We Never Come to the Bible Alone

This excellent post from Jamie Arpin-Ricci speaks volumes about the way we view the Holy Bible. We need to be reminded of this fact every time we approach its pages: we never come to the Bible alone but with a congregation of many, many individuals.

BibleGrowing up in a rural, evangelical community, it was not uncommon for me to hear the idea that all we need in order to know God and His will is the Bible. If anyone of us wants to know the truth about God and understand His will, all we had to do was open up Scripture and study. The Holy Spirit was all the guide we needed. We were cautioned about commentaries — they might be helpful, but we should never substitute the “explicit truth of Scripture” for the opinions of others. In its worst expressions, this led to anti-academic sentiment (and even anti-intellectualism). While the heart of this bias was genuine and well intentioned, they were also misguided and misleading. The truth is that we never come to the Bible alone.

Let’s say you open to the New Testament and read Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount. The fact is, your are reading it in a translation. Immediately you are not alone. The work and minds behind that translation required endless hours of study, scholarship, debate and more. It is, after all, only one of hundreds of translations available. Even if you decided to learn the language of the original text(s), you’d still have to rely on that same scholarship. Already the room is filled with countless others who are helping you read the text.

This says nothing about the fact that you are reading the text through the lens of your place in history, culture, race, language, gender, age, education, experience, etc. Layer upon layer of bias, influence and context shapes how you read, what you understand as you read and how you respond to the implications of that understanding. As if that weren’t enough, even the people who were listening to Jesus’ words in the moments He spoke them often understood and responded to them differently. Even His closest friends and disciples got it wrong time and again. So, you see, no one comes to the Bible alone.

Read the rest of this post here.

Using Scriptures Maturely

BibleBasherI was first introduced to the term ‘Bible Basher’ as a child, going door-to-door with my pastor father. Even back then, the vast majority of doors were slammed in our face, often accompanied by swearing and use of this term. Perhaps it didn’t help that my dad always carried his leather-bound, gilt-edged, Scofield King James Bible under his arm.

I suppose this term, originated as a statement about a person who constantly uses the Bible to ‘bash’–hit–people over the head in a confrontational way. Today this is exemplified in our city by the infamous Rundle Mall street preachers who call down fire and brimstone every day with Bible in hand and signs that read ‘Turn or Burn.’

While I am at times ashamed of my past days as a Bible basher, I recognise that the motivation for doing so (like so many other deeds) was fear, shame, guilt, and a shallow understanding of the nature of God.

Richard Rohr says it so well:

When the Scriptures are used maturely, they proceed in this order:

  1. They confront us with a bigger picture than we are used to, “God’s kingdom” that has the potential to “deconstruct” our false and smaller kingdoms.
  2. They then have the power to convert us to an alternative worldview by proclamation, grace, and the sheer attraction of the good, the true, and the beautiful (not by shame, guilt, or fear which are low-level motivations, but which operate more quickly and so churches often resort to them).
  3. They then console us and bring deep healing as they “reconstruct” us in a new place with a new mind and heart.

(Adapted from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr, pp. 64-65)

May we choose to use the Holy Bible in a mature sensibility, to bring healing, restoration, compassion, justice and peace in our world as we find, in its words and message, God’s reign revealed.

Alarm Bells

Looking back, alarm bells should have sounded many times earlier in my life.

  • Before I had any personal relationship with God, I knew chapters of the Bible by memory and could tell you why and how he created the earth in six literal days (and why I was sure God was in fact a ‘he’).
  • Before I know much about the Bible, I could tell you why the King James Version was the only Bible written by God and could defend this with handfuls of significant and critical errors the wishy-washy liberal translators of every other version chose (read: ‘purposefully chose’) to make.
  • Before I knew anything about sex and intimate sexual relationship in the context of a ‘Christian marriage’, I had read and heard graphic descriptions and explanations of homosexual acts, methods and motivations—uncensored—from material written by experts in Christian ‘family values’.
  • Before I had any understanding of the love, generosity and grace of God, I learned to fear him who had me in his hand, holding me (as it were) over the cauldron of hell’s fire.

I say all this as a warning to all who have the awesome privilege of being parents.  Be aware that your children may interpret what you intend as good, solid, Christian instruction in a way that actually distorts the reality of the loving, gracious, inclusive nature of God. Encourage your child in growing a deep relationship with God, not simply an intellectual understanding of the Divine. Show them the Bible not as a history book, or a textbook, or even a guidebook for life, but a story of people’s desire to connect with God and God’s love for them. Yes, people get it wrong and you need to teach your children to not be afraid of making mistakes or taking a wrong turn–put simply, this is what is included in the package we call ‘being human.’

Demonstrate to your children what a loving relationship looks like and encourage them to think, ask questions, seek rather than supply them with your questions and your answers to those questions. Show them God by being a loving, forgiving, gracious parent, not someone to be feared and mindlessly obeyed. Demonstrate the love of God by your acceptance of others and the diversity they bring with them. Affirm everyone’s worth and speak positively of other people’s journeys. Don’t be satisfied with providing rote answers but encourage contemplation and reflection. Allow room for unanswered questions and don’t be satisfied with an answer just because it fits into your framework of understanding.

Above all, trust God to look after your children and to nurture them in their own unique faith journey. Their story will–and should be–different than yours since they have been created as individuals with distinctive personalities and gifts. The One who made them, knows them, and will complete that which has been begun in them.