We’ve really not done right by the Bible, y’all.
Here’s this book, a collection of poetry, stories, national histories written for peoples in exile, allegories, visions, contextual letters—all of it collected and written by people who were experiencing God.
And we’ve turned it into a checklist. A series of criteria to judge whether you are in or out. In or out of this doctrinal club or that denomination. We debate, debate, debate the right interpretation or the literal meaning and then we have to reconcile that with science and history and the rest of the Bible.
Karen Armstrong, Peter Enns, Angela Parker, Rachel Held Evans…these scholars are begging us to take a more life-affirming approach to the Bible for the sake of the souls it is meant to nourish. Reading their work made me so excited to look back at old passages, to rethink the ones that had hung over my head like the sword of Damocles for so long. When a rigid insider vs. outsider reading of the Bible made me weary and burdened, an ever expanding experience of belonging filled me with life.
This isn’t a new idea, nor is it an “outsider” or heretical impulse. Augustine lived in the 4th century AD and he wrote this in On Christian Doctrine: “Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love ofGod and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.”
I love giving my kids tools to weather the slings and arrows of growing up. I love equipping them with language to describe their feelings and our commitments to them. I love watching them live their identity. The Bible, when we don’t interpret the life out of it, is a wellspring of those very things.
The poetry of the Old Testament plumb the soul in all its unruliness. The law and the epistles are full of reminders of God’s commitment to be near and guide us. The prophets and gospels are an invitation to a justice-loving, death-conquering identity.
I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to retrain my mind out of using the Bible to argue, even against itself. But as I do, as I learn to use the hermeneutic of love, I’m growing more free.