Last month we began a conversation; a tête à tête if you will about our relationship to the Bible – something we may not know as well as we think we do. And, because so much is riding on our relationship to this library of writings, it behooves us to dig as deeply as we can.
With the help of Glenn Paauw’s masterful book, Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read & Live the Bible Well, I have sought to make the case that, in seeking to make the Bible “approachable” we have instead neutered it, making it less transformational. The Scriptures call us to faith, not certainty. Modernity has sought to erase the unpredictability of faith with scientific verifiability. “The bare text is difficult to control. The modernist turn in culture led the keepers of the Bible to transform it into something precise, punctual, calculable, standard, bureaucratic, rigid, invariant, finely coordinated, and routine…This is a Bible that needs to be saved” (p. 37).
We have all heard the adage that “less is more.” It holds true in many areas of life. For example, my wife tells me that much of her editing process involves carving away the literary dross from her manuscript in order to leave the best kernels of story that will keep the reader engaged. She wrote her book in under a year, but has spent over three more in the arduous task of proofing, hacking, chopping, and honing. Michelangelo stated that his masterpiece sculpture of David was “discovered” by simply chipping away all that was not David. It has been scientifically proven that the clutter of too many road signs and instructions cause drivers to disengage, the very thing such signs are designed to avoid.
Less is more. With the many additions and “improvements” to the Bible, aimed at helping us pay attention, we have ostensibly removed its beautiful “surface simplicity that [could] open up for us the inherent and immensely interesting good complexity that lies deep within…The Elegant Bible will reflect the wisdom that form and content always belong together in God’s good creation. Form is part of the content of things” (p. 39).
We must always begin with the questions, what is the Bible and how can we honor what that is? Paauw suggests that we are badly in need of an “extreme Bible makeover” wherein we can undo its fractured format that only leads to fractured reading and commensurately fractured lives. Part of that process will be to learn how to adopt the practice of referencing passages by context and content rather than by isolated chapters and verses.
As is apparent in the rather unique Covenant Community Bible Experience in which our fellowship is presently engaging, Paauw advocates for a Bible less encumbered by the artificiality that has been foist upon it by means of chapter and verse numbers that pull us out of a narrative and broad reading of its contents; section headings that are ultimately interpretive by nature; page layouts which hide from us the diversity of literary forms employed in our original manuscripts; and, particularly, study Bibles that can actually mitigate against the deep, transformative, non-agenda-driven reading that can best draw us into the dangerous place of spiritual formation rather than mere information.
We need to view the Bible more as poetry, which demands exactitude of form as much as content. What a poem “looks like” is intended to speak as loudly as the words themselves. Form and content alike form our understanding of a thing. We have inherited more of a cultural creation than the Bible that was originally intended.
Says Paauw, “to save the Bible from ourselves, we must begin to trust once again its ancient ways of saying things…The path to restoring our Bible begins with chipping away at everything that doesn’t belong there” (p. 50). Our love for God demands no less than an equal love of the Scriptures as they were first delivered.
Those with ears to hear, let them hear…
2 thoughts on “Back to the Bible We Don’t Know, part 2”
This is a fantastic topic and I shall definitely be enjoying this little tête-à-tête.
I’m really struggling to read my Bible these dayz. In fact, I haven’t even blown the dust off it for some time now — maybe 18 mos or more. Why? I’ve asked myself this question a thousand times. I especially struggle with reading much of the OT. Before this lengthy Biblio-aversion, I LOVED reading the NT – mostly the synoptic Gospels. When I was a student in Bible College I couldn’t wait to read my Bible. My most favorite book was always the Book of John. And no matter what book it was, I always gravitated to the red ink, the words of Jesus himself. Yet I avoided Revelations like the plague. Not too sure why – maybe I viewed it as too heady, too symbolic for my liking. It is a book which requires vivid imaginations running free — something I’ve never been able to relate to.
I know in the past, I would just crack my Bible open and start reading, whenever that starting point was. And as I did this, I guess I held out for an unexpected ‘epiphany’ from our Lord. A rhema, of sorts, from Him. I used to pray for a passage, a specific phrase to “jump off the page and hit me in the forehead”. Sometimes it did. Other times, nothing. Not a peep. Nada…. So why do I avoid the Bible altogether now? Am I just too lazy? Too uninspired, possibly? God forbid, no longer a devout Christian? Maybe that was part of the issue. As our illustrious blog author points out, “Paauw suggests that we are badly in need of an “extreme Bible makeover” wherein we can undo its fractured format that only leads to fractured reading and commensurately fractured lives.” Was I living under such a fractured faith – did my devoted walk of faith gradually become a splintered sojourn? Wish I knew…
If our thesis “less is more” actually holds water, then maybe reading one passage at a time may be all that’s necessary? Grab my devotional and read the daily posting every morning? Is that sufficient? Can we call that reading Scripture? We were told in B/C “Sola Scriptura” – only Scripture contains the Truth. This seemed to require a companion Commentary or five, helping the novice to “better understand” the deeper meaning of the Scripture in question. I began even back then to suspect that this may resemble conservative orthodoxy dictating what to read and how to interpret it. And so I come back to the words of Pontius Pilate, “What is Truth?. Even moreso, what is God’s Truth?
These dayz I find myself desiring, nay thirsting, to read Amma [Rev. Dr.] Cynthia Bourgeault’s writings, moreso than Scripture. What I believe was missing is “new eyes” to see God’s truth with! The capacity for non-dual seeing, that is developed through contemplation, which allows me to be happy, rooted in God, comfortable with paradox and mystery, and largely immune to mass consciousness and its false promises. Contemplation is meeting as much reality as I can handle, in its most simple and immediate form—without filters, judgments, or commentaries. The ego doesn’t trust this way of seeing, which is why it is so rare, “a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14, NJB). The only way I can sit in Contemplation is by recognizing and relativizing my own compulsive mental grids—my practiced ways of judging, critiquing, blocking, and analyzing everything.
When my judgmental / analytic mind and all its commentaries are placed aside, God finally has a chance to get through to me; mostly because my pettiness and self-protective filters are at last out of the way. Then Truth can stand — revealed on its own!