Robin Lovin, a professor of ethics at Southern Methodist University, wrote a revealing and honest portrayal of the discernment required when engaging Biblical texts in study or worship. He said,
The strange world of the Bible that Barth and Bonhoeffer wanted us to enter is not located in a particular place or time. But they were right to think that we cannot enter it as long as we suppose it is readily available to us, right where we are now. The hardest part for students is moving beyond the assumption that everybody else is just like us and always has been. Biblical scholarship cannot deliver the word of God by taking us to the biblical world, but it may help us to live a little less in our own comfortable, familiar world. When we ask, "What would Jesus do?" our efforts to follow in his steps will mean moving away from the place where we were when we first asked the question.
What Lovin has in mind reminds us of the challenge to find what Jesus meant by the words he spoke. It is always a temptation, I think, as we put ourselves in the place of the hearers of Jesus' words and to know exactly what Jesus meant. Given the cultural influence of his day and the reality that the disciples were hearing Jesus for the first time (unlike us who've heard his words throughout our lives), knowing what they "heard" is next to impossible. And yet, Jesus knew that when he spoke to them and his words were undoubtedly spoken in a way that his disciples could understand what they heard.
So for us today, going back to try and put ourselves in the place of the disciples is more than a challenge. And yet it is a challenge that we must do regardless of the pursuit-- doing otherwise (e.g., putting Jesus' words into our present-day context) may provide an unexpected result: completely transforming Jesus' words into something else entirely.
Go here to read Lovin's article and read how he explains the necessity that simply asking, "What would Jesus do?" is not enough.
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