A Small Defense of Community and A Serious Discussion about the Bible

By Katherine Whiteman (Texas)

Greetings Summit Semester observers!

This blog is for those who are seeking to get a glimpse of what the heck all forty or so of us are doing up here in the mountains of Colorado… by ourselves… with no connection to the outside world.

We try our darndest to distinguish ourselves from your stereotypical idea of a cult. We avoid things like celebrating dictators’ birthdays (even if Mussolini’s birthday is the only Italian holiday for which one could justify making cannoli). We steer clear of creepy chants around campfires (for the most part), and we have a landline in our cabin. So there.

I realize it also may be worth separating ourselves from the idea of our situation resembling a co-ed convent (or monastery– whichever you prefer). But that gets difficult given the fact we are tasked with maintaining the grounds, building stair steps up to our only sliver of cellular reception, and competing to see which is the fastest dish pit team on the planet (which is the Dragons, of course).

So other than that, we eat three meals together every day (for which we have a minimum time of 30 minutes to enjoy said meal and forced conversation), we routinely question the validity of every thought that comes to our minds while trying not to feel metaphysically crushed under Dr. Bauman’s shaking finger and penetrating stare, and there is absolutely zero tolerance for ducks*.

So there you have it.

We come up for air every Sunday and enter the hip and poppin’ town of Pagosa Springs. Since everything seems fine and dandy there, we just assume that the rest of the world is in good shape. (Some of us may or may not make use of this wonderful thing called “Google” and actually get an “authoritative” perspective of the goings-on in the world that we are oblivious to.)

Cultish quips aside, this intentional and rigorous community life is truly what makes or breaks the intense learning and soul-searching that has the potential to happen here at Snow Wolf Lodge. We have intentionally, effectively, and temporarily distanced ourselves from the hustle and bustle of the world to reflect on why we are even in the world at all. This temporary isolation is coupled with immersion into an ideal and edifying Christian community. We take these relationships seriously and way beyond your mainstream idea of “hanging out”: we eat meals together, work together, play together, learn together, and grow in likeness of Christ together.

In lieu of Dr. Michael Bauman this past week we sat under the feet (in some relief) of Dr. Ken Turner.

Dr. Turner has his Masters of Divinity and PhD in Old Testament Theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and introduced us to the practice of Hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the science of faithfully determining the author’s meaning in Scripture, or, the art of (biblical) interpretation

He began by deconstructing some of our presuppositional views of the Bible based on the fact that many of them were developed out of ignorance of the biblical story as a whole. He took verses like Jeremiah 29:11 and demonstrated that the context we find this verse (and others) in does not usually fit the context that we use the verse in today. He exposed the tendency of Christians to get addicted to our little ‘bite-sized’ truths that neglect, or even harm, the overall “metanarrative” that the Bible presents to us.

“The need for a chapter and verse is not a good approach to biblical theology.” Dr. Turner

After he exposed the errors of selectively adopting Scripture, taking passages out of context, and treating the Bible like some sort of magic sauce, he pinpointed what he thinks is the fundamental problem with modern Bible reading and interpretation: we approach the Bible with a preconceived framework we want the Bible to fit in, questions we want the text to answer, and topics we are expecting coverage over. Dr. Turner says this is a dishonest way to approach this sacred book. Allow the Bible itself to establish the framework and to dictate and answer (or sometimes choose not to answer) its own questions. Then and only then can we begin the discussion of what the Bible actually says.

We proceeded to dive in and out of the Old Testament while along the way addressing different English translations of the Bible, the origins and significance of the Holy Name of God: YHWH, and the different types of Middle Eastern covenantal relationships that make appearances throughout the major covenantal periods of Israel’s history. We talked about the Exodus and its recurring theme even in the New Testament, the contrast in societal organization and worship between Israel and the surrounding nations, and yes, we broached the touchy topic of why God ordered the annihilation of the Canaanites.

Dr. Turner is not just an intelligent professor artfully communicating the deep truths he has discovered in his years studying the Old Testament; he is also a humorous and genuine man of God that caused a few scuffles over who was going to sit by him at the lunch or dinner table. His intentionality and eagerness to spend time with us and consider our questions was admirable. His patience and thoughtfulness made him very approachable, but no topic elicited from him a ‘beat around the bush’ approach. He effectively distinguished between truths about the Word of God from ‘side’ issues where he took a thoughtful and respectable stand, but made very clear that consensus was nonexistent and that other great minds disagreed with his take.

It was indeed refreshing.

Dr. Turner informed us that his latest work, a discussion of Genesis 1 and its interpretation and implications on Christian orthodoxy, will be published soon. His co-author is a geologist friend and colleague. I encourage you to be on the lookout for this book to hit the shelves! His careful and humble approach to the Scriptures deserves your attention.