Lutherans in the Twin Cities

The on-going discussion about nonviolence and biblical interpretation

As the United States populace debates the benefits and costs of a troop surge in Afghanistan, Christian activists are again discussing the nonviolent message of the Bible. While most interpreters agree that the preponderence of biblical material points to Jesus as a bringer of peace on Earth, there are texts that imply otherwise. So, what’s a peace activist to do?

Former St. Paul Area Synod bishop Lowell Erdahl and lay leader Alan Bostelmann re-entered the debate about how to read seemingly conflicting texts within scripture. Metro Lutheran photo: Bob Hulteen.

Former St. Paul Area Synod bishop Lowell Erdahl and lay leader Alan Bostelmann re-entered the debate about how to read seemingly conflicting texts within scripture. Metro Lutheran photo: Bob Hulteen.

That was the central discussion at two November meetings of the People of Faith Peacemakers at St. Martin’s Table in Minneapolis. Lay activist Alan Bostelmann and former ELCA bishop Lowell Erdahl addressed an overflow crowd on the topic “The Bible, Nonviolence, and War.”

People want more meaning than any ideology can give them.

“Liberals too often avoid actively reading the Bible,” said Bostelmann. “And that’s a mistake spiritually and politically.” People want more meaning than any ideology can give them, he argued.

Bostelmann advocates wrestling with difficult passages together with “brothers and sisters” to see “how people are relating to God [in passages of the Bible] and how God is responding.”

It’s impossible to reconcile everything in the Bible, according to Erdahl. “Try binging into harmony the book of James and the book of Galatians,” he challenged. Growing up in a denominations that emphasized conservative reading of scripture, and even used terms like “inerrant and infallible,” Erdahl prefers the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s late president Fredrik Schiotz’s challenge to avoid rigidity by looking to the central truth of the Bible in order to interpret the text.

Bostelmann and Erdahl agreed that, if the first creed of the church is ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and Jesus told his disciples to put away their swords because he would have “no more of this,” any reading of scripture that heightens the image of a violent God is doing a disservice to the tradition, and to scripture itself, both would maintain.

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