Pros and Cons of the Bible: Part III
After leaning in to the inspired nature of the Bible, the human composition of it, and the difficulties with some of the pictures we get of God in the OT, we now move our series in to two more PRO/CONS.
PRO: The Bible is diverse collection of different types of letters, poems, and books that all move with a singular narrative. CON: It has been used as a legal constitution to statically determine what is “right” and what is “wrong.”
There are 66 books in the Bible, and even just a cursory glance reveals that it truly is a library of different genres, different styles.
There are History books, books of Wisdom and Poetry, there are prophetic books, there are apocalyptic books, there are letters and gospels.
Each book or letter was written or compiled by a human or humans, and their unique personality and make-up are evident in each writing.
Yet within such a broad range of diversity of literature spread out over a long period of time there exists a general thrust, or a story, a narrative, being told within and throughout Scripture that for years I was completely ignorant to.
I’d always thought, and been taught, to see the Bible as basically a FLAT document. Everything is equal in weight. It’s like a cookbook: you just open it up anywhere, and take out something, and run with it.
But the reality is that Bible tells a story. And the story builds and moves and climaxes in Jesus.
So everything has to be viewed through the lens of Jesus.
Moreover, if we lose the fact that the Bible is a Story then a lot of it isn’t going to make sense, while other parts of it will be misapplied and misused.
Like yesterday’s post emphasized, the picture we get of God the Creator in the OT is not the final word about who God is. Rather, those are like the early chapters of a book where the depth and nuance and layers of a character are slowly revealed as the story progresses.
It isn’t until you get to Jesus that you see, as the writer of Hebrews said, the “full image of God, the exact representation of God” found in Jesus.
And also, in Jesus, we see the climax of the story being told throughout the Old Testament. The story of a God who creates and wants to connect with and be in relationship with that creation. Yet the creation is unable or unwilling or uninterested in such a relationship, and so we see God at work in calling out Abraham and choosing to enter in to a unique relationship with what would eventually be the nation of Israel. The goal, of course, is to bless Israel to be a blessing to the rest of the world. Israel was tasked with being God’s light and love to the world.
However, as things go, that story didn’t really work out too well. Israel got a bit self absorbed at times and just downright rebellious at others. They got off mission more often than not. But God, being slow to anger, never gave up on them or the Mission.
Eventually the story was moving towards God doing something new in creation, and so Jesus came to be and do for the world what Israel was supposed to be and do for the world. And at last, through his life, teachings, healings, death and especially resurrection, we experience the climactic moment of God’s redemptive story.
The rest of the NT then is how that story then gets played out (i.e. the implementation of the Kingdom of God that Jesus inaugurated).
Point being: there is a Narrative in the Bible. And knowing that Narrative is important. But knowing how the Bible carries along that Narrative is even more important.
What can happen is that instead of seeing the Bible as Library of books that is moving towards (and then flowing from) Jesus, we can come to the Bible as though it were a Legal Constitution. (Thanks to Brian McLaren for the helpful language here).
There’s a tendency to see the Bible as a text book that we come to for answers.
Have you ever heard it said “the Bible has an answer for all of life’s questions.”
No it doesn’t!
Find me a verse on Fracking. Go ahead. I’ll wait. And what does the Bible say about Energy Consumption? Should I be a vegan or not? Stem cell research? Cloning?
And the list goes on…
If we insist that the Bible is a Text Book of answers, instead of the unraveling story of how God has sought about redeeming and renewing Creation, we will continually be frustrated that Bible doesn’t do what we need it to do.
The early chapters of text book carry equal value, weight, and authoritative thrust as later chapters do.
But in a story?
The establishing of the setting, the introduction of the characters, and the development of conflict are all fulfilled and completed and rounded out by the resolution and the denouement.
So the way I see it, the PRO to reading the Bible is that it tells the beautiful redemptive (and still redeeming) work of God in and through Creation. But the CON can be when we approach it as something other than what it is designed to be or do.
It’s like saying, “well my microwave heats things up and cooks my popcorn... so I’ll just stick this cookie dough in here and cook it for 30 minutes… I’m sure I’ll get cookies when I’m done!”
PRO: The Bible is the unique Book for Christianity and functions as its voice of authority. CON: It has been seen as the ONLY source of truth, wisdom, and beauty, and its “authority” has been misunderstood and abused.
This one might ruffle some feathers, so let me unpack it just a bit (even though admittedly it deserves a much fuller treatment).
Traditionally, this phrase, “the Authority of Scripture,” has been used as a way to empower those who say, “look, here, the Bible says it, which means God says it, so that settles it.”
In turn, the Bible has been used to support slavery, to oppress women, to condemn those born with same-sex attraction, to kill jews, etc etc…
All with this attitude of, “hey, what do you want from me, it says right here in the bible, and the Bible is authoritative! So even if I wanted to invite blacks, or women, or gays, or Jews to the table… I’m handcuffed by the Bible!!"
All authority rests in God, first and foremost.
So the Bible merely functions as a conduit to convey the “authority” present in God. That’s an important distinction.
But more than that, the way this actually works out (to go back to the point of Scripture having a narrative arc to it) is that the Bible is authoritative in so far as it gives us the Story of God and invites us to be people who keep on writing it.
Nt Wright describes the “authority of Scripture” like this:
The shorthand phrase “the authority of Scripture,” when unpacked, offers a picture of God’s sovereign and saving plan for the entire cosmos, dramatically inaugurated by Jesus himself, and now to be implemented through the Spirit-led life of the church precisely as the scripture-reading community.”
In other words, the “authority of scripture” is put into operation by the church going in to the world on behalf of the gospel announcing the good news that God has defeated the powers of evil and begun a work of new creation in Jesus Christ.
The Bible gives us a story, and we take that story and continue to live it out, recognizing that the story found in the Bible is authoritative in that it gives us our mission to be people of the Kingdom of God. It gives us the shape of the Mission. We can’t start carving new paths in the story if they betray the integrity of the narrative already played out and given to us.
So the Scriptures are unique for Christianity. They give us our Mission. They give us insight into God, especially as revealed by Jesus. And they function is the authoritative text for our faith journey.
Sadly, much of Christianity has refused to acknowledge that other faith traditions and other religions have also had experiences with their Creator.
All truth is God’s truth, and so we shouldn’t be surprised to find truth in other sacred literature or other sacred stories.
This is why at our church, Sojourn Grace Collective, we have this saying,
Uniquely Christian, but not Exclusively
In other words, we find something uniquely compelling and powerful and inviting about Jesus and about the story of God found in the Bible, but we don’t want to pretend that we have the corner on the market.
Even as you read the stories found in Scripture you are forced to acknowledge that “our” characters are constantly interacting with “other” characters who have already experienced connectivity with their Creator!
God did not (and does not) ONLY speak to, engage with, pursue, love, communicate with, inspire, empower and lead Israelites (before Jesus) or Christians (post Jesus).
I feel silly even having to type that sentence out because it feels so absurd. Yet that can be the default place many of us start from.
The Bible, to me, is a wonderful, beautiful, powerful, engaging, captivating, inspired, uniquely God-breathed piece of art. But I don’t believe that means it is the sole place where one can find truth, beauty, or evidence of God.