A frequent reflection of mine over the years has been about the foundations of our Christian life and discipleship. One of those foundations is the Bible; it is there we find much of the information that we build our faith experience on; and, it is there we find a full revelation of Jesus, who his, himself, a full revelation of who God is. That’s the premise I’m starting on here.
So, if you were to follow my claim that the Bible should first come to us as a foundation, how then do we start laying it? Quite simple: by getting to know it. Start to learn its content like you would do your favourite novel. Search it like you would a piece of historical writing. Reflect on it like you would do a piece of philosophy or poetry. Sit with is as a biography of the character of God and watch man’s understanding of him change and develop over time as fuller revelation comes.
What I would say is build up your knowledge of the book. Get to know it, be familiar with it. Read it in chunks before getting into any nitty-gritty. And, having laid that foundation, so you can better begin to explore the contours of shape and design of the interpretation you’ll arrive at. The alternative is to read your worldview into the bible and stop it saying the things your don’t like. This is no easy task. The bible is no was book and as you read you will find the need to take on the advice of ‘wise guides’ who know a bit more stuff about the innards of it that we currently do. These can act as sign-posts along the way.
I realise I am speaking simply on a complicated matter but I do so for one reason alone: it is very, very easy to spot when someone speaks of the bible without any real clue of its contents, its purpose and its context, whether they are speaking as ‘fundamentalists’ or as ‘liberals’. To me, to have such a firm view of a subject without a nuanced and considered knowledge is just very dissatisfactory and its then very difficult to have any real conversation about aspects of its message.
Sometimes I feel like I’m attending a book club with folks who haven’t read the book and are just going with what everyone else is saying about the characters, or some quote about it they’ve picked up of the back of a bus.
I have a strong hunch, based on nearly 17 years in full-time ministry: people in our churches are not reading the Bible. I know that is a generalisation, but I think it is generally true. I have several pieces of evidence gathered over the years that have led me to that conclusion. And here’s the thing: if you’re a person who thinks they do have a problem with bits of the bible, then all the more important to delve deeper rather than just cut bits out coz you don’t fancy it. I think there is a lot of convenient laziness around. Evangelicals, however, are NOT exempt. There are still views that persist that need challenging in evangelical circles just the same. Thing is, folks, we can’t have the discussion without reading the thing.
So, I’m not dismissing the discussion of ideas, the working out of application or the questions that rise from it. But I am saying that discipleship, of whatever shape, must have the bible as its foundation – not because its ‘the Bible’, but because our ultimate focus is THE WORD, even Jesus Christ himself. It is the biggest source on him we have and if we’re going to follow him, we have to know his story a lot more than we do. Don’t let yourself off with half-baked excuses for not engaging with it. How about it?