My wife and I were blessed to move into a new home this past week. While I don’t like moving, one of my favorite parts of unpacking is getting to open the many boxes of books I’ve collected over the years. It’s like rediscovering great memories all over again. I’m one of those people that likes to carefully categorize and organize my books — fiction on one shelf; history on another; reference here; theology there. Cookbooks go in the kitchen while coffee table books get prominently displayed. I like to have a system because different books serve different purposes.
Unpacking my books this past week led me to reflect on the book that has been most constant in my life — the Bible. I grew up in a pastor’s home, so the Bible has always been around and been read, but I have a confession: I didn’t always take the Bible very seriously. Sometimes I treated the Bible more like one of my cookbooks — as a set of instructions for achieving a desired result. Sometimes I treated the Bible like the volumes of mythology — vaguely interesting with some good moral instruction, but the names and places are unfamiliar and hard to pronounce. Depending on where I was in my life depended on the category I used for the Bible. Self-help book? Tourist guide to ancient historical sites? Classic literary text to be dissected and critiqued? Every book has its place in our lives, and there were times I placed the Bible in each of them.
It wasn’t really until I was a young adult that, through some powerful experiences with the Holy Spirit, that I began to see the Bible in a new way. Maybe the Bible was more than just the categories I tried to fit it into. Maybe it held a bigger story than I had first realized and, maybe the story wasn’t finished.
Of course this led to new discoveries, new questions, and even new problems to wrestle with: what if the Bible isn’t just relevant, but is, in fact, MOST relevant.
In the wake of the debates and decisions of the United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis last week, it might be disheartening to see how deeply our denomination seems divided over how to read the Bible. It can often be tempting for us to want to put the Bible into a category to help us deal with the tension. We might want it to be a book of rules so that we know who to include and who to leave out. We might also want it to be a book that gives us 100% low-cost grace without any of that pesky truth about how to steward our money or how to treat other people. We might want to make a book of myths that we’ve evolved from, so we don’t have to pay attention to big chunks of it. We might want it to just be history or just be little nuggets of wisdom.
But what I’ve come to believe about the Bible is that no matter what we want it to do for us, if we read it deeply, the Bible’s testimony will confound, shock, surprise, and challenge us in ways we aren’t expecting and in ways we might not always be comfortable with. The blessing of scripture is that it accepts all of us just as we are; the challenge of scripture is that it won’t leave us as it found us.
But that’s what the best books do — they challenge us to think and live differently than we did before we encountered them. That’s the kind of story the Bible offers us. It’s a story I hope the church will continue to read deeply; a story we build our lives on.
Middle School Program Coordinator