THE BIBLE - Thoughts from my study...

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(© Jeffrey S. Bowman, all rights reserved, use by permission only)

 

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"Letís be clear: The pulpit is for exulting Christ by preaching the Bible verse-by-verse, book-by-book, week-by-week, every single Sunday."


When I was a teen and got involved in the "Jesus Movement" back in about 1969 I was brought up with that concept quoted above. You go to church, bring your own "study" Bible (mine had wide-margins for taking notes) and "took in" the Word of God.
I could not get enough "Bible" and ultimately I got a Masters Degree in Theology and have led several congregations as a Pastor. Thus I have Christian "street cred" on the topic. I'm not against what I once thought but what I have come to see is that Bible knowledge doesn't equal love and that Bible knowledge doesn't often really mean "Bible knowledge." Rather it is a filtered view of the Bible that is run through the strainer of our man made culture.


In our attempt to "take in God's Word" we make a big mistake -- that the Bible is THE manual for living. I tried to study and live this assumption but the Bible refused to let me... yet I tried to wrangle the text into this cultural belief. One day I was challenged with the questions (those pesky things that help us refine our thinking): what about those who prior to the 1850s didn't have the Bible to study? Hmm, I thought... yes, what about those people? And what about the vast majority of human history when folks didn't read / write or even have the nicely bound 66 books of the Bible? Hmm... If our Heavenly Father really was interested in us "exulting Christ by preaching the Bible verse-by-verse" then He did a poor job handing us the Bible. In fact, while He gave us "His Word" it was mostly done orally and then put to stone, scrolls, and parchment for keeps sake.


With the rise of scholarship and critical thinking in the 1800's humans finally had a chance to analyze the text for themselves. But what happened? We took the amazing Bible and tried to explore past every "jot and tittle." At least this is what I did. I learned the New Testament Greek language and studied enough Old Testament Hebrew to use the critical aids. It was fun (and it still is!) but in the process I noticed when I dug deeper, the Biblical text did not want to follow along. Instead of seeing the picture clearer, it became fuzzier. Instead of making things easier, I discovered more obstacles. I now realize that the Bible is not of infinite resolution. It is a finite digital picture, a low res 640x480.jpg if you will, that resists being zoomed into or blown up by our efforts. In other words we make things more complicated by attempting to zoom in -- it becomes pixilated and its contents become distorted by our limited cultural perspective or worse yet we try to make our culture like those we think we find in the text.


The Bible is a fantastic collection of books that provide us with a "History of Redemption." Redemption is the overall message of the Bible. I enjoy verse-by-verse teaching and teaching the Bible that way but I do so now with great caution as I want to preserve the overall picture and not distort the text by my hyper-analysis. To summarize, exalting Christ does not come from teaching verse-by-verse, but living out God's love one day at a time. Such love can be found in humans who have never held the Bible in their hands but who follow God's love written in their hearts.