Anyone else ever think about how weird it is that we just hand 6th graders a 1000+ page collection of ancient texts and expect them to figure it out?
Last week, we kicked off a running series for the summer based on giving teenagers important practical knowledge on how to shape their own faith, the series “How do I . . .” will cover prayer, testimony, church membership, and reading scripture.
We decided to start with the hardest one, so last week we covered the question “How do I read the Old Testament?” You can read Matt’s blog about it here. That already tricky topic was made trickier by a last-minute flight delay which had me stuck in Cincinnati, Ohio during the Sunday school hour. Matt graciously took over teaching off of my mildly-incoherent notes and I had yet another moment where I was immensely grateful to have him on the team.
This week we take on the New Testament. Like with the Old Testament, we’ll talk a little about genre (Gospels, letters, and prophecy) and important context. Teenagers are frequently surrounded by messages about scripture that aren’t in line with what the United Methodist Church, and this church specifically, actually believes. They are told they have to choose between faith and science, between accepting the whole of scripture as literal history and rejecting it completely, that the parts of scripture that diminish women, or endorse slavery, are to be accepted, that they can’t believe the words of scripture and still critique it.
The United Methodist Church’s position on scripture pushes back against this dualistic thinking about scripture, the official denominational website says that:
“We hold that the writers of the Bible were inspired, that they were filled with God’s Spirit as they wrote the truth to the best of their knowledge. We hold that God was at work in the process of canonization, during which only the most faithful and useful books were adopted as Scripture. We hold that the Holy Spirit works today in our thoughtful study of the Scriptures, especially as we study them together, seeking to relate the old words to life’s present realities.”
It also follows that assertion of authority with,
“The Bible’s authority is, therefore, nothing magical. For example, we do not open the text at random to discover God’s will. The authority of Scripture derives from the movement of God’s Spirit in times past and in our reading of it today.”
Our focus will be on learning to take these texts seriously, to not treat scripture like a collection of fortune cookies, or a history textbook, or a collection of fables. None of those understandings honor what scripture actually is or says. This is all meant not to dismantle teenagers’s understanding of the bible but to empower it, because the truth, that the New Testament is a collection of texts written by very human people to very human people with very human problems, as they tried to learn how to live in light of their revealed salvation in Christ, really is much more powerful.
We take on this task not just because we want teenagers to have the gift of a being able to really wrestle with the bible, but because we are aware that, without proper training, the bible can also be used to do great damage. The bible is a dangerous book that has been used to justify heinous behavior. But our tradition holds on to it because we ultimately believe that it, in the aggregate, is a text of love and redemption and of God’s seeking of God’s people.
Every week, after reading scripture, we say “God speaks to us through the reading of scripture.” We take on this task because, despite (and perhaps through) all of its humanness, in scripture, God still speaks.
Director of Youth Ministries