Monday, July 26, 2010

The Bible as a Sacred Cultural & Community Library

Once again I have been greatly encouraged by Brian D. McLaren as he wrestles out loud with the authority question about how the bible should be understood. In his latest book A New Kind of Christianity - Ten Questions That Are Transforming The Faith he reminds us that we need a new approach to the Bible, ...."because we've gotten ourselves into a mess with the Bible."

From the Protestant Reformation forward, we in the Western Church inherited the slogan sola scriptura - "Scripture alone in enough!" That has now spawned over 27,000 different Christian denominations full of smart, articulate and well-meaning folks who find countless curious and unique ways to interpret the Bible over time.

McLaren asks the obvious question, "Enough for what purpose?" He goes on to answer his own question. "Enough to justify thousands of splits and to inspire centuries of bitter competition! Enough to keep preachers and theologians and writers in business for centuries? Yes, ....but that is not what the Bible is for."

What if the Bible is truly inspired by God, and yet it wasn't meant to stifle conversation but instead as McLaren states was..."intended to stimulate conversation, to keep people thinking and talking and arguing and seeking, across continents and centuries, then it has succeeded and is succeeding in a truly remarkable way."

Could it be that God's Word, God's speaking and self-revealing takes place between people in relationship, in community over time as we are invited to be part of an ancient and ongoing conversation that has the power to transform and disarm us....."rather than arm us with "truths" to use like weapons to savage other human beings?"

Perhaps the Bible was never intended to give us all the answers and short cuts to truth, but rather to guide us into a more intentional posture of humility, awe, respect and even rebuke and insignificance in the face of the mysterious and unknown?

If we consider the Bible as more of a sacred community library..."the record of a vibrant conversation, and a stimulus to ongoing conversation, it is beautiful, I'd say." The same creative Holy Spirit we read about in Genesis, calling forth life from chaos and darkness....."is the same Spirit running like a current through the characters of Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, Elihu, and God. And we might add, this is the same Spirit evoking the text from the chaos of human writers in a vigorous culture. And this is the same Spirit hovering over us now, running like a current through us today, at this moment, evoking understanding as we seek to understand, to know, to learn, drawing us like an orchestral conductor into the holy conversation and symphony of the sacred Scriptures. And this is the same Spirit by whom Jesus is conceived, filled, and empowered..."

So from this perspective perhaps the Bible is enough - as a sacred cultural and community library to help us encounter the living God. "As the portable library of an ongoing conversation about and with the living God, and as an entree into that conversation so that we actually encounter and experience the living God - for that the Bible is more than enough."

As McLaren goes on to point out, this approach is beyond both liberal and conservative dogma. "The Bible they want to put us "under" tends to be the Bible as they have interpreted it, which unsurprisingly means we are actually under their authority as they stand over us with Bible in hand."

He closes this chapter with his hope: "...that this approach will not try to put us under the text, as conservatives tend to do, or lift us over it, as liberals often seem to do. Instead, I hope it will try to put us in the text - in the conversation, in the story, in the current and flow, in the predicament, in the Spirit, in the community of people who keep bumping into the living God in the midst of their experiences of loving God, betraying God, losing God, and being found again by God. In this way, by placing us in the text, I hope this approach can help us enter and abide in the presence, love, and reverence of the living God all the days of our lives and in God's mission as humble, wholehearted servants day by day and moment by moment. Even now."

Cheers, O'