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The Bible Tells Me So

February 13, 2014

Since the beginning of 2014, our Sunday School class at church has been using the Animate:Faith curriculum through Sparkhouse.  Every Sunday, I’ve found myself challenged–spending Sunday afternoon thinking about a line from the video or a something someone in our class said.  This week was no different.

Our topic was the Bible.  Easy topic, right?  45 minutes to discuss the Bible supplemented by short video clip from Lauren Winner

Why, as Methodists, don’t we read the Bible more?  What’s the difference between a Bible church and a regular church?  Aren’t we all “Bible” churches?  I know we aren’t because I hear people say with pride (and a little bit of judgement) that they go to a Bible church and I wonder what kind of church we are then.  Are we just a hang out on Sunday morning and eat donut holes church?  Are we a take care of the poor but don’t read the Bible kind of church?

Or is more how we read the Bible?  The majority of our Sunday School class reads the Bible as God-inspired, the living God-breathed Word.  To borrow a classmates words, we see it more as a guidebook than a rulebook.  I view the Bible as a combination of historical facts (parts of Kings and Chronicles for example) and parables–present throughout Genesis in addition to Jesus’s parables in the New Testament.  I believe that the Jesus was the Son of God, who walked on earth and taught us how to act.  Jesus came to rise above the rules, not to make a new set of rules, because love?–it trumps everything.   Our commandments are to love God and love our neighbor.  Jesus was flesh of God’s love, killed because we couldn’t stand having someone around who upset how things were (just because you were rich, powerful, and religious didn’t mean you were God’s chosen people).  Jesus rose on the third day.  The early church spread and taught that nothing, nothing at all, can separate us from the love of God.

But I digress.  I love the Bible.  I struggle with it sometimes though.  I have a hard time figuring out what some passages mean.  I don’t understand the contradictions, however, I am learning that as I read it more and more, I am increasingly comfortable with the contradictions.

Lauren Winner said something in the video segment that stuck with me.   She talked about Thomas Merton, a 20th century Christian mystic.  He said that initially he wasn’t sure about the Bible, but  he realized that all the spiritual writers he loved were devoted to reading the Bible.  I thought about some of the writers I love:  Lauren Winner for one, Barbara Brown Taylor, Jen Hatmaker, Sarah Bessey, Henri Nouwen, Philip Yancey, Madeleine L’Engle, and Joan Chittister.  One of my favorite subjects to read about is the Bible (Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermons, Lois Tverberg and Shane Hipps diving into the Greek and Aramaic, Peter Enn’s studying the culture of the ancient world and how it affected the Bible).

Which brings me back to the question I was dying to ask during Sunday School, but for some reason didn’t.  Why don’t Methodists (or the Methodists at our church) read the Bible more?  Why isn’t there a culture of bringing your Bible to church or Sunday School?  Lauren Winner posed the questions, Is the Bible worth re-reading countless times?  I’m wondering is the Bible worth reading at all?

For me, it is.  The Bible is a central component of my faith.  Without it, I am making up my own faith as I go–kind of the spiritual but not religious type.  Yes, there are hard things in the Bible–things I don’t understand, things that contradict each other, and things that I don’t like.  The Bible also demonstrates how we should act–in imitation of Jesus.  Without the Bible, how would we know what Jesus did?

So I read the Bible again and again, every year.  I’m not always doing so great by June (the kids out of school really challenges me to find a new space for quiet), but I start again every January.  I approach it with an open mind–not reading it looking for a fight—but looking for what I may learn or what I may notice this time that I hadn’t before.   Every time I read a passage, and I’ve been reading the Bible since middle school, I find something different depending on the stage of my life.  In these middle years of my life, I’m noticing more the amount of weeping that goes on in the Bible–whether it be from Jesus or from Esau, pain and suffering is great in the Bible.  I read the Old Testament looking to see what they can tell me about Jesus and our relationship with God.  I read the New Living Translation Chronological Bible some years.  Other years I read Common Prayer by Claiborne, Wilson-Hargrove, and Okoro which include daily readings from Psalms, the OT, and the NT.  I have also just gotten Celtic Prayer which has two years worth of daily readings and some time, I want to check out Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours (which I suspect also has daily Bible readings).

The Bible reminds us exactly why we need grace–we can’t do it by ourselves.  In July, when I am two months behind in my Chronological Bible, I know I am forgiven–I know God’s grace extends to me not reading the Bible as well.   The Bible soothes me–I can easily list passages that I start quoting when the going gets really rough—“I lift my eyes up to the hills, from where cometh my help?”  “When you pass through the waters, I will go with you.  The wind and the waves will not overcome you.”  “You have searched me and known me.  Before I was formed in my mother’s womb, you knew me.  You know my going out and my coming in.”  The Bible is not God, yet we need to the Bible to help us deepen our relationship with God, for the Bible is God’s love letter to us.

My Bible Book List:

A Bible–I like the study Bibles that have notes at the bottom.   I use the NIV and the New Living Translation.

A Chronological Bible–This puts the books of the Bible in order that they are written.  This is especially helpful when you get to the Prophets and Paul’s letters–you will find minor prophets in the middle of Isaiah readings or I and II Kings or Chronicles.  Again, I like the New Living Translation for readability.

Common Prayer:  A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Enuma Okoro. This is what I am using this year.  In addition to daily prayers and reflections, there is a Psalm, Old Testament, and New Testament Reading for every day.

Celtic Daily Prayer from the Northumbria Community.  This is similar to Common Prayer.  However, they have two years of daily Bible readings, again from the Psalms, Old Testament, and New Testament.

Books about reading the Bible:

The Bible Jesus Read by Philip Yancey.  A look at the Old Testament and how it would have influenced Jesus.

Selling Water by the River by Shane Hipps.  Shane looks at some of Jesus’s teachings and puts them into the context of the Greco-Roman world.  He brings in the original meaning of Greek words, which I really like.

Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus by Lois Tverberg.  Similar to Hipps in that it looks at some of Jesus’s teachings and digs into the original meanings of Aramaic (or Greek) words and the culture of his time.

Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns.  Enns looks at the Old Testament, starting with the creation in Genesis and compares it to other ancient near Eastern creation stories (and what makes the Jewish creation story different).  Enns looks at several historical and archeological documents (such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, Enuma Elish, and the Siloam Tunnel inscriptions).  This is by far the most academic book on my list.

The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggman.  Brueggeman looks at the Prophets from the Old Testament and how Jesus uses those prophesies.  This one is also very academic.

Books made up of sermons based on the Bible:

Bread of Heaven by Barbara Brown Taylor

Pastrix by Nadia Bolz Weber.  The first half of her book is memoir, the second half reads more like sermons.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Lara permalink
    February 14, 2014 8:25 am

    Oh I wish I could have been in class for this series. Would have loved to hear the discussions. I bring my personal Bible to studies’ gatherings, but not usually to church. My interaction with it on Sunday mornings didn’t seem to merit carrying it in – which makes me wonder why I am not engaging with it on Sunday morning more? I’m not sure that is a bad thing, if I am involved in study the other days of the week and come to church more for corporate worship, not intense study. But I’m not sure if that has been a conscious choice. And I do catch myself leaning on reading more “about” the Bible than actually reading the Bible, so good reminder for me to think how to turn that around. There is also a difference for me between daily devotional Bible reading and study-type Bible reading. Thanks for the post-

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