The meeting was more tense than I expected. One elder at our church was frustrated that people weren’t putting value in the Bible studies that were being offered through the church. In their mind, if we were to be a church that pleased God, people would be coming in droves to our studies. The reason (according to this elder) for the people’so apathy was simple: the leadership wasn’t concerned enough about the Bible (on a side note – if you ever want to spice up a monotonous elder meeting, accuse the other elders of not caring enough about the Bible. Things get interesting after that!). At one point the elder leaned forward, and with an enormous amount of conviction and passion, slapped their hand on the Bible and said, “People just need the Bible!”
The conversation stopped.
Have you ever noticed how often people use the Bible to stop a conversation?
Or use the Bible to beat up another person?
Or use the Bible to prove their rightness?
There is something about knowing the Bible that makes us feel good about ourselves. It justifies our opinions and worldviews. It secures our anxieties. It makes us feel right. Besides, how could it be a bad thing to know, study, and use the Bible? So we read and study and quote verses and we demand people use the Bible to back up their opinions. It becomes a sword, not to reveal our own hearts, but to kill a conversation and diminish a threat.
Don’t get me wrong, there is an aspect of using the Bible that’s good and right. Basing our worldview on the Bible is absolutely what we should do. Having our beliefs formulated by the Bible and not our opinions is appropriate. But when we use the Bible to prove ourselves acceptable to God by being more right than others, we are misusing the text as modern Pharisees who feel justified by our superior knowledge of the text.
We cannot use the Bible to proclaim the gospel of free grace and at the same time use the Bible to gracelessly lord our righteousness over another person.
We cannot use the Bible to encourage people to mourn and use the Bible to correct them for mourning wrongly.
We cannot use the Bible to celebrate the diversity of those who bear the image of God and use the Bible to demand a lack of diversity in thought.
We cannot use the Bible to make much of Jesus and use the Bible to shield ourselves from Jesus’ words.
As I write this I becoming more uncomfortable with the phrase “use the Bible.” We cannot use the Bible. But do we ever try. Therein lies the problem with the modern approach to the Bible. We are seeking to use the text. We are not coming to let the text open and expose us. We use it. Like a tool. Like something cheap.
Like a road map for life.
Which, by the way, must be the most inane metaphor for the Bible ever. Let’s take the inspired broody, complex, mystical, and beautiful words and compare them to an oversized origami puzzle with coffee stains that’s crumpled up in the dashboard of our car. Not to mention the fact that the Bible makes a horrible road map. Go ahead and ask the Bible “Bible, which way should I go?”
Do you know the response?
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.'” (Isaiah 30:21) Which is horrible if you are looking for direction, but awesome if you are looking for a God who will be with you no matter where you find yourself in life.
I think we use the Bible because we are too comfortable with it. It’s too familiar. The stories and ideas do not shock us or capture our imaginations. The truth of the words do not reveal the brokenness of our hearts, but are, like the words of the newspaper, descriptive of events that happened and facts that are. Our comfort with the text is the same comfort we share with a legal document. It serves us. It lays the world out in black and white. And so we use it as such. Read it. Ingest the information. Regurgitate the information at appropriate time to prove cognitive understanding of content. Which is a great approach if we are looking to win trivial pursuit, pass a test, or win a debate. It’s a horrible practice if you want to be transformed.
We are so comfortable with the Bible as a book that it fails to bother us. It fails to shake our understandings of how the world works. We are left in our old patterns of being because we fail to allow the words to penetrate the depths of our hearts. Instead, we use the text to point out the mistakes of others. Or we find the passages that everyone else needs to read. We are comfortable using the Bible to win an argument or stop a conversation, but we are uncomfortable letting the Bible be the Bible. We’ve insisted that it stand up under the scrutiny of science when it was never meant to. We demand it draw lines in the sand. It frustrates us that the text may actually want us to improvise the use of Christian ethics, as outlined in its pages, rather than giving us black and white stances to take on modern issues.
No, the Bible was never meant to be used. It was meant to be interacted with. Like any relationship, the text longs for a conversation; a dialogue of back and forth.
Using the Bible, I believe, is rooted in a belief that in them life is found. There is an aspect where that is true, but as people who diligently study the Bible, we should take heed of the words Jesus speaks to the Pharisees.
You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
Diligently studying the Bible, while not inherently a bad thing, can be futile. Our love of the word does not mean we will come to the Word made flesh. Our use of the Bible may actually be a false belief that, in our study and knowledge and ability to use it, we have come to posses eternal life. But life is not found in the words on the pages, rather life is found in the one who embodied the words.
The Bible does not, and cannot save us. Only the Word made flesh can save us.
It was never intended for us to use the Bible. The intent was for us to come to the one who embodied the Word.
Because knowing the Bible doesn’t mean we know Jesus.
The room was really silent as the elder’s words rang through the room. I quietly leaned forward and, in as non-anxious a voice as I could muster said, “I love the Bible. But people don’t need the Bible. They need Jesus.”
That’s why we come to the text – to come to Jesus.
I wrote a follow up post to this one based on some of the feed back I received. You may find that post here.