Christian historian Phyllis Tickle argues in her book “The Great Emergence” that every 500 years there is a great “rummage sale” of culture. Similar to the shows on television that help people organize their life, culture sorts things into “keep”, “toss” and “donate”. These efforts raise important questions, specifically, who is the authority that decides what we keep, toss or donate? Thus, Tickle says, the cultural rummage sale always come back to a crisis of authority.
The rise of the Protestant Reformation saw the Papal authority called into question and the authority of the Bible was elevated. This year marks 500 years since Luther’s ninety-five thesis nailed on a door, and the crisis of authority is upon us.
I have noted the difference in sola scriptura and prima scriptura and how United Methodists have a stronger history and connection to prima scriptura than sola. By way of a metaphor I would like to offer up that for the UMC, scripture is the Christian DNA.
The debate between nature (DNA) and nurture (environment) is setting when it comes to human beings. What makes a human being is not nature OR nurture, but nature AND nurture. DNA is our first draft and our environment can influence our bodies but our DNA is our starting point. Likewise, scripture is our starting point, but we understand the environment effects the writer and reader of that very scripture. Scripture is the Christian DNA – it is our first draft it is where we start.
Humans once had a need for tailbones and wisdom teeth, and the environment has made those parts of us no longer as critical. There are things in scripture that were at one time very helpful to culture, but culture has evolved and those same scripture are less critical.
I do not fear the environment of tradition, experience and reason having an effect on the Christian DNA. Rather I celebrate that Christianity is a religion that is alive and that the scripture is called “the living word”. I celebrate that our scriptural DNA is robust to respond to the ever changing situations facing the world while. I celebrate that scripture is robust enough to exist in a variety of environments and give everyone an excellent starting point to engage in a relationship with God in Christ through the Holy Spirit.