Saturday, October 31, 2015

Bible Reading for the Biblically Illiterate - And We're All Illiterate! (Part 5)


  1. The Great Pattern



The Old Testament

             Walter Brueggemann has noted a “lexicon” of verbs typically connected with YHWH’s actions of liberating grace:



-Yahweh brings out
-Yahweh delivers
-Yahweh redeems
-Yahweh brings up[1]



          The exodus from Egypt is the paradigm case of YHWH’s liberation. It’s a pattern deeply inscribed in the Bible. Its formative impact is seen in its rehearsal annually at the Passover festival. And they celebrated an event that did not merely happen “then and there” in its history. On the contrary, the community saw themselves within the Story and believed it happened to “us.” This was the formative story of their lives, not just those of their forebears. Listen carefully to the creed they used:



“My father was wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor. Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our Fathers … So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD have given me.” (Deuteronomy 26.5b-10)



This Exodus pattern is “the” way YHWH saves his people and furthers his purposes in the world. When the verbs Brueggemann identified above are used, this Exodus pattern is in mind. Richard Middleton says it well: “Beneath the Old Testament’s use of explicit salvation language lies a coherent worldview in which the exodus from Egyptian bondage, followed by entry into the promised land, forms the most important paradigm or model.”[2]

This pattern is writ both large and small throughout the Old Testament. The major benchmark occasions of the pattern are the Exodus from slavery in Egypt and the return from exile in Babylon in the 6th century B. C. We’ll look more at these in a moment. But I want us to notice some other passages where the pattern influences the way the Old Testament tells its story. This will helps us appreciate the hold this pattern has on the imagination of biblical authors.



-Creation itself can be seen as an exodus event of God’s bringing being out of non-being.

-Joshua 3-4 cast the entry into the Promised Land as an Exodus event.

-Building the temple is dated from the Exodus (1 Kgs. 6.1) and is the real end of the Exodus.
-Moral crises arising from Solomon acting like a Pharaoh is patterned after the people’s slavery in Egypt (1 Kgs.11-12).
-Psalms of praise celebrate the Exodus (e.g. Ps.66,68,105).
-Psalms of lament appeal to the Exodus for a new deliverance (i.e. Ps.74,77,80).
-Jeremiah and Hosea style God’s punishment of Israel and the resulting captivity as a reversal of the Exodus (Jer.7:22-26; 11:3-7; 21:5-7; Hos.9:3).

-Hosea, Amos & Micah  paint Israel’s adultery with images taken from Egypt or from the wanderings in Sinai while casting Yahweh as the faithful liberating lover who would redeem Israel.
-Isaiah 40-66 takes the pattern of Exodus as the source for new hope for Israel.





The New Testament

The New Testament also reflects this pattern. The pattern of the Exodus narrative is all over the beginning Matthew’s gospel. In both



-there is an evil ruler,

-the children suffer,

-there is a “flight,”

-there is an “exodus” for “out of Egypt I have called my son” (Mt 2.15),

-there is a passage through water,

-there is a wandering in the wilderness for a time of testing,

-there is a journey to a mountain, and

-Jesus’ healing ministry of Jesus is typed to his role as Isaiah’s servant in concert with the new Exodus (Mt 8.17; 11.5; 12.18; Isa 35.5-6; 53.4; 61.1-2).[3]

         

In Luke, on the Mount of Transfiguration, we find Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. What are they discussing? “They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (9:31). The word translated “departure” is exodos, “exodus”!

          Yes, the Exodus Pattern ties both testaments together. This is another reminder that the Bible tells one story. The Exodus pattern tells the readers who God is, how God works, and what it means to be the People of this God.



The Pattern

          The full Exodus pattern[4] includes the following elements:



  1. Need                          for salvation (in all dimensions)
  2. Cry for help                from those in need
  3. YHWH comes              from heavenly throne into concrete situation of need
  4. Divine king fights        for those in need removing impediment to flourishing
  5. God often uses creaturely agents        to help bring salvation
  6. God restores                        needy to a good land with breathing room to live
  7. A life of obedience                to YHWH is necessary to complete salvation
  8. God comes to dwell               with the redeemed in concrete historical context

Not all these elements are present in every account of YHWH’s liberation but they are always in mind.

Three Big Clusters of “Exodus” Pattern Texts[5]

Exodus I

13th century B. C. escape from Egypt

Exodus, some pre-exilic psalms and prophetic texts

Two components: liberation/formation of a people

From Egypt to Canaan
Exodus II

6th century B. C. return from exile in Babylon

Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah 40-55 (New Exodus)




From Babylon to Zion
Exodus III

Work of Jesus in 1st century A.D.

Interpreted by NT writers as New Exodus





From “present evil age” to “new creation”



            The two components of the Exodus experience, which remain constant in all three major versions of Exodus we fin in the Bible, give us the coordinates on which to map the contours of all YHWH’s saving deeds. Liberation (from Egypt, from Babylon, from Sin and Evil) is completed in each case by the formation of a people in and with whom YHWH may be present. We learn here what we have seen throughout – salvation is both liberation (reclamation) and formation (restoration) with the end result of YHWH’s presence with his people.

            Because of this dominant pattern of salvation we might call the Old Testament the “Ex-Files.” Exodus brings liberation which always leads to another “Ex,” Exile. This whole pattern of Exodus to Exile dominants the Old Testament and sets the stage for the New Testament. Jesus executes the great, final, and definitive Exodus for Israel and the world. Crowned and installed Messiah, World Ruler, by his resurrection, the risen Christ leads his people through an “exile” (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11which needs no further Exodus but only arrival “home” through death or Christ’s return. Thus if we call the Old Testament the “Ex-Files,” we might well call the New Testament the “Rex-Files.” Rex is the Latin word for “King” and the New Testament is the story of the King’s rule. Ex-Files to Rex-Files – I like that as a description of the Bible’s two parts. How about you?



[1] Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy (Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press,        ), 173-176.
[2] Richard J. Middleton, J. A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition), 79.

[3] Mu-tien Chiou, « Biblical Theology : A Crisp and Thematic Analysis of Exodus » at https://breath35.wordpress.com/2009/06/25/biblical-theology-a-crisp-and-thematic-analysis-of-the-exodus/.

[4] Middleton, A New Heaven, ch.4, 77-89.
[5] Richard J. Clifford, “The Exodus in the Christian Bible: The Case for a ‘Figural’ Reading,” Theological Studies 63, 345-361.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Bible Reading for the Biblically Illiterate - And We're All Illiterate! (Part 4)

4. The Big Picture



“The whole sweep of Scripture”                                                                                                                       N. T. Wright



Between God’s purpose inaugurated in Eden and fulfilled in the New Jerusalem the whole thing nearly falls apart. Would have fallen apart but for God’s intransigent unwillingness to accept that state of affairs. After Adam and Eve’s defection from God in the garden in Genesis 3 the plan God intended to pursue became infinitely complex and complicated. God’s passion to draw near to humankind and share his life with them forever on this globe now had to deal with this crisis. Jesus was always going to come in human flesh to be part of us as one of us – I mean, how much closer can God draw to us than that? Now his coming will need to include a resolution to the problem sin has infected both creature and creation alike with.

Thus we have Genesis 3 – Revelation 20 in our Bibles.

How can we read in a way that keeps us focused both on God’s work to resolve the sin problem and further the fulfillment of his “big picture” purposes? Fortunately scripture gives us a plot line to follow and three themes that carry both the resolution of the crisis and push God’s creational purposes further along.



The Bible’s Plot Line

            The journey from Genesis 3 to Revelation 20 begins with God laying out his agenda, which becomes the plotline of the rest of the story between the bookends. It’s found in Genesis 12:1-4. To begin what C. S. Lewis aptly called God’s “great campaign of sabotage” against the attitudes, actions, and edifices of humanity in revolt against him, he called a couple. This couple, Abraham and Sarah, and their family left the rest of the clan in Ur and journeyed to God only knew where. And he wasn’t telling them till they got there. God made a promise, an astonishing promise, to this couple.

-God would raise up a great new family from them.

-God would bless and protect this new family.

-God would bless everyone else through this people.  

          This is how God would deal with the problem of sin . . . and also the furthering of his ultimate purposes. Somehow this people, this new family God would raise up through Abraham and Sarah, would be how God deals with the problem of sin and at the same time demonstrates the kind of life he intends for humanity.

          Israel now bears both the presence of God in its world and the promise of that presence for the whole world henceforth. Whatever God is doing for the world’s well-being and salvation will be done through Israel.

          This is the plot line for the unfolding of the God’s great purpose in the world. Each of the gospels tells the climactic story of the God’s decisive fulfilment of this purpose in the story of Jesus of Nazareth. Each of them also has a commission at the end where the risen Jesus calls his followers (us!) to participant in the implementation and spread of God’s victory throughout our world. Luke’s is the most fully expounded commission because he writes a second volume (Acts) making all this explicit.

There the Genesis 12 pattern is fully played out. Jesus comes to reconstitute faithful Israel, dies as the one faithful Israelite, God “raises” up a great people through his resurrection, and that people (Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus) now go throughout the world bearing God’s blessing (the reality of Jesus’ victory) with them.

The long complex and sometimes convoluted story of God’s dealings with Israel winds its way around this plot line. It behooves us then to keep it in the back of our minds as a foil against which we read and read for understanding.



Three Great Themes

            The presence of God is “the” theme of the Bible: God’s presence with his people on his good creation. From Genesis to Revelation this theme moves toward fulfilment along the plot line we just observed. Three great themes carry the story toward fulfilment:

                                                      Covenant/Family

                                                      Temple/Presence

                                                        Kingdom/Rule

          Each of these themes lead toward the grand theme of presence – temple most directly. Covenant and kingdom also move toward and find their fulfilment in divine presence.

          -Covenant is God’s presence as our “Father” around whom his family gathers.

-Kingdom is God’s presence as the rule of the Great King whose power creates and sustains the world and rules and serves its creatures with justice and mercy.

These themes vary in their prominence in the biblical story. Now one, now another rides chief in the saddle of the story line, but all three bear substantial witness to God’s work in moving this story to its saving and gracious end. We might think if the Pentateuch as focused largely on covenant, the development of the family of God. Or the story from Joshua to 2 Kings as focused on the kingdom of God and his rule over his people.

It’s the temple, though, that bears a special prominence. It is the site of God’s commitment to meet and be with his people. Here promise and presence embrace and the people are renewed in God’s glory (often, in biblical thought a symbol of God’s presence). Here what it means to be a family (covenant) or a nation (kingdom) under God is made clear. The history of the temple (or other places of worship) punctuates the biblical story at every key point.

-The temple in miniature begins the story in the garden of Eden.

-Abraham’s family erects ad hoc altars at points along their journey where God encounters them (think Jacob’s “ladder”-dream at Bethel in Genesis 28).

-the Tabernacle is a portable space for God’s presence for a people on the road.

-the Temple proper is built by Solomon in Jerusalem.

-the Temple is destroyed by the Babylonians 587 B. C.

-the Temple is rebuilt by the Jews in 516 B.C.

-Herod makes the Temple a splendorous edifice.

-Jesus pronounces judgment on the Jewish Temple and declares himself the ne Temple of God.

-the temple is destroyed again in 70 A. D. by the Romans.

-New Testament writers like Paul and Peter address the church as God’s new Temple.

-The New Jerusalem at the End is, as we have seen, a world-wide Holy of Holies.

In particular, that the bookends of the story present the world as God’s Temple grant this image a priority over the other two. The latter are present (at least implicitly) in both bookends. But their goals are reached as God is present as both “Father” and King. It’s his presence that finally matters. And that what the Temple image is all about!

Here’s a diagram of the “big picture” of the biblical story we have been developing:

                                                                         











Creation
Catastrophe
Covenant/Israel
Christ
Covenant/Church
Consummation
Garden Temple

Ad Hoc Altars,Tabernacle, Temple (destroyed & rebuilt)
New Temple    
Church as Temple
New Jerusalem    
Covenant Implicit
Covenant Broken
Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, New Covenant
Covenant Fulfilled
People of New Covenant
Covenant Finalized
Kingdom Implicit
Kingdom Broken
Exodus,  United/Divided Monarchy
King Victorious
Kingdom of Christ the King
Throne in New Jerusalem



            This gives readers a multidimensional matrix to keep in mind as they read. The “whole sweep of scripture” is essential to proper reading of the Bible. Covenant, Temple, and Kingdom is a three-stranded cord that pulls the biblical story to its End. It’s important to remember all three even when the narrative focuses on one or the other.

          Now we have both the content of God’s “big picture” in general. This gives us focus. And we have a sort of “time line” with our tri-themed cord of Covenant/Temple/Kingdom to pull us toward that goal. We can turn now some other key elements in “Bible Reading for the Biblically Illiterate – And We’re All Illiterate.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Bible Reading for the Biblically Illiterate - And We're All Illiterate! (Part 3)

3. From End to Beginning

You can’t read the story right unless you know where it is going. Our school teachers may have warned us against reading the end of the story first to avoid having to read the rest of it. None of us want to read the end of a mystery first. That destroys the pleasure of reading it through and trying to figure out the ending. Yet even if we heed this warning, once we have read the end and see how things work out, the rest of the story makes better, deeper sense and we recognize some of what we missed along the way that that becomes clear at the end.

The Bible can be read from beginning to end. However, without knowing the end of the story, it is easy for us to be misled by other factors that impact and shape the way we think into misreading it. We’ll look at some of that distorting influence here and more on it in ch.6 on Filters).

I propose them we start from the end, the every last vision of the Bible found in Revelation 21-22. John the Seer beholds a new creation with the New Jerusalem descending from heaven to rest on it. This holy city, which is coextensive with the new creation, is the people of God. The new creation is a great temple in which God and people can meet and live in fellowship and love. This is the picture of how God always intended things to be. Sin is no factor here. There’s no distortion or disfigurement now. All that is gone forever.

Now if this is the end God always aimed for, we should find signs or signals of that in the beginning, the creations stories of Genesis 1-2. Sin is not a factor here either. What the narrator pictures for us there is indeed what we find at the end. But it is embryonic in form. In fact, that’s one of this things we need to learn to read the story aright. The world is created as an embryonic temple whose keepers (Adam and Eve) are to care for and their posterity extend its boundaries to inhabit and cover the rest of the earth. And what do we have in Revelation 21-22? A new creation which is pictured as a huge Holy of Holies where God and his creation will dwell forever! From a garden to a city, but a city with a garden in its center. That garden Holy of Holies where God met our first parents has become the universal temple where God and his people live in communication, communion, and community through the ages.



What Do We Learn About Reading the Bible Aright from the End to the Beginning?

            Now that we know that the first two and last two chapters of the Bible bookend the whole story of God’s great earth-temple building project, what else do we learn from these chapters ignorance of which might otherwise mislead us?

          First, the work of consummation is the work of the triune God (Revelation 21:3-5, 10, 22-23). So also is the work of creation (Genesis 1-3: God, God’s word, the Spirit).

          Second, we learn that “heaven . . . it’s not the end of the world.”[1] The default gospel in the western world promotes going to heaven after death to live there with God forever. That’s the goal for which we presume God works and we long. This view has led to a disempowering of the church by relativizing or even denying the importance of the earthly journey of believers and the church. Indifferent to the fate of creation and the conditions of human life we grow calloused to both. But if this earth is to be cleansed and remade by God as his eternal abode with us such indifference or lack of care comes pretty close to blasphemy!

          Third, God’s desire for shalom (peace) and justice that pervades the biblical story reflect his intention that this planet reflect his character and will. These matters, then, ought to be the chief agenda of God’s people as we move toward the end we have just identified instead of the central things those outside the church accuse it of neglecting! If God’s not going to junk this globe then by what right do we treat it as if he is?

          At the very least then this passion of God for welfare of and right relationships and conditions on earth ought to chief among the passions of his people as well. Ecological matters must be high on the agenda of the church. There is, of course, room for discussion and debate about how to address all this, and various parts of the earth will require different treatment. But care of the earth and its systems for its maintenance and flourishing must be our baseline!

          Fourth, and related, human existence then and there on this renewed earth will be embodied, as it is here and now. Only our resurrection bodies will be free of the taint and decay of sin. But we will still be human, God’s image bearers, living the life God always intended for us. Embodied life, our bodies, matter and they will matter forever. Our bodies

are the most immediate form of creation we have. Care of this body is the first line of stewardship for all of us. This too is a matter of first importance in following Jesus.  

Fifth, Adam and Eve represent humanity as a whole in Genesis while in Revelation the scene is populated by a great multiethnic community celebrating the presence of God. Human welfare as a whole, community of all, is the language of Christian faith. The individualism so predominant in our culture leads to a focus on individual concern for their own salvation and life in heaven with God. As long as we believe we have taken care of that, everything else is gravy!

          That individualism inclines us to see ourselves and others as billiard balls moving around a table. Each ball is complete and self-sufficient on its own. Our contact with other balls moves us in various directions, some helpful, some not, but such “relationship” with other balls adds or subtracts nothing to our completeness and self-sufficiency. We, alone, are our selves.

          Biblical, Christian, faith calls on us to see ourselves and others like a model of a compound element – a network of relationships and forces of various elements, like H2O. Two hydrogens and one oxygen comprise water. And water is not water without any them. So too, humans are not human with relationship to God and others. I can only say that “I” am my relationships. I would not know how to describe myself apart from them. There’s so little (at least that I am aware of) that I know of myself that was not shaped in relationships or avoiding relationships.

Summary

          Even the cursory look at Revelation 21-22 and Genesis 1-2 we have taken here paints a comprehensive and compelling picture of what God wants and will eventually have: a world filled with the joy of divine-human fellowship, right relationships, and a flourishing planet.

          These convergences between the two passages provide a baseline of theological markers that any faithful exposition of the biblical story must honor.

-the work of God is Trinitarian. Jesus is central to be sure. He shows us who God is. We must resist versions of visions of God that do not conform to what we see in him. We must especially pay heed to this in an age when God is often blasphemed as an angry vengeful deity on whose good side we must strive to stay or else and from whom Jesus died to save us. This “God with a Scowl,” as I call him is a cultural monstrosity born of failing to see in Jesus’ eyes and heart the eyes and heart of his Father.

-the picture of God’s purposes found in these two chapters gives the lie to the typical western default version of the gospel wherein we trust Christ to rescue us from this earth for a spiritual existence often envisioned as immaterial or angelic. This just will not do, however, in light of what these four chapters of the Bible, the only four that do not bear the taint of sin but rather reflect God’s original dream for his creation. God created this world to be his habitation with his creatures sharing life and love together through the ages. God has not given up on his plan to have a world where his creatures live with him doing what they were always meant to do! To claim otherwise is to suggest that God is wither unable or unwilling to fulfill his original intentions and changed plans to do something else. I don’t think we want to say that!

-that the well-being of the creatures and creation is God’s chief interest puts justice (right relationships on every level of existence) and ecology (that the creation has its own integrity as God’s good creation and God’s interest in its well-being is as compelling as his interest in ours. His creation is not to be despoiled on account of us and our needs and wants. We are created to live in harmony under God’s Lordship. And following Jesus means finding a way to calibrate our lifestyles and consumption within the needs of the creation for healthy reproduction and flourishing.

-that the human community is one in all its diversity of perspective, language, and place of origin is both intended by God. We are all gifts to each other for the common enrichment. No one is expendable or to be left out. None are superior to the other. This is obviously not the case today but must become a central matter of concern for the church!     

Thus, exploring the biblical story from the end and then from the beginning gives us a rather large canvas to keep in mind as we read the Bible. This picture of the bookends of the Bible gives us framework of the story we inhabit. But there are more details to fill in as we flesh out that picture and roles we play in the story it tells.  





[1] Title of David Lawrence’s book (London, Scripture Union, 1995).

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Bible Reading for the Biblically Illiterate - And We're All Illiterate (Part 2)


  1. What is the Bible?

Barth’s question of the nature of the Bible is critical and misunderstanding here leads to confusion all the way down the line. A symphony is my image for what the Bible is doing. Three further images help me to think through how the Bible works (or does not work) – a window, a mirror, and a stained glass art.[1] These images capture the three primary ways readers approach the Bible and picture the expectations they bring to their reading.

The Bible as Symphony

          The Bible is one long sprawling story.  It tells this story through many authors, most of them unknown. Further editors shaped the Bible into its final form. It contains many genres and styles of writing. Different views are found in its pages, due largely to the vast span of time the Bible covers. Ample diversity of form and thought must be factored into any viable view of the Bible.

On the other hand, the Bible is not a mere miscellany of religious literature. Some style the Bible as a library which fosters this sense of a miscellany. Yet the way the Bible in its final form is put together tells us it is one connected story running from beginning to end. The diversity we just noted is framed within the larger story the Bible tells (more on this #3 and #4).

So we have to read the Bible as if it were a symphony. A symphony “is an extended musical composition . . . usually consisting of multiple distinct sections or movements.”[2] Each section plays their individual pieces while the conductor weaves the various parts into a coherent whole. In theological language this means that we first take the works of individual authors in their own right seeking to understand them as best we can. Then we read them again assessing their place and contribution to the whole story as the Bible’s final and ultimate author, God, tells it. Diversity deepens the tone and broadens the texture of the story. The final form of the Bible guides us in weaving this diversity into a coherent tale. This is what the Bible is, in my judgment, a symphony of diverse individual pieces telling a single rich story. And so we must read it.









The Bible as Window

The way we read the Bible is largely determined by the expectations we bring to it. We will find what we are looking for (or condemn the Bible for not having what we are looking for). So we better be looking for the right thing!

One way many read the Bible today is as if it is primarily a window.  Now one looks through a window to see what lies behind it.  To read the Bible this way is to take a primarily historical approach to it. We read it to find out what actually happened and when and how it happened. There are many invaluable gains from this approach to the Bible.  It has, however, spawned a tendency to reconstruct how things really were and who people really were (esp. Jesus) in contrast or contradiction to how the Bible presents those things and characterizes those people.  Often this has been done based on assumptions about what could and could not happen in history.  But even with less restrictive assumptions at work, the Bible leaves us with many gaps in, and questions about its historical presentation. The Bibles history is not like our history writing today. Rather its history is in line with the practice of history writing of its time. This history writing aimed at purposes other than strict chronological narrative and those aims shaped the way they wrote history. If history (as we understand the term) is the primary or only way we read the Bible, we will be (and have been) frustrated because the Bible often does not answer our historical questions and thus leaves us to our own devices in theologizing about the meaning and significance of the biblical story.

The Bible is not primarily a window to look through to find out “what really happened” in the past. It is not well-suited to that task. There’s history in it to be sure but the telling of that history is not driven by chronological accuracy. There’s no good reason, in my judgment, for doubting that the biblical story is substantially accurate, just as there’s no good reason to tie its authenticity or reliability to our own canons of history writing.



The Bible as Mirror

 Nor, I think, should we read the Bible as many do as a mirror.   One looks at a mirror to see one’s own reflection, standing in front of the mirror.  It’s our issues and struggles, our lives, which are the chief concerns in this type of Bible reading. There are many and varied types of this approach, both sophisticated and simple.  Some versions of reader response theory in literature, in which the reader creates the meaning of the story, and much devotional reading of the Bible, which seeks to find a direct word of personal meaning for uplift, inspiration, or guidance for the day’s activities and challenges.  In each case, the reader’s interest lies in front of the text on themselves, their situations and questions, needs and desires, for which they seek insight and guidance.



The Bible as Stained Glass Art

          The Bible can also be read primarily as a piece of stained glass art.  Here, one looks into stained glass art to discover the story the variously sized and colored pieces of glass seek to tell. One finds the story in the text itself, artfully shaped and told with interests other than historical exactitude or even personal or existential meaning.  There is, of course, personal, existential meaning throughout all the scriptures, but we come it indirectly by focusing on something else.  Scripture as stained glass art uses the skill of the artist to draw us into its story as the true story of God with humanity (remember The Neverending Story above). Once engaged with the story at this level, we are able to find our identity and significance with it, and engage our lives and God’s mission in the world on that basis.  This pastiche of ancient historiography, myth, poetry, novella, apologetic, shaped and reshaped by use in Israel’s worship is what God has declared as his Word to us (see last post).  Only in this way, I suggest, can we both pay proper attention to historical matters and to existential meaning as we come to this set of literature as God’s love story written to his people (as was advocated by Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

We’ve tried to read the Bible in primarily historical and personal, existential ways and, by and large, have missed the point!  Perhaps we are ready to begin reading it as designed, as a piece of divine stained glass art in whose story we find our identity, our significance, and our security as God’s people in the world.

The strange new world of the Bible in its stained glass form offers, indeed presses, on us at least the following:

-a different perception of reality that question how we think, speak, and live.

-a different history than the common public history we all think we live in.

-a different view of what it means to be human.

-different gifts and tasks than we imagined we had or were called to do.

This is we need to know to live life as the persons God created us to be, that is, to experience life in a harmonious integrated way. It behooves us, then, to read the Bible as the kind of book it presents itself to be rather than the one we may think or hope it is.

J. R. R. Tolkien gives his own inimitable and memorable expression to this way of embracing this strange new world of the Bible through Samwise Gamgee in The Two Towers. Exhausted and dispirited by the journey to bear the One Ring of power to its destruction in Mt. Doom, Frodo is on the verge of giving up on his task and calling of bearing the burden of the Ring, Sam offers this reflection:

Sam: “It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could that end by happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were stories that stayed with you, that meant something even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.”



Frodo: “What are we holding on to, Sam?”



Sam: “That there’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”[3]



          This is the kind of story we find in the strange new world of the Bible. That story is told in an artful literary 1st century way. If we can learn it that way we will learn to meet God where and in the ways he has made himself available to us. Because that’s the kind of book the Bible is!



[1] Trevor Hart, Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christin Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 124-133.
[2] “Symphony,” wikipedia.com
[3] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987), 696.