There is a time where Jesus is talking to the religious people in the gospel of John. They are trying to back him into a corner and he responds by saying to them, “You dilligently study the Scriptures because you think that through them you have eternal life. But these Scriptures testify to me, yet you refuse to come to me to have this life.”
A couple of observations here. One is that Jesus seems to think the purposes of the Scriptures lays outside of itself. The other is that the Bible can be studied so closely that it’s main points are missed.
I bring this up because I think this is apt for how we talk/think about Scripture today.
Ever since Luther’s Sola Scriptura or Scripture alone as the basis of authority, we have used the Bible as foundational for the authority of God. Now Luther was speaking to the abuses of the Roman Catholic church. And this was a needed corrective for his time and his place. The Bible helped advance literacy among the masses, and it helped to inspire the invention of the Gutenberg Printing Press. But along with this invention, other things began to be published as well.
This was a time of great growth and development in almost all areas of culture. It was the beginning of the Renaissance. And it all started with the Bible.
However, these new developments in scientific, historical, and literary fields were eventually turned on the Bible itself. And if you have any religious training at all, or have ever read a commentary, chances are you have run into this. And here’s where the story picks up.
These criticism’s became the starting point for reading the Scriptures through a certain lens. The questions that we started asking the Bible began to change. We began to ask things like, “are these miracles possible?” or “How do we know what Jesus actually said?” And the last century saw the majority of conversations about the Bible centering around these kinds of questions.
But what if these questions are the wrong ones?
I have learned over the past few years that there are plenty of good reasons that people in both camps have for thinking what they think. They aren’t idiots.
And I have to admit that for the first couple of years of graduate school this was really disturbing. To read great minds talking about why they no longer had faith really rocked my world. I found myself at some points wondering if I believed anything.
Did I mention I was working at a church? Not a lot of job openings for an agnostic minister.
There is a guy named Paul Ricoeur who talks about what he calls a 2nd naivete. The idea, Riceour says, is that after we come to the end of criticism, we choose to believe. We choose to accept that we don’t know everything. This has blessed me immensely. This 2nd naivete is not a blind faith. I have seasons of doubt. I study and try to stay up on what other people are saying. But instead of allowing every new conclusion to rock my faith I have decided to trust.
Which brings me back to how we talk about the Bible.
Most of the time I have heard people talk about the Bible to people that they have differences with, the terms that they use are the same. The battle lines have already been clearly drawn. Someone mentions something about the infallibility or inerrancy of the Bible. And the fight is on.*
But most of my generation isn’t asking questions about the infallibility of the Bible. And if they are is because someone taught them to ask that question. They are instead asking questions that I think are more true to the Scriptures. And they are questions that I think we need to address.
I think that the way we talk about the Bible should take into consideration the beauty of the Scriptures, the epic nature of the story. And most of all, I think we need to address the call that the Bible has on people, as made in the image of God, to live outside themselves. The Bible, as it stands, seems to make some pretty radical calls to humanity, not least to those who call themselves followers of Jesus.
And part of the danger of reducing the Bible to making 19th century arguments, is losing the claim that it is making on us to be different.
Think about this. Our kids grow up hearing us talking about the Bible like it’s a text book. Defending it’s content and digging in our heels.
And they see the majority of Jesus’ followers living just like everyone else.
Is it interesting to anyone else that the attendance in most American churches are declining, while para-church organizations and social justice causes are more thriving than ever? It’s like a ton of people are being drawn to places that are embodying the Scriptures, and away from places that are teaching them.
Wouldn’t it be nice to do both?
When Jesus responded to those religious leaders he let them know that the Scriptures alone couldn’t bring life. Its purpose was to point to Him. The bent of Scripture after all is from Word to flesh. And when people looked at where Scriptures were pointing they saw a man that has captivated much of the world.
And that man of course is the Word who became flesh. Christ, the mirror of God.
* Now those arguments had a time and place. But in a post-modern world, why are we really still having them? Post-modern actually refers to the disillusionment with modernity. And these questions are about as modern as you can get.