December 14, 2017

How the Bible “Works” Today

Sunrise over Jerusalem, Jonathan Kis-Lev

Sunrise over Jerusalem, Jonathan Kis-Lev (link below)

In our discussion on Monday regarding Andrew Perriman’s views on eschatology, commenters asked some important questions about Perriman’s exegetical method and what it does to our understanding of the Bible. For example, Damaris wrote:

Still, I see a problem in Perriman’s exegetical technique — if I’m understanding correctly: as I said above, the Bible becomes a dead historical artifact and has little that applies to us today. (emphasis mine)

I thought Scott provided a good answer when he replied:

Actually, that’s a big point for Perriman. He sees Scripture as more historical than systematic theology. It teaches theology, but as an historical document. The theology flows out of a particular historical framework (though that wouldn’t necessarily mean every bit of Scripture is journalistic history).

But what we can do, moving forward, is to look at the historical narrative of Scripture, and follow the history since then (2nd century & forward), and we can find important pointers in helping us move forward in our own context. Now, having said that, I don’t believe Perriman would say we cannot form theology from reading Scripture. But that theology must come first from the historical trajectory of Scripture, rather than from a protesting monk in 15th century Germany or from modern evangelicalism. And as we understand Scripture in its own historical framework, we shall build a more robust & healthy theology today.

I’d like to take his answer a step further and discuss how I think Scripture “works” in our lives today — we who live so far removed from the events it records and who live in a vastly different time and culture.

druhy_zivot_tory2First of all, we must be willing to recognize that anyone who begins to take Scripture seriously is immediately immersed in historical questions and questions about the nature of the Bible itself.

In the churches and groups where I’ve been (primarily evangelical/fundamentalist), I don’t think this has been appreciated. Very little thought was ever given to how we came to have the Bible, how and when it was composed and edited, who the audiences were that first received the sacred writings, and how the various parts of the Bible carry on conversations with each other, reflecting diversity and development in the biblical message.

My experiences have led me to lament the Biblical illiteracy of our congregations, and that includes a lack of the most basic understanding of what kind of book the Bible is and isn’t. Most conservative evangelicals have a simplistic Sunday School grasp on the nature of Scripture. It is God’s Word, first of all, and so we tend to approach it with kid gloves, as though saying “God said it” is enough. As though God merely dropped it from heaven. As though every page and every story and poem was not forged in the blood, sweat, and tears of people who believed but needed help for their unbelief. As though the Bible has no human backstory that brought it to us. As though we could merely dust off its historical and cultural and literary characteristics and discover a purely divine message shining beneath.

Out of this naivete, we fail to appreciate the diversity of genres in Scripture and so we read its apocalyptic literature and poetry with the same literalistic mindset as when reading its historical narratives. We tend to think anything resembling historical narrative must be actual reporting of events, and we have little patience for anyone who suggests some of these might be folk tales or stories designed to make us think, laugh, or engage in discussion with one another. We flatten Scripture and fail to recognize the progress of revelation and the fact that some Scriptures are more significant than others in contributing to the overall message.

I’m not saying every church ought to be like a seminary, and every Christian a serious student of historical criticism, rhetorical criticism, literary theory, Ancient Near East history, Second Temple Judaism, life in the Greco-Roman world, and the traditions of interpretation throughout church history. However, our pastors and teachers ought to be acquainted with such matters and engaged in continuing education about them, and the church must learn not to be afraid of any learning that helps us understand the people, events, and backgrounds of the biblical story better, even if we end up being forced to reexamine some of our long held pet interpretations.

This is only one level of engaging Scripture, however, and for the vast majority of Christians, exposure to such robust and well-informed biblical and theological study will have to come through their teachers and pastors. For their part, the church’s teachers should have as one of their goals making this kind of instruction clear, understandable, and interesting so that believers can move beyond a Sunday School perspective on Scripture.

My own life, for example, has been enriched immeasurably by coming to understand more about the nature of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament). Knowing that it was gathered, compiled, at least partially composed, edited, and put together after the Exile in Babylon by people who were trying to come to grips with their identity before God and in the world after having suffered such devastation has opened up a multitude of new insights for me as I read it. The Bible has a human backstory — it is not just divine truth dropped from heaven.

And I think this is where we can make a statement about how the Bible is designed to “work” in our lives.

  • If we take the life-settings of Scripture, the contexts in which God has acted in the past, seriously…
  • And if we take the authors and compilers and editors of Scripture seriously, recognizing that they worked in specific settings for particular purposes, to bring a word from God to people who needed to hear it in their context…
  • Then, we will recognize that the Bible is not a theological textbook characterized primarily by propositional doctrines and ethical instructions written to a universal audience, but a family story, a narrative about particular people in particular times and places who experienced God in the midst of their lives and communities.
  • This means, as some of our commenters noted the other day, that much of the Bible was not written to us directly, but it was written for us, and for all who are part of God’s family. This is our family story. It has been given as a means of shaping our identity and forming our lives in the world.

The Bible “works” in our lives when, through an ongoing process of understanding, internalizing, and contemplating our family story, we embrace our identity as God’s people and seek to live out the family identity in our own time and place.

The main way in which we approach the Bible, then, is not as students, but as heirs together.

The main way we look at the Bible is as a living ancestral record, a story which is continuing in our lives.

The main tools we use are meditation, imagination, discussion, and commemoration.

Our churches build the life of the community around an ongoing immersion in the story.

There may be other ways of doing this, but I’ve found nothing better than being part of a congregation that keeps the annual Church Calendar with a variety of celebrations and customs, following lectionaries and other guides to Scripture, marking the daily hours of prayer and praying the Psalms, using contemplative Bible reading practices such as lectio divina, and participating in liturgical worship that dramatizes Christ and the Gospel every Sunday in words and sacred actions.

The Bible “works” best in a “family” way.

* * *

Today’s art by Jonathan Kis-Lev at Art and Soul

Comments

  1. I agree with so much of what you say here, Chaplain Mike.

    However, I do think that rather than an ancestral record being the “main way we look at the Bible”, that a Living and active Word of law and gospel, a Word that is actually done (judgement and forgiveness) to the hearer/reader, ought be our main realization about Holy Scripture.

  2. The statement that you quote from Scott states that we should not make our interpretation of Scripture dependent on the historical concerns of a 15th century German monk or modern evangelicalism. I wonder why he didn’t add that we shouldn’t make the concerns of medieval theologians or 3rd century bishops, who were even more in the dark about the historical reality of what happened several hundred years before them than we are, the context from which we interpret Scripture. Those understandings continue to exert enormous influence on our interpretation of Scripture; according to the suggested historical approach, they shouldn’t.

    If that proviso is added, I can go along with the idea being suggested.

    • Btw, many aspects of the liturgical year where shaped by the historical and theological concerns of those later bishops and theologians, not the concerns of the writers of Scripture.

      • As I say in the post, part of our family story is also the traditions that have developed throughout church history as the church has reflected on the Scriptures. There is a complex interaction between Scripture and tradition that I am only beginning to appreciate, and which is completely neglected in vast swaths of the church today.

      • Mule Chewing Briars says:

        Here is where I reveal just how poor and niggardly an Orthodox layman I really am. It has been said to me that if you attend the full cycle of Orthodox services for an entire year; Matins, Hours, and Vespers, you would receive as thorough an education in Biblical interpretation as you would ever be able to receive in even the most rigorous seminary setting. All of the readings in the cycle of the services relate to one another through their timing and through the prayers and hymnography that accompanies them.

        The Bible is the DNA of the Church. The cycle of services, the timing, the hymns, the prayers, are her RNA.

        I consider myself a good Orthodox churchman because I only miss about six Sunday Liturgies a year, and make it to a few feasts. When I measure myself against what is available to me, especially since there is a parish a half an hour away that does the full cycle (daily Matins, Vespers, and Sixth Hours), and a monastery less than two hours drive, I have no excuse. I’m a real t*rdroller.

        • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

          While doubtfully more rigorous than what you’d get in the Orthodox cycle, we Anglicans have something similar on our traditional daily cycle of Matins and Evensong in which the vast majority of Scripture is read each year and the Psalms are recited or sung each month, combined with our cycle of feasts and fasts, primarily commemorating biblical events and characters is supposed to provide a thorough system of catechesis and/or discipleship through sheer osmosis! Add to that occasions such as baptisms, burials, confirmations, ordinations etc (all of which is supposed to be done in community rather than privately), and we should be some of the most biblically-educated folks in the Body of Christ.

          The sad fact is that I don’t know of one parish in 100 miles of me that does this. We’re lucky to get a single mid-week evensong.

          Heck, I’m an Anglican priest and haven’t managed to work a single one of the offices into my schedule this week. What’s up with that? If I were in the Church of England, I’d be in violation of my ordination vows!

      • Robert F
        Thanks for your comments. My first thought was that the writer’s bias was showing. Thanks for pointing it out.

    • I don’t think we have a better view of history than the early church fathers. Scholarship may be more important, post scientific method, but 250 years is much less time to get things wrong than 1,950. We still have a fairly complete view of the civil war, not only from writings and documents, but from oral history. It’s been 200 years since the War of 1812, but you would be hard-pressed to find someone who believes it didn’t happen, and we have historical documents to sort out the finer details.

      I mean, really, a good number of our early church fathers lived IN Alexandria. Like, with the Library of Alexandria. They had access to writings and histories that are completely lost to time. We will never know as much about the Crucifixion as Origen did. So yes, I think the epistles spoke better to them than Luther.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I wonder why he didn’t add that we shouldn’t make the concerns of medieval theologians or 3rd century bishops, who were even more in the dark about the historical reality of what happened several hundred years before them than we are, the context from which we interpret Scripture.

      Translation: “NO POPERY! SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE! SCRIPTURE!”

      • Well, I would have translated it as re-open the Canon.

        Don’t get me wrong, there are a LOT of reasons I’m not longer Christian, but I did look for a Christian sect that didn’t include the Pauline epistles in their Canon. They simply come off as sexist to me and just pretending it’s not there in the “Inspired” Scripture really felt like a violation of my integrity.

    • Serious Christians are interested in Meaning, including and especially the meaning of scripture. I personally believe those 3rd-4th century bishops had a better grasp on the meaning, as very gifted thinkers soaked in prayer and members of the Church, also under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, since they were actually closer in time to the events. I think they had somewhat of a “historical view” because of this. They were dealing with pastoral concerns, especially after having gone overnight from being persecuted to having legal status, and with severe challenges and questions about who Jesus actually was. Sometimes what bishops decided was rejected by the regular people, and it turned out, after time had passed, that the people were right. There were times when there were more people following heresy, I assume quite sincerely, than following orthodoxy. It was messy; figuring out meaning is always messy.

      “If you get the message, you might refuse it; but if you get the meaning, hey, don’t ever lose it – if you get the meaning, oh, of it all…” (Noel Paul Stookey, “One Thing”)

      Dana

    • Robert F –

      I am very happy to add in to my comment: ‘medieval theologians or 3rd century bishops’. I know that I usually speak to an evangelical audience, so I commented with my own context in mind.

      I do think what Chaplain Mike said in his comment about ‘part of our family story is also the traditions that have developed throughout church history as the church has reflected on the Scriptures’. I don’t want to negate what happened with Luther or Calvin or Zwingli or Wesley or Azusa Street, etc. But that doesn’t always help us understand the narrative historical setting of Scripture. I’m not even sure the many councils in the early centuries take Scripture as it was written (it became a systematic document very early on). But I also don’t say that to negate what happened at Nicaea, Chalcedon, etc. Church history, our story together, is very important as well!

      In all, I think the healthier approach is to understand Scripture in it’s Jewish historical context and then reflectively ask what this means as the story continues today in our context. So I don’t even think ‘getting’ the historical narrative of Scripture tells us what we must do today. Many evangelicals approach Scripture from the perspective that, if we can discern exactly everything they meant and did, and then imitate that, we’ll be doing the right thing. I’m not fully convinced that is the best approach. So let’s understand this Jewish, first century document that we have in the gift of Holy Scripture and then let’s ask questions about how to continue the story of God today in our 21st century context wherever we are in this present world.

      I hope that makes some sense.

      • Thanks for your response, Scott. I think it does make a good deal of sense. I’m just not too sure how the non-specialist laypeople in the pews (like me) (btw, I occupy Lutheran and Episcopal pews, not Evangelical pews, just to be transparent about my commitments) can really be brought up to speed about a subject that seems to be the domain of experts.

        Unless the pastors who ostensibly would be responsible for informing their congregations in this area have a deft and sensitive hand at pedagogy, there’s a good chance that what they have to say may sound very threatening to people who already struggle with faith issues. I’m not sure I’ve met many pastors who would be up to the task. It seems like an overly ambitious project.

        And I am also concerned that the views of third century bishops and medieval theologians would remain too privileged in such an approach, vis a vis Luther, Calvin, etc. Unlike some of the commentators on this thread, I do not believe that educated Romans of the fourth century, say, had a good, historically reliable understanding of what went on in first century Palestine, or how and why the Scriptures were written the way the were. I don’t have much confidence in the histories that the Library of Alexandria may or may not have held, because I know that up until very recently, the writing of history was controlled by whomever happened to be in power at the moment. History was written to glorify the patron, and if he should find himself on the outs, well, his scribes and histories would be expunged and replaced by the scribes and histories of the new kid in town. Perhaps that is even the reason why the Library of Alexandria was destroyed.

        The use of scientific tools in the attempt to reconstruct objectively reliable history is a relatively recent phenomenon; though there may have been attempts in that direction in the ancient past (Thucydides, etc.), they were exceptional and not very successful. I believe it is altogether justified to believe that our best scholarship provides far more accurate information about ancient Palestine than third century Romans, or even third century Palestinians, could ever have hoped to have.

  3. Richard Hershberger says:

    It so happens that Fred Clark over at Slacktivist has a recent post very much on point, and well worth reading:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/09/25/dracula-and-the-bible/

    • Indeed! Dracula and the Bible is an excellent post. Now I want to re-read Dracula. And, I am reminded that I must be vigilant about the colors of the lenses I use to read the Bible. Thanks for providing the link.

      • Isaac (or possibly Obed) says:

        Dracula is one of my favorite books. The first time I read it was my last summer term in college, and I specifically read it so that I could see how the original was different from all the baggage I’d picked up about the character over the years. It took a lot of effort, and I’m not sure that I succeeded well, but that was the goal nonetheless. Good analogy!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Slacktivist is interesting. I first came across him through his page-by-page snark analysis of Left Behind (I think he’s on Volume 3 of 22 these days), but stayed because of his unique take on things.

    • A very useful link to follow here, Richard. Thank you. And, yes, parables are wonderful things …this is recommended reading, folks.

  4. What we learn from the New Testament is that human nature has not changed so very much since the days of Jesus. Indeed, while the witness and mystery of the Cross has introduced a sense of mercy and compassion to diffused in the human condition that it’s hard to assess the difference between now and two thousand years ago, we have no problem recognizing the faults and foibles of such as the Corinthian Christians in ourselves now.

    That gives me a great deal of comfort knowing that I am not unlike those pioneers of faith. In that sense, we can appreciate a bit of divine timelessness. We can share their lives knowing that we share their challenges, their tests, and their redemption. That puts the fears and rantings of this life in a truly holier perspective.

  5. David Cornwell says:

    “Our churches build the life of the community around an ongoing immersion in the story.

    There may be other ways of doing this, but I’ve found nothing better than being part of a congregation that keeps the annual Church Calendar”…

    At my age I find myself repeating things. On this subject I’ve become a broken record but here goes…

    The pastor of the church where I’m now a member has the official title of “Senior Pastor and Teacher.” He takes both parts of this very seriously. Under his leadership the church follows the church calendar and liturgical year. He chooses a lectionary path for his preaching each year. On Wednesday evenings he leads a fifty minute bible study in which a form of “lectio divina” guides us through. On the following Sunday he preaches from the passage.

    Often we have up to twenty-five or more people attending. We come from a variety of backgrounds, at times a strange mix, Methodist, Catholic, Baptist, UCC, and Wesleyan, just to name some I’m quickly familiar with.

    At the beginning the pastor will list the pastoral concerns of the week and the following Sunday, including Holy Communion, a baptism, a death, or someone recently taken ill. These are most importance, even than spending many hours in sermon prep. For here the ancient connects with the “now,” the moment in time in which we find ourselves. For without this, of what use are these old words, the characters in the story, the narrative that includes you and me?

    The pastor is careful to attend to the original context of the passage, discuss some of the possibilities, and maybe give a hint as to his preaching approach. We are all permitted to speak, make suggestions, and comment. Sometimes no one speaks all is quiet, and we listen.

    This, and worship services on Sunday morning is where I connect with the Church. I can’t always attend, and when I don’t there exists a black hole.

  6. “However, our pastors and teachers ought to be acquainted with such matters and engaged in continuing education about them…”

    But that’s just the problem—many of them are and say nothing about it.

    I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene and chose to attend a Nazarene college, and my poor beleaguered professors did their best to introduce their students to genres of Biblical literature and an understanding of what the Bible is and isn’t in our mandatory bib lit and theology classes. A good number of my fellow students went on to seminary and learned similar things there. Nazarene Theological Seminary understands good Biblical scholarship and teaches it to their students, as far as I can tell. But none of the Nazarene pastors that I have had talk about any of this from the pulpit. Ever.* Their sermons (which of course are the focal point of the service, as they should not be), are the typical three-point “How to Make Your Life Better” or “What To Feel Guilty About This Week” with a handful of cherry-picked, out-of-context verses to support the points. They do not talk about serious Bible study and historical context. Why is that?

    Because when their fellow, non-ministry track students, the future members of their congregations, had the best possible opportunity to learn a deeper and more nuanced view of the faith, they overwhelmingly and loudly rejected it in favor of the pablum they grew up on. The simple view was embedded too deeply to uproot. They were told, over and over again, by their parents, their Sunday school teachers, their pastors, their safe and approved Christian books and magazines, that to view the Bible as anything other than a magical book that anyone can understand with no help at all is to leap into the fires of Hell head first. The materials peddled to the congregation by Christian media outlets and written by the most vocal personalities of the Christendom-bubble are the true spiritual authorities in evangelicalism, and deep scholarship simply can’t compete with their flash-in-the-pan message. With that kind of priming, the congregations will drive their pastors out of the pulpit with pitchforks if they dared try to explain anything you have posted here. Pastors have to eat. And so the cycle continues.

    *Caveat: I grant that this is a very small sample size. Additional data points are welcomed.

    • Another data point: Great note, Sotto Voce. I grew up Nazarene (now Catholic) and experienced much of the same thing. For the most part ( this, during the ’60s) sermons were Hell fire and brimstone. The one brave pastor who ventured to explore the riches of history, context and nuance, was vilified by the leveragers of the congregation and run out of town in less than two years, mostly by the complaint that he did not have enough altar calls. For the ’90s and ’00s, when I have attended with family, it is as you say: positive thinking messages. Not untrue, mind you, but incomplete in theology.

      You point to an interesting conundrum: by for most Nazarene pastors I have known and continue to know, are men and women of deep and rich faith, familiar with history and nuance. It is sad, their “market”, may not want to hear it from the pulpit.

      This said, I owe the Nazarene Church of my youth a great debt. First, inadvertently, it planted in me the seeds of faith that yearned for more light and nourishment. I knew before I was tall enough to get my nose over the top edge of the pew that there had to be something more, and I have enjoyed the journey since. Secondly, and very importantly, I was surrounded by adults (Sunday school teachers, program providers, and parents’ friends) who genuinely loved me in a wholesome and respectful way and built.confidence in me because they provided a safe picture of what the world can be outside of one’s immediate family. Bless them all.

    • Another data point. I currently call a Nazarene church my church home, have been attending it for 20 years, currently serving on the board (prayers appreciated…LOL). I grew up in a Presbyterian home, though I didn’t become a Christian until my mid-20s, when I attended a Presbyterian church for several years before moving and finding the Nazarene church.

      In those 20 years at the Nazarene church, we’ve had the gamut of pastors, from the three-point bullet sermon type to the deep theology “what the heck is he talking about” sermon type. One of the consistencies I’ve seen at this church, and that I continue to marvel at, is the number of rich and deep adult Sunday school and Wednesday evening classes, most which are very Biblical and some which have delved into “how the Bible came to be.”

      Curiously, I don’t really consider myself Nazarene (I hate denominational stuff almost as much as I hate the two-party political system), but I’m truly grateful for what God has done educationally through this particular church.

    • A third data point. I had occassion when in college in the early 80’s to work alongside a number of students from a midwestern Nazarene college. These students were friends and colleagues in a summer work endeavor. Myself being always interested in theological conversation, I asked several of them at various times what were the theological distinctives of the Nazarene Church. I also asked about the history of the Nazarene church.

      Every single time I attempted to launch down this conversational path, I was met with blank stares and gaping mouths. I attempted to re-word the question, but it was as if they simply did not have categories in their minds capable of addressing what I was asking. I soon gave up.

      These were smart, engaged students and devoted Christians. But the idea of defining their church by theological understanding or through historical roots simply seemed to be outside of their ability to conceive. It was as if they lacked the very language to grasp the concept.

      I’ve always been puzzled by that. Especially since, having attended a Nazarene school, I rather assumed they would have taken required courses that would have included at least some rudimentary background on the denomination which they could have parroted back to me.

      • I can tell you what the theological distinctive is—but not because of growing up in the church or attending a Nazarene college. I can tell you because my family has been deeply involved with the Nazarene church since its founding and are a bunch of extremely theologically-minded people who explained this to me at an early age. The main doctrinal distinctive of the Church of the Nazarene is basically that sanctification is a separate process from justification and must be initiated after the conversion event as a kind of “second conversion.” Also, that “entire sanctification”, or purification from sinful desires, is possible during this earthly life. I have heard exactly one sermon preached on this topic in the course of my life, and that was from a particularly serious-minded pastor. It seems to have been largely abandoned in the church’s everyday vernacular as Nazarenes are absorbed into the amorphous blob that is the evangelical circus, and it doesn’t surprise me that few people are able to articulate it anymore. My parents lament quite frequently that the church has lost its identity and no longer has any sense of denomination-wide cohesion.

        • I might argue that this shift in Nazarene identity and cohesion isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as some of its founding doctrine was quite fundamental and unhealthy (my opinion). When I tell people I go to a Nazarene church I sometimes add statements like, “But I don’t consider myself Nazarene, women wear jewelry now, and dance, and wear pants.”

          • Nazarenes also go to movie theaters now, unless they are my father. 🙂 I completely agree that their doctrines can be problematic–I left them for the ELCA because I was sick of the weird, random legalism and entire sanctification (my background in which continues to cause me problems to this day). But I’m still a big fan of John Wesley and I wish they could put more emphasis on his better ideas.

  7. Great post, Mike. I’m reminded of Michael Spencer’s post on the Bible as a magic book. My tradition is Pentecostal, and only in recent years have I learned (through sources other than my church) that the Bible is not a divine instruction manual or a compendium of answers to all of life’s questions. And my reading of it is so much richer do understanding that.

  8. Two points, one pro and one not as pro.

    First point. Freely paraphrased and cut/pasted from CM’s post:
    A. If we take the…contexts in which God has acted in the past, seriously…
    And B. if we take seriously that authors and compilers worked in specific settings for particular purposes, to bring a word from God to people in their context…
    Then C. we will recognize that the Bible is not a theological textbook characterized primarily by propositional doctrines and ethical instructions written to a universal audience, but a family story,

    This is a beautiful syllogism, CM!

    Second point: On this point I’m not as sure I agree:

    “The main tools we use are meditation, imagination, discussion, and commemoration.

    Our churches build the life of the community around an ongoing immersion in the story.”

    Or rather, I agree as far as it goes, but believe this assertion is lacking a simple but importation element:
    How little individuals (speaking of in my tribe, anyway, evangelicals) read the Bible. We cannot understand the story as you say, Mike, by reading a page a week–or much less. NT Wright says the way we often read the Bible would be like reading one page of a novel a week. By the end of a couple of years, we ‘d have no idea what we had read at the beginning. Yet a page a week is probably the most many people read. I would add this to the ‘main tools’ we use, or should use, and say we cannot be immersed in the biblical story unless we read it in larger portions, as it was surely first told/read.

    • And apologies to the ‘lectionary’ people who have a different way of hearing/reading the whole story. I was rushed when first posting, and hadn’t read all preceding replies.

    • I agree, and on a personal level I would include what you say under the tool of “meditation.” The Bible, the whole Bible, the entire story of the Bible ought to be native country for Christians, whether they hear it over and over again in corporate worship or in their own Bible reading.

  9. David Cornwell says:

    Wow, today’s piece “‘How the Bible “Works’ Today,” and the thoughtful responses illustrate everything I like about IM, and why I keep coming back for more.

    So to each and every writer, and to those who respond: Keep it up.

  10. Agreed with David, this is the good stuff!

  11. The “what about God in YOUR life” qualification to every Bible reference has been giving me a headache for years now….

    But I think a good lesson in how the Bible works is to be had from the tradition of the Passover- for centuries after the Exodus, God’s people consisted of persons who didn’t live through the Exodus. Yet their peculiarity as a people, their identity as God’s people, their faithfulness, and their love for God was sustained and re-ignited by the celebration of God’s great historical deliverance of his people. No doubt you could find this principle in any number of Jewish feasts, celebrations and traditions, but the Passover springs to mind since it’s the basis for the Christian rite of communion.

    If Christians stopped speaking and thinking as if their own story was the central story of God’s work (presentism), but saw it as a later incorporation, one effected by the central story, their understanding of (and interest in) the Bible would soar, I’m convinced. And there’s where it works FOR us. In seeing the other (Jesus) and basically ignoring ourselves, we find that our lives change, and are swept into his Life.

  12. Not a good bible reader here, I must admit. I used to feel guilty about that, so I tried to ‘plug myself in’ as the church speak says and joined a bible study and mens group. Those experiences actually led me to Internet Monk through various links and searches. I had trouble with the Magik book that fell from the sky mentality and how every passage had to have a ‘how does that apply to you’ question attached.

    I ended up here at the internet monastery trying to get a perspective on how to approach the bible. Lots of colored pens and pencils have been used in the past and I realized that I was just doing the same work the person who ‘wrote’ the bible study did, and I ended up at the place they wanted.

    So, thanks. I am starting to get a solid starting point.

    • bobson,

      You’ve touched on one of my pet peeves. The evangelical church (which it seems you’re describing) has Bible ‘studies’ in lieu of Bible reading. This both atomizes Scripture instead of giving the true picture of the larger, more sweeping story (narrative, prophecy, wisdom, apocalypse, etc), as well as stealing the joy of reading a really good book for oneself and replacing it with propositional truth delivered from the top down, often pre-canned as you intimate, and distributed a bite at a time.

      Until we cancel all Bible studies and hold Bible read-ins, this will not change.

    • I taught those colored pencil studies for years and have repented. Last year we studied the Pentateuch and then the history, thanks to the help provided by the participants at the iMonastery. What an eye-opener!

  13. One of the best (and relatively short) articles that I have seen on the use of the Bible is “The Authority of Scripture”, by Joel Green. It is in the new CEB Study Bible. It is included (pages 10-15) in an online (and print) sample of the CEB Study Bible book of Mark which you can get from Cokesbury (you may have to hunt a little for it at cokesbury.com). I especially liked his application to Scripture of the Nicene Creed phrase on the Church: it is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.

  14. Is there a study bible that helps highlight the historical context behind the writing of the books of the Bible? I’ve never really used study bibles but often get frustrated reading the Psalms or OT Prophets, for example, because I have no idea what they are talking about.

    • There are many good study Bibles available. Some have a special emphasis. I don’t know if this is just what you are looking for, Andy, but a good general-purpose study Bible I have used for years is the NIV Study Bible. I would suggest looking at it and several others (especially if the specific Bible translation is important) before buying.