Throughout my notes, the Bible repeatedly availed itself as perhaps the most controversial and duplicitously used document in the history of our country. By recounting the showdown between staunch slaveholders and ardent abolitionists, based heartily on opposing interpretations of the Bible, that I become aware of my own blind spots for the Gospel’s implications for race and justice here and now. In viewing images of exalted printing presses, I become aware of my confusion between media and message, and my tendency to elevate what I read on a page above the active work of a living God. Far from suggesting that Scripture lacks authority or importance, it has instead become all the more pressing for that crucial authority and utmost significance to be rightly received. God has certainly revealed my own myopic tendencies in the American Church’s (in all its varieties) historical array of ungainly biblical interpretation.
As I leaf through, I hold fast to what these questionable biblical hermeneutics of yore have to bear on my life, but I still catch myself throwing stones from my glass house of piety. I consistently question the purity of these Christians’ motives. As Separatists themselves, how could the Puritans be so quick to alienate opposing Christians in New England? Why did democratization of the State and Church mirror each other so closely during the Great Awakening, despite their functional separation? How does the Church forget its own lessons of caution so fast? Sitting in this class and paging through the notes, echoes, to some extent, my study and devotional reading of Israel’s salvation history in the Old Testament. No matter how many times I read and recognize my ancestors’ failings, and marvel at their enduring ability to veer toward unfaith and perversion, at some level I too own that tendency. As Cotton Mather defined it, “History is a story of events, with praise and blame.” Instead of seeing these as merely unforgivable gaffs or disembodied events, I am learning to critically (and self-critically) engage American Christianity’s history as a narrative of my own triumphs and collapses, writ large.