June 25, 2012

Post-Kenya Notebook: A Medical Clinic and Unclean Exegesis

A quick prelude, would that be alright?


Exegesis, the critical interpretation of a religious text, comes from a Greek word meaning ‘to draw out' (like the woman in the photo--isn't this shot great?). The trained exegete and devout Jesus-follower, through an armamentarium of hermeneutical disciplines, attempts to draw out the meaning of a biblical text. There are teachers and students, pastors and clergymen, at my previous school, and around the globe, committed to teaching and practicing sound exegetical methods, good hermeneutics. And they do so with thrill and passion. Hard to imagine?

Some of these methods will be obvious while others won't be. For instance, a biochemist, though untrained as a “professional” (I cringe slightly using this word here) biblical exegete (trained on the collegiate-level), probably knows common, sound exegetical methods. He is most likely aware of good and bad practices when it comes to interpreting texts. Common, basic, fundamental knowledge from one field often pervades through others. We could say some knowledge is highly transferable and accessible among educators, and even students. A biochemist may have an interest in biblical studies and thus finds and utilizes good exegetical methods. This is good.

Though, I’m clearly aware, that this is not always the case. Sadly, I’m sure there are even trained biblical exegetes who are not competent in biblical studies. Now, you’re probably thinking, ‘.......Whatever.' Right? I mean, who cares?

Well, for starters me.

While in Kenya, I was abruptly and absurdly confronted with shabby exegesis and--well, maybe I'll just tell you the story.

[Prelude Concludes]

Dan’s daughter, Danielle Stewart is a nurse and her knowledge and skills were a tremendous help. After all the administrative details, taken care of by our Kenyan pastors, our team was able to treat over 500 people from small towns and rural villages over several days through our medical clinics.

If I am remembering correctly, I attended three.

At each, our team was divided up. Some would pray for each person/s as they came in (which I did at the third), some would oversee the meds and another would take the patients' blood pressure and temperature. Danielle always helped the doctor. And that's what we called him. We worked with him at every clinic, husband to Rhoda, a principle. They were a dynamic duo for sure.

His skin was dark, and head round. Doctor was cheerful, always greeting with a bold smile and hearty handshake. It was difficult to not flash a big smile back.

At the last medical clinic I attended, three local events were taking place at the same time, leaving the church building we were working out of helplessly empty; nothing like the other clinics, packed full with sick, broken people waiting to see the doctor. Only a slow, steady trickle of people.

This gave us a lot of down time, time to sit and talk, to listen.

Bob wanted to speak with me one-on-one in the prayer room. When our conversation had slowed, I took leave and made my way toward the front of the building, where the stage was. It was only a couple inches higher than the normal floor. A foursquare flag had been pinned to the wall behind the stage. Dan had brought it on a prior trip.

To the right was a small coffee table surrounded by plastic chairs. Sitting was Danielle, Maddie, Lyndsey and the Doctor. Eventually, Regan would make his way over as well, but not soon enough.

I was curious what was going on. The conversation brewing sounded serious, although Doctor has a very disarming quality about him. His glee and smile put you at ease quite naturally. You feel welcome around him, to just be yourself, because he certainly is. He was doing the talking and as I sat down in the middle of his speel he caught me up to speed. Little did I know, Doctor was spewing fightin’ words, theologically that is.

He began by telling us that he had talked with some biblical studies students at some study. The content of their conversation consisted of the second coming of Jesus. Ok, great.

*Wait for it, wait for it......*

And the third!?

Come again?! I shouted in my mind. Did you say the third coming of Jesus? Yes, yes he did.

My trust in Doctor quickly shriveled and reflected in my face and posture. I scowled. Doctor, sensing my hostility, continued quite elaborately, all while smiling, going on and on about how Christians for the last 2,000 years, essentially, got it wrong. He quoted, with surprising precision, passages from the prophets and connected them with this statement of Jesus and that line from Paul.

I was trying to keep up with his "logic" until I had enough when he unabashedly linked two references of 'clouds' in the NT. In Matthew 24 and 26 Jesus spoke of the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and glory. Doctor--though I was somewhat lost in a labyrinth of screwy exegesis and heresy--proclaimed that these clouds were the same clouds in Hebrews 12:1.

Yaaa, that's not cool and I'm definitely not okay with this. And so I said so. I remember not caring what-so-ever about the rest of his argument. I cut him off and called him out and maybe rather sternly, all amongst his little congregation. Regan had now joined the group and was listening.

I told him he was making exegetical heaps, big ones! And that his hermeneutics were crumbling, at best. I told him I would not go to his (hypothetical) Bible study because he didn't know what he was talking about! I was kind of harsh, but I knew I could be. Doctor's glee and cheer never diminished. He just laughed it off, as if he made a mistake and fell off his theological bike. To justify himself, he made a comment about how he hadn't taken Dan's classes. That was the truth! Nor had he taken Jim's, Mark's or Michael's :)

Though I rebuked him in the company of many witnesses, he never recanted. And I don't know if, since then, he has repented of his exegetical depravity. A few of us joked about it later on. I was like Doctor's doctor, for his theology; it was sick. All this had an ironic twist, considering our setting.

There are some I expect this kind of failure from: the uneducated or ignorant, the young and callow, the fundamentalist. But not a doctor, even if in Kenya. I mean, sure, ya, it's kind of funny; a third coming of Christ. But in reality, this is just good ole' fashion doctrine error, exegetical failure and bad theology.

Knowing how to study the Bible is important and I for one am thankful, because of little moments like these, for my education in biblical studies. I care about God, people, theology (and how to do it) too much to sit by while people make mistakes that I can help fix. This is important stuff, so don't neglect what you know whether it's a lot or not. Study Scripture, and study well. And the next time someone tries to convince you and others that Jesus is coming a third time--again again--tell him, in love, to shut it!