I fell in love with the God of the Bible through Bible stories in my youth
I have read and studied the Bible since I was a young boy. My first Bible was a Louis Segond edition of the Bible in the French language. I still have it and I read it on occasion. My first English Bible was the Authorized Version (KJV 1611), which belonged to my father, and it was given to him as a gift from my mother before they were married in 1956. Over the years I have had several other Bibles that my Dad owned and are now mine. I had at one time over 40 versions of the Bible on my book shelves. They have now been reduced to 20. My favorite Bible for devotional reading is The Message by Eugene Petersen. My favorite Bible for actually study is the New American Standard Bible and my second favorite is the Revised Standard Version. I know, you are giving me that look, that look and stare with the question, “What about the NIV?” Short answer. I don’t like the NIV and never have and try to avoid it like a person tries to avoid the flu.
I love reading the Bible, and I read extensive portions on a regular basis. On most days my wife and I have a practice where we have the Bible read to us. I go online to the Biblegateway.com site and find The Message translation (it is easy on my Mac, as I have it bookmarked), and I select audio and I have the text of the particular chapter we are reading read to us. We have the screen in front of us with the text, and we read along as it is read to us. We both find it beneficial to have the Bible read to us and to read along. It seems to really enhance focus to hear and listen, read and see the words. We let the words just wash over us and don’t comment, until after the passage is done. We each then give the portion that spoke to us that morning, and we pray and ask the Lord to apply the passage to our lives. We then have a time of prayer for our family and all the people the Lord brings to our remembrance. We finish the time together by sharing holy Eucharist together and serving each other the bread and the wine, and finish up with more prayer. Such is our morning practice, centered on Jesus, and on the Bible. Like I said, I love the Bible and the One of whom the Bible speaks.
I love the Bible but I really have issues with how “Bible” teachers are revered
It is one thing to love the Bible and to learn to study it appropriately for yourself versus having a supposed “Bible teacher” teach you what they believe the Bible teaches. As an Evangelical I believe the Bible to be very significant and important in the life of Christians. Every generation must discover God for themselves and that includes discover the riches of the Bible for themselves. That usually includes a survey of previous generations and what their insights were on the Bible and its teachings. As a young man I began to read books about the Bible, including Bible surveys, introductions to the books of the Old and New Testaments, as well as books on the doctrine of Scripture. By the time I reached my mid twenty’s I had a fairly thorough understanding of the importance of the Bible in the history of the Church, including various schools of interpretation of the sacred texts that have had their pervasive influence on Christians of all generations.
What I really don’t like is the way “Bible Teachers” are revered in our age. We live in the most advanced age, wired to the digital age with visual and audio media, radio, satellite TV, the Internet, and 24/7 access for the public consumption of the “Gospel”. It is round the clock access for anyone who has an Internet connection, WIFI, broadband, cable or satellite, and this access gives “Bible Teachers” access to the audience as much as the audience access to these proponents of “truth”. The part that I don’t like, is the prevailing attitude of many of these “Bible Teachers”, and the lack of humility when it comes to teaching what they believe to be the truths of Scripture. Then all seem bent on the idea that there is an absolute truth, and that they have it, and that others do not. This is nothing more than arrogant presumption on their part. I know, I used to be just like them. I have learned, especially over the last two decades, just how important humility is when confronting the texts of the Bible and interpreting them anew within our own context, and how important it is to not presume and assume we have a corner on its truth and its application. There are always other options to how we understand a text and therefore how we apply a text. That is historical connections to the past, and seeing how the Church has interpreted passages and applied its teachings in the past, is an important witness to our own day as to how we ought to look at our own context and seek to apply the wisdom of Scripture and the testimony of the history of the Church on these matters. This truly requires humility, gentleness, a sober spirit and a compassionate heart for those of our own day seeking the wisdom of God for the hour. If anything has revealed this to be a serious issue of concern, it is the whole debate in the Western Church, and in particular in North America, when it concerns the issues of sexuality, same gender marriage and the like, and how the Church has viewed homosexuality and addressed it throughout the centuries. Even in our day, it has become a very divisive issue as seen in the documentary below.
I have learned that who Jesus is matters, and that there are many ways to view and understand a text
I have come to realize that the one eternal question that all men and women and children will need to answer is the same question that Jesus addressed toward Peter. That question is, “Who do you say that I am?” This is the one question that has eternal ramifications for everyone. The Old Testament all speak of Jesus as the Messiah (remember I am looking at the Scriptures from a Christian lens and this presumption is sincere, that the Old Testament speaks of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah of Israel), and that the Gospels give four testimonies of His life and ministry, and the remainder of the epistles of the New Testament, speak of the witness of the Early Church bearing the message of the Good News of Jesus Christ to the then known world. They all answered that same question that Jesus posed to Peter, and that Jesus still poses to you and to me. The only “doctrine” that matters at the end of the day is who is Jesus and why does He matter? As my fellow more famous Ulsterman, C.S. Lewis said about Jesus in Mere Christianity:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
As an Evangelical I believe when it comes to understanding and applying the truths of Scripture, the Bible, that we need to do so in a manner that honors the character of God and a connection to the history of Christian thought on the teachings that we are proposing to understand, interpret and teach. There is too much presumption that a “Bible Teacher” is correct in their understanding and in their application of what they consider to be the “truth”. I have challenged Evangelicals by challenging how they read the Bible. Most read the Bible with a lens already interpreting as they read, and what they actual read is the interpretation of the text, rather than the actual text. Their defense usually is, “This is what the Bible says.” My response to that is usually, “No, this is your filter speaking. You have already determined what the text says, but it is not what the text actually states. What you are giving is your theological or biblical opinion, and not the reading of the actual text.” By this time they are usually flustered and don’t know how to tackle the subject at hand.
How we understand the Bible matters, just look at Kim Davis
At the end of the day, how we understand the Bible matters. It affects what we believe about God and the world, and it helps to form our ethical way of living life as individuals and communities. How Kim Davis understands the Bible, has led her to do what she did in Kentucky in denying marriage licences to gay couples. How she understood God and the Scriptures and the importance of biblical marriage encouraged her to take the stand she has taken. There are many who would disagree with her stand, both within the Church and outside of it. But no can disagree that how Kim Davis understands the Bible has helped shape her worldview and mindset. My question to this situation directly challenges those “Bible Teachers” that helped shape her worldview. Who was Kim Davis listening to all these years that helped her form her world view? What kind of “Bible Teachers” were they? Where they Fundamentalists? Were they main stream Evangelicals? What were their own training in understanding the Bible and its teachings? You see, when you become a Christian, your world view is shaped by the “pastor” or “Bible teacher” you are exposed to as you mature in the Christian faith.
It is ONLY when you mature in your faith, and you explore the Bible for yourself and you discover how to study it and see other perspectives on interpretation and application, that you really truly come to a place where like Jacob of old, you “wrestle with God” for yourself and come to terms with the Scriptures and come to a place of peace in your heart concerning the matter. Until you wrestle the truth for yourself, you really don’t know the text, and its place and application for you and your life.
Wrestle for yourself and settle it in your own heart
At the end of the day, each person who professes faith in Christ needs to study the Scriptures for themselves, and not depend on supposed “Bible teachers”. When you stand before God at the end of your life, it will be you and you alone that stands before Him. So wrestle with the Bible texts, and come to a place of peace concerning the ones that really matter to you. When you have peace in your heart and rest for your soul, which is all that matters.
When Jesus said, “only believe”, He was pointing to belief in Him, and not in doctrine or the opinions of men. So my last word to you, no matter where you stand on the issues of Scripture, is to only believe Jesus. The Bible speaks of Him, points to Him, and we are left to make a decision concerning Him. He matters, and that is why the Bible matters. Become as a little child, and have childlike faith, not simple faith, but child like faith, and reach out to Him and put your trust in Him, and He will give you insight through the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures. He will reward the earnest pursuit of Him. He will not disappoint you. He has never ever disappointed me. Lots of Bible teachers have disappointed me, but Jesus never has!