At The Threshold’s series on interpreting scripture continues this week. Our method is to examine the theories of how lawyers, judges, legal scholars, and politicians interpret laws, with a special eye to constitutional law, and then use that understanding to cast light on how scripture is interpreted by biblical scholars and theologians. We continue to examine the objectivist or strict constructionist school of interpretation by turning to those who limit their interpretation to the text itself.

Part 5 of a 10-part series

Some strict constructionists look strictly to what they consider the “plain meaning”: How does the contemporary “person in the street” understand the promulgated law as stated? If the law is to be obeyed, it is assumed that the ordinary citizen must be able to understand it by the plain language in the text. Nothing, it is claimed, should trump specific language for binding entities to the law, within which legal rules can be distinguished from statements of observation and morality.

Those who follow this mode of interpretation are uncomfortable in recognizing the binding nature of anything that becomes law, especially constitutional law, through custom, ethos, and precedent; they are comfortable only with that which is agreed upon in writing.

This test of a “plain reading” of text is applied to passages of scripture also, most often in a desire to find and establish binding rules of conduct. The problem is that it is impossible for a reasonable person to rely upon a mere “plain reading,” given the complex subtleties of scripture, the dynamic between its general purposes, and the specific aims of its many different authors. These writers, however directly inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote to audiences that were specifically identified and who were contemporaries – actual human beings and communities, and most often well known to the writer. The texts were not addressed or intended for readers at distant times much later in history and living in unimaginably entirely different situations.

Paul, for example, never intended for his writings to be anything other than pastoral letters that addressed quite specific issues within communities he knew personally, most of which he established. Each of the other evangelists and authors whose works became a part of the canon of scripture held in mind their own purposes and those purposes never included a contribution of anything to readers of today, in the radically different contexts of the 21st century. It cannot legitimately be claimed that any of the admonitions and pleas for personal or community conduct offered during the first two centuries of the church, in the era of the Greco-Roman Empire, are to be applied universally and for all time. Read More…


Joe Morris Doss

Joe Morris Doss

By Joe Morris Doss

The former Governor of Arkansas, Presidential candidate, and Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee issued the bold declaration that “women aren’t weaklings!” Wow. And then he went on to explain that they are not “in need of government handouts, including the contraception mandate in Obamacare.”

According to his reasoning, the mandate to provide women with contraception insurance for their health care is an “insult to the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without ‘Uncle Sugar’ coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system.”

Read More…


It is no secret that young people are leaving the Church like never before. How to retain young followers and why they are leaving are both hot topics in religious spheres. In a recent Patheos article, Bruce Reyes-Chow lists the “10 Ways to Disconnect from the Next Generation.” Below, you’ll find Addie Zierman’s own story of turning away, and the ways in which the rhetoric of fellow believers keeps her and other millennials from connecting to their faith.

By Addie Zierman

Addie Zierman is a writer, blogger, and calls herself a “recovering Jesus freak.” She recently published her debut book, When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love and Starting Over through Convergent Books, which was just named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Publisher’s Weekly. You can follow her on Twitter here and on Facebook here.

Addie Zierman is a writer, blogger, and calls herself a “recovering Jesus freak.” She recently published her debut book, “When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love and Starting Over through Convergent Books,” which was just named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Publisher’s Weekly. You can follow her on Twitter here and on Facebook here.

The statistics are in. The millennials are leaving the church, and nobody seems quite sure what to do about it.

I am one of them. Born in 1983, I belong to the wispy beginnings of the new generation. I turned 30 this year, and I’m raising two small boys. I hold within me both cynicism and hope. I left the church. I came back.

Here is what I can tell you about millennials: We grew up on easy answers, catchphrases and cliché, and if we’ve learned anything, it’s that things are almost always more complicated than that.

When I returned to church, it wasn’t because of great programs, alluring events or a really cool “café” set up in the foyer. I went back not because of what the church was doing, but rather in spite of it. I went back because I needed community, and because, thanks to a steady dose of medication and therapy, I was finally well enough to root through the cliché to find it.

But not all of us are there yet. For some of us, the clichés are still maddening and alienating. Recently, I asked my followers online for the five church clichés that they tend to hate the most. These were the top five responses: Read More…


The church is constantly discovering the Gospel. In each era the People of God seem to wake up to see a Gospel imperative as though it is new, with eyes that seem to pop open. How, it will be asked, was this missed before – something so obvious, something so demanding! And yet, there it is, God’s will for society to lift oppression, to demand better treatment of some class of persons, or to do something in care of God’s creation that simply wasn’t recognized before but becomes apparent.

Slavery stands as one of the most obvious examples of this dynamic. Civilization was built on the backs of slaves, and this was true all over the world. At any given time in history the people who enjoyed citizenship in one of the civilized cultures would not have been able to imagine any other way to be the people they were – Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, you name it – than through the use of slaves. Only gradually did another notion take hold of the imagination of societies, the recognition that freedom, the freedom enjoyed by the slave-users was a precious human right to be held and exercised by everyone. Finally, and only after the idea of equality and freedom had taken hold and began to make its way forward, the church seemed to come to its senses and was forceful in convincing its societies to reject the entire institution of slavery.

Read More…