What a book

Not as clear as I would like

From as far back as I can remember I was taught (ordered) to read my Bible. Growing up with the King James version I learned by heart some key texts. I now realise that Scripture is not as inherently transparent as one would like to think, and I could well have done without the archaic language, another level of obscurity being added.

Not as clear as one would like. But why would I want it clear? Probably to satisfy my desire for certainty. So much that is unclear and a few verses that (ok quite a few) I wish were not in there. And the other side so much that is clear, clear in terms of behaviour and values. ‘Bless those who curse you… offences will come… love your enemy…’ Clear. Some things very clear and other aspects unclear. That should say a lot in itself. The ones I want clear are tied to what do I believe and the ones that are already clear relate to my attitudes and actions. ‘All Scripture is God-breathed’, we read, and ‘is… useful’. What a great word, ‘useful’. Useful to guide us in life, not to fill us with knowledge.

I like scholarship that gives us background that helps us make sense of what we read… and I do not like scholarship that comes up with something new that undermines what I wanted the text to mean. What a wonderfully annoying book.

I guess the bottom line is we are not a people of the book, after all in the NT era they did not have what we term the Bible, even what we call the OT was not a fixed set of books – Jesus probably read most of what we have… and a few others, such as the book of Enoch, which is a late piece of writing that the name Enoch was attached to to give it some weight! (And in our canon we have a reference to the book of Enoch, with the writer seeming to accept that it actually recorded what Enoch ‘the tenth from Adam’ said.)

I don’t think I am simply a product of the Enlightenment when I say that I am sure there is ‘truth’ in the sense of facts and factual statements, but I think also there is probably some room in God to be barking up the wrong tree theologically… the judgement will always be with regard to what I did not with regard to what I know. A freedom that has boundaries, a freedom to follow Christ. I might (where did the word might come from in this sentence?) think Calvinists are imposing a system on Scripture, but God does not divide the world between Calvinists and ‘the others’. The cross and cruciform living is where the divide comes: and I need to be on the right side of that divide.

I am deeply pragmatic. I accept the books I have – 66 of them – as the canon I read and work from. I don’t pause to think that it is inerrant, nor the only possible canon. That for some would paint me as inevitably going off track from the beginning. But what about my name’s sake: Martin Luther, he had serious doubts about Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation? So I drop back to the pragmatic position. These books have stood the test of time and I have enough in there to work with!

I read a progression, not a linear progression, but nevertheless something unfolding with the revelation of God being ultimately in personal not written form. Jesus being the ‘word’ of God, the express image of the invisible God. Paul’s letters might appear earlier than the Gospels did in written form, but Paul’s Gospel has to be read from the Gospels, not vice versa.

Disputes are (for me) clear within Scripture, some naughty texts dropped in by later ‘editors’ as if they were part of an earlier belief… but all inviting me into the dialogue as to what I believe. I cannot choose to believe whatever I wish and disregard what I read in the texts, but I also have to interrogate certain texts in the light of others, and particularly in the light of what is revealed in and through Jesus.

Scripture seems to allow me to choose a track. Take kingship for example. It seems that Kinship is predominantly approved of (‘there was no king in the land…’) but also we read the very clear exposé that in choosing a king the vote was against God. David as ‘a person after my own heart’ was chosen to end kingship, and as that choice was not made, we read that on the cross above Jesus was nailed the term ‘king of the Jews’. That is how I read it. I could be wrong. But choice is what God seems to give. And my choice has to be guided not primarily by my intellect but by the same choice that was there from the beginning: ‘knowledge (of good and evil)’ or ‘life’. And that means I could (and in that sense probably often do) get it wrong. But what do we mean by ‘wrong’? That kinda ties with the most major way of getting something wrong is to dehumanise – the core of ‘sin’, which Paul affirms that we have all sinned and come short (not of standards as per law) of the glory of God.

I find the book difficult, obscure, clear, inviting, but would certainly be at quite a loss if it was taken from me, at a loss because I lose sight of Jesus all too easily, and even when I get frustrated with what I read there is a constant flow that pushes me to Jesus, the ultimate and final word.

Labels are challenging. I am a Christian but not like… I am an evangelical but not like… I am charismatic but distance myself from… I would find it hard to sign certain creedal statements as I would have to say ‘but what do you mean by that?’, but the central element that shapes me (or at least I like to claim it does) is the centrality of the life, death, resurrection of Jesus; that Jesus is unique, set apart from all other members of the human race; that Jesus was and is God incarnate who came to set us free from captivity; and secondly, that my beliefs are shaped by what I read. What I understand of what I read can evolve (and devolve) but it always has to align with what is central.

One thought on “What a book

  1. I find it extremely interesting that your blogs, Martin, often speak to the very thing we’ve talked about within our family. We have wondered…and pondered some of the same questions and dilemmas you mention. Such a wonderful journey to question and reevaluate the dogma of our family’s past in a healthy and open minded way. When we ask ourselves, “Why do I believe what I believe,” this puts us on a very enlightening path.

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