Skip to: Site Menu | Main content

Bibles and Beer in Cheyenne, Wyoming

Bibles and Beer is not for everyone. But it is non-traditional enough to entice thinkers of different thoughts, those whose paths to understanding include plenty of room for ambiguity. Something special happens when a group of people comes together to learn from one another without feeling compelled to convert one another.

By Rodger McDaniel
Highlands Presbyterian Church
Cheyenne, Wyoming
August 2012

Lutheran theologian Roy Harrisville said that in much the same way that a sonata “takes its revenge on someone without an ear for music,” the scriptures “wreak fury” on those who refuse to break away from preconceived notions of their meaning. “Bibles and Beer” is a weekly, non-traditional, inter-faith Bible study attempting to avoid the fury and reclaim the scripture.

The first lesson taught at the seminary I attended was the difference between eisegesis and exegesis. That was the moment I fell in love with Bible study. That was the moment I learned that Bible study did indeed have the great potential to transform thinking and living. That day the Bible became dynamic.

I had never heard the terms eisegesis and exegesis and suddenly they were the basis for coming to understand what I believed and why I believed it. The windows of possibility were thrown wide open when I came to understand that exegesis is what comes out of the Bible, as opposed to eisegisis which is what gets read into it. Before those three years at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, my Bible “teachers” were nearly all eisegetes, i.e. teachers, usually preachers, who interpreted or misinterpreted a text or portion of text in such a way that it always confirmed their own presuppositions, agendas, and/or biases.

They assigned the Bible the passive role of simply sitting there all these centuries waiting for us to give it meaning. From the eisgetetic preachers I learned the Old Testament, as they called it, foretold of the coming of Jesus. They believed the intended audience for those words was we, not the ancients. They created a world in which we could be right and the Bible could prove it.

Suddenly that world changed. Bright people, willing to draw out the meaning and let the Bible speak for itself, surrounded me. They insisted on doing the hard work of looking at the times in which the author wrote and what it was the author was seeking to accomplish. Surprisingly, they made room among the supernatural for the natural. Legitimate archeology and genetics, for example, could stand with mythology and history in opening up the meaning of ancient texts. I no longer had to make a choice between the believable and the unbelievable. Faith and reason could reside together.

I enrolled in seminary after spending 20 years as a trial lawyer. I was already comfortable with the idea that truth could be found employing a process of determining critical facts through a disciplined and objective review. I had also learned the value of using a group of people, in that case a jury, to look at the facts individually and then coming to a consensus about what they meant.

Perhaps because of that experience I had an easier time than some in transitioning from eisegetic reading to the use of exegesis. When I began to wrestle with the possibility that you could learn more by listening to the text that speaking to it, I was surrounded by others willing to make the same journey.

It was not exegesis alone that gave the Bible new meaning. It was conducting the search as a part of a community of people willing to take the time and risk of digging into the meaning and letting the chip fall where they might. Regrettably, these kinds of communities are seldom found in churches, synagogues, mosques or other centers of religious practice. The absence of diversity of thought and the elevation of dogma combine to make these places of eiegesis. It’s difficult within the walls of those buildings and minds to let scripture speak for itself.

That is why a group of us came together to create a new space, a non-traditional environment within which to give serious study to the scripture. In May 2011, we started “Bibles and Beer.” We have met every Monday night since, including holidays, at a popular local pup called Uncle Charlie’s. We chose Monday evening because that was the slowest time of the week for the bar and they were willing to give us a room on a night when they didn’t have many customers. That has changed.

In the beginning 12-15 people came together each Monday. Today the group numbers 40-45. There are Christians representing several denominations, mainstream, conservative and liberal. There are Jews and Muslims, agnostics and at least one admits to being an atheist. Some attend church regularly and many do not. Over time, all have come to know this is a safe place where they can explore the text. Our ground rules discourage debate. Participants frequently engage one another in a spirited dialogue but there is never any condemnation of another’s beliefs. In fact, we do our best to hear everyone so that we may learn from one another as we learn about how others think.

Uncle Charlie’s Bar
Every Monday night, Uncle Charlie’s Bar in Cheyenne hosts “Bibles and Beer.”

The group includes those with considerable academic training, religious historians, theologians and lay people who have spent considerable effort studying the ancient cultures, writings and beliefs. Some sip a glass of wine or order a beer. Many drink water or iced tea. Everyone listens well. Most speak out and everyone leaves at the end of the hour excited about new understandings they have gained from one another. The openness of the group to new ideas as they share their own questions and conclusions creates a safe community where difficult questions can be allowed to emerge from the text and our collective minds.

Over the last few decades there is little question that faith centers, whether they be churches, mosques or synagogues, have lost much of their moral authority. A strong case can be made that this is the inevitable result of eisgetic teaching. As the world and its moral, political, social and economic dilemmas have become more complex, people are not satisfied with the superficial reading of complex texts. They want to know what it means and they, more easily than before, reject the obviously preconceived notions.

Intellectuals like the late Christopher Hitchens persuade audiences by arguing that there is no God, using a dead interpretation of the Bible as evidence. Those who point to the Bible to answer questions that were never asked when the text was written have been unwitting co-conspirators. It is ironic that in asserting the Bible’s authority, they have relinquished it.

Being born again into exegesis is not simple. We who like to see ourselves as exegetes often lapse into eisegesis in order to claim the high ground. It’s hard to sit back and allow the Bible to speak for itself when we know what it is we want it to say. It is even harder to do so in individual study or when we limit our study to a theologically isolated community.

Bibles and Beer is not for everyone. But it is non-traditional enough to entice thinkers of different thoughts, those whose paths to understanding include plenty of room for ambiguity. Something special happens when a group of people comes together to learn from one another without feeling compelled to convert one another.

Comments (0)

Use the form below to submit a new comment. Comments are moderated
and logged, and may be edited. You must provide your full name.
Inappropriate material will not be posted. Please do not post inappropriate web sites, they will be deleted.

E-mail (Will not appear online)