Today was more of a laugh-providing day, as I heard a major figure in a literalist ministry explicitly advocate reading the Bible figuratively, in the context of a moral relativist philosophy.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss is evidently a very popular preacher among women, and it is clear why. In listening to her, I hear a great gentleness in her voice. She seems to have a lot of sympathy for the practical struggles women have in marriage and motherhood in particular. She mines the Bible for material which she weaves into inspirational, consoling messages about how to cope with stresses common to women in traditional roles. Note I said "mines" and "weaves." It seems apparent to me that she gets an idea for a nice message, then uses bits and pieces of scripture to support it. One wonders why this is necessary - presumably the omnipotent creator of the universe could have made the messages apparent on a simple reading of a single story, but even the hardcore Christians often have trouble with that approach.
Today's teaching was about the Book of Ruth. From listening, then doing a quick Wiki perusal, I gather that Ruth was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, they both became widowed, and they lost their family property and were pretty much destitute. DeMoss talks about how Ruth's request for protection from a strong family member mirrors the sinner's relationship with Jesus as savior. I guess that sounds nice enough, if you buy the premises. But here's where it gets interesting.
Before delving into further details, Nancy says,
Hmm, that sounds like moral relativism to me! Not to mention that it implies the Bible is not a clear catalog of directives for living a moral life, but at best some parts of it are literal directives, and others are merely educational or inspirational stories, not meant as instructions on how to live a moral life. And how one decides which is which? It's not mentioned, but it seems clear that modern secular moral thought is the guiding principle.
As we enter into verse two, we’re going to see a scene that will sound a little strange to our modern ears, because it’s going to draw upon some ancient Jewish culture that is Jewish, and that is ancient culture that most of us are not familiar with.
If the things that took place in this chapter happened today, they might not be appropriate. They would be out of the realm of what would be right. But in this context they’re going to be absolutely appropriate.
See, the reason she falls all over herself to exempt the story from literal moral education is that it basically involves a woman offering her daughter-in-law as a piece of chattel to a male relative, so that her husband's estate will remain in the family. Naomi directs Ruth to wash and perfume herself, and wear her best clothes, "to prepare herself as a bride prepares for marriage," in DeMoss's words, and to lie down at Boaz's feet in his sleeping place, and to do whatever he tells her when he wakes up. Yeah, I can see how you wouldn't want to model this behavior for modern women and their daughters. I guess in the end Boaz refrains from just screwing Ruth there on the threshing floor, but it seems motivated out of concern for another (male of course) relative's possible superior claim to her. In any case, it's clear what Naomi was setting Ruth up for, and it rightly makes DeMoss squeamish.
Don't get me wrong here - I'm always glad when modern religionists twist their teachings to conform to more enlightened morals. However, I can't help sniggering a bit when this teaching comes so overtly from the agent of an organization which states that
We believe that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is God's authoritative, inspired Word. It is without error in all its teachings, including creation, history, its own origins, and salvation. It is the supreme and final authority in all matters of belief and conduct.