This year I have ventured into some new reading that has stirred both my imagination and intellect. As a result, Eugene Peterson, Brian Mclaren, NT Wright, and countless others have helped me reconstruct my theology (how I view God). Perhaps one of the most ongoing changes is in how I view the Bible.
If I can be perfectly honest, I have such an interesting relationship with this collection of ancient writings. Some of it I love and hail as the greatest literature ever recorded (Genesis, The Writings, The Gospels, Revelation), be it history, poetry, and everything in between. But there are other parts that plague me with sleepless nights and a troubled mind (Parts of the Torah, Joshua, Judges and some of the Prophets in particular).
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but after reading Walter Bruegemann (a leading Old Testament scholar) and NT Wright’s (the leading New Testament scholar) Surprised By Scripture, I have begun to answer some basic questions about the Bible.
Question: WHAT is the central theme/message of the Bible?
Answer: The Bible is God revealing Himself through a story of redemption that restores humanity back to him so that together they can recreate the world.
Question: WHO is the Bible’s audience?
Answer: The various books that make up the Bible are written to specific people in time, but are written ultimately for the benefit of everyone.
Question: WHERE is the Bible applicable?
Answer: The Bible has spread throughout the entire world. It’s central message is one that is meant to be understood by people of all cultures at all times. The Bible is not designed to provide an answer for every single possible scenario in the world. It is also under absolutely no circumstance meant to have another culture’s biases imposed onto its text in interpretation. Rather, it is meant to take a Christological worldview (namely the Kingdom of God) and impose it upon the reader. It is the task of each generation to continue the work before it in seeking to interpret these collections of writings justly and faithfully, knowing that we can know much, but never all of it by design.
Question: WHEN was the Bible written?
Answer: The Bible was written thousands of years ago in an Ancient Near Eastern context. It was NOT written in our Western culture with our post-modern Epicurean worldview in mind. Therefore it must first be understood within its original context before it can be translated and applied to us today.
Question: WHY was the Bible written?
Answer: Christians are Christ followers, not Biblians (Bible followers). Yes, the Bible does inform us of the one we follow. But at the end of the day, we follow a living, breathing, person who we claim is living in us. The Bible is meant to help us understand the God who lives in us through His Spirit, and teach us the ways of His Kingdom through history, literature, letters, and a variety of other genres.
Question: HOW do we read the Bible?
Answer: With all this in mind, it all comes down to how do we interpret the text. Does the text faithfully represent the God we worship? Did the ancient writers merely project their biases onto God in order to present Him a certain way that may or may not be true to His character? There is much mystery in the Bible, one that goes beyond a textbook of systematic theology or a denominational belief package. The answer can be summed up in one word: Jesus. Reading the Bible (Old and New Testaments) through Christological eyes seems to not only make the most sense but also be the most biblical. Some of the ways we see Christ Himself interact with the text is quite strange and unusual. By our definition, He quotes verses from the OT out of context, and at times cuts off the passage at peculiar times, all the while claiming that He fulfills it all. But after His Resurrection, on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) Jesus takes the travelers through a journey of the Scriptures, in order to illustrate how they all point to Him. If the Resurrection, the end of the story, is meant to be the beginning of our story, then perhaps, when it comes to reading the Bible, this is the best place to start.