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Living out the Bible today

Over the past few weeks on this blog we have been looking at how to read the bible today drawing on Scot McKnight's book 'The Blue Parakeet'.  On Sunday 26th June attempted to draw all this together and here is a brief summary.  At the end of this post there are some bullet points that are hopefully easy to remember. 

We can start with a question like: How can I learn to understand the bible?  but we need to get to the deeper question of: 'What is my relationship to the God of the Bible?'.  This involves a recognition (from NT Wright) that - the authority of the Bible should be understood as a shorthand way of saying God's authority being exercised through the bible.

But even then it is important to remember that:

The relational approach 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.

We have already talked about the need to get beyond the Bible reading short cuts summarized in a previous post.

When we do this we may decide to read and retrieve everything in the bible and apply it to our lives.  However in any serious attempt to do this we will quickly realize it is impossible to do, we end up picking and choosing or adopting and adapting.

Realizing this we may begin to read the bible through a particular tradition that explains how to adopt and adapt various parts of the bible.  The trouble is that this can screen out passages that don't fit the particular tradition and we can become deaf to challenging parts of the bible.

So we might be tempted to abandon tradition and go for an individual free for all but this is likely to lead to goofy ideas and people making mistakes that many others have made in the past.

So Scot McKnight advocates a third way: reading with tradition, in particular the Great Tradition of Christian thought and practice down through the ages.  We read the bible, aware of the way Christians have read and applied it in the past and particularly the big ideas of what God is like, the nature of Christ etc. but we are open to the possibility of fresh insights.  As Scot says:

We dare not ignore what God has said to the church through the ages, nor dare we fossilize past interpretations into traditionalism.  Instead, we need to go back to the Bible so we can move forward through the church and speak God’s Word in our days in our ways.  We need to go back without getting stuck (the return problem) and we need to move forward without fossilizing our ideas (traditionalism).’

Using 'The Blue Parakeet' we used three words to summarize a healthy approach: Story, Listen, Discern.

Story:   5C's - Creation, Crisis, Covenant, Christ, New Creation; and 2 themes -   Covenant
and Kingdom
We need to understand the bible is a grand narrative and read individual parts of it in light of that.  There are a number of ways to summarize the plot, we tend to use the 5 C's.  There is also strength in realizing there are two underlying themes that weave their way through the bible:  Covenant (relationship, being) and Kingdom (responsibility, doing)

Listen:  3H's - Head (what does it say), Heart (what does it say to me), Hand (what will I do)
Since we are seeking to relate to the God of the bible, our reading must go beyond an intellectual study but to a whole of life listening that leads to changes in what we think and do.

Discern: 4D's - Difficult, Dialogue, Diversity, non Dogmatic
As we attempt to discern how to adopt and adapt the bible to our day we need to recognize that we will run into Difficult passages/issues that will demand careful thought.  To prevent us going off on our own tangents we will need to be in Dialogue with people in our own congregation but also with how other Christians in different places and times have understood and applied those passages.  This will involve being aware of major themes of Orthodox Christian theology, accessing commentaries etc.  Since in many cases we will run into a Diversity of approaches, we need to be humble and non-Dogmatic especially on minor matters that aren't central to the Great Tradition of Christian Thought and practice.


David Wanstall, 28/06/2011