Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners


Apostolic Obsessive Compulsive Disorder…Seriously?

Christopher Bryan has written numerous books, studied under J.R. Tolkien at Oxford and taught many a seminarian (including myself) how to read and listen to the New Testament.

Christopher Bryan has written numerous books, studied under J.R. Tolkien at Oxford and taught many a seminarian (including myself) how to read and listen to the New Testament.

The other day I read an article by a fellow hospice chaplain, Emma Churchman, reflecting on ministry to the sick and the dying. The job of chaplain, as Churchman puts it so beautifully, is primarily that of “midwifing the Holy.” The metaphor is wonderful, and the article is a good one, with one rather intrusive exception—a seemingly out-of-place paragraph on Churchman’s personal biblical hermeneutics that features this far-too-distracting throwaway line, “The Bible is a helpful reference guide for me, but certainly not the word of God.” A bit more ridiculously, if equally dismissively, Churchman goes on to diagnose the apostle Paul with “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.”

There were a few reasons why I had trouble with this part of the article. That the chaplain felt qualified to give this diagnosis was one matter; she does not appear to be a trained therapist or psychiatrist. That she felt entitled to apply a contemporary diagnosis to someone she had never actually met apart from through ancient letters—which, ironically, she had only just tossed out as meaningless with a blanket rejection of Scripture anyway—was another matter.

An easy, convenient, and maybe “politically correct” way these days to dismiss the veracity of a particular source’s argument is to diagnose that source with one or another clinical disorders, I guess; but it seems strange that a pastorally sensitive person who would no doubt refrain from making such diagnoses about living persons (at least in this sort of publicly disseminated way) would have a hey day with a dead authority like the apostle Paul (who, barring some psychic medium’s summoning of Paul from the dead, cannot be here to defend his words or offer a counter argument). It is also, ironically, a rejection of postmodernism’s contributions. These helpfully would insist that Truth must be mediated by our own experiences, and that what may be my truth may not be your truth and so on. Why can’t the apostle’s truth at the least be his truth, not some manifestation of OCD? It seems Churchman wishes to affix this label to someone she disagrees with.

I just finished reading retired New Testament professor Christopher Bryan’s book Listening to the Bible (and I commend it to you). There Bryan makes the convincing case, in a nutshell, that the Bible, regardless of whether it is read by secular academics or religious types, qualifies as “great literature.” And he goes on to offer some suggestions on how we, both in the church and out, might read the Bible as it was originally intended to be read.

For starters, he writes, we need to show respect to the writers of Scripture by listening to what they are trying to say. We listen first, before being quick to impose our own inevitably subjective interpretations on the text, with a view to “hearing [biblical voices] in the context of their own times and assumptions,” as Bryan puts it. In the case of Paul’s letters, then, this attentiveness would imply according the apostle Paul, as an author of letters that for centuries have belonged to a work classified as “great literature,” at least the same respect that we would show our own written work. Such respect might entail taking Paul seriously as someone who means what he says; and it would refrain from amateurish diagnoses of our ancient interlocutors, even if such modern labels like OCD are entertaining to contemplate. Sure, it’s funny to imagine the apostle Paul as a short, loud, slightly overweight Danny Devito character with peculiar neuroses. Why not add OCD to the mix? But insofar as these diagnoses make it easy to dismiss Paul’s thought as uninspired or unimportant for the life of the church today, are such comments really helpful beyond offering a bit of a laugh?

Got an opinion? Leave it below. I’d love to hear how you regard Scripture and what it means for you to “listen to Scripture.”

 

 

 

 



Previous Posts

Christian Purity: Is God's Mission Possible When Purity Rules?
I had a really weird, somewhat distressing interaction this week, and it is still on my mind days later. It's one of those uncomfortable encounters that you would like to press the "replay" butt

posted 1:40:13pm Sep. 20, 2014 | read full post »

Jesus and the Rich Man: A Sermon on the "Hitler" of Passages.
It's rare that I find myself thinking about Sunday's sermon midweek. This Sunday our pastor Drew Ditzel preached on the familiar story of Jesus and the rich man (Mark 10). The rich man, who says he has kept all the commandments perfectly and has lived a righteous life, comes to Jesus asking what mor

posted 10:40:08am Sep. 17, 2014 | read full post »

The Lie of Invulnerability
This last week has been insane. Family sickness, repairs, car issues, multiple calls from school nurses, including one in which the nurse expressed concern my 7-year-old son had been bitten by a brown recluse spider...and just when I thought it couldn't get worse...viral pinkeye. Two puffy, leaky, r

posted 11:00:49am Sep. 09, 2014 | read full post »

Humor Relief for Religious Extremism
Once again, humor and satire are coming to my aid this morning, this time in response to the twisted and evil extensions of religion that seeks to coerce and control with violence and worldly forms of power (best embodied these days in the form of ISIS and its affiliates). The Palestinian televis

posted 10:36:57am Sep. 03, 2014 | read full post »

"AA" Recovery Groups—Spirituality for the Non-Religious, Hope for the Church?
[caption id="attachment_5326" align="alignleft" width="271"] Bill Wilson co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous with Dr. Bob Smith in 1935. Their affectionately called "Big Book" is one of the best-selling books of all time, having sold more than 30 million copies since its publication. (Photo credit: Haze

posted 11:27:26am Sep. 02, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.