With this new series of posts, I am entering a conversation. I do this for several reasons. It is partly in celebration of a journey recently embarked upon by our fellowship (Yakima Covenant Church) into the Covenant Community Bible Experience. It is an initiative of our denomination (Evangelical Covenant Church) to help rattle our scripture cages a bit by placing in front of us a New Testament compiled chronologically and without any of the customary headings, chapter and verses. I trust some of the reasons for this shall become clear over time.
Secondly, it touches on a topic of fascination to me personally: my love for the written word. That, combined with a growing love for the God who could never be contained by it, compel me to share these things.
Finally, it is in answer to various queries following a sermon I preached on this topic a few weeks ago. In these conversations, I’ll be utilizing ideas, and materials spanning decades. Specifically, I’ll be referring often to one particular book from which I’ve gleaned much of late, Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read & Live the Bible Well by Glenn R. Paauw. The topic? The Bible of course. More specifically, the terminology, ideas, misunderstandings, projections, additions, expectations – both false and otherwise – that have arisen around it and from which it presently suffers.
The week of my “conversion” I quickly became fascinated by the strange and enigmatic words on the wispy pages of a Bible given to me by my grandmother. For years, it sat, neglected and increasingly dusty, on a shelf in my bedroom. My senior year it began to grow in my mind as something much more significant than that which I had hitherto attributed to it.
The first verse I ever memorized? “The grass withers, the flowers fade; but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8 NRSV)
If we are to give to the Bible the love and respect it deserves we should experience no small discomfort with the words “back to the Bible.” It belies a naïve, even whimsical view of it that has the potential to diminish its depth and complexity and, as such, its impact.
As we shall see from looking at Paauw’s book, we commonly approach this ancient library of texts with a truck load of preconceived notions, pet ideas, personal preferences, cultural parameters, and less than informed expectations. Paauw believes that we have “over-complicated its form while over-simplifying its content” (p. 16).
He makes the case that, over the course of many centuries, Bible scholars and publishers have increasingly added to it what is thought to be helpful – chapter divisions, verses, subheadings, notes, etc. – all in an effort the “make it easier to understand.” The result has been the opposite however and, in the process, we’ve been led to sample rather than feast deeply on the Scriptures. It has led to a narrow, individualistic and escapist view of salvation. And, rather “than being a culture-shaping force, the Bible has become a database of quick and easy answers to life’s troubling questions.”
So then, let us enter a conversation together. Let’s talk about the Bible. What it is. What it is not. The purpose? To develop a truly broad, deep, informed, and appreciative view of this enigmatic collection of ancient writings. Because much of what we understand about God and one another comes from it, I think it wise to do so. Don’t you?