Should We Even Bother Reading the Bible?
Guest post from pastor/author, Josh Scott, sharing from his new release, "Bible Stories for Grown-Ups"
(Today’s post is from a dear friend of mine, Josh Scott, pastor of Gracepointe church in Nashville, and author of the brand new book, Bible Stories for Grown-Ups. Josh also writes here on Substack at Re:Imagining Faith)
One of the questions I’m asked regularly is some version of,
“Should we even bother reading the Bible?”
How can a collection of texts that are thousands of years old, which preserve at times archaic understandings of human beings and the cosmos, still be relevant to people in the twenty first century? Does it make sense to be tethered in some way to such an ancient library of texts?
While for some people this will seem to be a strange question (because of course we should…it’s the BIBLE, after all! God’s bestseller!), for a large and growing community it is one of the central struggles of sorting out what future, if any, exists for their faith.
There are so many reasons for this reluctancy to engage the Bible.
Chapters and verses have been weaponized and used to inflict untold harm and trauma on generations of people. The Bible has been used to defend the wrong side of history again and again and…again. This is best demonstrated in a scene from the 2004 movie Saved!. It’s a parody of a Christian high school and the way certain holier-than-thou characters behave toward those they’ve decided are not quite measuring up. In one particular scene, Hilary Faye, one of the main characters played by Mandy Moore, throws a Bible at another character, Mary, who has refused to allow herself to undergo an exorcism.
As Moore’s character throws the Bible she screams, “I am filled with Christ’s love!”
Mary picks up the Bible and responds, “This is not a weapon! You idiot.”
While this scene is intended to be over the top, the experience is all too real for so many people who have experienced the weaponization of scripture against them. The question, “Should we even bother with Bible,” is not a question grounded in unfaithfulness.
It is grounded in deep and profound pain.
My response always depends on where someone is with Bible in that moment.
What I mean is, are they leaving the Bible behind for their well being? Are they experiencing a sense of wholeness and healing that engaging the Bible actually prevented? Then, for me, the pastoral response is to give them my support. Not engaging the Bible doesn’t make one no longer Christian, by the way. The people who would become the Christian movement existed for centuries without the Bible. Yes, the Hebrew Scriptures existed, but outside of public readings not everyone had access. Actual copies of the text were rare, and the ability to read them also uncommon.
If someone has taken a break—however temporary or permanent—from the Bible, and it’s been healing for them, I celebrate that experience. Human flourishing is the goal, right?
For others, those who feel like they have lost the Bible—or more accurately those who have had the Bible taken from them through misuse and weaponization—and they carry a grief over that loss, I hope to help them get it back as a source of healing.
This is one of my great passions, to help people who feel their texts and Tradition have been taken away, to be able come back to them. I use the language of reimagining, reframing, and reclaiming to describe that work. I do that through sermons, conversations, and as a new author, through writing.
My recently released book, Bible Stories for Grown-Ups: Reading Scripture With New Eyes, is one such attempt to help those of us who long for a way to reengage the Bible that honors our heads, hearts, and experiences.
I grew up with the Bible.
My earliest memories involve flannelgraphed stories of Noah and the flood, Jonah and the fish, and Jesus’s encounter with Zacchaeus. While not cutting edge by today’s standards, those felt cutouts were the height of innovative technology in the 1980s.
My youth was spent memorizing scripture and participating in Sword Drills™ (If you don’t know what this means you are blessed and highly favored).
It was going to university and sitting in my first religion class—the one I had been warned not to take—that I began to see a reality that I’d missed before. It was in a class on the Hebrew Bible that I first began to learn about the context behind the texts of the Bible. This class opened my eyes to the nuance, depth, and complexity of these familiar stories in ways I had never imagined possible.
I realized that in most every area of life my understanding had matured as I had, but not really with the Bible.
For example, when you learn to read you don’t start with Shakespeare, right? You start with letters, then once that skill is learned, you add to it by putting letters together to make words. Then, it’s off to the races. We’ve actually been experiencing this in our home. Just this week one of my daughters read a book to me for the first time and I was floored. Just yesterday it seemed like we were spending our time on letter rings and then word rings. Now she’s reading to me. So unbelievably cool, isn’t it?
And that, that unbelievably cool thing, was what I had been missing. The stories of the Bible had been frozen in time. What they meant when I was five is what they still meant, and that was seen as a good and faithful thing. After all, the stories are the same, aren’t they? What changed? I did. My ability to understand more complexity did.
Did you know the story of Noah isn’t an original (if you read Colby’s Substack then the answer to that is yes), and that there are two different accounts of the Flood narrative in the Bible? Or that this ancient story has a lot to say to us at this particular moment in human history? I didn’t for a long time.
Did you know that the story called “The Binding of Issac,” in which Abraham almost sacrifices his son because GOD TOLD HIM TO (yeah, you read that correctly) isn’t as cut and dry when you understand the language? I didn’t either.
Did you know Jonah isn’t just a simple story about what happens when we run from God, but a far more provocative invitation into the questions “What kind of God this is?” and “What kind of world do we want to create?” Me neither.
I think you get the point.
This is why I wrote Bible Stories for Grown-Ups, to share what I’ve learned about these fascinating, ancient, and surprisingly often relevant stories.
I wrote it because I’ve found that the Bible is full of complexity, and what the authors might have been trying to say to us is far more interesting than the morals and lessons we learned as kids. That might have been a good starting point, but if we remain there our engagement with the Bible will not only become unhelpful, it can become part of the problem.
I believe the point of faith, the point of the Jesus story, is about human flourishing. This is the good news, that God’s dream is for every human to know that they are beloved, and for justice to be done for all of God’s kids on earth as it is in heaven.
In so many instances that movement is stifled and stopped by readings of the Bible that are grounded in our lenses from childhood.
My hope is that if we exchange those lenses for grown-up ones, the kind that make space for the complexity of scripture, we can move forward in a way that creates wholeness, peace, justice, and flourishing for everyone.
PRAISE FOR “BIBLE STORIES FOR GROWN-UPS”
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