Chapter 6 – From Paper to Person – How do we read God’s words?
McKnight wonders aloud if we forget what we are reading when we read the Bible. We are reading God’s story. So, how do we read a story that we claim is God’s story? We need to ask, “What is my relationship to the Bible?” This really leads to the question, “What is my relationship to the God of the Bible?”
A closer look at Psalm 119 reveals David’s heart for God’s laws. Instead of saying that: Your words are authoritative, and I am called to submit to them,” he was saying: “Your words are delightful, and I love to do what you ask.” The difference: one is a relationship to the Bible; the other is a relationship with God. Most of us have grown up within the authority approach to the Bible. (I personally remember a pastor leading his congregation through the pledge: “I believe the Bible. It is the Word of God. Where my life deviates from what the Bible says, I will change). This approach is not personal enough or relational enough. It does not express enough of why it is that God gave us the Bible. Scot next takes some time to build a relational approach to the Bible, one that finds resonance with the delightful obedience of the psalmist. He focuses on five ideas that will fill out what we mean by reading the Bible as Story so we can learn to live it out.
The Relational Approach to the Bible
God and the Bible
The relational approach distinguishes God from the Bible. God existed before the Bible existed; he exists independently of the Bible now. God is a person; the Bible is paper. God gave us this papered Bible to lead us to love his person. But the person and the paper are not the same.
Missing the difference between God and the Bible is like the person who reads Jonah and spends hours and hours figuring out if a human can live inside a whale, but never encounters God. Our first step in a proper relationship with the Bible is that we must distinguish God from the Bible.
Bible as God’s Written Communication
A relational approach also focuses on the Bible as God’s written communication with us. The Bible is like a spoken message or a letter from God addressed to his people. The Bible is God’s communication – in the form of words – with us. For the papered book to be what it is intended to be, God’s communication with us, we need to receive those words as God’s words addressed to God’s people.
A relational approach invites us to listen to God (the person) speak in the Bible and to engage God as we listen. The relational approach knows the Bible is filled with timely, divinely inspired stories of the Story by human authors. We are summoned to stand in front of the Bible as those listening to God’s story.
Bible and Big Conversation
One of McKnight’s favorite discoveries about the relational approach is that we enter into the Bible’s own conversation and the conversation the church has had about the Bible. Just as the biblical authors converse with one another, so Christians in the history of the church have conversed with one another – about the Bible’s own conversation. Our challenge today is to learn to read the Bible with tradition – compared to sitting down at a table with three of four generation in our family at Christmas – we can enter into this big conversation in which we can learn from the wisdom of the past.
Relationship with God
This relational approach believes our relationship to the Bible is transformed into a relationship with the God who speaks to us in and through the Bible. Our relationship to the Bible is actually a relationship with the God of the Bible. Scot emphasizes that we don’t ask what the Bible says, we ask what God says to us in that Bible. God gave the Bible not so we can know it but so we can know and love God through it.
Interesting and final point of the chapter – Without denying the legitimacy of the various terms in the authority approach to the Bible, those who have a proper relationship to the Bible never need to speak of the Bible as their authority nor do they speak of their submission to the Bible. They are so in tune with God, so in love with him, that the word “authority” is swallowed up in loving God. Submission becomes listening to God speak through the Bible and doing what God calls us to do.