Thursday, March 12, 2009

Reading The Bible



I've really enjoyed two books lately, and they've both been on the topic of reading... specifically, how do followers of Jesus read the Bible? The first is Scot McKnight's The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible. I received this book at the Covenant Midwinter Conference last month and started to read it on the plane trip home. Scot is a well-respected author ("The Jesus Creed") and blogger, and a Bible professor at North Park University. He refers to those hard passages of the Bible (genocide in the OT, extended OT laws, seemingly contradictory statements about women in ministry, etc.) as "Blue Parakeets" that must be allowed to sing along with all the other birds in the backyard, even if they don't look like they belong at first. The entire second half of the book is an extended biblical defense of the full acceptance of women in all areas of leadership and ministry.

Second, Eugene Peterson's Eat This Book: A Conversation on the Art of Spiritual Reading. I think I got this book at a Midwinter Conference too, a few years back maybe. And it just seemed like the right book to pick up after Scot's. I am really appreciating its poetic and pastoral approach to the Bible. Peterson is perhaps best known for his translation, The Message.

The idea that both books hold in common is to let the scriptures be the scriptures. Way too often we in the Evangelical world have tried to boil down the incredible Word of God into a set of answers or a systematic theology or a series of promises. And yes, one can find those things in the Bible, but it is so much bigger than that. We must let the Bible be the Bible. To read it as Story, to find ourselves caught up in that Story, to take it into ourselves ("eating" the book) and allow it to tranform us. If we are not being changed, acting upon what we read, we are missing the point.

Scot McKnight reminds us again and again that the point of the Bible is to know the God who wrote it.

For some reason right now I'm drawn to the prophets, so I read Nahum the other day, and now I'm tackling Isaiah. I can't remember the last time I read these books. So good to be in another part of the Story and hearing the same voice of my loving God and Father that I hear in John and Ephesians.

Covenanters affirm the "centrality of the Word of God." In fact, it is one of our six Central Affirmations. Last month's conference was all about that. It provided some great opportunities to do thematic worship music around the topic of the Word of God. You can see what we did at the Covenant Worship Blog here.

Speaking of reading, I tried to start The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Again and again, I hear that this is absolutely essential reading for Christian thinkers. All the cool, po-mo Christian dudes are reading it, right? :) It's a tough read. I'm about to give up. Should I keep trying? Help me out here.

4 comments:

Scott Lyons said...

Matt, Brothers is a phenomenal novel - but it's more of a journey than a point. And the journey runs through Orthodoxy, which, as it turns out, is beautiful. : ) If you need it, give yourself time - I took all of 2008 to read it, savoring its depth, while moving through other books.

As a side note, it's a good read for (re)discovering that we Americans didn't invent Christianity - and that most of our tinkering has only sullied it. I also found it to be a persuasive argument for Orthodoxy (because of its beauty), but I suppose much of that hangs on the fact that I'm sort of wired Eastward.

Scott Lyons said...

Sorry, "sullied" is perhaps too strong a word. I suppose I'm in a place in my life where I look at ancient Christianity and the adage If It Ain't Fixed seems appropriate. But, of course, that's been my journey and I don't mean be rancorous or offensive to others on theirs.

As Dostoevsky writes of me in Brothers: " 'God, have mercy upon all of them, have all these unhappy and turbulent souls in Thy keeping, and set them in the right path. All ways are Thine. Save them according to Thy wisdom. Thou art love. Thou wilt send joy to all!' Alyosha murmured, crossing himself, and falling into peaceful sleep."

Matt Nightingale said...

Thanks for the comments, Scott... I *will* keep chewing on "The Brothers Karamazov." I love to read, and I've read lots of "classics," even challenging ones... but maybe with my pace of life right now, it's especially difficult. I can barely get through the introductions of the brothers! But I know that this kind of reading has big-time rewards.

And don't worry... I appreciate your thoughts on Orthodoxy. I've enjoyed several trips to Orthodox churches and I appreciate their beauty. The one thing that I was really struck by when I visited one in San Francisco was that the guy who welcomed us and talked to us about the faith and about the church was a little stumped when I asked him about how he and his congregation reach out into the neighborhood, as if it were a foreign concept. If there's one thing Evangelicalism has done really, really well, it's reach OUT and be Jesus to a hurting world. (Among other things we've done really, really poorly.)

That was only one congregation, so I know that doesn't represent all Eastern Christianity!

Just my initial thoughts as I run out the door on a crazy Thursday morning!

Scott Lyons said...

You're right. Evangelicalism does do evangelism well. We could learn from Evangelicalism a thing or two about dynamically spreading the Good News. The proclamation of Christ and the call to conversion is something many Catholics and (I would guess) Orthodox could do a better job of in their world, although much of the difference that you might notice at first glance is a matter of emphasis (which is no small thing to an Evangelical), a matter of differing vocabularies - how we talk about faith and "being saved," and a matter of how we believe that call to conversion ought to be proclaimed/lived out in our worlds. Each of those points, I suppose, could be their own discussions, which don't seem to work particularly well online, but they are worth noting.

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