“Rather than a rulebook — and we seriously have to switch metaphors here — the Bible is more a land we get to know by hiking through it and exploring its many paths and terrains.” – Peter Enns
The Bible Isn't a Rule Book – The Practice Series – Part 2
At this time of year, a lot ‘Christians’ pledge to read their bibles and pray more.
You can read and pray all you like, but it’s how those things spill into your life that really matters. The power is in the practice.
When I was a teenager, I had a little checklist of dates on my wall above my bed, and every day, after I prayed for 10 minutes, and read five (if my memory serves me correctly) chapters of the Bible, I would tick the box and pat myself on the back. Nowadays, that practice seems so mute to me, so one-sided.
How do I engage the Biblical text and prayer in such a way that it becomes more than a tick in a box and a pat on the back?
Confession: I stopped reading the Bible for a few years. I just couldn’t do it anymore. So much of it made sense only on paper and not in real life. Forgiveness? Compassion? Grace? Love my neighbor? And my enemy? How the heck?! And then what about all the genocide and violence and misogyny and Paul? What am I meant to do with Paul? Some parts of it made me feel good and comforted, other parts, uncomfortable and (to be honest) sick. I didn’t know how to engage this book in all of its complexities; I was only ever taught how to practice reading it, not the actual practice of engaging it.
And there is a huge difference.
Peter Enns wrote:
“The Bible isn’t a cookbook — deviate from the recipe and the soufflé falls flat… When we open the Bible and read it, we are eavesdropping on an ancient spiritual journey. That journey was recorded over a thousand-year span of time, by different writers, with different personalities, at different times, under different circumstances, and for different reasons. In the Bible, we read of encounters with God by ancient peoples, in their times and places, asking their questions, and expressed in language and ideas familiar to them. Those encounters with God were, I believe, genuine, authentic, and real. But they were also ancient — and that explains why the Bible behaves the way it does. This kind of Bible— the Bible we have — just doesn’t work well as a point-by-point exhaustive and timelessly binding list of instructions about God and the life of faith. But it does work as a model for our own spiritual journey… This Bible, which preserves ancient journeys of faith, models for us our own journeys. We recognize something of ourselves in the struggles, joys, triumphs, confusions, and despairs expressed by the biblical writers. Rather than a rulebook — and we seriously have to switch metaphors here — the Bible is more a land we get to know by hiking through it and exploring its many paths and terrains.” (1.)
Make your biblical practice one of hiking and exploring. Don’t expect a point by point list of do’s and don’t’s and secrets to life. Look for the lessons in the stories.
These days my practice is less “five chapters and tick a box,” and more forgetting the chapters and verses and reading the stories as they are, researching the context and the culture through books, podcasts and articles. It includes embracing the frustration I feel when I read something I can’t reconcile (like God commanding the murders of the elderly, women, and children (don’t spare the innocent); and then letting the tears fall when I recognise my own brokenness in the psalms, my anger in the prophets, and my desperation in Jesus: “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46). I let the narrative, guide me, make me think, bring up questions, ask those questions, and live in-to faith.
The bible isn’t a rule book but an invitation (and more… another series to come) to wrestle out our faith in real time with a multitude of “witnesses” sharing their ancient journeys with us.
I’d love to hear what your bible reading practice is, and/or your struggles with it… email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
1). Peter Enns. The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It (pp. 23-24). HarperCollins.