This fall's congressional election is one of the clearest ever in American history.
One party: More power centralized in Washington. The other party: Stop or at least slow down government growth.
One party: Equality! The other party: Liberty!
One party: It's easy to grow a business or an entire economy. The other party: It may seem easy if you've never done it, but it's hard, hard, hard.
One party: Redistribution! The other party: Competition!
Christians are in both parties, and the result is akin to the differences between North and South that Abraham Lincoln reflected on in his second inaugural address: "Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other."
Ah, but how do we read and interpret it? We all have a tendency to do eisegesis (reading our notions into the Bible) rather than exegesis (reading out of it). From 1830 to 1865 many churches, schools, and publications practiced eisegesis concerning biblical texts, and one result was a hardly civil war.
Today, liberal assumptions bombard most public-school attendees and survivors. Conservative assumptions often influence homeschoolers. Both groups need to beware of eisegesis. Since 87 percent of children attend public school, only 3 percent are homeschooled, and liberalism also dominates most college campuses, the greatest threat to solid exegesis comes from the left.
Viewers of TV shows and most movies may be similarly hornswoggled. FOX News provides some balance, but the combined power of CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, and NPR is far greater-and "entertainment" changes our attitudes more than news, anyway. We're trained to see businessmen as corrupt and ruthless. We're trained to see the homeless as saintly. It's OK for black evangelicals to go to church, but the pastor of a mostly white church is likely to be a hypocrite.
Liberal eisegesis is particularly a threat among the young. Folks out of the classroom for a dozen years, and gaining discernment through the challenges of work and growing a family, often put behind them school propaganda. Media propaganda still has an effect, of course, but reality has a way of flattening ideological fantasies.
I do not deny the problem of conservative eisegesis, but liberal eisegesis is at the moment a more powerful threat. Liberal eisegesis is why so many see the word justice in the Bible and eisegete it as redistribution from rich to poor. It takes extensive exegesis to see that biblical justice is synonymous with righteousness and faithfulness. Many Christians through eisegesis read the Bible and assert that tolerance is the highest virtue, or that human effort is adequate to eliminate human evil.
Do we have antidotes to all the poisonous propaganda that many of us have consumed? Sure: Two. First, study the Bible under the guidance of those who practice exegesis. At least, start the morning with Bible reading rather than media chatter. (Cal Thomas jokes about reading the Bible and then reading The New York Times to get the other side.)
Second, try the radical Puddleglum approach. In C.S. Lewis' fourth Narnia book, The Silver Chair, the evil Queen of Underland tries to lull the heroes by monotonously thrumming a mandolin: "The less you noticed it, the more it got into your brain and your blood." But Puddleglum, the gloomy marsh-wiggle, saves the day by deliberately burning his foot in a fire: Pain breaks the spell.
Today, academic and media thrumming, like the Underland enchantment, makes us sleepy. So, do something that may be painful: Read arguments from those who oppose what influences you eisegetically. If you're a Sojourners Christian disposed to read liberalism into the Bible, read a book reviewed on p. 28 of this issue, Wayne Grudem's Politics-According to the Bible. If you're a conservative who thinks the war on drugs is working and our legal system is fine, read a book I reviewed in the last issue of WORLD, Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
It goes without saying that everyone should read WORLD. And it should go without saying that you should vote for the candidate of good character who is least likely to harm unborn and born children, husbands and wives, and the Constitution that undergirds our liberties.
Email Marvin Olasky