Monday, September 29, 2008

The Blue Parakeet: Chapter 3

Part 1 – Story: What is the Bible?

Chapter 3 – Inkblots and Puzzles: How, Then, Are We Reading?

The goal of this chapter is to get the reader to allow him/herself to be drawn into the story of the Bible. The Bible’s story, in the simplest of categories, has a plot with a:

Beginning (Genesis 1-11), and a (long, long)

Middle (Genesis 12-Malachi 4; Matthew – Revelation) and an

End (Matthew 25; Romans 8; Revelation 21-22).

Scot has noticed that we do not read the Bible as a story. Our intent is to get something out of the Bible for our daily lives (and that is a good goal). But, because the reading the Bible as story takes more time, thinking and discerning, we’ve developed routines and techniques that get us to our goal sooner. We’ve settled for shortcuts. Scot has identified five shortcuts:

Shortcut 1: Morsels of Law – for some, the Bible is massive collection of laws – what to do and what not to do. There is an ugly element to the mistake of making the Bible a law book: what it does to us. We, the Obedient Ones, become insufferable. How so? We…

become intoxicated with our own moral superiority

become more concerned with being right than being good

become judgmental.

There is an important place for the Bible’s laws. If you read Psalm 119 in one sitting, you will find someone who found utter delight in the Lawgiver. The laws were not a burden but the good revelation of God on how to walk in this world with God in such a way that it would lead to the blessing of God. Converting the Bible into a collection of little more that commandments completely distorts the Bible.

Shortcut 2: Morsels of Blessings and Promises

Dividing the Bible into chapters and verses has a great benefit when it comes to being able to refer passages in the Bible. It does make it more difficult to read a story that way. Dividing the Bible up into verses turns the Bible into morsels and leads us to read the Bible as a collection of divine morsels, sanctified morsels of truth. We pause for each one to see if we can get something from it.

What happens to the Christian who reads the Bible, day after day and week after week, as little more than a collection of morsels of blessings and promises? For one, everything is good and wonderful and light and airy. These people become optimistic and upbeat and wear big smiles…until something happens, until they enter into a period of suffering and feel distant from God.

One of the most important things about the Bible is that it tells realistic truth. There are all kinds of wonderful blessings surrounding the characters, there also were days of doubt, defeat, disobedience and darkness. The blessings and promises of God emerge from a real life’s story that also knows that we live in a broken world.

Shortcut 3: Mirrors and Inkblots

Some people read the Bible as if its passages were Rorschach inkblots. They see what is in their head. In more sophisticated language, they project onto the Bible what they want to see. People will begin to read the Bible with an eye to what is important to them. For example, they might see in the “Jesus inkblot” a Republican or a socialist, because they are Republicans or socialists. After surveying his students for years, he finds that everyone thinks Jesus is like them, we all project onto Jesus our own image.

Shortcut 4: Puzzling Together the Pieces to Map God’s Mind

For some, the Bible is like a big puzzle. Once you’ve got the puzzle solved, you no longer have to work with the pieces. The problem is first, we need to think about what this Grand System, the solved puzzle, really is: it is a system of thought that presumes that we know what God was doing behind the Bible before the Bible was written, and once we have this puzzle in hand we’ve got the Bible figured out. We think we’ve even mapped the mind God at some level.

Second, this approach often ignores the parts of the puzzle that don’t fit. All groups seem to emphasize something true and important in the Bible; you will also see that each one de-emphasizes or even ignores something important to other groups. Each of these groups ignores parts of the puzzle that don’t quite fit their system.

Third, puzzling together the pieces we find in the Bible into a system is impossible. We may say that the Bible is a unity because God is behind it all, and that is true. But who says that our system is that unity?

Fourth, puzzling calls into question the Bible as we have it. Had he wanted to, God could have revealed a systematic theology chapter by chapter. What God chose to do was provide a story of Israel and the church.

The problem is that those who “solve” the puzzle think they’ve got the Bible mastered; they tamed the Blue Parakeet who gave us the blue parakeets. God did not give the Bible so we could master him or it; god gave the Bible so we could live it, so we could be mastered by it.

Shortcut 5: Maestros

We look to the Bible to find the great truths by looking to the great teachers and personas of the Bible to find the ultimate truth. We are of course tempted to look at the Bible through the lens of the Maestro Jesus. We read the Bible and seek to imitate Maestro Jesus. “What would Jesus do?” is the only question they ask. The problem here is the work “only”. Some, on the other hand, read the Bible through Maestro Paul who unconsciously has eclipsed Maestro Jesus. Many of us, as conservative evangelicals, have read the Bible (and even interpret Jesus’ words) through the lens of Maestro Paul. Reading the Bible through a maestro’s eyes (even Jesus’) gives us one chapter in the story of the Bible. One-chapter Bible readers develop one-chapter Christian lives.

Now that the shortcuts have been pointed out, what is the long way? How can we learn to read the Bible as Story? That leads us to the next chapter.