Making a New Refrigerator

“…(E)ven if there is, strictly speaking, no such thing as private interpretation of scripture, the illusion of private interpretation leads to much mischief. It encourages individuals to forget that every text has an original, and so appropriate, context. To remove a refrigerator repair manual from its original context–the world of refrigerator selling and repair–is to render it useless.” – Rodney Clapp, A Peculiar People (emphasis added)

I am very much enjoying reading Rodney Clapp’s unpacking of the Kingdom and the Church. The writing is confrontational, informed, and thoughtful. To be blunt, I think he’s right on the money. But I think in this quote, he doesn’t go far enough. As I’ve seen it, his “refrigerator repair manual” metaphor is only partly true; I think the whole truth of the situation for the church is that as we’ve read the scriptures individualistically (narcissistically?) and out of their original context, we’ve done more that just render the “manual” useless.

I wonder if we’ve decided to just dream up a new refrigerator to match our remade manuals.

The refrigerator surely resembles the original–things like grace, sin, love, and Messiah are used with great passion and intensity–but when return the manual to its original intent (or as close as one can get to the mind of the original writer and audience), we find that machine was supposed to look and feel a bit different. The same terms are there, but somehow have different meanings.

I think this is troublesome trend in the Church: that we aren’t content just to puzzle over the difficulty of reading a 2,000 year old repair manual. Do we simply invent a new device that matches what we think the manual was telling us to build? That seems to fit our understanding of YHWH, our 21st century culture, and our own felt needs?

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