Churches do a strange thing: we always read out of one book, and talk as if that book were the only meaningful book in the world. It’s called the Bible, and it’s one of the many things that separates church people from regular people. Full disclosure: I am known as a biblical preacher, and I spend more of my preaching time talking about the Bible than most people do. So I do have some skin in this conversation.
But it seems like a good idea to acknowledge that the Bible is full of difficulties. For one thing, it’s really old: the newest parts are about 1900 years old, and the oldest are maybe three thousand years old. What else do we read that’s so old? We wouldn’t pay attention to a fifty-year old book on chemistry, or biology, astronomy, or even history!
The next problem with the Bible is that it says so many things that are offensive to any modern person: it says that women should be subservient, that it’s OK to own slaves, and even stranger, it keeps telling stories of God killing people for doing normal things that God doesn’t like! Don’t pick up firewood on Sabbath, don’t marry foreigners, don’t touch this holy thing, and on and on!
Some of you reading this will be upset with me for saying these things, because it sounds like I don’t respect the Bible. And others of you will say, “Yes! Dump the Bible!” If you’re on one of those sides, you need to know that the other side is alive and well, and they’re not so rare as you might wish. You may also need to be reminded that the people on the other side mostly think your position is crazy.
So where am I on the Bible? I do agree that the Bible has loads of difficulties, that we need to acknowledge and take seriously. And I also agree that the Bible has been the most important set of writings in our Christian tradition for millennia. So if anyone wants to understand the Christian message and tradition, they really need to spend time coming to terms with the Bible. I don’t believe that you have to accept that everything said in the Bible is OK for today, or literally true. I don’t really think that those are serious or thoughtful ways to approach the Bible. Instead, we need to approach the Bible within the context of our own lives, in conversation with our rich and wide tradition as Christians, and using our reason. So every time I preach, I’m trying to carry on a conversation between this very difficult and ancient book, and the lives we have here and now. My experience is that when we do this carefully, we end up learning something, and end up growing in our relationship with the truth and with God. Join me on the walk!