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Pastor stirs thinking on faith values, biblical interpretation

As a pastor, author and teacher, the Rev. John Bristow appreciates the opportunities he has had to challenge people on theology and values to stretch their thinking, understanding and faith.

John Bristow
The Rev. John Bristow is the 2010 Easter Sunrise Service preacher.

In a recent interview, the preacher for the 2010 Ecumenical Easter Sunrise Service recounted how he has sought to clarify values, widen perspectives and open understanding of biblical interpretation in his ministry at Country Homes Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in North Spokane, his two books on biblical issues and his teaching Gonzaga University undergraduate students on the synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke.

His ministry reaches people with caring and concepts that drew him into the faith community.

John didn’t go to church and didn’t like preachers or churches during his years growing up in Oregon.  That shifted after he decided to go to a church camp to meet girls.

At camp, he found that faith offered meaningful insights for his life and decided to enter ministry.  His early alienation gives him understanding of people outside of churches and people at different places in their faith journeys.

As he prepares to retire as pastor at Country Homes Christian, where he has served since 2002, he hopes he has contributed to people finding growth, wholeness, a relationship with “the living God and faith that issues into action.”

Although he retires from the church in June, he will continue to teach one more year at Gonzaga.

In the Gonzaga classes, where he teaches 120 Christian, Jewish, Muslim and atheist students each year, he finds some students comfortably familiar with Scriptures, some somewhat knowledgeable and others considering the Scriptures undiscovered territory.

After graduating in 1967 from Northwest Christian College in Eugene, Ore., in New Testament, he earned a master’s in church history in 1970 and a doctor of ministry in pastoral ministry in 1972 at Lexington Theological Seminary.

He served Christian (Disciples of Christ) churches in Louisville, Ky., two years; in Seattle, 19 years, and in Beaverton, Ore., nine years, before coming to Country Homes Christian Church.

“Each congregation has different personalities, traditions and values,” he said, describing Country Homes Christian as “a creative, growing and healthy congregation.”

John led that congregation through a two-year study of core values Jesus’ followers were to embody, and developed with them nine values he uses as the basis of his preaching and teaching.  Those values are:

Since the study, church members have sent thank you notes to businesses that reflect those values, regardless of whether they are Christian.

For example, they wrote to a dentist who did thousands of dollars of complicated work on a low-income woman with sinus cancer who couldn’t pay him, and to a supermarket clerk who went out of his way to help mentally disabled customers.

Another way the church lives the values is through its annual “food fight,” in which men and women of the congregation compete to see who will bring more food.  The losing side honors the winning side with a dinner.

In 2010, John said the church donated enough to “feed the 5,000”—as Jesus’ did—plus another 4,000.

John wrote two books while serving as a pastor in Seattle.

His 1988 book, What Paul Really Said about Women, published by HarperCollins, is still in print.

“Evangelical audiences tell me the book has helped them move from understanding Paul saying women can’t do things, which they know women are capable of doing.  Mainline audiences who gave up on Paul have said they would go back and look at what Paul said,” John said.

“There’s a disconnection on Scriptures.  Mainline Protestants should rediscover the Bible,” he said, “and Evangelical Protestants need to resist imposing orthodox views on the pages of Scriptures and read them afresh.”

He began writing the book after a newly elected deaconess asked about the inconsistency of Paul telling women to obey their husbands and keep silent in church, but also saying that in Christ there is no male or female.

John checked it out by translating the English text into Greek, and found it different from the original Greek.

“The translation was technically correct, but nuances made a difference,” he said.

Then he wrote What the Bible Really Says about Love, Marriage and Family, published by Chalice in 1994, which he said was more radical and in print five years.  It’s a biblical study of seven models of marriage found in the Bible.

“Only the model associated with God’s curse has the husband as boss and the wife having babies and manipulating the husband,” he said.  “God’s design was Adam and Eve before the fall as companions.”

After retiring from teaching at Gonzaga, John and his wife Christy plan to move to Bremerton, where they own a house.

While he looks forward to scuba diving, making custom jewelry and doing woodworking in retirement, he’s aware that “telling your plans makes God laugh.”

John has another book brewing.  It’s on how some American Christians misuse Scriptures to wrap the Bible in the flag or bash each other for political purposes, rather than living a faith that promotes love and democracy.

“Scriptures are not intended to denigrate others and exalt oneself or one’s group, but it happens all the time,” John said.

To keep people humble about biblical interpretation, he summed up stages Scriptures go through:

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