I still bump into ‘Christian’ folk who want to assert that the bible is a faith story which begins with Genesis and ends with Revelation, and should be read like a novel. That it contains no contradictions and has within it all we need for our faith. What follows such an assertion is often a long and sensitive conversation. Sensitive because it becomes clear very quickly that the assertion has emerged from hearsay rather than deliberate study.
I had one such conversation in a café on Wednesday. I was using the break to read the texts for this Sunday and think about some ideas for our time of gathering. A man sitting near me saw what I was reading on my ipad. He leans in and says to me, “I read the bible you know. All the time. Wonderful book. No fake news in that one”. He had a name tag from a local bank hanging from his jacket. He clearly wanted a conversation.
We introduced ourselves. I listened for a while. Offered a few alternative perspectives when I could, but after a while it started to feel a bit combative. A little later I suggested we might need to just accept that we are coming from very different positions and I should get back to my coffee. He got up and left with these words: “You liberals are all the same – no wonder your churches are dying”.
Here’s the essence of what I said. I thought some of you might appreciate reading about it. It was offered as bits and pieces rather than one long lump. But here it is in lump format:
“ Tom, I think it’s more helpful to see the bible as a library rather than a book. It contains around 66 books written by more than 40 authors over 2000 years ago and more. That most of them are like a historical journal of faithful individuals and communities, even a nation trying to work out what faith means in their time and in their place. The mistakes they made. How they misunderstand God. And that since, 2nd Peter (the latest book written around 110 CE) millions of stories have been told and books written about the journey of faith. If we were adding books into the ‘library’ today we would need to include stories about the Holocaust and Hiroshima, and the impact those 2 events have had on the experience of faith; stories of women of faith, international wars, environment, other faiths and cultures. As well as something about science and space travel”.
To me, all this makes the bible both important and yet inadequate – rich stories of faithfulness did not conclude in 110 CE.