Here’s a loaded question: What are the first words that come to your mind when you think about the Bible?
Inerrancy? Inspiration? Revelation? Authority? Truth? Myth? Division? Weapon?
Here’s another one: What word comes to mind when you think about your relationship with the Bible and with the God of the Bible?
Submission? Love? Skepticism?
[Honestly, the first word that comes to my mind is tumultuous.]
In Chapter 6 of The Blue Parakeet, Scot McKnight tackles the question, “How do we read God’s words?”
McKnight says that he grew up with an approach that emphasized words like “authority” and “submission,” but found that such an attitude did not accurately convey the dynamic he experienced when reading the Bible. “It is not that I think these words are wrong,” her writes, “but I know there is far more to reading the Bible than submitting to authority.” (85)
McKnight looks to Psalm 119, in which the psalmist took a different approach to the Bible. Instead of saying, “Your words are authoritative, and I am called to submit to them,” David said, “Your words are delightful, and I love to do what you ask.”
“The difference between these two approaches is enormous,” writes McKnight. “One of them is a relationship to the Bible; the other is a relationship with God.” (85)
McKnight advocates a relational approach to reading the Bible, one that distinguishes God from the Bible. “God existed before the Bible existed; God 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...To make the Bible into God is idolatrous.”(87,88)
The relational approach focuses on God communicating to His creation through the Bible, and God’s people listening. This also involves communicating with one another—participating in a great conversation that spans the centuries—as we listen to God together. For this reason, McKnight believes it is important to read the Bible with tradition (but not through tradition).
[To Micah and those involved in an earlier discussion about power structures and authority/submission—I thought you’d like this observation from McKnight: “The story of the Bible has one book devoted to husbands and wives, the Song of Songs, and before one ever reads Ephesians 5 or 1 Peter 3, one should dig deeply into the Song’s intimate secrets. The framing of a husband and wife relationship in terms of love—the kind of delightful, playful love found in the Song of Songs—completely changes things...So, too, if we frame our relationship to the Bible in terms of authority, we will inevitably have authoritarian issues emerging as theology.” (93)]
In Chapter 7, McKnight asks “What is our relationship to the God who speaks to us in the Bible?”
Having engaged in far too many seemingly endless and usually fruitless discussions about the word “inerrancy,” I am both convicted and encouraged by McKnight’s reminder here that “having the right view [of the Bible] isn’t the point of the Bible...We must begin an entirely new conversation that gets us beyond the right view of the Bible to one that seeks to answer this question, ‘What is our relationship to the God of the Bible?’ I suggest that the answer to that question, and one that comes to mind immediately for the one who reads the Bible attentively, is simple: Our relationship to the God of the Bible is to listen to God so we can love him more deeply and love others more completely.” (95, 96)
McKnight takes this a step further in Chapter 8, in which he writes:
“Here is a sad fact: many of those who teach us how to read the Bible teach us how to gather information and find the right path from A to B. They teach us about words and paragraphs and book outlines, and they point us to sources and resources for understanding the historical context. Each of these is important. But what Bible study books don’t focus on is church and personal transformation. Any method of Bible study that doesn’t lead to transformation abandons the missional path of God and leaves us stranded.” (105)
As Paul wrote to Timothy, the point of Scripture is to equip us for good works. Inerrancy isn’t the point. Authority isn’t the point. The point is to listen and to love. I wonder how many frustrating, pointless conversations I could have avoided in life if I had just kept this in mind!
I'm sure we will have debates about inerrancy in the future, but for today I think we can all agree--those of us who like the word "inerrancy" and those of us who don't like the word "inerrancy"--that inerrancy isn't the point. The point is to love God and love other people, and the Bible can help us do that.
Next week, we will discuss Section Three of The Blue Parakeet, which will bring us back to our previous discussion on picking and choosing. You gotta admit that we ALL pick and choose. But how do we do it wisely, and in a way that honors God? This topic should make for a very interesting conversation.
In the meantime, this will be a busy week on the blog. First of all, I'm finally updating the Book Club page, so if you have any last-minute suggestions for Feb, March, or April, let me know.
On Wednesday look for a post about the “new Calvinism,” which is bound to bring out some strong opinions. (Those who know me know that I’m not a huge fan of Calvinism; those who know me well know that that’s a major understatement.)
On Thursday, I’ll write about how I still struggle with doubt. Over the weekend, look for a finish-the-sentence Friday and my first newsletter. If you haven’t already, be sure sign up to receive it via e-mail.