I am an incurable “Bible guy.”
I love dogmatic and historical theology. And I love “talking shop” with other people who love those things.
But nothing gives me joy like the text of Scripture. It is endlessly fascinating to me. I’ve been reading the Bible now for about 25 years, and consistently (daily) for a bit over 20. “The Book” never ceases to amaze me. The interconnections between the various books of the Bible, the subtlety and nuance of the language… to me, Scripture is a universe of wonder and possibility, full of generative power for stoking the imagination of faithfulness.
It is sad to me, therefore, that the Bible gets treated in the way that it does in the North American church.
Sometimes the Bible is treated dismissively. It is merely the product of cultural and historical circumstances and as such has nothing authoritative to say to us now… it is a religious relic: interesting to study and learn from; but it is not a Sage at whose feet we sit. Sad.
Other times the Bible is given lip-service. Our church websites say that “We believe that the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word of God”, but in practice (personal and corporate) it is treated as a side-item, a precursor to a “main course” that is really about something else: being good citizens, having a happy life, etc etc. It is a boundary marker at best: something that assures our status in whatever ecclesial circles we hope to have access to; but it is not really the Shaper of our imagination.
And still other times the Bible is thwarted by our pre-determinations of what it actually says. Ironically, this also can and usually DOES happen among folks who claim to really value the Scriptures. To be frank, our theology MUTES it and therefore we do not let it do its deconstructing and reconstructing work.
All of those postures are sad. Scripture is not the “living word” under such circumstances, powerful to open up new vistas of possibility for us. Instead it is silenced. And we are poverty-stricken because of it.
I well remember the day in Hebrew exegesis class while I was in seminary in which our professor said (we were working on the short prophetic book of Joel) these words… words which have always stuck with me:
Listen, you need to understand that Scripture is trying to DO something, and you need to let it do what it wants to do and say what it wants to say. So your job as a handler of the Text is to unleash what is actually THERE, rather than making it conform to your expectations… figure out how it “fits” later… let it speak first.
Wise words. I’d like to think that I do that as a preacher and handler of the text. I sure hope I do.
In any event, I’d like to invite you to follow along over the next several weeks as I’ll be working through one of my favorite segments of Scripture: Psalm 119. We’re going to try to let it speak.
The Psalm recounts the journey of a person who sees God’s perfection and strives towards it. The journey is filled with joy and sorrow, highs and lows, ups and downs. At times it soars with ecstasy. At other times it literally trembles with gripping fear and loneliness.
But lessons are learned. And God is faithful. And as such, it is a good little piece of Scripture for disciples to know, and know well.
I hope you’ll join me.