I would like to talk about how we validate the Bible without arguing or demeaning others. A hint: it doesn’t begin with just knowing what it says, but instead it begins with the collection of writings, genres, and even methods of study. We will discuss the history as well as the content of the Bible.
It is important to know what the Bible actually says versus what we believe about it, or what we have been told. Yet there is so much more to validating the Bible in the mind of worldly people than what we think of in the church. For most of us in the church we have been taught to prove the Bible through reason, debate, and proofs. While these things really help build our faith, they generally do very little for post-modern people whose idea of truth is fundamentally different than church folks. For most of them the greatest test of the Bible is you, your life, your attitude toward them, your family, and other believers. Is the Bible life-giving or something harsh, critical, judgmental? Too often we use the Bible and what it says to win an argument, and all that tells non-Christians is they don't need to know anymore about your God or your Bible.
Having the right attitude begins with the very character and nature of the Bible. The Bible is a collection of 66 writings, written over a span of 1,500 years, in four languages. It is a very large body of work, with a lot of cultural assumptions, and time specific events. It is full of history, poetry, wisdom literature, apocalyptic literature, stories, parables, Hebraic law text (which are very different in spirit than Western law codes), and many different writing styles. This ought to humble us and make us recognize that becoming biblically literate is more about being acquainted with the heart of God for his people than knowing all of the content. I have spent the last 30 years of my life learning the content, and I have a long way to go. One of the things I like to teach people who want to become acquainted with the Bible is the big story: the overarching narrative that runs cover to cover, the story of the kingdom of God and the redemption of creation. Once we know that story, our biblical literacy begins to rise, and our attitude can be aligned with the spirit of the whole rather than an attitude expressed in a single text.
Learning about the numerous genres of literature, the complex cultural and historical nature of the text, and magnitude of the Bible itself should make us more patient with people who don’t share our good vibes about the Bible. When people speak half-truths, when they disparage the Bible because of a single text taken out of context, there is nothing to get angry about. They are not stupid, and they are not necessarily doing the work of the devil. It is likely that the Bible has been quoted at them to correct, malign, or to judge them or someone or something they believe. Respecting the giant and complex nature of this text may make us cautious about how we wield a sword around others and help us understand how they might be confused, hold onto misrepresented truth, or feel beat up by the Bible unjustly.
Last, but not least, knowing more about the different kinds of literature, history, and how cultures all fit together in the Bible can help us grow and even be helpful to others. This is why I cannot stress enough the need for courses like Introduction to the Bible and How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth. Since we, as Christians, are putting so much stock in the Bible it only makes sense that we know its origins, how it is put together, the different kinds of literature, the central theme, and how to read for understanding. So that we might rightly apply the word for the purpose of giving life rather than using it to hurt those we disagree with.
Next week I want to focus on how we deal with the relationship between science and Christianity.