St. Amant: “The historian can never allow the message of history to create historical facts. Nor can he ignore or distort those facts in the interest of his own bias.”1
Antiphon: “Be not so unjust; rather leave something for that other witness, Time, who aids the zealous seekers of eternal truth.”2
One of the primary tools of our postmodern culture is our ability to reconstruct history for our own purposes. Dr. Peter Gibbon of Harvard University, travels the country lecturing on this destructive phenomenon. He says, “I remind my audiences that Thomas Jefferson is now thought of as the president with the slave mistress, and Mozart as the careless genius who liked to talk dirty. . . . Revisionist historians present an unforgiving, skewed picture of the past. Biographers are increasingly hostile toward their subjects. Social scientists stridently assert that human beings are not autonomous but are conditioned by genes and environment.”3
This art of reconstructing the facts of history is properly called Deconstructionism and its basic hermeneutic is suspicion. The postmodernist suspects the evil intent (usually the exercise of power of the advantaged over the disadvantaged) of the writer of history who, no doubt, wrote his account as he wanted to see it. The modern reader, therefore, has every right to rearrange the “facts” the way he/she sees them or would like them to be. This becomes even more sinister when we see the same postmodernist justifying lying for the same reason. All we know about the way something happened is the way someone wants to remember it. Therefore, my account (lie) of the same incident is equally valid to anyone else’s including the eye-witness! If this is the way our generation is viewing history and truth (and believe me, it is!), then why not forget reading and spend your time watching TV, videos and computer games? Those accounts of reality are as real to the viewer as actual history!
My proposition in this article is that many Christians today, ourselves products of this subtle inculcation, do a similar slight-of-hand with the Scriptures in order to make them yield to us what we want to find there. It is always easier to see faulty logic in others when we ignore our own.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “What we see when we think we are looking into the depths of Scripture may sometimes be only the reflection of our own silly faces.”4 If, when we look into Scripture, we see what we have wanted to see and miss the intent of the speaker and author, then we have rewritten the sacred history as well.
Revisionists see history as a scrabble game of words. No attention need be paid the order and resultant meaning of the old text. The words are merely left to us to unscramble and rearrange in an order that will gain us points. Perhaps the ultimate example of this game today is the so-called Bible Code. By rearranging all the consonants of the Hebrew Bible with a computer, the user can come up with any order of words and meanings he wants. You would think we would debunk it all immediately! But our generation takes it seriously because it is born out of our basic revisionist hermeneutic.
J.I. Packer wrote, “Scripture can only rule us so far as it is understood, and it is only understood so far as it is properly interpreted. A misinterpreted Bible is a misunderstood Bible.”5 How often do we play spiritual scrabble with the words of Scripture? We merely comb its pages looking for the right words that will support the subject we are attempting to validate. When we find them, we preach our “conclusion” with authority because it was found in the Bible!
The humorous old story of the man who wanted to prove suicide is still instructive. He took three phrases that seemed handy and put them together so that they read, “Judas went and hanged himself.” “Go thou and do likewise.” “What thou doest, do quickly.” Of course, his conclusion has no more biblical authority than Romeo and Juliet though the words are the very words of Scripture. I once heard a man preach a farcical sermon on the blood of Jesus washing us white as snow from the poem “Mary had a little lamb.” It contained a lamb and its fleece was white as snow. It went with Mary wherever she chose to go. Though the meaning of redemption is true, the poem never intended it.
While reading the gospel of Mark recently, I was reminded of hearing a well-known evangelist preach on changing methodologies from Mark 2:21 & 22. This is the statement by Jesus of not putting new cloth on old garments, and not putting new wine in old wineskins. The evangelist’s point was that new times require new methodologies even though the message remains old. Now, I may agree or disagree with the evangelist’s proposition, but I have never gotten any impression that Jesus was talking about such a thing! I only think about it when reading the text because of what I heard the evangelist say, not from coming to such a conclusion from a normal reading of the story.
Whether you agree with me or not about that particular interpretation, do you not agree that we often use the words of Scripture to say what we want to be said even though the writer or speaker of the text never intended to be teaching it? I think a serious question at this point would be: can we use the Scripture in such a way with any promise of power and blessing from the Holy Spirit? Are we not actually rewriting what He wrote though we are using His very words? Isn’t this the same revision of historical text as we see the unbelievers doing around us today?
Blaise Pascal wrote, “Anyone who wishes to give the meaning of Scripture without taking it from Scripture is the enemy of Scripture.”6 One day there will appear many who said and did a lot in Jesus’ name whom He never knew. Words will be no substitute for proper meaning.
Notes: 1. Quoted by Wm. Estep, The Anabaptist Story (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996) 272. 2. Antiphon, Orations: Homer to Mckinley Vol. I (New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1902) 63. 3. Peter Gibbon, “The End of Admiration” Imprimis, May 1999. 4. C.S. Lewis, Reflections of the Psalms (New York: Harcourt & Brace, 1958) 121. 5. J.I. Packer, Truth and Power (Wheaton: Harold Shaw, 1996) 137. 6. Blaise Pascal, Pensees (New York: Penguin Books, 1966) 104.