Yeah, I know. I can be a bit negative when it comes to the Bible. That’s what people tell me, anyway—especially after my “Pete Ruins Christmas” series.
No wait. That’s wrong. I didn’t ruin Christmas and I’m not negative about the Bible.
I’m negative about how the Bible is sometimes presented—in ways that can be defended only with some mental gymnastics and intellectual alchemy, which brings spiritual harm in the long run.
I am even told sometimes, “You’re attacking the Bible,” and when I am accused of such I simply say, “I’m not attacking the Bible. I’m attacking you. You’re problem is that you can’t tell the difference.” Our thinking about the Bible should never be confused with the Bible itself—or worse, with God.
And of course, this is why I have no friends, will die a lonely man, buried in a cardboard box in an unmarked grave, and quickly forgotten.
Having said all that, I do get it. I do tend to emphasize a deconstructive approach to the Bible (“here’s what’s not working”) and less often a constructive evaluation (“here’s how the Bible functions for us”). I do that because I feel there is a lot to deconstruct.
Some of us scrape and prime, others apply the paint.
Though even here I have to say that I like to paint and I do a fair but of it. I do drive home the value of the Bible, here on this blog and also in my books, especially the last two. Let me prove it to you.
This Bible, which preserves ancient journey of faith, models for us our own journeys. We recognize something of ourselves in the struggles, joys, triumphs confusions, and despairs expressed by the biblical writers.
Rather than a rulebook . . . the Bible is more a land we get to know by hiking through it and exploring its many paths and terrains. This land is both inviting and inspiring, but also unfamiliar, odd, and at points unsettling—even risky and precarious. I believe God encourages us to explore this land—all of it—patiently, with discipline, and above all with a sense that we, joining the long line of those who have gone before, will come to know ourselves better and God more deeply by accepting that challenge. (The Bible Tells Me So, p. 24)
I believe that the Bible does not model a faith that depends on certainty for the simple fact that the Bible does not provide that kind of certainty. Rather, in all its messy diversity, the Bible models trust in God that does not rest on whether we are able to be clear and certain about what to believe. In fact “belief” and “faith” in the Bible are just different ways of saying “trust.” And trust works, regardless of where our knowing happens to be. (The Sin of Certainty, p. 53)
I think that’s plenty positive, thank you very much, if in an unnerving sort of way (trust is hard).
No, this way of thinking doesn’t provide the kinds of details other models provide (or claim to), but it’s a point of departure for engaging the question “What do I do with the Bible?”
I think the Bible is worthy of our adult attention, worthy of serious study and reflection, not because it provides a course-of-life syllabus for us, but precisely because it doesn’t: the Bible difficult, challenging, and difficult to wrap our arms around.
So with that, here are “3 reasons why the Bible is worth it.” Actually, I’ve just given one of them, but let me rephrase it:
1. The Bible is a “means of grace.”
The type of spirituality the Bible models is one we can connect with because it so well reflects our own experiences. And through our own struggling with its contents (which has been so much a part of the history of Judaism and Christianity), we are drawn to God because we see that we are known and that we are not alone—communion through community.
The Bible is also worth it, because,
2. The Bible is inextricably woven into the Christian experience.
The New Testament writers cite the Old Testament about 350 times, and allude to it many, many times more. They don’t make a move without engaging the scriptural tradition. The Old Testament has been a non-negoiable part of the Christian movement since its inception, with the New Testament (as we know it) coming along a few centuries later.
The Bible is worth it because there is no getting around it—and I don’t mean that in a resigned sort of way. I mean that, in the Christian tradition, theological and spiritual growth simply don’t happen apart from meaningful engagement with Scripture. And as many have noted and I have experienced, the more you think you know the more there is to learn. The Bible just keeps giving.
I realize that Christians throughout history have not always been able to read the Bible for themselves, as it is even the case today in places. But biblical content is still mediated to them in one form or another (speaking, music, and art). The Bible is always there.
Finally, the Bible is worth it, because of,
3. The Story it tells.
I am often asked, “What, then, makes the Bible different from other sacred books?” I think this is a very good big-picture question that needs to be asked again and again.
The answer, though, is not (deconstruction coming) because of its inerrant property, or that it is remarkable historically accurate, or that it teaches the highest of moral standards. I believe what makes the Bible different, amid all its messy non-inerrantness and at times questionable morality, is—if I may be direct at the risk of sounding simplistic—Jesus.
Locating the grand worthiness of Scripture in Jesus (or “the person and work of Christ” as theologians sometimes put it) is itself a theological and hermeneutical challenge, for who Jesus is and what Jesus did have very much been topics of discussion and debate from the very beginning (including within the pages of the New Testament.) As far as I’m concerned, if the Gospel is true, I would expect nothing less (because I think paradox is way cool).
But leaving aside the complexities, what ultimately makes the Bible worth it, is the faith in Jesus that drives Christians toward it to begin with, and consequently the story of Jesus that is yielded by engaging with it—again and again, with deeper layers. And of course, this very process of seeing the Bible from the point of view of faith in Christ is the very stuff of serious Christian theology, then and now.
To put this third point another way, the word is worth it because of the Word to which it bears witness. And fleshing out how that witness bearing works and what it looks like is ultimately what makes the Bible worthy of our full adult attention.
OK, there you have it.