There are some great books out there that help you understand how to read the Bible “like Jesus did”, books that show how he challenged interpretations, how he used and referred to the stories of His people to show what the Kingdom was really like. And they’re great books to help us see how to approach our scriptures – choosing relationship and love over strict adherence to a code. (I highly recommend “The Bible Tells Me so” by Peter Enns and “Disarming Scripture” by Derek Flood – both excellent reads. I finished the Enns book in two days.) But how we’ve got to the point of reading our scriptures so wrong? Because we rejected Story.
The enlightenment has a lot to answer for.
The culture and ideas we’ve inherited from the enlightenment period have consigned story to the unimportant, to the arena of childhood, to a place of impotence and irrelevance. On a human scale this is a tragedy (I’ve written many times how important the use of story is to us as humans – basically without it we descend into madness as we would if we slept without dreaming). For humans who subscribe to be followers of Jesus however, it is more than a tragedy, it is dangerous. Because it’s led us (especially those of the Evangelical branch) to read the bible in a way it wasn’t designed to be read.
It’s become about details and proof texts and “how can this text help me win my argument”. When in fact, if we read it as intended, as a story of God’s people, told from their point of view, with God’s inspiration (oversight? divine reminder? new insights?) then we will avoid more than a few of the traps we have fallen into and continue to fall into. (for an excellent post on the Inspiration of the Bible check out this post here from The Evangelical Liberal – in fact, there are a tonne of useful posts there on the bible, really worth getting your teeth into).
There, I said it. The Bible is a story book. And because we’ve been so trained and indoctrinated into the enlightenment way of thinking, where facts and hard tangible ‘things’ are all that matters, and that mystery, fantasy, messiness and subjective thought are all worthless some of you will dislike the idea of the Bible being a story. Because in our enlightenment affected eyes, that makes it not true. And if the Bible isn’t true then that makes our Faith worthless, doesn’t it?
We treat it like a rule book, a text book, a hyper-objective newspaper, as a “dictated word for word” account of actual historical events (and Laws which are meant for all humankind at all times). We approach the histories, the poetry, the books of the law and the letters all in the same way – as “The Holy Book” – but this leads us down a path intended by neither the original writers, nor by God.
Looking at the narratives within the Bible as story and in the same way we would look at story means stepping back. It means looking at the whole (the ‘gestalt’ of it all) in order to understand the underlying meaning of it. It’s not about arguing over individual passages and using them to defend or oppose slavery, heliocentricity, genocide or homosexuality. It’s about looking at the spirit of the story, reading the wholes story to the end, in the company of the one who inspired it and with friends who may understand Him better than I and looking back to see the themes that have been underlying the whole thing – the upside-downyness of God’s Kingdom , the too often choosing of the younger/youngest brother over the older, the acceptance of outsiders, the favouring of Mercy over Justice – just as a few examples.
And so, if I approach this book (or more correctly 66 “books” – including carefully constructed subjective ‘histories’, poems, prophetic challenges, recordings of grand myths, songs and letters) the way I would any story, my focus changes. And my focus changes because what I then seek is the meaning behind the words. I stop focussing on the plot and instead try to work what each story is about and then what the overarching story is about. And that’s where I get excited about the Gospel (the Good News), because that’s where it becomes about Good News instead of guilt and condemnation and exclusion. Because the story is about Grace. Not about individuals or what was or wasn’t said, or about punctuation or the absolutes of law – that’s what enlightenment thinking would have us argue about and focus on – but about the ongoing story of Grace. A story that includes you and me; a story that can at times exclude the rich, the powerful, the religious; a story not all about the facts, but about getting to the truth via carefully constructed, culturally influenced, yet at the same time divinely inspired mythic narrative – and no less true for being all of that. I urge you to discover the story within that book in your hand; to discover that story itself is not worthless or meaningless or somehow less than; to reject those thoughts that spring in to your head when someone says how much a fictional character has inspired them or motivated them – check yourself when you’re about to say “but it’s not real” because that’s the thinking that’s lead us to reading the story of Grace in a most ungracious way.