The title of this post is not a typo.
The Book Club I joined with began in November, so I’m sticking with that as a name, even if it doesn’t quite fit anymore. Go with me on this, okay?
Have you ever had someone else complete your thought? Or maybe someone said the exact thing you had felt but never could articulate? Maybe someone was able to succinctly sum up a series of ideas you had? It is a bizarre feeling, to have the sense that someone tapped into your brainwaves and put them out into the world. When it happens, all at once I can feel elated, overwhelmed, dejected and as if I’ve found a like-minded friend.
- Elated because finally someone else said what needed to be said. How wonderful to feel like you’ve been heard.
- Overwhelmed because sometimes that person is able to take your thought to its logical conclusion or application and the implications require a paradigm shift I might not be ready to implement.
- Dejected because why couldn’t I communicate that complex thought so eloquently?
This has been a year of reading books by brave, creative people who have put into words the stirrings I’ve felt for many years, a discontent with simple answers and an unwillingness to engage with questions.
Peter Enns‘ Telling God’s Story is becoming one of those books.
Yes, I know that I’m only supposed to be writing about the second chapter (which is long overdue by any standard — I was supposed to be doing this through November and here we are in December!) but that doesn’t mean I haven’t read ahead a bit. Even though my reading took a hit in November, this is the one I’m ready to come back to. Like any good book, I’m finding it hard to put this down.
Chapter Two: What the Bible Actually Is (and Isn’t)
The chapter starts with an seemingly simplistic question: what is the Bible? This is followed by a series of other questions: what do we expect to happen when we read it? What is the Bible there for?
The author goes on to ask us to step back from that question which is most often applied to Bible reading: how does this apply to me?
Instead we are asked to look at the Bible with a different question in our minds:
“What do we have the right to expect from God’s word as a book written in an ancient world?”
Enns asks us to consider how Jesus’ existence as a human does not detract from his being the Son of God. He then goes on to assert that the Bible does exactly what God wanted it to do, even using expressions and ideas of the ancient world. The anchoring of the Bible in ancient times does not take away from the inerrancy of it, nor does it keep it from “doing exactly what God wants it to do.”
The Bible is Not an Owner’s Manual
In some ways it would be so easy if the Bible did spell out every little thing for us. Some people believe it does — seriously, there are a lot of people out there who have been taught that the Bible IS an owner’s manual and that on every single thing that we should do or not do, every attitude, every current issue, examples of applicable/transferable rules, attitudes, and lessons can be found.
I tend to lean this way, even though I know there are limits.
Enns suggests that “we need to learn the kinds of issues the Bible addresses so we can learn to ask the questions of the Bible that the Bible is meant to answer.” He then gives us the disappointing news that “what is not being addressed are specifically modern situations.” He says that when we read the New Testament in particular, we see “a portrait being painted for us of what a life in Christ looks like.”
We’re getting near the end of the chapter at this point and Enns uses a personal example to illustrate his statement that “…I want to introduce you to what I think is the single most important biblical concept for living a Christian life, not only today, but during any era: wisdom.” Because the Bible doesn’t say specifically DON’T EVER GO TO ANY R-RATED MOVIES Enns must use wisdom when parenting his son and when deciding what to say when his son asks if he can watch the movie Saving Private Ryan. His answer must be based on wisdom; wisdom from knowing his son, knowing about the movie, knowing Biblical admonishments and exhortations, and wisdom from learning to trust the Holy Spirit’s voice.
This is the paragraph that stood out to me most from the chapter:
…if we learn to hear what the Spirit is saying through these ancient yet transcendent writings, we will see that the Bible is much more than we bargained for. The Bible is not a book primarily devoted to what we should do. Instead it is devoted to telling us who we are and how our behaviors should reflect that reality.
Rather than just having a religion or a faith-by-rote, isn’t it true that we all wish to have a faith that is an identity? I’d want my family to live out our faith in actions, attitudes and self-worth even if we can’t name all the books of the Bible in order.
Some people get so hampered by wanting to do exactly the letter of the law of what they think the Bible spells out that they forget the spirit of the law, the reason guidelines exist and what they were originally put there to accomplish. The result from this is often a rigid, fear based faith that is spindly and brittle. I believe God has something more for us, something much more robust, verdant and lush, filled with joy and courage. I think that’s where Enns is headed in this book, and I’m excited to see where he takes us.
Do you expect to find every answer to every question you have in the Bible? Do you think it is dangerous to consider the idea that every answer might not be there? What expectations do you have of the Bible?
Most of my life has been punctuated by Sunday School.
There were the many years when I participated in it.
There were the years when I was the teacher.
Now there are these years when my children go each week.
And it never really occurred to me to ask “why” about Sunday School until recently.
My dad, a retired ordained minister in the Covenant church, made the comment recently that Sunday School is a modern creation born of a desire to provide a place for children to learn to read since they were working every other day of the week. (Here’s a link to get the short version of Sunday School’s development: http://bit.ly/17uv3sB)
As someone who has grown up in the church, worked in various youth programs, and been responsible to create curriculum for those programs, I know that the regular idea is to make lessons that show God’s acitivity in the world, and use the scriptures to teach character lessons.
I wonder if I was coming at it all wrong.
In my conversation with my dad, it came up that you really don’t want to use a lot of “Bible Heroes” as such because they were a mess. Lessons ought to focus on how many mistakes these people made and yet God was able to accomplish great things through them, because He is great.
Instead, we usually focus (for example) on how David was “a man after God’s own heart” and gloss over his adultery and scheming, including arranging to have his competition sent to the front lines in order to get him killed.
Dude was sketchy at best.
Here’s another example. At our church a few months ago they wanted to teach about friendship so for some reason they chose the story of Job. If you’re familiar with the story, Job goes through some really hard trials. His friends hang with him for a while, but then they basically tell him to throw in the towel.
The lesson taught only focused on the first part of the story, and happily the teacher chose not to include the detail that God allowed Satan access to Job. My first and third graders were not ready to deal with that information. It was a poorly planned lesson that pick and chose details for their illustration of the point the creators were going for, regardless of whether that was the point of the actual Bible story.
All of this is to say that there might be a better way to go about teaching our kids about the Bible.
In the month of November I’m going to participate in an online book club. The book we’re going to read is Peter Enn’s Telling God’s Story (http://bit.ly/1coKmHn). I haven’t read any his books before, but it sounds like this book has a different take on teaching the Bible to kids.
The premise of Telling God’s Story is that for 1-4th graders the focus should be on learning all about Jesus, then 5-8th graders focus on the overall narrative of Israel, and high schoolers focus on the Bible’s historical context. I’m really interested in exploring a new approach to valuing the Bible and teaching it in a way that honors it.
I’ll be blogging about book club, and the fabulous woman hosting it is Abi. She’s a riot and is on a really interesting journey that I resonate with in many ways. If you’re interested in reading along with us via her blog, you can find it here: http://bit.ly/1aQVwOB It would be fun to do this together!
What are your memories of Sunday School? Was there a point when you started having friends there, rather than just merely sitting next to other kids? What’s your view of Sunday School now?
I’m starting a new occasional series called Can We Talk? The plan is to address questions that we often times don’t want to bring up because of the reaction we expect. This is a place to discuss those important (and probably some unimportant) issues that ruffle people’s feathers. Our first topic? The Bible.
May I ask you some honest questions about the Bible?
Would you be willing to actually entertain these questions, not just give an automatic rebuttal because you fear one question might lead to an undoing of a whole belief system?
I already know I’m supposed to accept some things on faith.
I already know His ways are not our ways.
I already know one day for us could be like a thousand years for Him.
Sometimes it seems that if a person is allowed to voice their observations about inconsistencies, bizzare-ities or just straight-up contradictions in the Bible, people feel threatened by it, as if the questions are a leaking contagion of unbelief that can spread with the faintest breathing of a question. It’s airborne, you know.
But can we admit that some of the stuff in the Bible is just plain weird?
For example, why would God send a plague of snakes to bite the Israelites, whom He had just brought out of Egypt, and the remedy? Look at a bronze snake on a stick. Does that not seem like He is asking them to make and worship an idol? But when they make a bronze calf of their own, He gets mightily mad and people get smote.
If that one’s not your cup of tea, how about the commandment against murder? I realize that you could argue what type of offense could equal murder (first degree, premeditated, etc.) but it seems to me that war is murder on a huge scale. God sends the Israelites to war lots of times, and the Bible is very matter of fact about how hard the Israelites won. Sometimes they won war huge.
“That’s all Old Testament stuff,” you object. “Nobody gets that stuff. Just focus on the New Testament.”
Is that fair?
I think it’s pretty typical of Christians. We focus on the Jesus stuff and ignore the messy, inconsistent and confusing stuff that comes before. Ignoring the entire first half of the Bible only gives part of the picture. (We also forget that Jesus was Jewish, but that’s something for another day.)
Please allow me to mention a concept that might make sense of the Old Testament if you’ve ever been tempted to pitch it in favor of a slimmed down, easy to pack, New-Testament-only Bible. I don’t know if it is a cop out or a perfect explanation.
Don’t let it give you the heebie jeebies, folks. It doesn’t bite.
Is it intellectually tenable that God would reveal Himself in ways a society could comprehend, woo them by speaking their language and then, when they’ve acclimatized to the existence of God, reveal a little more about Himself, something that is a little different than what they’re used to? It’s not a bait and switch. It’s more like not revealing everything about yourself on a first date.
I’m sure some people would push this past the traditional cannon of the Bible and say that if it is allowed that progressive revelation is a possibility, that opens up future revelation, in that Christ is not the end game. Could someone else claim on this premise to be the next revelation of God? Probably, and some probably have (would Mormanism possibly fit this category?). Does that mean the principle is faulty? I don’t think so…but I’m still trying to figure out all the implications.
I’m not questioning Jesus’ death and resurrection, sacrifice and redemption of humankind, but I don’t think it automatically diminishes the Bible’s potency if some of it is metaphorical. Maybe we can agree that the Bible might not have to be taken literally in order to be just as valid, the principles just as important, the person of Christ just as redemptive.
What do you think? Do you think much about the Bible? Do you accept it as being completely literal? Do you pay much attention to the Old Testament?
I’m loving these Five Minute Fridays. Each week, Lisa-Jo Baker (http://lisajobaker.com) chooses a word prompt and people write unedited for five minutes flat. The idea is for me to get out of my own way and just write without the burden of perfection. It’s been fun to meet other bloggers and see the different ways people go with the prompt. Anyone can be a part of the action, so maybe you want to try and link up sometime soon?
Five Minute Friday
One of my friends, a curly-haired henna head, is a gifted artist and performer. She says and does things that other people would never dream of doing. For her, it is no big deal to get in front of people and say outrageous things that are both hilarious and inappropriate (maybe that’s why they are so funny?).
Another friend is quiet and reserved. She serves behind the scenes and avoids any extra attention. She’s thoughtful and considerate.
What might send my one friend thrills of excitement would send my other friend to the bathroom with dry heaves.
Here is a good general principle I’ve found: what is a brave step for one person is easily accomplished before breakfast for someone else. Courage comes when you push past fear to do the thing that scares you.
Putting the pen to paper may be a huge step of bravery for one person.
Saying aloud the question they’ve had in their minds may be that step for someone else.
Just opening a search for a new job may be a huge act of faith, regardless of whether an interview is ever secured.
For me, today, my act of bravery is to say aloud that as a Christian, I do not have all the answers. I’m starting to think that the Bible might not have something literal to say about every single aspect of the nuances of modern life.
I do not feel comfortable with the representation the loudest voices are making on my behalf.
I’m tired of hearing about “speaking the truth in love” to people with whom there is no relationship, which would give the slightest responsibility to speak that truth.
I’m tired of the Church being a force of marginalization, polarization and alienation.
I want to be a source of absurd grace, which I truly see in the example of Jesus. So why does it feel like an act of bravery to say that out loud? Maybe it is because the Church only lets grace apply to certain areas of life and not others. Maybe there is an unspoken understanding that there really is a hierarchy of sins, and that some acts are worse than others. So your act of homosexuality, abortion or being a female leader takes up more of the apparently exhaustible bounty of Christ’s grace than my selfishness, envy or gossip. Don’t bogart the grace, man. Is that really what we believe? Cause that’s what it looks like. God’s love is not a limited commodity.
Whew. Well, that came out of nowhere! Thanks for letting me share from the heart. Apparently this is what happens when I silence my inner editor/censor. Putting this out into the world really does scare me, but I am being brave today, hoping we can start a respectful conversation.
What is your reaction to this post? Do you have opinions or feelings about “absurd grace” or the idea of a hierarchy of sins? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. And as always, thanks for reading!