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041  What the Bible Is

Since the beginning of summer I've been talking about what the Bible is not. It's not magic words, it's not the center of the faith (God Himself is), it does not have everything (but God Himself does), it's not incantations, and it's not law. And I emphasized a few times: God is spirit. God is not Book.

Now it's fall, and I need to say something about what the Bible is, because while the Bible is not all those things, it is something vital to the Christian faith.

(1) It's the story of Mankind in God.

God is timeless and has always existed. We can't really imagine what He is, but He's a one-of-a-kind, unity-in-community being that knows everything, can do everything, and is everywhere. Our universe and our world exist within Him, and He upholds every part of it.

God created us, little images of Himself, and created a place where we image-bearing beings could live, grow, multiply, and learn. That's our universe. He gave us regency over the tiny rock on which we live as part of the training exercise. We misused that regency by giving our authority to some other spiritual beings in exchange for knowledge. As a consequence we were made subject to those beings, and they twisted our world into a sad and dangerous place and ourselves into twisted remnants of what we were supposed to be. The worst part is that by rejecting God's authority we hid ourselves from Him and lost contact so that we no longer encountered Him in our world or in our lives.

That's the backstory. Ever since, God has been working at restoring the communion and communication that was lost when we handed our authority over to the demons. He began with a single man, then a single family, and then a nation that He created out of that family. From there He launched a massive incursion into our lost world in order to restore all things through the agency of a single, righteous man who turned out to be God Himself in human form. That man established the Church, God's beachhead invading a world occupied by demonic rebels.

The Bible tells the whole story, giving us enough about how He is restoring humanity for us to be able to become part of the restoration. Over a period of about 1,500 years, God selected and inspired individuals to write bits of the story, then caused the whole thing to be assembled into a single entity that, taken as a whole, recounts the history of God's dealings with humankind and explains how we can reconcile with Him. It was written before the end occurs, of course (because we still haven't reached the end of the story), but it contains enough prophetic declarations about how it ends that we can see the big picture.

There are lots of other stories in the world, and each of the good ones tells a tiny bit of the same story (which is why we humans like art, movies, folk tales, and so forth). Some of them are fictional, some of them are distorted, evil, or just, plain wrong, and some of them are frivolous and give us no relevant information. The Bible, though, is the true version of these stories, giving us the central stream of the story of God and Man about which the others hint around the edges.


The telling of this story is also different from most, in that any reading of this story is haunted by the Author. He's there all the time while we're reading the story, though we can't see Him. Sometimes He butts in with an observation, a pointer, a bit of information that clarifies and informs our understanding of the story or helps us to see the bigger picture. We never know exactly when He's going to drop in, and He doesn't always do it the same way, but we know He's always there watching. It makes reading the story a bit creepy, but also makes it a real adventure.

(2) It's how God explains to us what He is like.

Since God's object is to restore intimate fellowship with us, it is important that we get a clear and useful picture of what He is like. By reading incidents in this true story of Mankind in God, we see how God responds to humans in many situations, and we learn about Him and about ourselves.

We should notice what it means that the Bible is a story. Anybody who has studied teaching or public speaking should know that humans learn best from stories. We are not purely rational beings, we are also emotional beings, souls that respond with feelings, and our feelings are for people or animals, not for concepts or ideas. Nor are we islands; we are all parts of communities, and exist both individually and as groups. The best communication engages our whole beings, body, soul, mind, and will, and does so in a context to which we all can relate together as humans. That is why God commands us to love him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and why we cannot serve God all by ourselves. That is also why He presented Himself to us in a story and not as a set of propositions or rules.

(3) It's the instructions and observations of the founders of the Christian faith.

The New Testament in particular is Apostolic. The first Christians worked out for us the basics of relating to God in the Church created by the Messiah, Jesus. We have the privilege of observing bits of how they did that. What they presented to us in their letters, creeds, and histories give us a picture of what they felt was most important for us to know as we attempt to live our lives righteously in God's Church.

Since all the New Testament writers accepted the earlier Hebrew writings as an authoritative guide to understanding God, we should do so as well or we won't understand a lot of what they meant. That makes the Old Testament authoritative in the same manner as the New Testament.

So the Bible is our opportunity to sit at the feet of Peter, James, John, Paul, and even Jesus Himself, and to learn Christianity from the Masters.

And finally,

(4) The Bible is the set of object lessons, illustrations and examples from which God adjusts our character to come into alignment with His. 

God's goal is not just to reconnect with us, but to untwist us so that we can enjoy Him and His world as we ought. He uses the Bible (among other things) to expose our flaws and to help us adjust so that we behave in a manner that He approves. 

Some of you will notice that I haven't said anything about the Bible being the infallible guide to faith and practice, as Protestant creeds demand. I don't usually say that, and here's why:

When I was launching into learning the faith independent of the teachers of my Christian infancy, at first I spent nearly all my time defending "the Bible is inerrant" from detractors. Eventually I realized that I was being distracted from the truly important parts of the faith--God's presence, His love, how He was redeeming a fallen world and restoring broken lives. So I stopped defending the Bible's perfection and re-focused on what I considered the truly important things. I discovered that all I needed to defend about the Bible was that it was an honest account of the events on which it reported--and that took a lot less time and effort than defending inerrancy.

I also noticed, and still notice, how many Evangelicals know nothing of a real relationship with God, but instead imagine that reading and learning the Bible constitutes the whole of the Christian faith. Most Evangelicals have heard hundreds of times how crucial the Bible is; but some have never heard that God is available to them personally and directly. I teach what they need, not what they already know.

I have not spoken much about the Bible's inerrancy since. However, I will tell you what I have discovered in the ensuing 25 years or so. Anytime I thought that some part or other of the Bible was probably not all that accurate, further study or learning proved me wrong. The more I learned, the more accurate it appeared. I discovered that one doubts the biblical version at their own peril and is likely to have to backtrack after a while when the doubts get resolved.

Moreover, I discovered depths of truth and revelation in the Bible that I only guessed at when I was younger. The better I get to know God, the more I see Him revealed in the scriptures. I have come to expect that no matter how deep I go into God, the scriptures will reveal things about Him that go deeper still. God may not be the Book, and the Book may not be the entire faith; but the Book reveals God in more depth than we could possibly expect of a mere book.

So join me in learning as much as possible about the Book and letting God use it to explain Himself to us, and I'll see you in a couple of weeks.

 

Phil Weingart

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