Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Scripture and God's People

It is helpful to be a graduate theology student when maintaining a theological blog, as assignments pop up which would make excellent stand-alone posts themselves. So, enjoy my brief reflections on the role and function of Scripture in the life of the church. Afterwards, I will include one of my favorite quotes about the Bible from Barbara Brown Taylor (from her book, The Preaching Life, which I recommend in the highest degree).

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The Bible is a story. The Bible tells the story of the one God, creator of all, and his ongoing, fiery, caring relationship with the world he has created; not only the world, but particularly the people, called Israel, whom he has called out of the world, precisely in order to be his own people for the world. In the cross and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, and the confession of his Lordship, the doors of Israel, God’s people, have been flung open to all nations, so that there are no boundaries or dividing walls any longer. The Old and New Testaments record this story from start to finish (ending in the future!).

The church, as God’s people, is called to live into God’s story as told in Scripture. The Bible is not merely a huge set of true-or-false propositions to which believers give their intellectual assent (or go to hell), nor is the Bible the “once for all delivered” capital-T truth containing eternal and timeless truths for all humanity if only we will heed them (that is, disembodied "facts" unconcretized and ethereal, like Greek philosophy).

The Bible is a truthful story into whose world God’s people are called to live. It is not relative truth for each individual to pick and choose what is “true” for his or her life; rather, Scripture is particular truth, a story and a way of life to be embodied by a particular community in a particular time and place, so that the witness of the Bible is true insofar as it is lived out by the church at such-and-such place, in such-and-such time.

So, for example, if you ask me about the truth to which the Bible witnesses, I will respond in accord with the story in John 1: “Come and see. Come and see the life of the Round Rock Church of Christ: witness the character of God, the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the empowerment of the Spirit, the hope to come, and the continuing story of God, his people, and the world he loves.”

Scripture, in its witness to the God of Israel and the church, thus shows us what it means to be faithful hearers and doers of God’s word. Because God’s word must be enfleshed in particularity – just as Jesus was a male Jew in first century Galilee – so it must be in the community of Jesus’ followers. Again, this does not mean that "any" interpretation goes, so that the authority of the Bible is lost. The Bible is the authority for faithful Christian life together, but only as it is lived by the community of believers who have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to listen to the word of God aright, who have committed their lives in full to follow the way of the cross, who submit themselves to the hard discipline and good work of struggling with their God over how to live into the reality of Scripture. In this way it is clear that to call the Bible “inerrant” or “fallible” is a category mistake; the assumptions behind such labels have little to do with what Scripture is about, or what function God intends it to have.

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For all the human handiwork it displays, the Bible remains a peculiarly holy book. I cannot think of any other text that has such authority over me, interpreting me faster than I can interpret it. It speaks to me not with the stuffy voice of some mummified sage but with the fresh, lively tones of someone who knows what happened to me an hour ago. Familiar passages accumulate meaning as I return to them again and again. They seem to grow during my absences from them; I am always finding something new in them I never found before, something designed to meet me where I am at this particular moment in time.

When I recognize my life in its pages – when I am convinced that this story is my story – then I am lifted out of my own time and space and set free, liberated by the knowledge that my oddly shaped piece of life is not a fluke but fits into a much larger and more reliable puzzle. In other words, I am not an orphan. I have a community, a history, a future, a God. The Bible is my birth certificate and my family tree, but it is more: it is the living vein that connects me to my maker, pumping me the stories I need to know about who we have been to one another from the beginning of time, and who we are now, and who we shall be when time is no more.

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