“God said it; I believe it; that settles it!” People who say this might think they’re showing respect for the Bible, but they’re actually disrespecting it by not making an effort to understand it. Often, they are so focused on taking the Bible literally that they fail to take it seriously.
Having a casual relationship with the Bible can be like having a casual relationship with another person, maybe even your marriage partner. It’s easy to misunderstand what your husband or wife is telling you and respond in a way that confuses the communication even more. If you’re not fully concentrating, you can take something they say “out of context,” just as we do with Bible verses. And you can “cherry pick” what you want to hear and be deaf to the rest of what they’re telling you, just as we “cherry pick” comfortable messages from the Bible and ignore the rest. In some cases, two people can be together for decades and still “know” each other only from the handful of repeated interactions that fill their rare shared moments between work, favorite activities and TV shows. Sooner or later, one of them may wake up and wonders, “Who is this person?” and the marriage breaks up. Some people with a long pattern of attending church and identifying as Bible-believing Christians have a similar Aha! moment and end up “divorcing” the Bible, losing their faith in the process.
If you have merely a casual relationship with Bible, one that only gives you predictable answers, that over the years has become calcified around a few familiar words and phrases, prooftexts for this or that situation in life, your relationship is in trouble. You don’t really know the Bible. You need to change that, or you’re cruising for a breakup. Then the true soul of the Bible won’t be there for you in the dark valleys, when you need it most.
I’ve discovered four principles, the Four Cs, that help me take my Bible seriously, avoiding the pitfalls of a casual relationship:
Context – What kind of writing is this: a letter, a poem, a historical record? How does the verse I’m reading fit into the point the writer is trying to make?
Culture – Were the people who first received this writing (letter, poem, etc.) a lot like me? Or would they hear something different from these words than I do?
Circumstance – As I read this verse, am I using it, in the circumstances of my life, the way the writer meant it or am I using it in some random, twisted way?
Consistency – Am I interpreting and applying this verse in a way that is consistent with how I interpret and apply similar writings in the Bible?
I know that it’s easier for me, with my seminary training and in-depth studies, to follow these Four Cs than it may be for the average Christian layperson, but there are a lot of resources available for anyone who wants to move from a casual relationship to a serious committed relationship with the Bible as soulmate. In our day, you can access many of them on your cell phone or personal computer. Also, there are solid Bible study groups where you can go on this journey with other sincere seekers.
To get started, ask a trusted spiritual leader for advice. Maybe your Pastor. Unless he’s a “God-said-it-I-believe-it-that settles-it” kind of guy. He would only confuse you more.
Next Week I’ll share Our Bible Problem; Part 2: A DEEP DIVE INTO THE BIBLE’S DNA.
– – Pastor George Van Alstine