’re using to arrive at their conclusions. Richard Rohr is refreshingly honest in explaining his approach when he says;
“You deserve to know my science for interpreting sacred texts. It is called a “hermeneutic.” Without an honest and declared hermeneutic, we have no consistency or authority in our interpretation of the Bible.” My methodology is very simple; I will try to interpret Scripture the way that Jesus did.” Huffington Post Interview
Additionally, he makes the following proposition regarding “taking the bible literally:”
“To take the scriptures seriously is not to take them literally. Literalism is invariably the lowest and least level of meaning. Most Biblical authors understood this, which is why they felt totally free to take so many obvious liberties with what we would call “facts.” In many ways, we have moved backwards in our ability to read spiritual and transformative texts, especially after the enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when religious people got on the defensive and lost their own unique vantage point.”Huffington Post Interview
I get what he means by “taking the bible literally,” and I understand the history of evangelical abuses he’s trying to avoid, but that’s not the consensus understanding of scripture by most biblical expositors. “Taking the bible literally,” is interpreting the scriptures according to their literal genre, original audience, cultural application, original language, etc. For example, we interpret analogies in an analogical way, metaphors metaphorically, etc. Taking into account the authors, their time frames, the conditions under which the scripture were written, etc., are critical for an honest and ethical interpretation of any text. Choosing the existential path of biblical interpretation in opposition to the clear and reasonable meaning is often an excuse to do whatever you like and substantiate it with the bible. Rohr goes on to say…
“Serious reading of scripture will allow you to find an ever new spiritual meaning for the liberation of history, the liberation of the soul, and the liberation of God in every generation. Then the text is true on many levels, instead of trying to prove it is true on just the one simple, factual level. Sacred texts always maximize your possibilities for life and love, which is why we call them sacred. I am afraid we have for too long used the Bible merely to prove various church positions, which largely narrows their range and depth. Instead of transforming people, the Biblical texts became utilitarian and handy ammunition.” Huffington Post Interview
This quote is good “on many levels.” Two things concern me however.
1. Finding “ever new” spiritual meanings in scripture.
2. The text being “true on many levels.”
I am not surprised by Rohr’s statements, because his hermeneutic, the way he interprets scripture, allows human experience as a valid interpreter of biblical text. This shouldn’t surprise you either since Rohr is a Franciscan friar. (Roman Catholic) He holds to what he himself calls the “third principle of God.” In a nutshell, for Rohr, Scripture is validated by experience, and experience is validated by Tradition. [The Rohr Institute]
Don’t get me wrong, I love much of what Rohr say and writes. He brings a unique perspective to many issues which are important to me. But, I don’t trust him. I remain skeptical because of his underlying assumptions when it comes to interpreting scripture.
A few questions:
1. Is it true that we can continually discover new spiritual meanings from scripture?
2. Is experience ever a good interpreter of biblical text?
3. Are we to interpret biblical texts “the way Jesus did?”