Learning to read the Bible differently. (Or how we can find Jesus by give up the need to be correct)

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The Bible is probably one of the most misunderstood collection of writings that exists. Personally, I really struggle with it and I’m a Christian. (Yes, despite what you might think I am).

It’s been misconstrued as everything from a manual for Christians to follow (good luck following Leviticus to the t) to an outdated book that has no relevance to anyone anymore.

Everyone is striving to find the correct way to read it.

But there is no one correct way to read the Bible. How can there be with a collection of writings that consist of poetry, apocalyptic metaphors, genealities, parables, pages and pages of obscure rules about the correct way to test if your wife was unfaithful (this is literally the most mental thing I’ve read). 

To stories about a carpenter who claimed to be God’s son.

That’s even before we remember that it was written over thousands of years to completely different people by many different writers who understood the world drastically different than those who came before them.

Imagine how different we read writings from today compared to writings from relatively recently like 50 years ago.

When it comes to reading the Bible, as I said, I struggle. After a while and you’ve heard similar messages over and over for most of your life, you start to desire something deeper. You become thirsty for something new.

Some people call the Bible, “The Living word of God”.

I really like this description because for something to be living it has to be breathing and changing and  parts of it need to die so that they can regrow. You can obviously be alive but just sit at home all day. However to be fully alive you need to walk about and experience the world and suffer and find joy and hurt and cry and laugh and get lost and find a way out.

Luther understood this dramatically as he led the Reformation.

It’s when I don’t view the Bible as alive that I find it the hardest to engage with. Because as I grew and changed and understood the world differently my reading of the Bible didn’t. I continued to see it as a rule book that really had no reference to my life today.

It wasn’t however until I started to hear about practices such as Lectio Divina and read people like Rob Bell, Peter Enns and Brian McLaren that I started to see that this is much more than I could have hoped for.

It became less about something that I needed to read everyday to maintain my Christian membership but rather something that I was able to breathe.

It became a mystical collection of writings.

We start to read the stories about Jesus, less about how we are supposed to behave morally and more about how His life was so weird and countercultural and as way of opening ourselves to the world.

We start to read the Old Testament less as an illustration of a violent, angry God and more of a God who is patient and actually light years ahead of how people viewed gods.

We start to see instructions about giving away 10% of our income less as a rule and more about our faith that we are going to be ok and allowing this to change us into people characterized by generosity.

We start to read the “myths” of things that happened less as factual textbook examples and more as metaphorical descriptions of deep truths.

As Rob Bell put it in Velvet Elvis, and I’m slightly paraphrasing here, perhaps the greatest truth about Adam and Eve, is not that it happened, but that it is happening.

Now, this idea of reading the Bible this way will be majorly troubling for some. Which is ok. For others, it will be freeing and will reveal a God who is nothing like they thought.

But I have in no way nailed this thing.

I began to work through a year in the Bible reading plan in January. Sometime around the beginning of February I stopped. Why? Because I had fallen into the trap of “needing” to read it. I felt a duty to; I felt that I needed to read the whole Bible in a year to unlock the next level of being a Christian.

I was listening to those voices that told me that I was on the wrong path with my faith instead of allowing myself to try and fail. I thought I needed a map, when really all I needed was to learn to get lost a little.

But it’s for those exact reasons that I stopped. It was actually better for me to stop reading the Bible if I was just attempting to hit some standard of Holiness. If I want to start again, I need to refocus on why I am doing it. I’ll probably have to do this everyday. I’m not expecting to come away with all the answers and knowledge. If I’m being honest, I’m tired of striving for that.

I don’t need or want to be correct about what the Bible says. We all have a history and experiences in life that shape how we read the Bible. Instead of denying those things, it’s time I start embracing their impact on how I read. In some ways many of us in the Western Christian culture can never understand it since we aren’t first century Jews.

Ultimately, I don’t want to be sure I know exactly what I believe if ‘believing’ makes no difference to my experience of Jesus, Love and Hope. Especially in relation to others. I wonder if actually our striving to be completely sure what certain passages mean, prevents us from seeing something new and truly life changing. I get that. We need certainty. It’s comfortable. But comfortable doesn’t usually lead to growth.

So as I continue to try and read the Scriptures, I’m going to be wrong sometimes and I’m going to contradict myself a lot.

But you know what, that’s ok. Because I’m breathing, I’m alive and I’m still on the journey.

Just like the Bible.

Yes, The Bible Is Offensive

The old saying that the Bible is offensive is correct.

It’s offensive because some people won’t like what it says and so will fight to suppress the good news message that much of it proclaims.

It’s so offensive that many will put all their energies and strength in constricting the Hope, Love and Grace that it proclaims.

It’s offensive because they won’t like the fact that their ‘freedom’ is taken away from them because of what the words on these sacred pages seem to say. Bible

It’s offensive because it continues to break down these already crumbling walls of us and them, that these people feel safe behind.

It’s offensive to many because to them, they don’t like to be told they are wrong or that they need to repent.

It’s offensive because they think they have it all figured out while this new, revolutionary message takes everything they know and threatens it.

All this is true.

The only mistake we make is about who this group of offended people are.

They aren’t the poor or the weak. They aren’t the people who hate church. They aren’t the porn stars. They aren’t the people who have problems with organized religion. They aren’t the ones who are angry with God. They aren’t the people who like Jesus but not His followers. They aren’t the people who fight for equality for everyone.

They are me.

They perhaps, are you.

They are the church leaders who have built the Gospel into a way of controlling and maintaining the status quo.

They are the people who claim that unless you think like we do about Christianity, you are wrong.

They are the ones who are so caught up in defending the Bible that they miss that it doesn’t need defending.

They are the people who warn against picking out verses to suit your purpose, yet do the same without a sense of irony.

They are the the older brother, they are the rich young ruler, they are the poor sod who somehow got a plank stuck in his eye, they are the disciples fighting over who would be close to Jesus in Heaven.

But the Bible is indeed good news to the oppressed, poor, trafficked, marginalized, the porn star, the addict, the Muslim, the Christian, the Jewish woman, Hindu, Jedi, the family in mourning, the trafficker, the oppressor, the dictator, the racist.

People like the woman caught in adultery, the tax collector doing over his own people, the son who decides to abandon his family, the Pharisees, the Roman centurion who has a conscience, the disciple who is beginning to doubt everything, Pilate, Herod, and everyone who has ever believed that they need to earn approval, Love and acceptance.

The group that the Bible is good news for includes everyone.

And for some, that’s just too offensive to bear.

Why abandoning your beliefs may help you be a better Christian.

Beliefs are an important part of being alive. They have the potential to create Peace, Hope and Grace. They are what persuade millions of people to live their lives in ways that bless other people here and now. They are what convict us that there is something bigger to live for than ourselves.

Yet, they can also cause great pain and hurt. They can lead us to judge others who are different to us. They can create wars. They can cause people to hate themselves. They imprison, they condemn and they bring division.

So are beliefs that important? Or could they be more trouble than they’re worth? Continue reading

What I Remembered That Made Me Love the Bible Again

Ah the Bible. The Christian manual. The how to guide for how to live a Holy life. A list of long, unpronounceable names and instructions and rules and…I’m almost falling asleep thinking about it.

It’s not every inspiring, let’s be honest. Not, that is when the only way we think about the Bible is as a very long and boring instruction manual for Christians without even the helpful pictures that IKEA provide. Continue reading

When Christians miss the point. (How God’s Got This)

Do you remember when Rob Bell wrote Love Wins? Do you remember how it destroyed the Christian faith and led millions to Hell? Oh you don’t remember that happening? That’s because it didn’t.

Ah…but do you remember how Noah brought about the end of the Bible and thousands of years of respect for an ancient Holy Book? Continue reading