Amid political polarization in the U.S., Christians who believe and advocate on each side of the Red-Blue divide tend to cite scripture as if God’s voice is simply and very unambiguously on their side. However, inconveniently for these Right- and Left-wing advocates, the Bible is politically and theologically multi-vocal. One strand of tradition craves a king, another abhors monarchy. One welcomes internationalism, another mandates an ethnically and culturally closed Israel. One part of the Bible waxes revolutionary, another part is decidedly conservative in its vision. The ideological inclusivity of the writers, editors, and collectors who brought the canon together continues into the rabbinic tradition, which, unlike most historic Christian conversation, acknowledges the possibility of “disagreement for the sake of heaven.” (Mishnah Avoth 5.17)
In this course we will entertain the notion that “disagreement for the sake of heaven” may be just what the doctor ordered for a divided church living in a divided land. This engagement will follow a hybrid design, joining biblical and practical theology. Here’s the structure:
- Preparation: Participants will be assigned to pre-read key Bible texts that feature this scriptural tendency to keep voices in tension, along with brief secondary reflections on tensions and conflict within scripture. (No more than 30 mins to an hour of focused preparation will be expected. Brief articles will be identified and sent out a couple of weeks prior to the start of class.)
- Presentation: Hilton will begin class with a lecture on texts and topics that feature the Bible’s habit of holding competing views in its pages.
- Discussion: The class will…
- discuss the assigned texts in light of the lecture and the brief assigned readings;
- ask together how this scriptural tendency might land fruitfully within contemporary Christian thought and practice; and
- apply the scriptural tendency in our own in-class conversations about controversial issues (e.g., immigration, abortion, homosexuality) from the 21st century.
- Further Investigation: At the end of each session, students will receive a list of articles and/or books for reading beyond the course.
This week of pondering how scripture can inform the way we deal with conflict will help prepare pastors, leaders, and laypeople to live and lead Christianly in a divided land.