Thursday, April 11, 2013

Reclaiming the Bible

We had a discussion in my Hebrew class yesterday about newer Bible editions.  We looked at the fad of Biblezines and some newer study Bibles.  The problem that my professor pointed out was not the flash or even the fact that there were random notes and nonbiblical quizzes in these Bible editions. The problem is that the Biblical text gets lost in the notes, and people turn to the notes instead of the text.  This is because we have this modern notion that the Bible is supposed to be clear and easy to understand, that it's a like an owner's guide for human life. People get frustrated when they discover that the Bible isn't that, so they turn to the notes in new study Bibles that tell them how these texts apply to their lives.   Meanwhile Bible literacy rates in the United States continue to decline, to the point that many Christians can't even name the first book of the Bible.  We are losing our scripture to Zondervan's "Life Application" notes. 
This made think about how the Episcopal Church uses Biblical texts.  Part of the reason why I became Episcopalian is because services are steeped in scripture.  There are at least three readings at every service, along with a sung Psalm.  Morning prayer and compline are scripture and printed prayers.  Everything is steeped in the Bible.  Yet I wonder how some of the Biblical passages are recieved.  The Old Testament is rarely the topic of the sermon, and often I think we lose how the readings connect.  Preaching from the Gospel is beautiful, but wouldn't it be powerful if we could find ways to connect it to the OT and Epistle readings as well?  I fear that parishoners, while hearing all these parts of scripture read or sung, can't comprehend what is going on with them.  The scripture is heard, but the meaning is lost.  
If nothing else, we as Christians need to seriously consider what is being taught in our parishes. We need to ask "How Bible literate are our congregants?" Maybe we need basic Bible instruction courses, maybe we need to spend some time on basic Bible concepts in sermons. We need to help people understand that despite the billboard slogan, the Bible is not "Basic Instructions Before you Leave the Earth", it is a library of stories about struggle, about asking, "Where is God? And what is God up to?"  It's not an instruction manual for individuals trying to improve their faith, it's a library of texts centered around a communal story of struggle and endurance, of joy and sorrow, of exodus and homecoming; it's a story that is deeply steeped in the mystery and wonder of God.  We can only step into the mystery if we stop trying to find answers for our individual lives within the text and instead seek to find God within them.  
It's time to reclaim the Bible as God's Word, not as the word of God specifically concerning living our human lives, but as God's mystery revealed through text. 

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