I may or may not have mentioned that I’m currently working my way through a part-time MA in Theology. As part of that, during the previous academic year I took a module called, Biblical Literacy in a Media Culture, thinking about all sorts of things, including the challenges of working/speaking/living in a post-Christian culture. The issue with this culture is that it has and is shaped by biblical things – art, music, architecture, literature, history, etc, are influenced by biblical stories and ideas, and yet vast swathes of the population are not actually biblically literate enough to make sense of them.
As part of the module, I worked on a wee project thinking about conversational approaches to reading the bible, and in particular, producing a Bible Overview series that I could use in 1-2-1 bible studies with students.
For my own amusement and edification (and perhaps that of you, my dear readers) I thought I’d convert some of that work into a few blog posts to share over the next few days/weeks. As always, do let me know what you think.
One of the things that I have found to be most exciting and encouraging and persuasive as I have stumbled my way through the last 17 years of faith has been the way that I have increasingly been able to see the clarity and beauty and consistency of the story of scripture.
I’ve always loved a story. As a child I devoured books and filled pages and pages of notebooks with my own stories. I had grown up hearing Bible stories in church but when I became a Christian I forgot about the stories and found myself thinking of the Bible in terms of just an endless supply of isolated verses and sayings that were chucked out in times of trouble: Have a worry? Here’s a verse to tell you not – why don’t we pop it on a poster with a picture of a kitten and a sunset and put it on your bedroom wall.
Of course that is not how the Bible works – which is a matter of great relief, since a book full of motivational poster quotes is not exactly going to be the most invigorating read in the world, is it? And after a while I did get back into the idea of reading the stories and understanding something of what it meant to read verses in context, and then I went away to university to study theology, and learnt a whole bunch of new and terrible ways to divide the Bible up.
For the first couple of years of my first degree I was swept up in study of form criticism and source criticism, and JEDP, and the Jesus Seminar, and Schleiermacher, and Wellhausen, and the rest of the gang. Names and phrases that strike terror into the heart of theology undergraduates everywhere.
Without wanting to be overly harsh – I did learn many great, and helpful things – so many of these methods and authors seemed frustratingly inclined towards wanting to dissect and reorder the text. So, it came as a great moment of joy in my Biblical Studies adventure when I was introduced to canonical criticism (popularised by Brevard Childs). To utterly simplify: canonical criticism is concerned with reading and interpreting the bible in its finished form (a.k.a. the canon).
And this is where I land. I think, not surprisingly, that there is a reason that the Bible is given to us in the order that it is. I appreciate that there are human authors and editors involved, but I also believe in a God who has the power, ability, capacity, concern to make that happen. And with that in mind, it makes sense to me then to actually read the Bible in that order. To behave and respond to verses as part of chapters, and chapters as part of books, and books as part of one, great, sweeping story about God, and the world.
One of my greatest joys in my work is to have the opportunity to introduce students to that great Story, and in doing so, to help them to meet and know its Author.
Come back soon to read about the hows and whys of the Bible overview.
In summary: stories and that.