Friday, September 01, 2006

Horizons Bible Study – In the Beginning—Perspectives on Genesis

The Presbyterian Women’s group (PW) of our church was planning on using the 2006-2007 Horizons Bible Study this fall. The study looks at Genesis. Two of the leaders from the group approached me concerning the study. They had heard that the Voices of Orthodox Women (VOW) had major concerns regarding the study. The VOW web site said:

“A. We cannot recommend this study for use by groups of Presbyterian women in local congregations.

B. We suggest that a possible alternative study to consider may be Genesis: God’s Grace from the Beginning, by Debbie Schmidt, provided by the Network of Presbyterian Women in Leadership (NPWL). This study has been reviewed by VOW board member Marcia Slentz-Whalen. Her review appears here [click here]. To investigate the study for yourself go to []

C. We have also prepared a word of caution [click here) for those women who may find themselves using the Horizons study, to guide them in discerning the difficulties we encountered. This is not intended to be a supplement to a study we do not recommend.”

The author of the study is Celia Brewer Sinclair. Concerning Sinclair the Horizons study says, “Celia Brewer Sinclair is a lecturer in religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She holds degrees from Duke University and Yale Divinity School.” Sinclair has also published under the name of Celia Brewer Marshall. To understand Sinclair’s view toward scripture on can turn to the web site of the School of Ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. Sinclair and Fred Horton author the Study’s lessons. In their section called “Crucial strategies or moves in feminist interpretation of scripture” they give the following words:

“While there is no one way to “do” biblical interpretation, there are a few strategies or moves that feminists share as they approach biblical texts.

  1. Be alert to expressions of patriarchy in the texts. Watch for presumptions of privilege that go unquestioned.
  2. Listen to what is communicated by the silences in the text, by what is not talked about. Women in scripture are often unnamed, silent, or ignored. Creatively re-imagine, remember, lift up these women out of the text and breathe life into them once again.
  3. Biblical texts are often androcentric. For instance, Exodus 20.17 reads: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife…” Who is the intended audience here? Step outside the androcentric ideology and critique it. Read “against the grain” and question the text’s assumptions.
  4. Interpretation is always a political act, which is to say that reading the text always calls for action and change. Interpretation involves creative imagination, vision, and transformation. “

It is disturbing to think that PW groups around the country will be using this study!

Point #1: Their first point is quite true. The world of Genesis was male dominated. Men held a place of privilege when compared to women.

Point #2: How does one interpret the “silences in the text”? How can we “re-imagine” or “remember” people we have never met and that scripture says very little about? This style of exegesis and hermeneutics allows the interpreter latitude that was never intended of the readers of scripture! Being creative is not always being biblical.

Point #3: There are places where scripture is androcentric. The example that is used is coveting a neighbor’s wife. It is clear that the passage is about coveting. We are not to covet. The writer of Genesis then gives several examples, of which one is the neighbor’s wife. Sinclair wants women to read “against the grain.” Should we come to the biblical text with questions? Absolutely! Should we look at the assumptions of the biblical text? Absolutely! However, we do not arbitrarily throw out the assumptions with which we disagree. We are to use sound principles of exegesis and hermeneutics to help us understand the biblical text.

Point #4: Sinclair believes that “interpretation is always a political act.” I would have agreed with this point if Sinclair just said that “reading the text always calls for action and change.” God is always in the process of transforming us—that process will continue until Christ returns or our life on earth comes to an end. Sinclair moves onto unstable ground when she says that we need to use creative imagination when we interpret scripture. This goes against a Reformed understanding of biblical interpretation.

Monday I will look at specific examples from the Horizons study that are problematic.


At 11:30 AM , Anonymous will spotts said...

There is a great gulf fixed between methods of interpretation. I object to the method endorsed by this study not solely because I find it unbiblical - but because I find it wrong. It is a way to read a text that is not faithful to the text, and is designed to do violence to it. This is not reading or interpretation, but cynical use of a text for unrelated agendas.

I also unequivocally reject the notion that reading is a political act. It is only a political act for those shallow and misguided enough to find personal meaning in politics. For that type of reader, all acts are political acts. And I believe this a tragic waste of life.

At 6:57 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Lance!

Sorry it has been so long since my last comment....I do still read though!

For the first year EVER, we got our Cuero PW ladies to get the PFR curriculum and ditch the Horizons crud! (One small step for woman...)

This old, tired Bible-hating, liberal, Marxist rebellion in the guise of 'study' must stop!

At 10:40 AM , Blogger Quotidian Grace said...

We don't have PW anymore for a number of reasons. But we do have the remnants of two PW circles from the old days that meet monthly just for Bible study. The "morning" group is quite elderly and they cling to the Horizons studies. The "evening" group is younger and ditched the Horizons studies a couple of years ago at my suggestion.

IMHO, PW is fading away faster than the denomination because it no longer meets the needs of the modern woman as well as the fact that the Horizons studies are too often of questionable quality and thelogy.

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