How Christians Read the Bible
This blog is a follow up to the sermon from this past Sunday "How Christians Read the Bible." To listen to that sermon, go to http://www.spiritandlifechurch.org/sermons
I remember a few weeks ago we were all making preparations, running to libraries to get glasses, and in general going a bit crazy for the eclipse. I watched the eclipse from my house, alone. And as the eclipse began, as the moon covered more of the sun, clouds began covering more of the sky. I feared that the weather was going to play some horrendous practical joke on me. But right at the moment of the peak, a window was created in the clouds with the eclipse in the center. And for a minute or so I could look up and see whatever percentage of solar eclipse we got here in Northern VA.
And as I was watching the eclipse it dawned on me: the way we viewed the eclipse in 2017 was so vastly different from how people would have viewed the eclipse even a few hundred years ago. And the difference between our approach to the eclipse and the approaches those in Jesus’ time would have had is, forgive the pun, night and day.
Think about how many people travelled into the path of totality to see that amazing phenomenon. In Jesus’ day had a total eclipse of the heart sun occurred, they would have taken it as a god forsaken omen. They would have assumed some god was angry at them and they were under judgment. They would have applied some sort of divine meaning to this cosmological occurrence. They would have fled the area of totality. Not travelled to it.
This is certainly not the only thing in life we view differently now than we did hundreds of years ago. Our view of practically everything has changed. This holds true for how we view, read, think about, talk about, approach the Bible.
N.T. Wright makes this point thoroughly and clearly in his book Scripture and the Authority of God. He gives a detailed survey of the different ways of viewing Scripture different eras of the church have employed. He talks about why pastors and theologians in those times would have approached Scripture the way they did, what were their motivating concerns, what philosophical questions were being asked at the time. And then he looks at the way we read Scripture today and the philosophies that undergird our ways of reading Scripture.
He then outlines another way of reading Scripture. His method describes a five act story that the Bible tells. The acts are:
- Creation (Genesis 1-2)
- Fall (Genesis 3-11)
- Israel (the rest of the Old Testament)
- Jesus (the Gospels)
- Church (Acts-Revelation)
We are living in the middle of the fifth act. N.T. Wright says we ought to read Scripture as actors whose roles occupy part of the fifth act and whose job it is to move the story forward towards its conclusion. The first four acts provide the context for our place. They tell us of a world created good by God but mired by human sin. They tell us of a God who reaches into time and history to be in covenant relationship with a humanity that has rebelled against God’s love. And they tell us of Jesus, God’s son, whose life, death, and resurrection has defeated sin and death forever. The church is the people called to be God’s witnesses in the world still being redeemed and restored.
In this way of reading the Bible, we read missionally searching for how we are to live and be in the world. We read looking for how we are to act in the times we find ourselves in. We read seeking guidance from God on how to take our place in the long line of faithful disciples who have carried God’s good news into the world.